BRITISH WRITERS, Volume 2 by IAN SCOTT-KILVERT (EDITOR)

By IAN SCOTT-KILVERT (EDITOR)

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At these small, indoor, so-called "private" theaters, patrons paid much higher entrance charges than at the large, open-air public theaters, and they seem to have constituted a more sophisticated audience. Most of Marston's plays are comedies or tragicomedies with some satiric content, although he attempted to write an ambitious tragedy in Sophonisba (1606). He wrote no more after 1608, when he sold the share he had held in the company of the Queen's Revels since 1604, and in 1609 he was ordained.

Perhaps most characteristic of Middleton is the bizarre little scene (III. ii) where the black jesting Pawn and two other pawns, black and white, play out the essence of rivalry between their two sides, ending up "for all the world/Like three flies with one straw through their buttocks": a cameo that, in Middleton's fashion, summarizes an important sector of the play's feeling. Yet this fidelity to the chess game structure does not at all inhibit the play's range, but rather orders and disciplines it.

It would be wrong to interpret such lines and incidents as direct allusions to the main plot (though the suggestion that Franciscus kill his rival as the price of Isabella's love almost persuades us to think in that way). The effect is subtler: the incidents and language of the subplot color the mind in such a way as to intensify the experience of irrationality and deceit communicated by the main action. Plainly, the capering and the disfigured language of the genuine fools and madmen complement the behavior of Beatrice and De Flores, or serve as commentary on it.

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