Satiromastix – Introduction

Satiromastix is a curiosity if nothing else.  By all appearances it started out to be a historical romance set in the time of William II in the late 11th century.  Somewhere along the line, Dekker changed course in order to fire a volley in the ongoing War of the Theaters.

In 1599 a ban on prose satire became effective.  One result of the ban was that playwrights began to express their satirical ideas in their plays.  The first attack was by John Marston in his play Histriomastix later that year in which he satarized fellow playwright Ben Jonson.  Following this,  Jonson responded with Every Man Out of His Humour in which he fired a shot back at Marston, who replied with his Jack Drum’s Entertainment, in which Jonson appears at the character Brabant Senior.  Then it was Jonson’s turn again.  In Cynthia’s Revels, he upped the stakes.  Not only was Marston personified in the character of Hedon, but Dekker appeared as Anaides who is described as a “strange arrogant puff.”  Why exactly Dekker was added to the game at this point is not known; it could well be that the rivalry had continued beyond the confines of the stage, and Jonson may have seen Dekker defending Marston.  We will most likely never know.  The war continued with Marston’s What You Will, once again attacking Jonson, who replied with The Poetaster.  In this play Jonson dipicted himself as Horace, while Marston is shown as the foolish Crispinus and Dekker as Demetrius.

At this point, Dekker added his sole submission to the conflict by writing Satiromastix.  He incorporates Jonson’s characters of Horace, Crispinus, and Demetrius in addition to a fourth character, Tucca, into his own play, with the tables ultimately turned on Horace.

The exact nature of the War of the Theaters has been debated for centuries.  Was it good-natured kidding, or did these playwrights really feel threatened by each other?  Shakespeare even alludes to the conflict in Hamlet, Act Two, Scene Two in the title characters converstaion with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern about the children’s companies (Marston and Dekker’s contributions had been performed by the Children of Paul’s while Jonson’s plays were presented by the Children of the Chapel).

As already stated, in Satiromastix, the poets’ controversy has been tacked onto a historical romance concerning William “Rufus” II of England who reigned 1087 to 1100.  Sir Walter Terill is a historical person who is best known for shooting the arrow that killed the king during a hunting accident.  Historians have debated for nine centuries whether or not the king’s death was accidental.  The play does not concern Williams’s death, however, but rather a compeletly unhistorical incident that occurs between William and Terill.

Dramatis Personæ and address “to the world.”

Act One, Scene One

Act One, Scene Two

Act Two, Scene One

Act Two, Scene Two

Act Three, Scene One

Act Three, Scene Two

Act Four, Scene One

Act Four, Scene Two

Act Four, Scene Three

Act Five, Scene One

Act Five Scene Two


Return to Dekker page


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