Biography John Marston

John Marston

photo of John Marston
  • Time Period1575 - 1634
  • Place
  • CountryEngland

Poet Biography

John Marston was born about 1575. He came of good family and was considered a gentleman. His father was a lawyer who became a member of the Middle Temple in London but who practiced in Coventry. John Marston was presumably educated in the grammar school in Coventry; in 1591, when he was sixteen we know that he entered Oxford and completed his bachelor’s degree two years later. It is likely that he began the study of law. He apparently did little in that career but he was buried in the Middle Temple and was registered there as "sometimes of the Middle Temple," so he seems to have qualified to practice law.

He was mainly interested in literature, however, especially in satiric poetry and over the course of his literary career he was often embroiled in some kind of literary dispute with other writers, first a man named Joseph Hall, the author of some satiric verses who later became a bishop, and then with Ben Jonson. Today this is of little interest to any except specialists in the field of Elizabethan drama, but at the time the conflict developed into what became known as the War of the Theatres; it also inspired a series of plays in which Jonson attacked Marston who would then answer in a play of his own which Jonson would then respond to in his next play and so on. Later the two men reconciled. Morse Allen summarizes this quarrel as follows:

We find, then, that Marston’s part in the stage quarrel extended from
some time . . . in 1599 to late in 1601, peace being signed in Marston’s
dignified Latin dedication to Jonson of the Malcontent in 1604. (81)

Marston continued his career as a writer until around 1608. In that year he was imprisoned, apparently for a play that ridiculed King James I and some of his favorites. He was released soon after, but this incident led to his retirement from the theater. Marston turned to the church. Some years earlier he had married a woman named Mary Wilkes, who was the daughter of a clergyman. In 1609 he returned to Oxford to study for the ministry and was ordained as a priest in December of that year. He served as curate for his father-in-law for several years and then in 1616 became the priest at Christchurch, Hampshire, where he served until his retirement in 1631. He died three years later, in June of 1634.