Sex, Drugs and Renaissance – Part 2June 15th, 2010 by James Staynings
Continued from PART 1
In terms of intelligence, Benjamin Johnson is your playwright. The son of a brick maker, he excelled to have one of the finest educations available, but he never let anyone forget about it. If he were a rock star I’d consider Johnson to be a more preachy version of Billy Bragg. In terms of his achievements, he created the genre of city comedies and was a pioneer of the masque and proved to be extremely popular. The reason I call him a preachier version of Bragg is because, well, although I have a limited reading of Johnson, (only having read Bartholomew Fair), I found the text comical but I couldn’t help but think that he was preaching of ways to behave and live your life. For that reason, I find myself at odds with Johnson. Whereas Bragg just highlights social problems, Johnson takes it upon himself to fix them. His style of writing for me is overcomplicated and bloated, and goes against the idea that an author should show you and not tell you the play’s ideas.
Kyd and Webster:
These guys more than Marlowe were condemned for their overuse of violence; however, I believe these guys are perhaps the two most underrated writers of the Renaissance. Thomas Kyd in a modern sense was a one hit wonder, his crowning achievement, the Spanish Tragedy; singlehandedly created the revenge genre and set the floor for many of the ideas used by Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Think of him as the Arthur Brown of 16th century, though instead of bringing ‘fire’, he brought murder, corpses and a play within a play. A lot like Brown’s famous song ‘fire’, the Spanish Tragedy was well written, but compared to other writers like Marlowe, Shakespeare and Webster, its language is rather lacklustre and not massively memorable. However, in terms of structure, Kyd was a master of pacing and irony.
John Webster, whose famous works include the Duchess of Malfi and the White Devil, was described by T.S. Elliot as seeing ‘the skull beneath the skin’ and for me is the only man who comes close to matching Shakespeare in terms of style, language and themes. Whereas some have a problem with excessive violence and would see Webster as an Alice Cooper-like figure, if you look you can see the reason for the violence and could look at the beauty in his words. Personally, I’d say he was the Renaissance version of Kurt Cobain. On the face of things Webster’s plays, like Cobain’s music, appear ugly and simple, but it’s that simplicity and rawness in his words that breathed new life into old words. The Duchess of Malfi – perhaps my favourite play to date – is no ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. It appears greater than that. To some it appears to be murder after murder it was a brilliant take on social hierarchy, greed and man’s vices that some can never understand with Webster’s brilliant malcontent Basola highlighting the dark secrets which man never wants to admit.
I apologise if you’ve read this and felt patronized. This article for me was about having some fun and trying to spice up what many find to be quite boring and one-sided. For me it’s been less than 24 hours since I finished my last exam this year and already the editor’s got her pitchfork out and is prodding me for more words damn it! (Am I really that bad? – Ed). But in all seriousness, I just want to say thanks to her for giving me this opportunity to write and to thank you the readers for supporting me and the site. I now have a summer to write my heart out, so maybe if you’re all good boys and girls, eat your vitamins and say your prayers, Uncle J might have a flee more articles up his sleeve before the summer’s out.