Do they hold the same estimation they did when I was
in the city? Are they so followed?

No, indeed, are they not.

How comes it? Do they grow rusty?

Nay, their endeavour keeps in the wonted pace: but
there is, sir, an eyrie of children, little eyases,
that cry out on the top of question, and are most
tyrannically clapped for’t: these are now the
fashion, and so berattle the common stages - so they
call them - that many wearing rapiers are afraid of
goose-quills and dare scarce come thither.

What, are they children? Who maintains them? How are
they escoted? Will they pursue the quality no
longer than they can sing? Will they not say
afterwards, if they should grow themselves to common
players - as it is most like, if their means are no
better - their writers do them wrong, to make them
exclaim against their own succession?

'Faith, there has been much to do on both sides; and
the nation holds it no sin to tarre them to
controversy: there was, for a while, no money bid
for argument, unless the poet and the player went to
cuffs in the question.

Is't possible?

O, there has been much throwing about of brains.

Do the boys carry it away?

Ay, that they do, my lord; Hercules and his load too.


The War of the Theatres (also rather fancifully dubbed the Poetomachia by Thomas Dekker) was a controversy between various playwrights in London in the early 17th century. The Archbishops of Canterbury and London brought about a ban in 1599 (The Bishops’ Ban) that forbade satire in prose or poetry, or in plays that were not approved by the Privy Council. Thanks to the ban, theatre became the centre of conflict between rival poets. Wikipedia has a helpful summary of the shots fired:

The least disputed facts of the matter yield a schema like this:

  1. In his play Histriomastix (1599), John Marston satirized Jonson’s pride through the character Chrisoganus.

  2. Ben Jonson responded by satirizing Marston's wordy style in Every Man out of His Humour (1599), a play acted by the Lord Chamberlain's Men.

  3. Marston, in turn, replied with Jack Drum's Entertainment (1600), a play acted by the Children of Paul's, satirizing Jonson as Brabant Senior, a cuckold.

  4. In Cynthia's Revels (1600), acted by the Children of the Chapel, Jonson satirizes both Marston and Thomas Dekker. The former is thought to be represented by the character Hedon, a "light voluptuous reveller," and the latter by Anaides, a "strange arrogating puff."

  5. Marston next attacked Jonson in What You Will (1601), a play most likely acted by the Children of Paul's.

  6. Jonson responded with The Poetaster (1601), by the Children of the Chapel again, in which Jonson portrays the character representing Marston as vomiting bombastic and ridiculous words he has ingested.

  7. Dekker completed the sequence with Satiromastix (1601), which mocks Jonson ("Horace") as an arrogant and overbearing hypocrite. The play was acted by both the Children of Paul's and the Lord Chamberlain's Men.

Apparently Jonson and Marston eventually came to terms and even collaborated with George Chapman on the play Eastward Hoe in 1605. That play offended The King, because of its anti-Scottish satire. While Marston evaded capture, Jonson and Chapman ended up in jail as a result.

What’s particularly interesting is that the vast majority of these plays seem to have small references to Hamlet within them. (Go find them!)