Stuff that Happens
Stuff that happens before the play
- Giovanni Altofronto, the rightful Duke of Genoa, is overthrown and banished by a political plot hatched by Mendoza, the minion of Aurelia, a Florentine gentlewoman.
- Pietro Jacomo becomes the new Duke and marries Aurelia.
- Maria, Altofronto’s Duchess, waits in prison for her husband’s return.
- Altofronto disguises himself as Malevole, the malcontent, to wait for his opportunity to regain power.
Stuff that happens in the play
- Malevole (Altofronto in disguise) railes against the decadence, stupidity, avarice, and corruption of Genoa’s current regime.
- Malevole tells Duke Pietro that Mendoza is sleeping with his wife, Duchess Aurelia.
- Pietro intends to kill Mendoza but Mendoza convinces Pietro that Ferneze, a young courtier, is the man sleeping with Aurelia.
- Pietro makes Mendoza his heir.
- Pietro breaks into Aurelia’s bedroom and catches Ferneze. As Ferneze flees, Mendoza stabs him.
- Mendoza and Aurelia plot to murder Pietro. Aurelia promises to make Mendoza Duke.
- Malevole discovers the wounded Ferneze and attends to his wounds.
- Mendoza hires Malevole to murder the Duke. After the Duke is dead, Mendoza plans to seize power, banish Aurelia, and marry Maria to gain even more political power.
- Malevole tells Pietro about Mendoza’s plot to have him murdered.
- Disguises, intrigues, revelations, and unexpected happy endings ensue.
Dr. Ralph's Brief
1. When was the play first performed?
2. Where was the play first performed?
By Paul’s Boys at Paul (a small hall) and then by the Boys at the Blackfriars Playhouse in London, then later by the King’s Men at the Globe in London, and now by the American Shakespeare Center at the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton.
3. Who wrote it?
John Marston (1576-1634) was an Oxford educated man of letters who began writing plays around 1600, made an enemy of Ben Jonson when he satirized him in his play Histriomastix, then became Ben’s good friend, collaborated with him on Eastward Ho!, and dedicated The Malcontent to him. In 1609 Marston rather suddenly became an Anglican priest.
4. How is this playwright like Shakespeare?
Marston shares with Shakespeare a delight in inventing language and in wrestling with ideas. Malevole (Altofronto), the title character of The Malcontent, is clearly a kind of Hamlet, spying and commenting on the corrupt court he rightfully should rule.
5. How is this playwright unlike Shakespeare?
Marston’s worldly contemplations are more in the service of theme than of character and story. His language is likewise more self-conscious.
6. What do scholars think about this play?
They like it a lot. They find it a deliciously…well…malevolent revenge tragi-comedy and one whose plot and setting, more than Hamlet’s, comments on the English court. They especially like the play’s Induction, which gives a remarkable behind-the-scenes look at the actors in the King’s Men.
7. Is there any controversy surrounding the work?
8. What characters should I especially look for?
Giovanni Altofronto, disguised as Malevole, is one of the most memorable revengers in theatre history. He is more openly bitter than Hamlet and more clearly enjoying his bitterness. The result is a kind of Jon Stewart in a really bad mood and a play simultaneously distressing and funny. Oh, yes, and don’t miss the fun of yet another character (Pietro) in disguise as a hermit.
9. What scene should I especially look for?
Be ready at the start to enjoy the Induction in which Marston stages a conversation between the leading actors of the company (Sly, Sinklo, Burbage, Lowin, and Condell). As to the play proper, the masque at the end deliciously ties together the strands of betrayal and revenge.
10. What is the language like?
Sometimes gnarly; always amusing.