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The Malcontent

The Malcontent

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The Malcontent is an early Jacobean stage play written by the dramatist and satirist John Marston
John Marston
John Marston was an English poet, playwright and satirist during the late Elizabethan and Jacobean periods...

 ca. 1603. The play was one of Marston's most successful works.

The Malcontent is widely regarded as one of the most significant plays of the English Renaissance; an extensive body of scholarly research and critical commentary has accumulated around it.


The play was first performed by the Children of the Chapel
Children of the Chapel
The Children of the Chapel were the boys with unbroken voices, choristers, who formed part of the Chapel Royal, the body of singers and priests serving the spiritual needs of their sovereign wherever they were called upon to do so....

, one of the troupes of boy actors
Boy player
Boy player is a common term for the adolescent males employed by Medieval and English Renaissance playing companies. Some boy players worked for the mainstream companies and performed the female roles, as women did not perform on the English stage in this period...

 active in the era, in the Blackfriars Theatre
Blackfriars Theatre
Blackfriars Theatre was the name of a theatre in the Blackfriars district of the City of London during the Renaissance. The theatre began as a venue for child actors associated with the Queen's chapel choirs; in this function, the theatre hosted some of the most innovative drama of Elizabeth and...

. It was later taken over by the King's Men
King's Men (playing company)
The King's Men was the company of actors to which William Shakespeare belonged through most of his career. Formerly known as The Lord Chamberlain's Men during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, it became The King's Men in 1603 when King James ascended the throne and became the company's patron.The...

, the adult company for which William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

 worked, and performed at the Globe Theatre
Globe Theatre
The Globe Theatre was a theatre in London associated with William Shakespeare. It was built in 1599 by Shakespeare's playing company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, and was destroyed by fire on 29 June 1613...

. The King's Men's production featured a new induction
Induction (play)
An Induction in a play is an explanatory scene or other intrusion that stands outside and apart from the main action with the intent to comment on it, moralize about it or in the case of dumb show to summarize the plot or underscore what is afoot. Inductions are a common feature of plays written...

, written by John Webster
John Webster
John Webster was an English Jacobean dramatist best known for his tragedies The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi, which are often regarded as masterpieces of the early 17th-century English stage. He was a contemporary of William Shakespeare.- Biography :Webster's life is obscure, and the dates...

, and several new scenes, probably written by Marston himself. These additions may have been necessary because the original play was too short for the King's Men's purposes: plays for the boys' companies tended to involve more musical interludes than those of the adult companies, and so be shorter.

The Induction

The Induction to this revised version is a metatheatrical one, in which the play's actors and its onstage spectators comment on the drama that is to follow and discuss the "bitterness" of its satire. King's Men actors Richard Burbage
Richard Burbage
Richard Burbage was an English actor and theatre owner. He was the younger brother of Cuthbert Burbage. They were both actors in drama....

, John Lowin
John Lowin
John Lowin was an English actor born in the St Giles-without-Cripplegate, London, the son of a tanner. Like Robert Armin, he was apprenticed to a goldsmith. While he is not recorded as a free citizen of this company, he did perform as a goldsmith, Leofstane, in a 1611 city pageant written by...

, and Henry Condell
Henry Condell
Henry Condell was an actor in the King's Men, the playing company for which William Shakespeare wrote. With John Heminges, he was instrumental in preparing the First Folio, the collected plays of Shakespeare, published in 1623....

 appear as themselves, while William Sly
William Sly
William Sly was an actor in English Renaissance theatre, a colleague of William Shakespeare and Richard Burbage in the Lord Chamberlain's Men and the King's Men....

 appears as a young theater-goer and John Sinklo
John Sinklo
John Sinklo was an English Renaissance theatre actor, known to be active between 1592-1604. He was a member of several playing companies, including Lord Strange's Men, Pembroke's Men, Lord Chamberlain's Men and the King's Men...

 appears as "Doomsday," his cousin. The gallant asks Condell how King's Men came to mount a Blackfriar's play, and Condell answers, "Why not Malevole in folio with us, as Jeronimo in decimosexto with them?" He suggests that the boys (compared to a sextodecimo
Book size
The size of a book is generally measured by the height against the width of a leaf, or sometimes the height and width of its cover. A series of terms is commonly used by libraries and publishers for the general sizes of modern books, ranging from "folio" , to "quarto" and "octavo"...

 sheet) had stolen a King's Men's play, possibly a sequel to Thomas Kyd
Thomas Kyd
Thomas Kyd was an English dramatist, the author of The Spanish Tragedy, and one of the most important figures in the development of Elizabethan drama....

's The Spanish Tragedy
The Spanish Tragedy
The Spanish Tragedy, or Hieronimo is Mad Again is an Elizabethan tragedy written by Thomas Kyd between 1582 and 1592. Highly popular and influential in its time, The Spanish Tragedy established a new genre in English theatre, the revenge play or revenge tragedy. Its plot contains several violent...

and so they stole Blackfriars's Malcontent for their folio-sized actors.


The Malcontent was entered into the Stationers' Register
Stationers' Register
The Stationers' Register was a record book maintained by the Stationers' Company of London. The company is a trade guild given a royal charter in 1557 to regulate the various professions associated with the publishing industry, including printers, bookbinders, booksellers, and publishers in England...

 on July 5, 1604
1604 in literature
The year 1604 in literature involved some significant events.-Events:*Isaac Casaubon becomes sub-librarian of the royal library in Paris.*Construction of the Red Bull Theatre in London....

, and published later the same year in quarto
Book size
The size of a book is generally measured by the height against the width of a leaf, or sometimes the height and width of its cover. A series of terms is commonly used by libraries and publishers for the general sizes of modern books, ranging from "folio" , to "quarto" and "octavo"...

 in three states, the second and third containing the additions by Marston and the induction by Webster. All three texts of the first edition were printed by Valentine Simmes
Valentine Simmes
Valentine Simmes was an Elizabethan era and Jacobean era printer; he did business in London, "on Adling Hill near Bainard's Castle at the sign of the White Swan." Simmes has a reputation as one of the better printers of his generation, and was responsible for several quartos of Shakespeare's plays...

 for the bookseller William Aspley
William Aspley
William Aspley was a London publisher of the Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline eras. He was a member of the publishing syndicates that issued the First Folio and Second Folio collections of Shakespeare's plays, in 1623 and 1632.-Career:...


The plot

The Malcontent tells the story of the deposed duke Altofront, who has adopted the alter ego
Alter ego
An alter ego is a second self, which is believe to be distinct from a person's normal or original personality. The term was coined in the early nineteenth century when dissociative identity disorder was first described by psychologists...

 of Malevole, a discontented parasite, in order to try to regain his lost dukedom. Malevole is an angry satirist-figure, who attacks the corruption and decadence of the court in which he lives. The degree to which the play is a comment on the court of James I
James I of England
James VI and I was King of Scots as James VI from 24 July 1567 and King of England and Ireland as James I from the union of the English and Scottish crowns on 24 March 1603...

 and the immorality of his courtiers is debatable, as the satire is, by and large, general enough to fit any court. However, The Malcontent seemed to some contemporaries to be, like Marston's later plays, a lashing of the new, bumptious, and corrupt Scottish courtiers, and some specific satire is certain.

Later productions

During the Restoration
English Restoration
The Restoration of the English monarchy began in 1660 when the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies were all restored under Charles II after the Interregnum that followed the Wars of the Three Kingdoms...

 and through the 18th century, the play was unacted, but it was revived in 1850 at the Olympic Theatre in London. It was not acted again until the 1960s, with a production in 1964 at Southampton University and then 1968 at Oxford University. The A.D.C. Theatre in Cambridge performed it in modern dress in 1983, in 1998 by the English Department at Boston University
Boston University
Boston University is a private research university located in Boston, Massachusetts. With more than 4,000 faculty members and more than 31,000 students, Boston University is one of the largest private universities in the United States and one of Boston's largest employers...

, and in 2010 by the Academy for Classical Acting (of the Shakespeare Theatre Company
Shakespeare Theatre Company
The Shakespeare Theatre Company is a regional theatre company located in Washington, D.C. Their self professed mission "is to present classic theatre of scope and size in an imaginative, skillful and accessible American style that honors the playwrights’ language and intentions while viewing their...

) in Washington, D.C. Aside from these student and repertoire productions, there was a professional staging in 1973 by Jonathan Miller
Jonathan Miller
Sir Jonathan Wolfe Miller CBE is a British theatre and opera director, author, physician, television presenter, humorist and sculptor. Trained as a physician in the late 1950s, he first came to prominence in the 1960s with his role in the comedy revue Beyond the Fringe with fellow writers and...


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