TEN THINGS YOU MIGHT LIKE TO KNOW:
1. When was the play first performed?
2. Where was the play first performed?
By Paul’s Boys at Paul’s (a small hall) and then by the Boys at the Blackfriars
Playhouse in London, then later by The King’s Men at the Blackfriars Playhouse
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
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 one of the most deliciously … well …malevolent
revenge tragedies and one whose plot and setting, more than Hamlet’s, comments
on the English court. They especially like the play’s The 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.
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The Winter's Tale
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