The Malcontent

And the mini-series on Jacobean drama continues.

Raw Feed (1989): The Malcontent, John Marston, Jacobean Tragedies, ed. A. H. Gomme, 1969.Jacobean Tragedies

An oddity of a play, especially for one included in an ostensible book of tragedies. Nobody dies. There is no real revenge or moral redemption here. As I recall, even in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, a play which shares many of the same plot devices and concerns  (disguised ruler, moral redemption and testing), people die.

Malevole graciously treats Duke Pietro who usurped. Aurelia, after so much time in the play spent railing against women (though mostly by villain), is allowed to repent and seems sincere. Bilioso, the epitome of the opportunistic, bragging noble is dismissed with contempt as is the play’s villain Mendoza who has plotted all sorts of villainies. Ferneze who has blatantly attempted adultery (and who, by the code of the time, could probably justifiably be killed) is spared and relatively unrebuked.

The epilogue seems to urge going easy on Fereneze and excusing the young for their actions (“foul but not a sin”).

This is the only Jacobean or Elizabethean play I’ve read with an induction — which seemed (frankly I had trouble understanding the language) to consist of humor and self-mockery by the actors.

Marquerelle’s fate remains unsure, but the blatant, vigorously unshamed, unrepetent whore seems to come to no harm.

Ferenze doesn’t repent of his errors that I can see, and we don’t get the sort of closure by marriage you find in traditional comedies of the time.

There is the sort of railing against hypocrisy as found in John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi and the emphasis of nobleness by act not birth.

Marston doesn’t dwell on death and decay imagery too much.

Malevole is, like Bosola and Vindice in The Revenger’s Tragedy by Thomas Middleton, given to surly, cutting remarks (which his fellow comrades in sin seem to love as playful railing) rich with irony given his true identity.

This play is profoundly Christian. Unlike Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Malevole really is content with God granting vengeance. He seems to mainly hang around for a God-given opportunity to enact it and react to what he regards as God’s actions on Earth. There may be a note of political satire (apart from the obvious swipes at court life) in the reference to kings being deposed if they don’t obey “heaven’s enforced conditions.”  Perhaps this is an allusion to King James I’s divine right theory and a not so subtle reminder that God can depose as well as impose. The play is also Christian in its concern for redemption and forgiveness.

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