JOHN MARSTON'S
THE MALCONTENT

Monday, November 16, 7:30 pm

Lucille Lortel Theatre

121 Christopher St.

 

Directed by Derek Smith

Featuring Kelley Curran, Geraint Wyn Davies, Clifton Duncan, Cameron Folmar, Christopher Innvar, Jason Kravits, Marsha Mason, Kathryn Meisle, Rachel Mewbron, Matthew Rauch, Rocco Sisto, David Ryan Smith, Susanna Stahlmann, Marc Vietor, Nathan Winkelstein, and more

 

Post-show discussion with Julie Crawford, Chair of Literature Humanities, Columbia University

"How fortune dotes on impudence!"

 

This savage satire follows Malevole, the sarcastic court jester as he lambastes Renaissance Genoa with his caustic wit. But in a tale of false deaths, seductions, and adulteries, is this jester truly what he seems to be?

 

One of Marston's most successful works in his lifetime, The Malcontent is set in the court of Pietro, Duke of Genoa, a place whose frenzied ferment of intrigue and infidelity is observed with a bilious eye by the court cynic, Malevole. Having recently deposed the rightful Duke, his brother Altofronto, in a coup, Pietro paradoxically values Malevole’s savage honesty, although that truth-telling includes revelations he may not want to hear. And Malevole may have more surprises up his jester's sleeve.

 

The OBIE Award-Winning Revelation Readings series provides a unique opportunity to hear rarely-produced classic plays performed by many of the finest actors in New York.

The Cast:
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT

John Marston (1576-1634) brought to his writings an elite education, a sardonic wit, and a taste for sexually explicit banter.  An Oxford graduate and member of Middle Temple of the Inns of Court, he made his mark first with nondramatic poetry – the pornographic Metamorphosis of Pygmalion’s Image and the satiric Scourge of Villainy – before turning to plays after the 1599 Bishops’ Ban on verse satire. Marston wrote primarily for the boys’ companies, especially the edgy, sophisticated Children of the Queens Revels.  Both writer and shareholder in the company, he had an important role in developing the dark, experimental wit that came to distinguish their upmarket Blackfriars Theater from the more inclusive open-air amphitheaters like the Globe.  Like many of his characters, he had an antagonistic streak.  He has been credited with sparking the feud known as the war of the theaters, and he and Ben Jonson notoriously attacked each other both onstage and off; at one point Jonson claimed to have physically beaten him and taken his pistol.  Yet Marston also praised Jonson in print, and worked collaboratively with him and George Chapman on the 1605 comedy Eastward Ho, which got all its authors except Marston in prison for libel. The near escape didn’t stop him from continuing to court controversy; in 1608 James I had Marston imprisoned after further theatrical scandals and offenses.  Around this time, Marston retired from writing for the theater, and surprised his contemporaries by spending the rest of his life as a priest. With its unpredictable mix of competition, friendship, aggression, and reflectiveness, his life – like his writings – embraced contraries.

- Tanya Pollard, Professor, Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center

 

ABOUT THE PLAY

John Marston’s 1604 play The Malcontent tells the story of the usurping Duke of Genoa, Pietro Iacomo and “Malevole,” a satirical courtier. Pietro, for his part, gives Malevole the right to “trot about and bespurtle” whom be pleases in a court filled with flatterers and political opportunists, including Pietro’s wife’s lover, the black-hearted Mendoza. The fast-moving play includes adultery, pandering (via the memorable bawd Maquerelle), and (multiple) attempted murders, as well a hunting scene, a dance, and an elegantly choreographed masque in which political order, and marital fidelity, are restored. Yet it is primarily a sustained critique of political corruption, and a showpiece, in the figure of Malevole, the titular Malcontent, for the uses of satire – Marston’s own métier. “Man is the slime of this dung-pit,” Malevole says towards the end of the play, “and princes are the governors of these men.” As for men’s souls, he continues, “they are as free as emperors, all of one piece; there goes but a pair of shears betwixt an emperor and the son of a bagpiper – only the dyeing, dressing, pressing, glossing makes the difference.” Marston’s satires had been censored in the notorious Bishops’ Ban of 1599, and he himself had already been imprisoned for satirizing his own prince, James I, in an earlier play. In this play, Marston has his cake and eats it too. The satirist is the means by which the rightful prince is restored to power.

- Julie Crawford, Mark van Doren Professor of Humanities and Chair of Literature Humanities, Columbia University

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