Set play

The Malcontent The Royal Shakespeare Company, The Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

The Royal Shakespeare Company's staging of John Marston's best known play presents an excellent opportunity for students to appreciate that the genre "Jacobean tragedy" contains unexpected ingredients. For example, The Malcontent is extremely funny, no one gets killed, the hero is not really a malcontent at all and the play is about moral redemption rather than revenge. The plot is fiendishly complex, full of intrigue, lust and greed, but its major movement is clear. The malcontent, Malevole, is actually a disguised duke who has lost his throne to a usurper. The disguise allows him to comment caustically on all he sees, exposing the corruption of the court.

He discovers that a machiavellian would-be seducer, Mendoza, plots to seize the throne for himself. Malevole prevents Mendoza's planned seductions and foils his political ambition. In so doing he morally redeems the usurper and his wife and regains his rightful dukedom. An engaging task for students will be to analyse how Antony Sher portrays the feigned madness and satirical railing of Malevole.

Other valuable discussion and writing tasks are to explore the contemporary significances of the play (it's a modern dress production), or to identify how Malevole differs from other famous stage malcontents such as Jaques or Hamlet, or Bosola (The Duchess of Malfi) or Vindice (The Revenger's Tragedy).

For practical work, the first 30 lines, with their inviting opening stage direction, "The vilest out-of-tune music being heard", provide powerful experience of Malevole's scabrous language together with a brilliant Jacobean definition of a malcontent.

In Act 5, scene 7, Malevole's reported murders, his "poisoning" by Mendoza and sudden return to life is as hilarious as Falstaff's "death" and resurrection in Henry 1V part 1.

Tickets, tel: 0870 609 1110. Details of workshops and talks on the RSC's Jacobean season 01789 403462.

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