Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Genoa. Northwestern Italian city-state and mercantile center around whose palace and court of Duke Altofronto the play centers. Within the palace building only the duchess’s bedchamber has special significance, for its sexual intrigues and adulterous relationships. Marston never shows the inside of the bedroom, only its outside. At its door, the young courtier Ferneze is stabbed, so though sexuality is promised, only violence is delivered. However, the general atmosphere is one of promiscuity; the lack of borders in the staging reinforces this.


Citadel. At some location near the Palace lies the citadel, in which Maria lies imprisoned through most of the drama. Act 5, scene 2 presumably takes place there, though this is never stated as such. The citadel symbolizes the chastity of the duke’s wife, Maria, which has a stronghold even in a corrupt court, thereby making some sort of comic resolution possible.


Countryside. A hunting scene in act 3 is the only other scene not taking place in court. Hunting is a feature of tragicomedy, derived from the pastoral, but here denoting the sexual chase.


*Florence. Powerful city-state in north-central Italy that was a rival of Genoa. Although no scene in the play is set there, the duke of Florence is a manipulative force in the play; he helps usurp Altofronto and through Bilioso seeks to reinstate him. Florence therefore represents a rival power base and the source of a complicating corruption.

The Malcontent Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Finkelpearl, Philip. John Marston of the Middle Temple: An Elizabethan Dramatist in His Social Setting. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1969. Covers Marston’s biographical and social background and seeks to relate the plays to that background. Bibliography and index.

Geckle, George L. John Marston’s Drama: Themes, Images, Sources. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1980. Chapter 7 discusses The Malcontent, dealing in particular with the theme of fortune. Geckle argues that the dominant motif is not disguise but rather the wheel of fortune, and he points to the themes that revolve round this symbol. He agrees that the play is a tragicomedy, but he stresses the tragic aspects of the wheel motif. Includes an index.

Scott, Michael. John Marston’s Plays: Theme, Structure, and Performance. London: Macmillan, 1978. The plays are not dealt with separately, but under a variety of subject headings. Scott tries to read Marston as an absurdist and looks to typical twentieth century categories. Some discussion of performance tradition. Includes an index.

Tucker, Kenneth. John Marston: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1985. Follows the standard format and sequencing of the “Reference Guide to Literature” series. Includes bibliography and index.

Wharton, T. F. The Critical Fall and Rise of John Marston. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1994. The most recent full-length study of Marston, dealing with the critical debates that have revolved round him. Takes note, among much else, of T. S. Eliot’s notable essay on Marston, which sparked off twentieth century critical concern. Includes an index.