(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Duke Altofronto has been banished from Genoa. A political coup staged by Mendoza with the help of the Florentines brings the weak Pietro Jacomo to power through his marriage to Aurelia, the daughter of a powerful Florentine leader. Altofronto, disguised as Malevole, prepares to bide his time until the state wearies of the new duke. Altofronto’s devoted duchess, Maria, waits faithfully in prison for his return, and Celso acts as his secret informant on matters of state.

Altofronto, as the Malcontent, is described as a likable person of marked intelligence and straightforward honesty. He refuses to flatter as others do. On the negative side, however, he is described as more monster than man, more discontented than Lucifer in his fall, a man living on the vexations of others and at variance with his own soul. It is a mixture that makes him seem unpredictable and serves Altofronto well in plotting against his adversaries. This description of him comes from Pietro, who is strangely attracted to the erratic individual known as the Malcontent. It is Altofronto, disguised as Malevole, who tells Pietro that he is being cuckolded by Mendoza. This condition, Malevole declares, is most unnatural, for a cuckold is a creation of woman and not of God. In this way, Altofronto torments Pietro and inflames him against Mendoza.

Incensed by the thought of a relationship between Mendoza and Aurelia, Pietro confronts the minion with accusations and threats to kill him, but Mendoza placates the duke with disparagement of women and their habits, absolving himself of Pietro’s accusations by telling him that Ferneze is the offender against the duke’s marital rights. To prove his point, he suggests that Pietro break into Aurelia’s room that night; should Ferneze try to escape, Mendoza will kill him. The situation occurs as Mendoza had planned: Ferneze is discovered in Aurelia’s room and is, the minion believes, killed in his attempt to flee.

Later, when Mendoza and Aurelia are alone, they plan Pietro’s murder. Aurelia promises to use her influence to have Mendoza made duke of Genoa. Unbeknownst to them, however, Ferneze has not been killed. Wounded, he attracts the attention of Altofronto, who revives and hides the young courtier.

Knowing that Pietro is hunting, Mendoza hires the Malcontent to pursue and murder the duke. Taken in by Altofronto’s apparent willingness to aid him in his villainy, Mendoza outlines the remaining steps to his ultimate goal. With Pietro removed and his alliance with Aurelia established, he will be ready to make his bid...

(The entire section is 1054 words.)