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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1054

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.

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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 for power. The banishment of Aurelia will be an easy step because he will publicize her infidelity to the Florentines. Then he intends to marry Maria, Altofronto’s imprisoned wife, whose friends will strengthen Mendoza and his faction.

Reassured by Mendoza’s admission that he does not love Maria, that she too is only a pawn to him, Altofronto takes heart in his assurance that Maria is still true to him, as Celso has reported. Altofronto suggests to Mendoza that they hire a wretch or holy man to report that he has seen Pietro, bereft of reason because of his wife’s infidelity, throw himself into the sea. He also offers to act as Mendoza’s emissary in winning Maria’s favor.

Instead of murdering Pietro, Altofronto divulges to him the plot against his life and provides him with the disguise of the hermit who is to report his suicide. Pietro, in disguise, gives a vivid description of his own anguished demise while lamenting Aurelia’s unfaithfulness. Mendoza immediately banishes Aurelia. He then instructs Altofronto to negotiate with Maria.

Duped by the supposed hermit, Mendoza sends him after Altofronto, with orders to poison the Malcontent at supper. When Altofronto returns for a letter that will admit him to Maria’s quarters in the...

(The entire section contains 1054 words.)

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