Wednesday, July 17, 2013


I just finished reading The Malcontent.  I'm thinking of teaching it in my comedy course this coming semester; it's in the anthology I've chosen.  But I don't know.

Has one of you taught it?  Thoughts?

I liked it better after I finished it than I did while I was reading, if that makes sense. 

I can see it pairing with Epicoene, in terms of the way disguise works, sort of.  And it's a very different sort of comedy from some, which would be good.

I'm still not sure, though.

I was bothered by the way scenes worked.  Maybe I'm too biased by Shakespeare's typical scenes? 

In Shakespeare, most scenes end when the stage empties.  In French plays (continental plays?) I'm familiar with, every new entrance marks a new scene. 

The Malcontent sort of had it both ways.  Often, when a new character entered, it marked a new scene.  (And it wasn't just the edition.  The copy text, the third printing, seemed to have the same scene divisions so far as I checked it, which wasn't far.)  But not always.  Some characters entered sometimes without making it a new scene.

Let me give you an example of why this bothered me.  In, say, Lear, the play opens with Gloucester, Kent, and Edmund chatting, setting up the Lear division of the kingdom bit.  And then other folks enter, and voila, you are in the midst of the play.

In The Malcontent, there were bits that just felt like vamping, but they were a full scene by themselves.  Sometimes, it seemed like there was a fairly important scene with Malvole (who spends a LOT of time on stage in this play), then the stage would empty, and a couple minor characters would come on, set the scene a bit, so that you'd know it's different, and then Malvole would enter.  But Malvole's entrance would be a new scene, so that little set the scene bit felt, in print, like it didn't need to be its own scene.  (I'm sure in playing it would work just fine.)

So, Marston's Malcontent, or no?


  1. It's been ages since I read that -- maybe 12 years or so. I don't remember being bothered by the scene changes as a student. As a professor, that kind of detail is annoying to me. But when I was (even a grad) student, it never occurred to me to be annoyed by the scene division. If you like the play, then teach it. If not, then don't. To me, there's nothing worse than teaching something I don't really like.

  2. Hmmm. You've explained something that has been bothering me in Volpone. I don't "get" the scenes.

  3. Fie, the thing is, I'm not sure how I feel about it.

    Susan, for me, Volpone reads like a Marx Brothers' play, with everyone coming in and out FAST, just missing other people, and building the comedy from that and from the over the top stuff. (My first college Shakespeare prof used that example the first time our class read Jonson, and it worked for me. So it's not my idea.) For Jonson's comedies, I think constant, on the edge of chaos. And then, kablooey! It blows up in Volpone's face!