The malcontent

Origins of the malcontent

The early seventeenth century was said to be pervaded by an air of melancholy in contrast to the optimism of the sixteenth century. Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy, which shows the interest in this phenomenon, was published in 1621.

Many of the reasons for this atmosphere of discontent were due to the social and economic conditions of the time. This included James I's elevation of favourites and the difficulties courtiers faced in trying to make their way in the world.

The malcontent in drama

A character typified as a ‘malcontent' appeared in plays in the early seventeenth century. There was even a play called The Malcontent written by John Marston, but plays like Hamlet and The White Devil also feature malcontents. Hamlet himself is a malcontent and in The White Devil both Flamineo and Lodovico show the symptoms:

  • Flamineo is clearly discontented with his lot in life. He dislikes his lowly status and lack of money
  • Lodovico bears grudges against Vittoria and her family and is prepared to take revenge on them. His general attitude is one of discontent.
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