The play, “The Malcontent” by John Marston is about Giovanni Altofronto being disguised as Malevole and planning his revenge against the duke, Pietro. Women are a main part of the play as there are many women characters with important roles. However, many male characters do not consider women to be good, like in many Renaissance plays.
Mendoza has a moment where he talks about what he thinks about women. He says that: “Their words are feigned, their eyes forged, their sights / dissembled, their looks counterfeit, their hair false, their / given hopes deceitful, their very breath artificial” (Act I, Scene VI, l. 90-2). Mendoza believes that there is nothing real about women; their appearances are all fake and cannot be trusted. He thinks that they want to trick people and also never tell the truth, like their appearances.
Aurelia, the wife of the duke, decides to have an affair with Ferneze. She tells Ferneze: “I will be sick instantly and take physic; / therefore, in depth of night visit -“ (Act I, Scene VI, l. 50-1) This portrays her as betraying her husband and for having desires outside of her marriage. She is an example that women can be unfaithful, which depicts women in a negative light.
After Aurelia is discovered to be cheating by her husband, she talks to Mendoza. She tells Mendoza: “Instantly, before he casts a plot, / Or further blaze my honour’s much-known blot, / Let’s murder him” (Act II, Scene V, l. 75-7). If Aurelia were truly sorry for her unfaithfulness, she would kill herself like the women in “The Revenger’s Tragedy” and “A Woman Killed With Kindness.” Instead, she wants to kill her husband so that she will still live. This depicts her as a terrible woman because she again is betraying her husband.
When Malevole talks to Bilioso before he leaves to be ambassador in Florence, Malevole warns him about leaving his wife at home. Malevole suggests that: “With potent example, impudent custom, / Enticed by that great bawd, Opportunity; Thus being prepared, clap to her easy ear” (Act III, Scene III, l. 44-6). Malevole describes that if Bilioso leaves his wife at home, his wife will most likely cheat on him. This again is another portrayal of women as unfaithful people.
When Pietro is being entertained, he makes a suggestion to the Page. He asks: “Sing of the nature of women, and then the song shall be / surely full of variety…” (Act III, Scene IV, l. 30-1). Pietro is suggesting that women are a source of entertainment for men. Women are seen as an object, like in other Renaissance plays.
The portrayal of women in Renaissance plays is usually never positive, unless the woman is a virtuous one. As the play continues, we will see if Aurelia’s plot comes to fruition.