John Marston’s wickedly funny satire, The Malcontent, centers on the deposed Duke Altofronto, who returns to his court in Genoa to regain his power and position, whilst wreaking his revenge on those who deposed him. He adopts the alter ego of Malevole, a bitter parasite who openly criticizes the corruption of the court. His honesty attracts the attention of the current Duke Pietro, who values Malevole’s observations above the self-serving flattery of the other courtiers. Malevole alerts Pietro to his wife’s infidelity with the scheming Mendoza, who is anxious to seize the dukedom for himself. Altofronto cleverly manipulates the attempts of the machiavellian Mendoza to further depose Pietro and subsequently banish Aurelia. Altofronto even encourages Mendoza to propose marriage to his own, exiled wife, Maria, knowing that she will remain faithful to him.
After complex schemes of attempted murder, exile, fake deaths, disguise, and mistaken identity, Altofronto finally reveals himself to the newly penitent Pietro. Joining forces, the two men expose Mendoza's villainy and are reunited with their own wives. Marston’s seventeenth-century satire exposes a misguided court led by corruption, greed, and lust, which was rumored to be based on the court of James I.