An Introduction to the Malcontent
Malcontents are central to many Jacobean plays- Jacques in As You Like It or Malvolio in Twelfth Night or The White Devil or Changeling.
According to Julie Lacey Brooke a malcontent is:
"cynical commentator and judge of a society to which he patently does not belong, as well as, in some cases a rogue disruptor, one who is not only prepared to question but to damage anything and everything that comes within his compass."
David Gunby argues that malcontents are 'mouthpieces' for satirical parts in drama.
"The malcontent is a man divided within himself. On the one hand he is a blunt, moralist, ruthlessly exposing the vices and follies of mankind. On the other he participates in the viciousness and self-seeking of the world he rails against."
Learning without Living
Dramatic malcontents were linked to a historical change where aspiring young men were involved in a kind of misery associated with 'relative deprivation' ie they were given career and educational opportunities that they were unable to realise.
As Lord Chancellor Ellesmere writes:
"I think that we have more need of better livings for learned men than of more learned men for these livings, for learning without living doth but breed traitors."
These men were trained up for a role that did not appear and therefore cynicism was the end result. They prepared too many men for too few places. From 1603 to 1640 universities enrolled under 25,000 students with frustrated intellectuals making up to 15-20% of that amount.
Black Bile and Melancholic Hares
In TWD, the malcontents are social radicals. The historical phenomenon that produced Sir Francis Bacon's warning that ' there are more scholars bred than the State can prefer or employ' is explored in the play.
Malcontents saw their own status as fashionable, a cynical identity that then fuelled widespread and disproportionate fears about their existence. As Lacey Brooke writes being a malcontent was 'a cult of the young, embodying disaffected decadent youth, perceived by the majority as undesireable misfits."
The outward projection of this image is a fake and pretentious kind of identity that is parasitic upon society. In TWD Webster challenges the perception of the malcontent in an metatheatrical scene which criticises the crude stereotyping that seeks to undermine their symbolism power.
The characters are seen as ironically commenting on society's understanding of the malcontent. Primarily on the medieval thinking that there was a link between the state of being melancholy and an excess of 'black bile' , and malcontentedness.
The end result is a 'moral panic' about the potential threat of malcontents as a destabilising force that could challenge society's values. Webster seems to challenge the misrepresentation of oppositional elements of society by showing the 2 characters ridiculing the popular perception of the malcontent.
From the Malcontent to the 'Punk'
Lacey Brooke draws a link to the Punk movement which was 'an ambiguously glamorous and vicious reputation' that appealed to some and repelled others. According to Jackie Moore in 1979 production of TWD by The Acting Comapny, New York, Flamineo was 'dressed like a punk rocker sporting a dog collar and spiked hair."