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Long before W. S. Gilbert's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (1891), Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1966), or Lee Blessing's Fortinbras (1991), early modern playwrights wove their own variations on Shakespeare's masterpiece. Unlike their successors, however, they did not annex Hamlet's characters for appearances in revisionist narratives of their own. Instead, deploying different characters, they echoed aural and visual details from Shakespeare's script in ways which significantly inflected the experiences their own plays offered their audiences. This article focuses on one such play: John Marston's The Malcontent (c.1603), written for the Children of the Queen's Revels, and later performed by the King's Men, with Richard Burbage (Shakespeare's original Hamlet) in the lead role. In a departure from the cautious cataloguing of Hamlet's abundant presence in Marston's dialogue by the play's editors, this essay seeks to reposition The Malcontent as a play distinctively different in its central design from the conventional image of it: an image of a play first acted in a monochromatically parodic style of performance by the children's company, and later with less success by Shakespeare's adult troupe. Drawing on personal experiences of directing the play at the University of York in 2008, the essay blends rehearsal and performance experience with close textual analysis in order to draw attention to Marston's stylistic oscillations and his radical reinvention of revenge plotting, with a view to offering a revitalized impression of The Malcontent's distinctive energies in performance.
Marston,Shakespeare,The Malcontent,Hamlet,Rehearsal process,Textual analysis,Adaptation,Revenge plots,Tragicomedy