A third, curiously interesting play is the anonymous romance, The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune (1582). If more such plays from this period had survived, says P. P. Wilson, "the gap between Greene and the young Shakespeare and their predecessors might not seem so striking. If Damon and Pythias and Three Ladies of London show a growing concern among playwrights over the dangers of corruption, parasitism and Machiavellian intrigue in the court and in the city, The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune supplies an early dramatic example of the melancholic posing and attitudinizing that has such a profound influence on the malcontent strain.
The Rare Triumphs is essentially a play-within-a-debate. Venus and Fortune begin the debate by arguing over which has more power. Finally, Jupiter suggests that the two put their debate to the test by comparing their abilities to influence a "real" situation involving a pair of lovers he has been watching. Thus the story itself begins with Act II, and the immortals step back to watch. Venus and Fortune reappear briefly, alternately claiming that the ensuing events prove one or the other superior and ultimately stepping in at the end to bring the whole business to a happy close, counseling that "Wisdom ruleth Love and Fortune both" (Rare Triumphs, p. 243).
The romance involves a young man, Hermione, who loves Fidelia but is scorned by Duke Phizanties, her father, and Armenio, her brother. Hermione's father, Bomelio (a distant ancestor of Prospero), is also a duke, but has been banished by Phizanties' father, become a hermit in the forest, and taken up magic. Bomelio finds and reveals himself to his son and sets out to help Hermione win Fidelia by using his magic to strike Armenio dumb, presumably with the idea that he will be able to trade his ability to cure Armenio for Phizanties’ acceptance of Hermione as a son-in-law.
Bomelio immediately catches one's eye. He has clearly spent most of his time sitting in his cave and brooding:
He that hath lost his hope, and yet desires to live,Indeed, not only does he bewail his "dainty dish … of fretting melancholy" (175) for nearly fifty lines (making this initial speech twice as long as any other in the play), even his rascally servant, Lontulo, laughs at his posing:
He that is overwhelm'd with woe, and yet would counsel give;
He that delights to sigh, to walk abroad alone,
To drive away the weary time with his lamenting moan;
He that in his distress despaireth of relief,
Let him begin to tell his tale, to 'rip up all his grief,
And if that wretched man can more than I recite
Of fickle fortune's froward check and her continual spite,
Of her inconstant change, of her discourtesy,
I will be partner with that man to live in misery. (173-174)
He'll do nothing all day long but sit on his arse, as my mother did when she made pouts:
And then a’ looks at this fashion, and thus and thus again; and then, what do ye?
By my troth, I stand even thus at him, and laugh at his simplicity. (177)
One would suspect that Lentulo crosses his arms or makes some such characteristic gesture when he says "and thus and thus," for he seems to have studied his master’s melancholia thoroughly.
Lentulo is a great imitator, and he soon falls under the influence of Penulo, Phizanties' parasite-servant, who is so proud of his ability as an informer that, before he tells Armenio about his discovering a secret meeting between Fidelia and Hermione, he gloats:
This is a step that first we use to climb:Ever eager to serve his own best interest, Lentulo so prefers Penulo's courtly ways to his own austere life with Bomelio that he soon deserts his master and accepts Penulo’s promise that he will "prefer" him to "a service in the Court presently" (182). Lentulo next steals a set of fancy clothes and begins to ape the manners of the court. Indeed, he decides to fall in love and ape the melancholia to which courtiers are prone as well:
We that, forsooth, take hold on every time.
Men of all hours, whose credit such as spites,
In heat forsooth hath called us parasites. (172)
Thy love with a woman! Are you in love, sir, then, with your leave?
What an ass art thou: couldst thou not all this time perceive,
That I never sleep but when I am not awake,
And I eat and I eat till my belly would ache?
And I fall away like a gammon of bacon.
Am I not in love when I am in this tacon?
Call'st thou this the court? would I had ne’er come thither
To be caught in Cupido. I faint, I faint!
0h gather me, gather me! [Pretends to swoon]
Come up, and be hanged. Alack, poor Lentulo! [Aside]
Tell me with whom thou art in love so.
You kill me, and you make me tell her name. No, no.
0 terrible torments, that trounce in my toe!
Love, my masters, is a parlous matter! how it runs out of my nose!
It's now in my back, now in my belly; O, now in the bottom of my hose. (196-197)
Not only does Lentulo make fun of Bomelio’s melancholy, he suffers from pseudo-melancholy himself. Clearly, the author of The Rare Triumphs is totally familiar with the conventions of melancholia: indeed, he is one of the first dramatists to bring these conventions so richly into play.
The gloomy, morose Bomelio, who is at once a part of this world and alienated from it, is thus an intriguing figure. Not only is he a melancholic, he shares other characteristics with malcontents to come. He is also (like Hamlet) a revenger, who sees his plotting against the corrupt Phizanties as part of a "Just revenge that here I undertake" (208). He wears disguises masquerading both as a hermit and (shades of Malevole's "virtuous Machiavellianism") as an Italian doctor who claims he can cure Armenio’s dumbness. He is a manipulator, having magically caused this dumbness himself―a fact which Armenio senses, suggesting in sign language that his affliction was caused by "some old man, that threatened to be revenged on him" (208).
Finally, after a capricious fit of righteousness causes Hermione to destroy his father's magic books, the apparently overwrought Bomelio plunges into a fit of madness:
What can'st thou tell me? tell me of a turd. What, and a’ come? I conjure thee, foul spirit, down to hell! Ho. ho. ho! the devil, the devil! A-comes. A-comes, a-comes upon me, and I lack my books. Help! Help! Help! Lend me a sword, a sword! 0, I am gone! [He raves.] (226)Indeed, like the distracted Hamlet's, Bomelio’s raving turns to anti-feminism. When Fidelia tries to comfort him, he rails:
Hark the whore! See what an impudent whore it is. Sleep, you whore? I’ll sleep with you anon. Gog’s blood, you whore, I'll hang you up! [He threatens her.] (231)
Although no dramatic character would be so labeled for two years, I would argue that Bomelio its, indeed, an early “Malcontent.” The melancholy, disguise, tendency for virtuous intrigue, madness, railing against women and hermit-like reclusiveness which comprise his character are all attributes of malcontents to come. In addition, he represents a bit of the scholar—although his romanticized scholarly abilities (magic) are for him a source of power rather than a source of frustration—and he moves in a milieu where flattery and parasitism abound—although, unlike his descendant Malevole, he refuses to indulge in either.
In the final analysis, as far as literary history is concerned, it is perhaps melancholy—derived from the novels of men like Sidney, Lodge, Greene, and Lyly, and found in plays like The Rare Triumphs—which, aided to the other characteristics we have delineated, produced the earliest stage malcontents, of which Bomelio is one.
This literary phenomenon may well reflect contemporary cultural trends. The eighties were the period in which the so-called "Elizabethan younger generation," the sons of Elizabeth's older courtiers were coming of age. Frustrated in their attempts to supplant their elders, angered by the growth of flattery and parasitism at Elizabeth's court, and discouraged by the aging Queen's growing conservatism and their own parents' distrust of ambition, various members of this generation turned to romantic fiction as a means of reasserting the idealism they found lacking in the increasingly materialistic court. They thus established escapist realms into which their frustrated imaginations could move, and cultivated literary melancholy as a means of reflecting their own (frequently university-bred) melancholy at not obtaining the preferments formerly given their elders.
In a play such as The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune these concerns enter the world of the drama. In a sense, the early malcontent can be seen as representing both the frustrated melancholy of the younger generation and a romanticized version of their suppressed ambition, desire for power and eagerness to revenge themselves upon the flatterers they felt to be swarming about the court.
Potentially “Malcontent” themselves, members of this younger generation allowed their personal melancholy fuller range in their literary works and produced surrogates like Bomelio, who, drunk with melancholy, seeks a reordering of priorities which would produce, at least in the idealized world of the play, a kind of contentedness. Thus it is that the author of The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune allows his hero's melancholy to push Bomelio’s desire for revenge to the extreme:
Eternal gods, that know my true Intent,
And how unjustly wrongéd I have been,
Vouchsafe all secret dangers to prevent,
And further me, as yet you do begin.
Sufficeth you my travail heretofore,
My hungers cold, and all my former pain.
Here make an end, and plague me now no more:
Contented [italics mine], then, at rest I will remain. (206)