Duchess of Malfi Major Themes

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  • Created by: Davny
  • Created on: 21-04-16 19:44
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  • The Duchess of Malfi's Themes
    • Family
      • Duchess's desire to start a family directly goes against her brothers
        • When Ferdinand hears of the baby he says 'I could kill her...it is some sin in us heaven doth revenge
      • CONTEXT; FAMILY IN 17TH CENTURY, HIERARCHY MEANT WOMAN WAS ALWAYS BELLOWED MEN
      • Duchess is nontraditional woman
        • Chooses own husband
        • Instigates entire relationship
        • Proposes herself doesn't for Antonio to
      • Duchess and Antonio want a happy and equal relationship but due to her statue this is impossible to have
    • Marriage
      • Within the first Act the Duchess has been told not to marry by her brothers but did it any way
        • 'Diamond are of most value, they say, that have passed through most jewellers' hands'
        • 'We are forc'd to woo, because none dare woo us'
    • Lies and Deceit
      • Ability to cheat is what keeps people on top in the Duchess of Malfi
      • Antonio and the Duchess's lives are fine until the Cardinal and Ferdinand become involved
      • Bosola, being a spy, is the main source of deceit in the play
      • Cardinals lies, although hidden in part, is the thing that ultimately lead to his death
    • Duty
      • Antonio is the Duchess's master of horse so must retain responsibility of that while being her husband and 'onseer'
      • The Duchess has to balance her political and personal life, part of the criticism of her is that she prioritising her self
    • Society and Class
      • Written at a time of huge social change, start of form of capitalism so social movement had begun
        • Shown in the character of Antonio
          • 'Without I raise it higher. Raise yourself, Or if you please, my hand to help you' Duchess to Antonio before the marriage
        • Status isn't just because of birth anymore but can be achieved through merit, favour and bribery
      • Throughout the play the Duchess is warned not to marry beneath her and Antonio is warned about showing too much 'Ambition'
        • 'How fearfully His ambition shows now' Delio about Antonio
      • Bosola is also supposed to being 'ambitious' by Delio and Antonio but actually isn't as he expressly says to them both
        • 'I look no higher than I can reach...When a man's mind rides faster than his horse can gallop, they quickly both tire''
      • Bosola is also very aware of the insuffient rewards given to people in some members of the upper class's service
        • 'There are rewards for hawks and dogs when they have done us service, but for a solider that hazards his limbs in battle, nothing but a kind of geometry is his last supportation'
      • Servants were treated as property to their masters
        • Bosola is the servant and spy of Ferdinand
          • 'I am your creature'
    • Power
      • Opening is a description of a model of power that contrasts the corrupt court of Malfi
        • 'a prince's court is like a common fountain, whence should flow pure silver drops in general, but if't chance some cursed example poison't near the head, death and diseases through the whole land spread'
      • Webster obviously has a very cynical view of power
      • Family dynamics tend to follow the same pattern as the power dynamic in court
        • Ferdinand and the Cardinal, and the Duchess
          • 'He and his brothers are like plum trees that grow over standing pools: they are rich and o'erladen with fruit but none but pies and caterpillars feed of them'
        • The Cardinal and Julia
      • 'I am the Duchess of Malfi still'
    • Suffering
      • In the second half of the play Webster uses the idea that the world is awful
        • 'I am acquainted with sad misery'
        • 'And Fortune seems only to have her eye-sight to behold my tragedy'
        • 'Their life, a general  mist of error, Their death, a hideous storm of terror
        • 'Pleasure of life, what is't?'
    • Reputation
      • Ferdinand and Cardinal obsessed with Duchess's reputation
        • Warn her not to be a 'Lusty widow'
        • when they find out she has a child they say she's tainted their 'royal blood'
      • Ironically Cardinals last words relate to leaving no reputation asking to be 'never thought of'
      • Duchess doesn't care about reputation shown by her actions but pretends she does to her brothers
        • 'I will marry for your honour'
      • Last line of the play, 'Integrity of life is fame's best friend/ Which nobly, beyond death, shall crown the end' relates to the importance of living a great life rather than caring for what others think
    • Corruption
      • Seen particularly in the cardinal
      • Seen in cardinals employing Bosola and plotting to kill him
      • Cardinal even kills his own mistress
      • Cardinal having a mistress shows corruption in church
      • Ferdinand's corruption drives him mad
      • 'He and his brother are like plum trees that grow crooked over standing pool'
    • Morality and Ethics
      • In the Duchess of Malfi following christian ethics tend to course more harm than good
        • The Duchess was quite nice through out which ultimately end in her death
        • 'The reward of doing well is the doing of it'
        • 'Your bounty, which makes men truly noble, e'er should make me a villian'
        • 'Like diamonds we are cut with our own dust'

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