THE DUCHESS OF MALFI CONTEXT

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  • The Duchess of Malfi: Context
    • General Context
      • First performed in 1613-1614
      • The Duchess is a young widow who marries her steward, Antonio, (against her brother's wishes) and bears him with three children.
      • Her twin brother, Duke Ferdinand, is obsessed with her; imagining her in the 'shameful act of sin'...
      • Her other brother, The Cardinal (a and of God) ensure that his spy, Bosola, in employed in her household.
    • Social and Historical Context
      • Set in a patriarchal world of early modern England.
        • The Duchess surprisingly asserts her right to marry whom she pleases.
          • The Duchess seduces Antonio as well as conducting her own wedding ceremony, with her maid (Cariola) as their witness.
      • Women were challenging the patriarchy.
        • It's often said that women of this period had no power to own property, nor run their own households.
        • A Crystal Glass for Christian Women: Philip Stubbes
        • During her final moments, she mocks and dismisses the male court
    • Political Context
      • The Duchess of Malfi is set in Italy
        • Freeing the dramatists to critique the English Court indirectly
      • In the opening of Malfi, Antonio   talks admirably to Delio of the court of France. he was praising the order and opens he witnessed there.
      • This low-key opening allows the audience to compare the court of Malfi and the French court.
    • Theatrical Context
      • Webster's first successful play: stages in the Blackfriars Hall
        • Blackfriars Hall held 600 people and was indoors.
        • Didn't use the popular Globe Theatre (open top), holding up to 2000 people.
        • The scene in which Ferdinand visits the Duchess in her imprisonment was played in total darkness with all candles removed.
          • The same scene played in outdoor space, such as the Globe, would invite the audience to see the Duke's plot unfold.
          • it was only wen the Duchess called for lights that the audience had realised he had given her a dead man's hand in greeting, not his own.

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