Duchess of Malfi Context


Based On...

  • Based on the true story of Giovanna d'Aragona. She was married at 12 years of age to the future Duke of Amalfi in 1490. Her husband died 8 years later.
  • She secretely married the master of her household, Antonio Bologna with whom she had three children.
  • Managed to keep the secret until 1510 when she was found out trying to escape with Antonio under the guise of taking a pilgrimmage.
  • Was (probably) murdered alongside her sisters in 1513. Antonio was murdered in Milan soon afterwards.
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Jacobean Tragedy

  • The Jacobean era is a term given to describe the period during the rule of King James I (1603-1625)
  • Jacobean tragedies were often grim and dark, dealing with themes such as: jealousy, betrayal, incest, murder and revenge.

Sir Francis Bacon - "Revenge is a kind of wild justice."

  • Seneca was an Ancient Roman writer and philosopher, who rewrote classical plots into bloodthirsty versions of plays.
  • His work was highly influential on Elizabethan writers.
  • The play was written within the tradition of revenge tragedy.
  • Revenge tragedy features: a machiavellian character, a malcontent character, focus on avenging a wrong, often family dramas, intense spectacle e.t.c.
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Jacobean Women

Elizabeth I (reigned 1558-1603) - "I know I have but the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too."

James I (1603-1625) - "To make women learned and foxes tame has the same effect - to make them more cunning."

John Knox (1513-1572) - Scottish theologian alive during the reign of Queen Mary of Scots, "To promote a woman to bear rule.. above any realm, nation or city, is repugnant to nature."

Lady Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673) - was the Duchess of Newcastle. Wrote a novel called 'The Blazing World' which was a piece of Utopian writing that imagined a world ruled by a woman. The ruler manages to eliminate war, religious diversion and sexual discrimination.

"Marriage is the grave of tomb and wit."

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The Malcontent

  • Figure in early modern drama who is typically disgruntled by their treatment and dissatisfied with the existing social order.
  • Often, they has a troubled route towards having any authority at all.
  • They are typically important in commenting on the play and offering insight.
  • Cynicism about other characters is central to the malcontent's psyche.

Bosola - "Thus the devil//Candies all sins o'er."

               "I look no higher than I can reach."

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Jacobean Period

  • Divisions between Catholic and Protestant Church - Webster clearly sympathetic to latter and points to religious corruption leading to moral corruption.
  • A largely patriarchal society, though there were some exceptions of powerful women. Leadership and personal life for women were seemingly incongruous.
  • After years of political uncertainty and succession crises, stability had not been attained, as King James faced numerous challenges against his reign, pointing to the challenges of monarchy.
  • Society had a somewhat puritanical outlook on sex, though it was very present in the drama of this period.
  • Revenge Tragedy satisfed the blood lust of a crowd that wished to be entertained. Drama was a public comodity for which writers relied on patronage to have the economic freedom to write.
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