The Duchess of Malfi

  • Created by: Efrost16
  • Created on: 18-11-17 17:59

The Duchess

  • A strong woman who defies her politically powerful brothers and social custom by marrying beneath her social status
  • Has three children, 2 with Antonio and 1 from previous marriage 
  • Argus that in marrying him, she has 'not gone about this to create/Any new world or custom'
  • Bravely faces death
  • Antonio claims she 'stains the time past, lights the time to come' and that 'all sweet ladies' should 'break their flatt'ring glasses/And dress themselves in her' - i.e model themselves upon her
  • Is never broken- 'I am Duchess of Malfi still' 
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  • Is a commoner by birth and Master of the Duchess's household - her servent 
  • Delio, an aristocrat by birth, is his close friend 
  • Admires the Duchess but would not dare to woo her openly 
  • Is wooed by her and marries her in private 
  • Has two children with her 
  • Is a mouthpiece for Webster for his opinions about rule and misrule 
  • Is unable to protect the Duchess due to his social inferiority 
  • Is killed accedently by Bosola when trying to find a way to reconcile himself to the Cardinal, who has secretly planned his murder. 
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  • Is the Duchess's twin brother and a powerful Duke 
  • Uses the law 'like a foul black cobweb to a spider' to serve his personal interest 
  • Is passionately interested in his sister's sexual life 
  • Loses control when he discovers she is secretly married and has children.
  • Tortures her mentally - severed hand, waxworks, madmen; gives Bosola the order to kill her and her children 
  • Regrets this immediately afterwards and loses his balance entirely
  • Imagines he is a wolf 
  • Wounds his brother in the final scene and gives bosola his death wound 
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The Cardinal

  • Machiavellian brother of the Duchess
  • Has bribed his way into the church and only missed making 'Pope' by being too brazen in his methods 
  • Is instigator, first of the banishment of Antonio and his sister, and then of the apprehension and murder of the Duchess and her children 
  • Says she has 'attained' their 'royal blood' in marrying a commoner
  • Scorns Ferdinanand's passionate nature - 'Why do you make yourself/ So wild a tempest?' 
  • Murders Julia and plans to murder Bosola after using him to kill Antonio
  • Dies as a result of his own ruse to protect himself from the discovery of his murder of Julia.
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  • Is the attractive young wife of Castruchio, an impotent old man
  • Is the mistress of the Cardinal 
  • Is solicited by Delio, but refuses him
  • Fancies Bosola and seduces him
  • Is used by Webster to parody the tender and loving wooing of Antonio by the Duchess
  • Represents another strong woman who refuses to conform to her society's rules, saying that 'modesty in ladies/Is but a troublesome familiar/That haunts them.'
  • Is poisioned by the Cardinal as a result of her lust for Bosola, as the Duchess dies as a result of her love for Antonio. 
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  • A commoner like Antonio - with no Duchess to 'raise' him to a higher social sphere
  • Determined to 'thrive some way'.
  • Employed by the Cardinal, through Ferdinand as an unsuccessful spy in their sister's household
  • Orchestrates the torture and murder of the Duchess, her children and Cariola 
  • Claims to feel remorse after Ferdinand throws him off and threatens him for having killed his 'best friend'.
  • Kills Antonio accidentally, then the Cardinal and Ferdinand intentionally, claiming revenge for the Duchess, Antonio, Julia and himself 
  • Blames his actions on the Cardinal, Ferdinand, the stars, fortune or life in general 
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The results of bad government

  • Antonio tells Delio that the French King casts off sycophants and listens to his advisors - then we see Ferdinand telling his courtiers to 'take fire when I give fire' and 'laugh when I laugh', even if it is not funny 
  • The brithers represent uncontrolled power
  • We learn at the start that the Cardinal has bribed his way to the church and 'suborn'd' murder. 
  • Ferdinand abuses the law and cruelly tortures and orders the murder of his sister and her children
  • All the misrule in the world of the play ends in disaster, for bad and good alike. 
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Social inequality and individual merit

  • 'Some would think the souls of princes were brought forth by some more weighty cause than those of meaner persons; they are decieved; there's the same hand to them'. (Bosola)
  • 'Shall... the royal blood of Aragon and Castile/Be thus attained?' (Cardinal)
  • 'who would have thought/ So great a lady would has matched herself/Unto so mean a person...?' (Pilgrim) 
  • 'Can this ambitious age/Have so much goodness in't as to prefer/A man merely for worth...?' (Bosola)
  • 'Say that he was born mean:/Man is most happy when's own actions/Be arguments and examples of his virtue.' (Duchess) 
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Time for a new order?

  • 'She stains the time past, lights the time to come'. (Antonio)
  • 'I am going into a wilderness/ Where I shall find nor path, nor friendly clew/To be my guide.' (Duchess)
  • 'Why might not I marry?/I have not gone about in this to create/Any new world or custome.' (Duchess) 
  • 'Why should only I/ Of all the other princes of the world/Be cased up like a holy relic? I have youth/And a little beauty.' (Duchess) 
  • 'The birds that live i'th'firld/On the wild benefit of nature, live/Happier than we: for they may choose their mates/and carol their sweet pleasures to the spring.' (Duchess)
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Disguise, deceit and poision

  • 'Hypocrisy is woven of a fine small thread.../Your darkest actions, nay, your privats't thoughts/Will come to light.' (Ferdinand)
  • 'For I'll conceal this secret from the world/As warily as those that trade in poison/Keep poison fro their children.' (Cariola)
  • 'The great are like the base, nay, they are the same,/When they seek shameful ways to avoid shame.' (Antonio)
  • 'So, I will only study to seem/the thing I am not.' (Ferdinand) 
  • 'Oh misery, methinks unjust actions/Should wear these masks and curtains.' (Duchess) 
  • 'Why dost thou wrap thy poisoned pills/In gold and sugar...?' (Duchess) 
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The rule of King James

  • Surrounded himself with sycophants as do Ferdinanad and the Cardinal 
  • Did not wish to listen to his advisors, suspending his Parliament unless he needed them to grant him money 
  • Believed in the Divine Right of Kings and saw his word as law
  • His 'favourite' Robert Carr was after the prestigious post of Master of the Horse, the positioin that sways Bosola into accepting the role of spy
  • Was superstitious and would have believed that horoscopes, such as the one Antonio has drawn up for his first-born, were crediable 
  • Anyone who opposed his rule executed without compunction 
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Jacobean society

  • Was violent and bloody - public executions were popular entertainment 
  • Was broadily divided into two classes, commoners and aristocrats - crossing the boundry through marriage was seen as dangerously subversive. 
  • Aristocratic women had their husbands chosen for them by their fathers or brothers - Duchess goes against this idea
  • As a result, they often had sexual liaisons such as those of Julia in the play 
    • as long as these did not threaten the status quo they were 'winked at' and their cuckolded husbands seen as a joke
  • Two murders took place at the court at the time the first play appeared
    • Prince Henry, heir to the throne and Webster's friend Sir Thomas Overbury, were both killed by poison. 
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Important events and Dates

  • 1564 - Shakespeare and Marlowe born
  • c. 1578 - Webster born 
  • 1587 - Mary Queen of Scots executed 
  • 1604 - Coronation of James I
  • 1605 - Gunpowder plot 
  • 1612 - Prince Henry dies; The White Devil at the Red Bull Theatre - a flop 
  • 1613 - First production of The Duchess of Malfi - a success
  • 1616 - Shakespeare dies; Robert Carr and Frances Howard found guilty of Overbury's murder
  • 1620 - Mayflower sails 
  • 1625 - James I dies - Charles I crowned 
  • c. 1632 - Webster dies 
  • 1649 - Charles I executed and a 'new order' established - a Commonwealth 
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  • Revenge Tragedy 
  • Could be described as prophetic - allegorical - political and social commentary
  • Appeals fully to the auditory and visula senses of the audience through: Auditory - dance, songs, echos, Ferdinand's mad ravings, Cariola's screams and struggles, the Cardinal's fruitless and desperate cries for help. Visual - the waxworks, the severed hand, the dumb show, the masks, the madmen scene, DBosola's disguise as executioner, the on-stage murders 
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  • Follows a circular pattern: opens with the idea that a society's healthiness is determined by the actions of its rulers; ends with the expression of determination to effect change at the top.
  • Second half of the play mirrors the first half:
    • Julia's seduction of Bosola parodies the Duchess's wooing of Antonio
    • the Cardinal's plot to hide his murder of Julia mirrors Delio's plot to hide the pregnancy of the Duchess
  • Timing of enterances, exits and soliloquies neatly underline themes 
  • Scenes poften conclude with sententiae (brief moral sayings) also refelective of themes 
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  • Imagery: poison, light and dark, corruption and decay, appearance and reality, the weather, animals e.g. 'This mole does undermine me...' (Antonio of Bosola)
  • Sententiae: e.g. 'Iam armed 'gainst misery/Bent to all sways of the oppressor's will/There's no deep valley,but near some great hill.' (Duchess)
  • Irony: e.g. 'Doth she make religion her riding-hood/ To keep her from the sun, and tempest' - (the Cardinal, who commits murder with impunity, while literally robed in religion). 
  • Double entendres: e.g. 'I have got well by you...Gentlemen/I would have this man be an example to you all,/So you shall hold my favour.' - (Duchess farewell to Antonio).  
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