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The Duchess of Malfi - John Webster

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  1. A courteous and playful scene: the secret marriage of an independent widow
    1. The ' flirty' Duchess
    2. From courting to wedding
  2. Power, rank and virtues: inequalities in the play
    1. The powerful and independent character of the Duchess
    2. An inversion of the roles
    3. General inequalities; virtue of heart vs birth
  3. The dark setting of a tragedy
    1. A critic of society
    2. Prophetic mentions of Death
    3. Cariola's final words

The Duchess of Malfi is a tragedy by the English Jacobean dramatist John Webster. Little is known of Webster's life. He was born around 1580 and probably died in 1634. His plays are considered masterpieces of Elizabethan and Jacobean Theater. The two most famous ones are The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi; both macabre and horrific tragedies. The Duchess of Malfi was first performed in 1614 and its quarto published in 1623. Based on historical events of the early XVIth century the play tells the story of the Duchess who, after being widowed young, remarried against her brothers' will. Moreover she marries beneath her rank, and accepts Antonio, her steward. This leads her to her tragic fate imposed by the revenge of her brothers. Among its numerous themes, the play deals with political matters, such as corruption in courts, revenge, social inequalities and most importantly, for it was very original at the time, with the condition of women in a patriarchal society. Through the XVIth century the reigns of Mary Tudor and Elizabeth Ist had brought up a debate on women as rulers.

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