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The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster Presentation by Allycia, Dana and Kayla The Plot The Duchess, widowed, falls in love with Antonio, a lowly steward. Her brothers, not wishing her to share her inheritance – and there is a hint of incest – forbid her to remarry. She secretly marries Antonio. In an attempt to escape from Ferdinand’s rage, the Duchess and Antonio make up a story that says he swindled her money from her and had to flee. She takes Bosola into her confidence, not knowing he’s a spy for Ferdinand, and arranges for him to deliver her jewelry to Antonio’s hiding place. She’ll join them later, pretending to make a pilgrimage. The Cardinal is told of the plan, and sends soldiers to capture them. Antonio escapes with the eldest son, but the Duchess, two younger children and Cariola are returned to Malfi and executed by Bosola. This, combined with a long-standing sense of injustice and a feeling of lack of identity, turns Bosola against the Cardinal and Ferdinand, and he decides to take up the cause of Revenge for the Duchess of Malfi. The Cardinal confesses his part in the murder to his mistress Julia, and then silences her using a poisoned Bible. Bosola overhears the Cardinal plotting to kill him (though he accepts it as what he thinks he deserves), and visits the dark chapel to kill the Cardinal at his prayers. [Hamlet, anyone?] Bosola stabs the Cardinal, who dies. Then Ferdinand happens upon the scene, and Ferdinand and Bosola stab each other to death. Antonio’s elder son by the Duchess appears in the final scene and takes his place as heir to the Malfi fortune, despite his father’s wish that his son leave the court. The “Real” Duchess of Malfi Born in Giorvanna d’Aragon Married in 1490 at age 12 to Alfonso Piccolomini, son and heir of first Duke of Malfi He succeeded to the dukedom in 1493 but died of gout in 1498 Duchess had daughter Caterina at 19 Son born 1499, and succeeded to dukedom, which she ruled as regent; able to pay off debts incurred by her husband, even with Spanish and French invasions Antonio Bologna brought up in court of Naples Became major-domo to Frederico, the state’s last Aragonian king, and followed his master into exile in France Upon Frederico’s death, Antonio returned to Naples, and offered major-domo position in the household of the Duchess of Malfi [she was of the Royal House of Aragon as well] They fell quickly and passionately in love Fearing the wrath of her brothers, Lodovico, who had resigned the title of Marquis of Gerace to become Cardinal, and Carlo, who had succeeded to become the Marquis Married Antonio in secret, with her waiting woman as sole witness to the ceremony Marriage was successfully concealed; the 1 st child went undetected, but the 2 nd caused her brothers to set spies on their sister The “Real” Duchess of Malfi Antonio took the children to Ancona, leaving the Duchess, again pregnant, in her palace She set out on a pilgrimage with a great retinue to Loretto, from where she proceeded to meet Antonio Upon arrival in Ancona, she revealed her marriage to her household and declared she’d renounce rank and title to live privately with Antonio and the children Her servants deserted her, departing for Amalfi, and one went to the Cardinal Ancona was where the third child was born Only a few months of peace before the Cardinal put pressure on the Cardinal Gonzaga, Legate of Ancona, to banish Antonio Antonio made plans to take refuge with a friend in Siena When his decree of banishment was issued in 1511, he set out with Duchess and children, but the head of Signiory of Siena was persuaded to expel them Overtaken on their way to Venice The Duchess was able to persuade Antonio to escape with the eldest child; they arrived safely in Milan in late summer 1512 The Duchess, waiting woman and children taken back to the palace in Amalfi The “Real” Duchess of Malfi No evidence to say the Aragonian brothers had anything to do with the death of the Duchess, or if she was killed at all, but after her return, neither she, her waiting woman nor the children were seen again Antonio had no idea what happened; he was constantly warned he was in danger, including from a man named Delio who’d heard the story October 1513: Delio and his companion passed Antonio, looking worried, on their way to church. A few minutes later, there was an uproar. Antonio had been stabbed to death by a Lombard captain called Daniele de Bozola and three accomplices – all of whom escaped Thematic Discussion Identity: The twin relationship between Ferdinand and the Duchess makes the characters mirrors for each other. The Duchess also deals with conflicting personal and public identities: her status as a lady contrasts with her love for the lower Antonio. The brothers press upon her the identity of the virtuous widow, one she’s unwilling to accept. When she says, “I am the Duchess of Malfi still,” it’s unclear whether she’s affirming or lamenting this identity. Sexuality: This theme is tied to identity, especially in regards to Ferdinand and the Duchess. He has a desire for her which is a perversion of socially acceptable sexuality as well as a kind of narcissism. Sexuality is usually linked to danger and violence – the most explicitly sexual characters are shown to be the most evil. Even the sexuality of the Duchess is seen as a sign of excess passion, even if it is not a mark of depravity. Although the Duchess has none of Ferdinand’s incestuous desires nor the Cardinal’s affairs, her sexuality, in one sense, propels the violence of the play. Thematic Discussion Power: The Duchess’s brothers are driven by a desire to control the family fortune. The play opens the question of the bases of power and authority, and who rightfully holds it. The corrupted authority of Ferdinand and the Cardinal casts doubt on the power they have, while the nobility of the Duchess as she faces her death suggests a different kind of authority. Revenge The place of women Consequences of unequal marriage: At least in the brothers’ eyes, the unequal marriage is awful, and cannot be allowed, but because they see it this way, the play action becomes very violent as they try to stop it. Character List Antonio Bologna: The Duchess’s steward, and later her husband; just returned from France. Lower social status than the Duchess, making the reason for the secret marriage. Delio: A courtier who tries to woo Julia. A friend of Antonio. (Based on historical character of the same name.) Daniel de Bosola: Former servant of the Cardinal, returned from the galleys. Sent by Ferdinand to spy on the Duchess. Later orders her execution and then seeks to avenge her. The malcontent of the play – cynical. (Based on the historical Daniele de Bozolo) Cardinal: Brother of Duchess. Cool, rational, Machiavellian churchman who apparently gained power through corruption or bribery. Having an affair with Julia. (Historically named Luigi or Lodovico) Ferdinand: Other brother of the Duchess. The Duke of Calabria. Given to fits of rage and violent outbursts. Has incestuous desire for his sister. (Historical name Carlos, the Marquis of Gerace) Castruchio: An old lord. Elderly man with young, unfaithful wife – Julia. The Duchess: A young widow. Three children. The protagonist of the play. The Duchess of Malfi. Cariola: The Duchess’s waiting-woman. Julia: Castruchio’s wife and the Cardinal’s mistress. The Author: John Webster It is estimated that John Webster was born in 1580 and died in 1634 but no one is quite sure if those are the real dates or not. He is an Early Jacobean dramatist. His tragedies The Duchess of Malfi and The White Devil are often seen as masterpieces of the early 17th century. John Webster’s father was a coachman also named John Webster and it is guessed that Webster jr. was born in or around London. He has worked with many other playwrights including Michael Drayton, Thomas Dekker, Thomas Middleton and Anthony Munday. His tragedies are very macabre and dark pieces that are also quite disturbing, which seemed to be the beginnings of the Gothic literature of the seventeenth century. This seems to be all that is known about him as his life was very obscure.
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