1 The Duchess of Malfi as a Revenge Tragedy “The Duchess of Malfi” by John Webster is a kind of Revenge Tragedy modeled on Seneca

, the Latin playwright of 1st century A.D. This play is considered as one of the best plays of Webster and as a Revenge Tragedy, it is considered as the best tragedy after Shakespeare's containing almost all the characteristics of Revenge Tragedy. This play contains the depth of extreme violence, plotting and mostly revenge on the best part which are the chief elements of revenge tragedy. However, The Duchess of Malfi contains full of such terrifying, hair-raising situations from the beginning to the end. However, he we want to consider The Duchess of Malfi as a Revenge Tragedy, we need to know what we mean by revenge tragedy and its major conventions. Revenge Tragedy: The name Revenge Tragedy arose from the Senecan tradition of making revenge the motive force for the action that leads to the tragedy. The characteristics of Revenge Tragedy are: 01. The story should centre on characters of noble birth. 02. The narrative should involve in complex plotting. 03. There should be murders 04. There should obviously be a desire for revenge. 05. The plot should involve physical horrors such as poisoning and torture. 06. Order should be restored at the end of the play. 07. The presence of supernatural elements 08. Brutal human impulses is the essential subject matter and it turns into complex, often deeply thought provoking aesthetic experiences. However, the Latin playwright, Seneca, is considered to be one who established the revenge play tradition. Horrors and violence predominated in the Senecan tragedies. Thomas Kyd brought in the revenge tradition to English drama with his play The Spanish Tragedy. Later the tradition was practiced by other playwrights before Webster. The Duchess of Malfi as a Revenge Tragedy: If we want to consider The Duchess of Malfi as a Revenge Tragedy from the light of the characterizations of Revenge Tragedy pointed out previously, we will find almost all the elements of Revenge Tragedy in The Duchess of Malfi. Horrors in The Duchess of Malfi: This drama contains so many elements of horrors or which it can be classified as a melodrama. From the beginning to the end of this drama, there are a lot of elements of horrors. The last two acts of the play have an abundance of them. However melodramatic episodes are seen earlier too. The Duke in order to horrify the Duchess gives a dead man’s hand to her and she kisses it taking it to be the Duke's hand. The spectacle of waxen images of the dead bodies of Antonio and children presented before the Duchess is another horrid scene. The unruly dance of the mad men before the Duchess, the appearance of Bosola as a tomb makes and a bell man and the appearance of the executioners with bell and core in procession, too are intended to create horror. The next horror is mentioned in the series of murders committee by Bosola. The last horror comes when Julia is poisoned in a most coldblooded manner. Antonio is killed and Ferdinand, Cardinal and Bosola all meet their death at the end. So, there are the ten murders

The sorrowful answers which the echo makes to Antonio's words are the result of a natural phenomenon. scene five. The Cardinal says. Supernatural elements: In presenting the supernatural too. and poisons the springs of pity. Ferdinand gives her the command. Here Ferdinand says. He had threatened to use in the play's first scene: "Die. The piteous sufferings of their victim from the hard heart of Bosola who says: You More may perfect discern in her the tears share than of in loveliness. On hearing the news of their secret marriage and their children. The Duke advices the scheme to . Webster deviates from the tradition or modifies the tradition. No ghost appears on the scene. they don't want to destroy the family reputation and wants to kill her. Hence their deeds of revenge are not a wild kind of justice but monstrous wrong. And from the beginning to the end of Act two. she has disgraced the family. They think that the Duchess has destroyed the reputation and status of their family./And fix her in a general eclipse" .2 Revenge and murders: Taking revenge and murdering people are the integral part of revenge tragedy. then quickly. But Webster sets his play in a different manner. Be thus attained?” So. She has certainly not committer any heinous crime for which she is subjected unjustified. the revenge and murders are committed in a different manner from the traditional manner. He doesn't present and of the conventional hosts and objectives portents found in typical revenge plays. Madness shown on the stage: It's a tradition of Elizabethan revenge tragedy to show madness on the stage.They are the victims of an insensate fury that blinds the eyes. The revengeful brothers are both villains . the cardinal and The Duke Fardinand react angrily. We have seen that there was a love affair between the Duchess and Antonio and at last they marry and they produce three children. the smile. Antonio's words: “and on the sudden a clear light/presented of a face folded in sorrow”(Act V Scene III)come only from his fancy born out of his affection for the Duchess. "Shall our blood. maddens the drain. However. we seed the reaction of the two brothers for the action of their sister. “I’ll find scorpions to string my whips. hue is some psychological interest too present in it. There is absolutely nothing unrealistically supernatural in the play ./ The royal blood of Arragon and Castile. we find people taking revenge and are murdering others." The Duchess of Malfi differs in a number of ways from the traditional revenge play. It doesn't become clear why revenge is taken on the Duchess. Her only fault is that she has married below her rank and status and thus the two brothers think. In this play we see madness of these mad people. In this Webster has shown vital concern for an artistic atmosphere of supernatural. That the weak revenge motives is clearly brought out by the fact that for more than two years her two brothers do nothing to punish the Duchess. In this drama.

he has modified some of its aspects to make it unique. Marquis of Gerace. the complexity of some of its characters. and it is still performed in the 21st century. the English revenge tragedy is far more bloodthirsty in its explicit presentation of premeditated violence. Drawing partly on precedents in Senecan tragedy. Notable examples of plays that are fully or partly within the revenge tradition are Christopher Marlowe's The Jew of Malta. 1589). Although Webster wrote this drama following the tradition of revenge tragedy. consult John Kerrigan. particularly Bosola and the Duchess. whose father. was an illegitimate son of Ferdinand I of Naples. give it a continuing interest. So. The play begins as a love story. Cyril Tourneur's The Revenger's Tragedy.3 torture the Duchess with the intention of turning her mad. Revenge tragedy. Revenge tragedy: According to. sometimes at the prompting of the victim's ghost. Duke of Amalfi. becomes mad. Its action is typically centered upon a leading character's attempt to avenge the murder of a loved one. The play is sometimes scorned by modern critics for the excessive violence and horror in its later scenes. The book of literary terms (Lewis Turco: 103). and John Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. revenge tragedy is an Elizabethan tragedy that contained elements similar to those of the chronicle play and usually concerned itself with the protagonist’s pursuit of vengeance for the loss of loved one. and (as in the play) Antonio Bologna. but its kinship to revenge tragedies written during the same politically turbulent years of the early seventeenth century is immediately striking. Her husbands were Alfonso Piccolomini. This madness of the Duke his still greater significance. and so the more gruesome examples such as Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus are sometimes called ‘tragedies of blood’. with a Duchess who marries beneath her class. tragic play written by the English dramatist John Webster. and usually some exploration of the morality of revenge. a kind of tragedy popular in England from the 1590s to the 1630s. But ironically he. The Duchess of Malfi can not be reduced to a dramatic subgenre. 02 The Duchess of Malfi as Revenge Tragedy Introduction: The Duchess of Malfi is a deadly. Arrigo d'Aragona. Nevertheless. The Duchess was Giovanna d'Aragona. in a word we can say that it is a perfect revenge tragedy. For a fuller account. it involves complex intrigues and disguises. destroying themselves in the course of action. Revenge Tragedy (1996). In summing up we can say that "The Duchess of Malfi" is a revenge tragedy. And he is perfect enough drawing the art in his own style that makes it more acceptable to the readers to accept it as a true revenge tragedy. and ends as a dreadful tragedy as her two brothers harsh their revenge. A more famous play drawing on the revenge conventions is Shakespeare's Hamlet. following the success of Thomas Kyd’s sensational plays The Spanish Tragedy (c. and Webster's poetic language. . John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi. not the Duchess.

set in Italy. Any examination of the critical history of the play quickly establishes that the play is one which has traditionally aroused a great deal of anxiety and hostility among scholars and cultural commentators. her two powerful brothers. the brothers seek revenge on the Duchess. centers on the transgress action of the widowed Duchess in secretly taking a second husband.4 Characteristics of revenge tragedy: * A secret murder. Deceptions can be found interspersed throughout the whole play and if scrutiny is conducted thoroughly. with a slowly rising body count * A descent into either real or feigned madness by the avenger or one of the auxiliary characters * An eruption of general violence at the end. remarking (in 1887) “we cannot sympathise with the duchess.’ ” He added. one a Duke. the fifth act is a kind of gratuitous appendix of horrors stuck on without art or reason. who has done them no harm. “By common consent. The Duchess of Malfi as revenge tragedy: The Duchess of Malfi is obviously amusing. Bosola eventually turns against them and the play ends on a stage littered with their three corpses. The brothers hire a mercenary malcontent named Bosola to do their dirty work. usually of a benign ruler by a bad person * A ghostly visitation of the murder victim to a younger kinsman. The play has two distinctive features compared with other tragedies of its era. This brings out the theme of appearance and reality. intrigue. and yet she does not seek or win vengeance for the harm done to her. yet morbid at the same time. This can be illustrated at how Ferdinand tries to lure Antonio to return to his castle by offering him forgiveness through the letter sent by Bosola to the Duchess and Antonio. despite her misfortunes…She is neither quite a virtuous woman (for in that case she would not have resorted to so much concealment) nor a frank professor of ‘All for Love. Cardinal and Ferdinand. even of the greatest admirers of the play. The fact that she is killed in act 4 (and does not die in the act of winning revenge) deflects attention away from her as the center of the action and moves the play out of the category of revenge tragedy. Firstly. in which the murderer and the avenger scheme against each other. Clearly. which makes the play laughable. John Webster’s The Tragedy of the Duchess of Malfi was first staged around 1613-14. but it varies from the conventions in important ways. but revenge — whatever they may think themselves — is not at the heart of it. the other a Cardinal. Secondly. The motive for the actions of the two brothers is unclear. George Saintsbury was typical of generations of critics in objecting to Webster’s characterisation. her steward Antonio. the tragic protagonist dies in the fourth act. Enraged by her marriage.” . which (in the Renaissance) is often accomplished by means of a feigned masque or festivity * A catastrophe that utterly decimates the dramatis personae. including the avenger. in this play. The Duchess of Malfi was evidently popular in Jacobean England but has subsequently become grudgingly acknowledged as a classic with many troubling features. one will be able to spot various multitudinous facetious comments made by different characters such as Bosola. its plot. generally a son * A period of disguise. many of these elements are present in The Duchess of Malfi. conspire to have her strangled. The Duchess is surely the hero of the play named for her. the tragic protagonist is a woman. Nowadays usually identified as “a revenge tragedy”. or plotting. The revenge tragedy has a hero whose honor has been wronged (often it is a son avenging his father).

Middleton.5 What this basically amounts to is a whine that Webster failed adequately to represent bourgeois notions of correct behaviour and that his stage practise did not match bookish. He set his play in Spain. Eliot in ‘Whispers of Immortality’. It was a rip-roaring success withLondon audiences. The wicked. Rather than consult Freud to understand what Webster was up to. Chettle . violence and corpses on to the stage. who later co-authored the dedication and address to the reader in the 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare’s collected plays. The part of the evil. deranged Duke was played by Richard Burbage. treacherous. Records exist of his collaborative work with other dramatists . The critic’s narrow subjective assessment of the play is buttressed by the citation of hegemonic values: “we” all agree on how a woman must behave in order to elicit our sympathy. Richard Sharp. (The actor who first played the Duchess. Drayton. violent foreigners. Dekker.) “Webster was much possessed by death / And saw the skull beneath the skin”. of course. Webster was producing a commercial product in a competitive market.and in 1604 he supplied additional material for John Marston’s The Malcontent. was my distinguished ancestor. rather than have actors come onstage and make long speeches about fights and deaths which had happened out of view of the audience. it makes more sense to look at the history of contemporary theatre. passionate. He also threw in a ghost and a bloodcurdling figure named “Revenge”. Heywood. and grisly representations of killing and corpses proved profitable. The Tragedy of The Duchess of Malfi was performed by the King’s Servants. depraved.S. the one that Shakespeare was involved with. incidentally. scholarly preconceptions of good theatre and good taste. which as every red-blooded Englishman knew was a hot place full of filthy. who is often described as the leading actor of the age. One of the most popular of all plays staged in London (towards the end of the 1580s) was Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy. . who were one of the leading theatrical troupes of the period. and what “art” and “reason” amount to is agreed “by common consent”. he wasn’t. No. The reality is that Webster was an accomplished professional who enjoyed a successful career as a dramatist. wrote T. hypocritical Cardinal was played by Henry Condell.Munday. and. Kyd’s innovation was to put conflict.

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