A revenge tragedy is a tragedy, as its name implies, in which the tragedy is brought about by the pursuit and accomplishment

of revenge. It is blood asking for blood. The revenge tragedy was very popular during the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, and it owed its popularity largely to the influence of Seneca, the ancient Roman dramatist. A typical Jacobean Revenge Tragedy contains the following conventions: - the play should be set into five acts as laid down by Seneca in his original rules of tragedy. There should obviously be a desire for revenge hence the term "revenge tragedy." The avenger is moved by a sense of sacred duty, and not out of any passion, greed or hatred for some personal injury. There should be murders within a Jacobean revenge tragedy. The narrative should involve complex plotting. The story should centre on characters of noble birth. There should be Italianate or Southern European settings. The narrative should incorporate ghosts, skulls and madness. Lust should be a strong motivation. The plot should involve physical horrors, such as poisoning and torture. Order should finally be restored at the end of the play. “The Duchess of Malfi”, generally considered to be John Webster's (c.1578 c.1632) masterpiece, is a tale of incest, jealousy, madness, and murder. It portrays the result of a young widow's refusal to obey her brothers' command never to remarry. The Duchess secretly marries Antonio and has three children. Her brothers put Bosola into her service as a spy. Bosola ultimately discovers everything and reports this. While trying to flee the Duchess is captured, imprisoned, mentally tortured and put to death under instructions from Ferdinand and Bosola's command. This experience, combined with a long-standing sense of injustice and his own feeling of a lack of identity, turns Bosola against the Cardinal and his brother, deciding to take up the cause of "Revenge for the Duchess of Malfi" The Cardinal confesses to his mistress Julia his part in the killing of the Duchess, and then murders her to silence her, using a poisoned Bible. Next, Bosola overhears the Cardinal plotting to kill him (though he accepts what he sees as punishment for his actions), and so visits the darkened chapel to kill the Cardinal at his prayers. Instead, he mistakenly kills Antonio, who has just returned to Malfi to attempt a reconciliation with the Cardinal. Bosola stabs the Cardinal, who dies. In the brawl that follows, 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 the heir to the Malfi fortune, despite his father's explicit wish that his son "fly the court of princes", a corrupt and increasingly deadly environment. John Webster’s “The Duchess of Malfi” has several features of a revenge tragedy. There is a free exploitation of crude, physical horrors, like the dance of the mad men, the presentation of a dead man’s hand to the Duchess, the showing to her of the wax figures of her husband and children as if they were dead, the appearance of the tomb-maker and the executioner with all the apparatus of death. There are a number of murders, including murders by strangling and poisoning. There is also a

Machiavellian Malcontent, Bosola, a rascal who also indulges in satiric reflections on life. But “The Duchess of Malfi” differs in a number of ways from the traditional revenge play. For one thing, the revenge motive is weak in the play. It does not become clear why revenge is taken on the Duchess. Her only fault is that she has married below her rank and status and thus, as the two brothers think, she has disgraced the family. She has certainly not committed any heinous crime and the horrible tortures to which she is subjected are unjustified, and far in excess of her guilt. That the revenge motive is weak is clearly brought out by the fact that for more than two years Ferdinand and the Cardinal do nothing to punish the Duchess. Ferdinand is informed of her marriage as soon as her first baby is born, and she has two other children before Ferdinand acts to have his revenge. If at all there is a revenge motif, it appears late in the play when Bosola avenges himself on the Cardinal and Ferdinand for their ingratitude to him, and also because he has been touched by the murder of the Duchess and decides to avenge it. “The Duchess of Malfi” varies from the conventions in several other important ways. The revenge tragedy has a hero whose honor has been wronged (often it is a son avenging his father); in this play, the brothers seek revenge on the Duchess, who has done them no harm. The Duchess is surely the hero of the play named for her, and yet she does not seek or win vengeance for the harm done to her. Typically, the hero of a tragedy dies in act 5, often accompanied by more deaths. Here The Duchess of Malfi seems to break from the five-act structure of Seneca. .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. Further, revenge in the play is not taken as a sacred duty as in the Senecan tragedy, but as satisfaction of personal passion. Ferdinand’s motif might be greed for the estate of the Duchess or sexual jealousy resulting from his incestuous passion for her, or it may merely result from the morbid pleasure which the brotheres take in inflicting pain. In the case of Bosola, the motif is certainly the ingratitude of the two brothers. It is a satisfaction of personal grudge. No doubt, Webster has made free use of crude physical horrors, but these horrors are made an integral part of the tragedy. The sensational and the melodramatic is seen acting on the soul of the Duchess, and in this way her inner suffering, the grandeur, majesty and nobility of her soul, are fully revealed. In this way the melodramatic is raised to the level of pure tragedy. In this way the horrible is subordinated to the total artistic effect the artist wants to create. The horror in the play does not remain something extraneous as is the case with other writers of the revenge play.

To conclude, we can say that John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi is not a revenge play in the traditional sense of the term. By introducing the tone of moral justice at the end, Webster raises the original theme of revenge to a higher plane. With the exception of Shakespeare’s Hamlet which marks the highest degree of development that the delineation of the revenge motif ever attained, Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi ranks very high in the evolution of this class of tragedy. What raisess Webster above the Revenge Tragedy writers is the fact that whereas no dramatist of the Revenge School succeeds in heightening the terrific effects of laying bare the inner mysteries of crime, remorse and pain, Webster succeeds eminently and he comprehends and reproduces abnormal elements of spiritual anguish in more refined manner than one of them could do.

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