You are on page 1of 2

Chorus of madmen:

In act iv sc ii of The Duchess of Malfi,A servant enters to explain that Ferdinand has sent her
several madmen to try to cure her sadness by making her laugh at them, a trick that previously
worked on the Pope. The servant tells her about each one, and then brings them in. They sing,
dance, and act crazy. The madmen include: the Mad Astronomer, who lost his mind when his
prediction of the apocalypse proved incorrect; the Mad Doctor, who lost his mind due to
jealousy; the Mad Priest; and the Mad Lawyer. Bosola, disguised like an old man, enters last,
after which the madmen leave.
The Masque of Madmen is the most menacing form of theatricality with which the Duchess is
confronted. This masque not only attacks the Duchess: it also detaches us from the play-world by
presenting a distorted version of it. The discordant music, dialogue in which no communication
is made and the ever more extreme vision of physical and spiritual degeneration reflect and
comment on the play itself. During the dance of the madmen the Duchess doesnt speak; the
emphasis is not on the psychology of her reactions but o the contrast between her solitary
stillness and the grotesque capering which are an image of the tyranny she is chaind to
endure. The masque of the madmen serves two purposes:
Firstly, it provides a comic relief although of a very grave and serious nature appealing mainly to
the less sympathetic readers or audience. Secondly, has a satirical purpose. The causes of
madness are analysed by the servant and the analysis is directed against the excessive and
peculiar craze which people of different professions develop.
The masque of madmen present an attack on the Duchess by the forces of satire, also genuinely
helps to keep her in her right wits by asserting her essential sanity in the face of the grotesque
madness of her opponents- Ferdinand, the Cardinal and Bosola.

The episode of madmen in this scene doesnt merely symbolise cruelty to the Duchess who has
in fact toughened in the long process of torture. One may notice comedy and dark humour in it.
The modern audience can also see a kind of realism in it with a part of England coming alive
through the mad pursuits of typical characters. The astrologer, lawyer, priest and doctor act out as
madmen the parts of middle class professionals who projected in their ways the habits of the
newly-emerged powerful group of merchants. The dance in The Duchess of Malfi acts as an
ideograph of the disunity, the incoherence of the Duchesss world. It acts as a visual and an aural
image of what the action of the play has led to the difference between the happiness and unity of
the wooing scene, imaged as the most perfect and melody. We are also reminded of Ferdinands
own increasingly abnormal state of mind- it is he who has conceived this bizarre scheme to
unsettle the Duchess. Still to Elizabethan-Jacobean audience, the spectacle of madmen would
have appeared horrifying and unnerving in a play that depicted revenge and murder. But
curiously, the horror gets linked up with the new professional middle classes in England.

The actual intention behind the arrangement of the madmen was to torture the Duchess in
imprisonment and hence turn her mad. It was a kind of revenge imposed on her by her brother
who was raged with her for secretly marrying Antonio- a low class steward. Madmen were
introduced by Ferdinand to humiliate the Duchess so that she confesses her deed of marrying a
low class steward as a big mistake and begging him to forgive her. But what happens is quite
contradictory to what Ferdinand expects, for the madmen, she says; help her to keep her sanity.