The Duchess of Malfi | James Vi And I | Duke

The Duchess of Malfi

John Webster ca. 1613

John Webster
 Written

circa 1613; performed 1614 by King’s Men at Blackfriars based on true events in Italy  Giovanna d’Aragona is contemporary of Donne, Shakespeare

 Loosely

 Webster

Jacobean Era
 1603

Elizabeth I dies, James I assumes the throne (Elizabeth’s cousin)

the Jacobean Period (Jacob/James— Hebrew) James I is King of England but also James VI of Scotland Most notorious detail of his reign: Gunpowder Plot

Jacobean Tragedy
 Violence,

especially dismemberment and mutilation—unusually violent especially deviant & destructive

 Sex,


 Uses

& abuses of power world view

 Pessimistic

“Domestic Tragedies”
 Growing

# of tragedies during reign of James I revolving around marital & family relationships

 Causes:  Greater

value placed on private, domestic sphere

 Marriage

is viewed as positive  Marriage (“love”) is a battlefield (thanks Pat!)
 The

family had become metaphor for state

 James

I as absolute husband with England/isle as wife  Versus Elizabeth as sought after by Arthur

 Antonio

is defining kingship at beginning


kingship versus bad courtiers Good king needs good courtiers
 How

do we view the Cardinal & Duke as princes? do we see the Duchess as a prince?

 How


anyone (including her) view her as a prince? 1.2.89-112

The Duchess of Malfi
 How

does Antonio view the Duchess as a saint? does her relationship progress? What do we know about her marriage?

 How

What is going on here? What does Ferdinand hire Bosola to do?

The Duchess of Malfi
 What

do we learn about the Duchess and about how she is perceived by others?
 She’s

a widow w/young child  She holds the dukedom her husband had  Major concerns surround her sexuality
 Is

there a gender stereotype here?

 Antonio

views her as virtuous, chaste, holy  Ferdinand, however, views her as a slut  She marries Antonio—she pursues, marries, bears his child
 Finally,

we view her as neither virgin nor whore: she is the good Protestant: married

The Female Sovereign
 Female

sovereign is a major problem: Elizabeth was constantly pressured to marry before her reinvention as Virgin Queen might the concept of the female sovereign be a problem?

 Why

we think back to the Faerie Queene, there is a fear that the female sovereign will marry a foreigner, thereby endangering the kingdom Who is in charge? This is the question we posed

The Problematic Female Sovereign
 Female  Leads

Queen is both wife & ruler

to Paradox


as subject Queen as wife
 How

does the Duchess exist as sovereign & sexual female?

Female Sovereign & Wife
 The

Duchess is the pursuer—takes on the masculine role & tricks Antonio

he want this to occur? Or is it Renaissance sexual harassment?
 Autonomy

of widows: widows were free in the Middle Ages (think the Wife of Bath); they could marry for pleasure

is a threat to patriarchal order What does it suggest to the audience about Antonio? And Ferdinand?

Duchess’ Marriage
 What

kind of marriage do the Duchess and Antonio have?


 Why

does Bosola suspect she’s pregnant? What does he do? How does she recover?

pear incident as well as the note (2.3.55)

 What

does Bosola find while snooping & what does he know?
does not yet know the father of the child

Webster’s Courtiers
 Bosola:

traditional servant to princes

 Antonio:

administrator, Renaissance “New Man”
Antonio understand Spenser’s lessons in Book I of the Faerie Queene?

 How

is Bosola problematic as a courtier?

Bosola as Courtier
 Bosola

promises to avenge death that he caused of Duchess accidentally kills Antonio

 Bosola  Bosola

advances normally to his position through military service is Antonio problematic as courtier?

 How

Antonio as Courtier
 Webster

celebrates Antonio as a “New Man” but he’s very flawed has some roles he should have

 Duchess  Antonio
 Only

lives courtier’s dream: he is married to the sovereign
to discover it’s a nightmare!

 Is

there no way to succeed for Webster?

The Duchess’ Keepers
 How

do we view the Cardinal & Ferdinand? is their relationship with the Duchess like?

 What

The End
 What  How

happens at the end of the play?

does the end correspond to the characteristics of Jacobean tragedy?

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