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1612–1613, by John Webster
The Duchess of Malfi tells the story of the spirited duchess and her love for her trustworthy steward Antonio. They marry secretly, despite the opposition of her two brothers, Ferdinand (the Duke of Calabria) and the Cardinal. Eventually betrayed by Bosola, a spy, the duchess and her family flee but are intercepted; Antonio and the oldest child, a boy, escape. Ferdinand orders Bosola to strangle the duchess, her two younger children, and her maid and then goes mad with guilt. The final act is one of carnage. All are killed except for the eldest son of the duchess and Antonio, who is named ruler of Malfi.
Corruption, abuse of power, satus of women, class, cruelty, objectification.
The Duchess, Antonio Bologna, Delio, Daniel de Bosola, The Cardinal, Ferdinand, Castruchio (Castruccio), Roderigo, Grisolan, Silvio, Pescara, Cariola, Julia, Malateste, Doctor.
The play is loosely based on events that occurred between 1508 and 1513 surrounding Giovanna d'Aragona, Duchess of Amalfi (d. 1511), whose father, Enrico d'Aragona, Marquis of Gerace, was an illegitimate son of Ferdinand I of Naples. As in the play, she secretly married Antonio Beccadelli di Bologna after the death of her first husband Alfonso I Piccolomini, Duke of Amalfi.
The complexity of some of the play's characters, particularly Bosola and the Duchess, and Webster's poetic language, have led many critics to consider The Duchess of Malfi among the greatest tragedies of English renaissance drama.
“Whether we fall by ambition, blood or lust
Like diamonds, we are cut with our own dust”
“Ambition, madam, is a great man's madness.”
“The weakest arm is strong enough that strikes with the sword of justice.”