AD's English Literature : John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi: Analysing the Faults of Duchess

Sunday, October 12, 2014

John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi: Analysing the Faults of Duchess


 "Ambition, madam, is a great man's madness."-
 John Webster (1578? - 1632?)

There was a group of dramatists writing plays for the London theater manager Philip Henslowe. The group included many gifted playwrights, among them Thomas Dekker, John Marston, and Thomas Heywood, with each of whom Webster collaborated occasionally. John Webster 's genius as a writer was first fully revealed in his great tragedies The White Devil, produced in 1612, and The Duchess of Malfi, staged about 1614. Both plays depict a world of extravagant passions, dark intrigue, and fratricidal violence. Both plays ensured Webster's long-lasting critical acclaim and both are still produced. Despite their melodramatic themes, Webster's plays are redeemed by his soaring poetic dialogue and his grasp of human psychology.

 
In the world of drama, there are many characters who possess high character traits and status and ultimately fall from that high position because of committing fault. Considering each one as a tragic hero, John Webster's The Duchess (The Duchess of Malfi, a macabre tragic play ) is a definite member of this class who falls from her high position or status and dies because of committing a fault. She is beautiful, intelligent, courageous and emotional. And out of her emotion, she gets married with Antonio whose rank and status were lower from that of her's. This marriage was her wrong action and for this she falls from her ultimate status and then dies. Read More about Drama   
Causes of her wrong action: Marrying Antonio was wrong for the Duchess. But the Duchess did that wrong action/took that wrong decision out of her emotion. Actually it is inherent in human being to be emotional. And such emotion causes her damnation.

In fact, The Duchess of Malfi  depict a world of extravagant passions, dark intrigue, and fratricidal violence. the plays ensured Webster's long-lasting critical acclaim and is  still produced. Despite their melodramatic themes, Webster's play is redeemed by his soaring poetic dialogue and his grasp of human psychology.


Every man of this world suffers from two types of starvation, physical and mental starvation. The Duchess is not exceptional in this regard. And when people feel / become desirous, they can't control their emotion any longer. Even in "Man and Superman" by George Barnard Shaw, we see that the hero confesses that when he feels the urge of desire of his heart, he can't control himself. This is also for the emotion of his heart that can't be controlled. Again in "Sons and Lovers" by D.H. Laurence, we see that the mother falls in love with her sons again and again. She can't control her desire anymore. So did the Duchess. The Duchess can't control her desire and so she married again. For the emotion of her heart and for the love for Antonio, she sacrifices all she had, her aristocracy, status and everything. Read More about Drama   But people should not do such thing. The evidence of this kind of work is seen in other play also; there the heroine takes rational decision without influencing by emotions. For example in “Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte, we see that the heroine ‘Catherine’ was in love with ‘Heathecliff’ but at last she married ‘Edger’ because of her status. Even in the short story, ‘Eveline’ by James Joyce, we see that Eveline doesn't go to Buenos Ayres with her lover thinking about her responsibility. But the Duchess married Antonio without thinking about her status and the command of her brothers. Read More about Drama   


The Duchess was threatened by her brothers for not to remarry. Before leaving the Duchess, the Cardinal says, "We are to part from you; and your own discretion/ Must now be your director". On hearing the threat and command from her brothers, The Duchess says, "Will you hear me?/ I will never marry". But when her brothers go out, she asks Antonio to talk to her and she proposes him and says that she is also a human being having all the qualities of a human being, she has emotions and love in her heart. Here she says, "Sir, be confident;/What is 't distracts you? This is flesh and blood, sir" And she then accepts Antonio as her husband. Here she says, "I do here put off all vain ceremony, /And only do appear to you a young widow/ That claims you for her husband"

Actually, it the quality of human being to make love. So, as a human being the Duchess has love in her heart and she is proposing him to marry.

After that we have seen that there was a love affair between the Duchess and Antonio and at last they marry and they produce three children. On hearing the news of their secret marriage and their children, the cardinal and The Duke Fardinand react angrily. And from the beginning to the end of Act two, scene five, we see the reaction of the two brothers for the action of their sister. They think that the Duchess has destroyed the reputation and status of their family. The Cardinal says, "Shall our blood,/ The royal blood of Arragon and Castile, Be thus attained?” So, they don't want to destroy the family reputation and want to kill her. Here Ferdinand says, “I’ll find scorpions to string my whips,/And fix her in a general eclipse". Read More about Drama  
But the immediate result was that the Duchess was tortured invariably .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 that creates horror in the mind of the audiences and the Duchess. Even The unruly dance of the mad men before the Duchess to torture her with the intention of turning her mad, the appearance of Bosola as a tomb maker also causes anxiety in the heart of the Duchess.

Her present situation is such that she compares it to Hell, saying,

"That's the greatest torture souls feel in Hell."

The revengeful brothers are both villains .They are the victims of an insensate fury that blinds the eyes, maddens the drain, and poisons the springs of pity. The piteous sufferings of their victim from the hard heart of Bosola who says:

"You may discern the share of loveliness,
More perfect in her tears than in the smile."

At last Bosola was hired to kill the Duchess and her children. Bosola killed them successfully and through this killing the revenge was taken.

Actually, 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, she has disgraced the family. She has certainly not committed any heinous crime for which she is subjected unjustified. 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. Read More about Drama 
  
In summing up, we can say the death of the Duchess is a kind of death of a tragic heroine. And as a tragic heroine she deserves our sympathy because she never violets what might be generally signified as moral goodness. Certainly her triumph over oppressing and dear is a tragic victory not because she has maintained her integrity of life, but rather because her integrity involves courage. Actually she has done what most of the people would do for emotion.

 Ardhendu De

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