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The Duchess of Malfi. John Webster. Act I | Act II | Act III | Act IV | Act V. Note on the e-text: this Renascence Editions text was transcribed by. Free kindle book and epub digitized and proofread by Project Gutenberg. The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster. Adobe PDF icon. Download this document as sppn.info: File size: MB What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to.

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PR SMC THE TEMPLE Webster's DUCHESS OF MALFI The text adopted is that of Dyce. It has been carefully collated with the copy of the first. John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi. About this free course. This free course is an adapted extract from the Open University course A Reading and studying . Following Queen Elizabeth I's reign, the new court of King James was beset by political instability and moral corruption. This atmosphere provided fertile ground .

Since the Cardinal has given orders for the guards not to approach if they hear screams, the Cardinal realises he is at the mercy of Bosola. Bosola stabs the Cardinal, then Ferdinand bursts in and also attacks the Cardinal, wounding Bosola accidentally. Bosola stabs Ferdinand. The guards re-enter amid the commotion. The Cardinal dies, then Bosola. A former servant of the Cardinal, now returned from a She is described as having a sweet countenance, sentence for murder.

Bosola is sent by Ferdinand to spy on noble virtue and a tenderness and warmth that her the Duchess and is eventually involved in the murder of the brothers lack. She is witty, clever and never outsmarted Duchess, her children, Cariola, Antonio, the Cardinal and in dialogue by her brothers.

She marries beneath her Ferdinand himself. As he witnesses the grace and nobility and has three children with Antonio. Her dignified of the Duchess facing her deaths, he has a change of heart death shows the contrast with her brothers and as guilt overwhelms him and he then seeks to avenge her.

He is a and has recently returned from France. His knows about Bosola spying on the Duchess French. He takes neither her title nor her money and lets their union remain a secret, as he is aware her brothers will think ill Ferdinand of her marrying beneath herself. He lacks dynamism and The Duke of Calabria and twin brother of the Duchess. He seems unremarkable in comparison to the Duchess. He is in vehement opposition to his sister remarrying, largely due Malateste to greed as upon her death, he will receive her assets.

At one point Ferdinand refers eventually loses his sanity, believing himself to be a wolf. She is privy to the A courtier who is the friend and confidante of Antonio.

The Duchess of Malfi

She is strangled by Bosola. Julia Pescara Wife of Castruccio and mistress of the Cardinal. She dies A marquis. Piccolomini succeeded to the Dukedom in but died of gout in The Duchess was left widowed with a son and daughter and ruled Malfi as regent with considerable success.

Despite French and Spanish invasions, the state flourished. The Duchess was able to pay off debts incurred by her late husband and live prosperously. She had a sister and two brothers, the eldest of whom had a promising career as a soldier before entering the church and becoming a cardinal in Antonio Bologna was brought up in the court of Naples.

The young widow fell quickly and passionately in love with Antonio. The birth of their first child went undetected but the birth of the second caused rumours which, reaching the ears of the Aragonian brothers, led them to set spies to watch their sister. Antonio took his two children to Ancona, leaving the Duchess, who was again pregnant, in her palace. Unbearably lonely, she found an excuse to set out on a pilgrimage to Loretto, from whence she proceeded to join Antonio.

Upon her arrival in Ancona, she revealed her marriage to her household and declared that she would renounce her rank and title to live privately with Antonio and their children. One of her astonished servants set out to inform the Cardinal what had happened.

The rest deserted her and returned to Amalfi. Having foreseen this, Antonio had made preparations to take refuge with a friend in Siena. As soon as the decree of his banishment was issued in , he set out with the Duchess and their children, thus evading any attempt that might have been made to capture or murder them. The Cardinal, continuing to exert his influence against them, persuaded the head of Signiory of Siena to expel them.

This time, Antonio and his family did not depart so quickly. On their way to Venice, they were intercepted by horsemen. By asserting that her brothers would not harm her in person, the Duchess was able to persuade Antonio to escape with their eldest child. They arrived safely in Milan, probably in the late summer of There is no evidence to connect the Aragonian brothers with the death of the Duchess but after being taken back to her palace in Amalfi, neither she, her two youngest children nor her waiting woman were ever seen again.

In October in , Delio and a companion passed Antonio on their way to mass. A few minutes later, an uproar was heard. Looking back, Delio and his friend realised that Antonio had been stabbed to death by a Lombard captain called Daniele de Bozola and three accomplices.

All four escaped. He became King of England and Ireland, as James I, in March until his death in following the union of the English and Scottish crowns and after the death of the last of the Tudor monarchs, Elizabeth I. This of course, was all happening just after the English Reformation Foreign settings, as in The Duchess of Malfi, allowed dramatists to explore inflammatory political and social issues of the day in relative safety, with geography, religion and time creating ample distance and removing immediacy.

In the inflated character of the Cardinal, on the other hand, Webster was able to reflect the worst evils of ritualistic Roman Catholicism. According to its original title page, The Duchess of Malfi was initially performed at both the Blackfriars Theatre and the Globe, quite likely during the same year, as the Globe was used for the warmer months and the Blackfriars for late autumn and winter.

The very first production probably started out at the Blackfriars Theatre, as the Globe was being rebuilt after a fire and was unavailable until spring Recent research suggests that the playing conditions at these two venues may not have been as vastly dissimilar to one another as theatre historians once thought. Although smaller and far more intimate than the Globe, the Blackfriars Theatre, with a capacity of approximately , had many aspects of it akin to the Globe.

Many theatre historians have tended to presume that another reason that the two playhouses would have produced very different versions of The Duchess of Malfi was that the private Blackfriars Theatre had a greater potential for sophisticated theatrical effects.

Firstly, it was an indoor theatre which allowed far more in terms of both lighting and darkening the space through blacking out the windows.

The Blackfriars Theatre also tended to use music as an indication of the passing of time between acts, but in actual fact, research suggests that by , the Globe had adopted the Blackfriars custom of dividing plays into five acts with music both before the performance and between the acts. Although the Globe was lit by daylight and the Blackfriars Theatre by a combination of daylight and candlelight, neither venue allowed for more than the most minimal control of ambient lighting onstage.

Any significant lighting changes essential to the plot, such as when Ferdinand visits the Duchess in darkness, would simply have been indicated by the bringing or dimming of a torch or lantern and not by any dramatic changes in the level of lighting onstage. The lessened visibility at the very rear of both stages would also have used to advantage in scenes such as when Bosola accidentally stabs Antonio in his failure to recognise him.

At both the Blackfriars Theatre and the Globe, plays were usually staged during the afternoon and the visceral effect of tragedy onstage may well have been enhanced at both venues by the gradual setting of the sun as the play drew to a close. The latter, situated within the city of London itself, charged higher prices and was more easily accessible to the well-off, the fashion-conscious and to students of the Inns of Court, where Webster himself possibly once studied.

The Globe, on the south side of the Thames, was cheaper and tended to attract citizens and their wives with a smaller quotient of gentlemen and their ladies, gallants and courtiers.

The larger, open-air theatres allowed for a far more diverse range of patronage and one that was perhaps not as well educated nor as attentive as Webster had hoped for. Until the reign of Charles II, in , all theatrical performances were played out entirely by companies of men only.

These companies often consisted of adolescent boys who were commonly cast in the female roles.

Duchess of Malfi: A critical guide (Continuum Renaissance Drama)

Richard Sharpe reprised the role a few years later at the age of about fourteen. This seems an undeniably ostentatious and daunting task to undertake for one so young, but the practice was commonplace - younger boys fulfilling the female roles of the time whilst they still had smaller frames and a more feminine vocal range. The production costs throughout much of the Renaissance theatre was relatively low. Minimal stage scenery and props were used and as discussed earlier, modern day theatrical effects such as sound and lighting were simply non-existent.

The almost sole financial excess of the theatre was costuming. Looking the part of a king, a nobleman, a lord or a priest was integral to many of the plays at the time and perhaps most importantly elaborate gowns and cloaks were useful to disguise in some way the smaller boys playing women. Although, in reality, the Blackfriars Theatre and the Globe spaces may not have differed as dramatically as once thought, it does seem likely that Webster wrote The Duchess of Malfi with the Blackfriars Theatre in mind.

Given the dark and brutal nature of the play and the many instances whereby the characters simply do not see or recognise things or even one another, the more enclosed and slightly dimmer atmosphere of the Blackfriars Theatre would seem to have been a more suitable host for such writing.

It is thought that the Mermaid Theatre in Puddle Dock, Blackfriars now the Mermaid Conference Centre , built in , stands on or very near the grounds where the Blackfriars Theatre once was.

The Duchess of Malfi Summary

Almost directly opposite it is of course, the Globe. Although depicted within a much heightened and extraordinary story, these themes still resonate today. Violence and Death Continuing the trend set by the Elizabethan tragedies, Jacobean theatre audiences appeared to have a somewhat morbid obsession with death, violence and the macabre, and Webster certainly did not fail to deliver with The Duchess of Malfi. At the heart of the play, the Duchess herself appears to represent the very epitome of courage, bravery and an unyielding virtue and tenderness whilst all around her are volatile, corrupt and devious.

Her brothers, the Cardinal and Ferdinand, are from the onset cold, calculating and manipulative. Webster also manages to overturn classical conventions by focusing largely on women and their expected role within society.

He hates himself for the ease with which he can be bought and made complicit with things he despises but he seems unable to curb his own obsessive enactment of the desires of those who pay him, until it is too late. Webster uses theatre to expose the moral bankruptcy - the iconic display of mutilated bodies and the courtly antimasque of madmen. But the very enactments that expose the corrupt origins of spectacle also exploit its potential to entertain the audience. We love to watch and hate ourselves for loving it, and we owe our recognition of the contamination of our response in large part to the self-contemplation of Bosola, who is curiously modern in his insights even as he also spouts platitudes of old fashioned morality.

It could be argued that we do not necessarily need to see six people die on stage, nor a severed hand and seemingly real waxen corpses but the spectacle feeds our appetite for the gruesome as it did with audiences years ago. As a modern audience and, due largely to a lack of regulation within the media, we have become desensitised to visual images associated with death and violence, yet if a play transports us back in time, as The Duchess of Malfi does, we can still appreciate the horrid thrill that a Jacobean audience would have relished.

This gives us a glimpse into a system of belief which is unwavering in its strength and one that was clearly present at the time Webster wrote his play.

The dawn of the 17th century ushered in rapid social and political change to northern Europe. While a recognisably modern view of the world had been struggling against the inherited legacy of medieval Christianity throughout the 16th century, the early decades of the 17th witnessed an unstoppable period of transformation.

The new Protestant churches had established themselves as serious challenges to the theological and political claims of Roman Catholicism. Different people reacted to this, and other wide- ranging changes, in different ways. Some became religious extremists, prepared to kill and die for their theological beliefs. Some actively indulged in the speculative delights of the new economy, getting rich quickly by climbing over or otherwise disposing of human and moral obstacles; others angrily rallied against the unfairness and immorality of this early form of capitalism.

In England, some went out of their way to maintain what they believed to be the ancient dignity of the system of social class and inheritance, with its concentration of ultimate power in the figure of the monarch; others mounted a violently radical challenge to the foundation of that system.

This world of religious, economic and political uncertainty, then, was the context in which Jacobean tragedy emerged, enjoying an initial period of explosive popularity. As a prior juxtaposition to this however, Webster puts the power structure in a fresh light; the unusual sight of a woman wielding male privileges makes starkly apparent what the accepted structures are and how they work normally to privilege men - especially so when males are represented as so passionately hostile and oppressive as her brothers are here.

This gender role-reversal of power can also be seen through Antonio - he is exposed to the social and cultural subjection commonly experienced by women; as the Duchess sets out to woo him she reverses the gender-roles in which the man takes the initiative in courtship.

In doing so, she also breaks the social and political constraints that require those of noble blood to marry their equals. Ferdinand is strangely enamoured with his sister whilst at the same time spurning her for her power and the decisions she makes. His incestuous longings appear to be borne out of greed.

He is an overwhelmingly volatile and passionate character and the sheer strength of his emotions at times leads to complete desire of his sister. We can only assume that in a man such as Ferdinand his greed and animalistic urges stretch to encompass and dominate all those in his path; and in this case, the stumbling block to his omnipotent power and wealth is the Duchess herself. The fabulous imagery associated with Ferdinand being afflicted by lycanthropia only serves to heighten this greed.

The setting is incongruous. The Old Vic rehearsal room is full of optimism and spring sun, not to mention the smell of croissants and fresh coffee, as Director Jamie Lloyd welcomes cast and company. In the early 19th century, Charles Lamb had cautioned William Hazlitt about his desire to mount a production of The Duchess of Malfi, stating that the horrors depicted were severe. Then there is her mood board, a threatening collection of carnival masks and hooded figures evoking this danse macabre Malfi.

His plots are driven by an almost adolescent fascination with blood, dismemberment and incest while his verse plays fast and loose with any regular or established metrical system, thrusting feminine cadences against masculine endings like a literary dating agency. Now we are appreciating themes typically glossed over in the mad rush to bloodshed.

Two sessions with vocal coach Barbara Houseman help, with the company playing and plying the verse, while we spectators hear the language soar and the work come to life. Inevitably this pursuit of pure Webster raises its own problem. In contemporary productions where high-concept visuals rather than narrative drive the staging process, an audience might sit back, contended to let the aesthetic and music of the Jacobean language wash over them, oblivious to the complexities of the original story, thereby relieving a cast of the responsibility of unpicking difficult questions that inform this play.

So it is, at the top of our second week, that Jamie again speaks of class, social hierarchy and ambition and suggests that an understanding of this, and its crucial importance in the era, could offer us so much more access to the characters and their actions.

We follow with Renaissance dance sessions where lessons in the pavane give an insight into the strict structure of the social hierarchy, providing Jamie with further devices to introduce his 21st-century audience to a world where honour is not an antique concept, but a life and death issue. Suddenly the play opens up, revealing itself to us. Suddenly the walls are covered in contemporary articles on honour killings.

And yet, Jamie reminds us, there is hope. In the midst of a society characterised by Webster as corrupt and superficial, Bosola digs below the skin and even through the bone until he meets and understands the Duchess.

So there is hope. I think when I was seventeen I did it as an A-level text and I loved it for its really dense visual imagery, all the references to nature, the rich colours and textures, and all of those things that were in the language; and, of course, the heightened, extraordinary nature of the story.

It just felt like something that had a huge visual world. It was a play that really summed up my interests and my reasons for going into theatre design. Was there a particular visual image that you based your design on?

I had a look at three-tiered libraries with spiral staircases, ballustrades and bridges because I knew I was looking for some sort of structure that in some way reflected the auditorium of The Old Vic.

I also looked at film productions like Batman and Gotham City in the s because of the scale of what I wanted to do. I had all these images and I melted them all together to create our piece of architecture which is part Italian Renaissance, part Victorian, part Elizabethan, part Gotham City.

Tell us about your costume choices. I wanted them to feel like they were in the period but there were two or three things that I wanted to change in order to create a slightly more heightened world. The Cardinal was very specific for me; our Cardinal needed to feel like a military man, upright, frightening and sharper.

The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster

He is still wearing a cassock and a cape but the hood and the overcoat were our own addition. We also wanted something more filmic so we added the cloaks to give a much more menacing, dark quality to it. I wanted to create costumes that made you more aware of the person and less aware of the costume, so I made something much more streamlined and acceptable to modern audiences.

Any words of wisdom for young designers?

If you absolutely want to do it, you have to stick to it and give yourself no alternative. It terrified me beyond belief and, as a result, I knew I had to do it. What was the biggest challenge for you within this role? All the while he is portrayed as a melancholy malcontent who seems obsessed, almost to the point of nihilism, by bodily decay and death. Deception The tendrils of deceit extend to almost all the major characters in the play.

The Cardinal , Ferdinand , and Daniel de Bosola dissemble, or present a false notion of themselves, continuously. Indeed deception seems part of their nature. In contrast to innate dishonesty, however, virtuous characters such as the Duchess of Malfi , Antonio Bologna , and Delio are forced to adopt deception.

Ferdinand sets the pattern in Act 1 when he persuades his sister to hire Bosola for "provisorship o'th' horse.

In Act 2 Bosola carries out an elaborate stratagem, or scheme, with apricots to ascertain whether the Duchess is pregnant. Meanwhile, the Cardinal's deceit is apparent in his lecherous relationship with Julia, who cuckolds her husband Castruccio to serve the prelate as his mistress. Sarcastically and hypocritically, the Cardinal declares it would take one of Galileo's telescopes "to find a constant woman.

The web of deception in the play is so elaborate and complex that virtuous characters are involved as well as evil ones. For example, Delio recommends the Duchess and Antonio spread the rumor that Bosola's apricots have been poisoned.

To distract attention from the Duchess's childbirth, she fabricates an accusation of embezzlement against Antonio. And, when Bosola recommends to the Duchess a bogus pilgrimage to Loreto to conceal her flight to Ancona, she readily assents. Cruelty The theme of cruelty, like the theme of deception, intersects and overlaps with the theme of corruption in the play.

The principal exemplar of cruelty is Ferdinand , the Duchess of Malfi 's twin brother. Four scenes with Ferdinand stand out in the dramatization of this character trait.

In Act 2, Scene 5, Ferdinand's volcanic rage at his sister leaves even the Cardinal taken aback. Ferdinand wishes, for example, he could bake the bodies of the Duchess and her lover so that no smoke or steam would escape into the air. In Act 3, Scene 2 Ferdinand rails at his sister in person, calling her a "vile woman" and exclaiming he will never see her again.

He gives her a dagger, presumably for her to use to commit suicide. In Act 4, Scenes 1 and 2, Ferdinand's cruelty reaches a fever pitch. Determined to push the Duchess over the line into madness and despair, Ferdinand uses Daniel de Bosola to arrange an interview with her in total darkness in Scene 1.

Here he delivers a dead man's hand to her, clearly implying that it is the hand of Antonio Bologna , her husband. When Bosola restores the lights and draws a curtain, the Duchess must suffer a second shock: a display of wax figures that simulate her husband and children in death. In Act 4, Scene 2 Ferdinand's psychological torture continues with the hellish noises and gibberish of eight madmen—insane residents of a local hospital gathered by Ferdinand specifically to terrify and shock his sister.

Although Ferdinand is the character most notable for cruelty in the play, both the Cardinal and Bosola exhibit this trait as well. The Cardinal has no hesitation, for example, in tyrannizing the Duchess and in poisoning his mistress Julia, while Bosola, for most of the drama, carries out the orders of his employers, including the murder of the Duchess and her children, even while lamenting his own debasement.

Heroism The two characters with a substantial claim to heroism in the play are the Duchess of Malfi and Antonio Bologna.TDOMWl, li, She is arguing for the recognition of the needs of her body, though when in the opening scene she promised to Ferdinand: Dost thou know what reputation is?

Her dignified of the Duchess facing her deaths, he has a change of heart death shows the contrast with her brothers and as guilt overwhelms him and he then seeks to avenge her. I also thank the staff at Continuum for their patience with and understanding of my obligations as department Chair, which invariably led to delays in the publication schedule. The latter, situated within the city of London itself, charged higher prices and was more easily accessible to the well-off, the fashion-conscious and to students of the Inns of Court, where Webster himself possibly once studied.

Are the galleys come about?