John Webster: The Duchess of Malfi

(1240 words)
  • Martin Wiggins (University of Birmingham)

The action of The Duchess of Malfi takes place in early sixteenth-century Italy against a background of escalating European war; but its focus is on tensions within an aristocratic family. The power of the male head of the family over his female relatives' love-lives was a feature of patriarchal society which fascinated the author, John Webster, and underpins character relationships in many of his plays. In The Duchess of Malfi, the tensions, and the secrecy, arise from the Duchess's brothers' opposition to her remarriage; the Duchess being told by her elder brother, the Cardinal, that “[t]hey are most luxurious [lecherous] / Will wed twice” (1.1.284-5). In a period when female honour was associated largely with female …

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Wiggins, Martin. "The Duchess of Malfi". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 25 October 2002
[, accessed 27 September 2016.]

Related Groups

  1. Revenge Tragedy
  2. English Renaissance Theatre - Jacobean