Character Sketches of the Duchess in The Duchess of Malfi
John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi is a revenge play where the Duchess becomes a victim of revenge. She is a tragic figure in the play. Webster presents her as a psychologically complex character. She represents herself by facing the situation with dignity and great personality. She never loses her heroic spirit from beginning to her death.
Objection against her second marriage
The Duchess is the sister of Ferdinand and the Cardinal. She is young and beautiful but unfortunately, she becomes a widow at the charming period of her life. Her brothers warn her not to marry again. They threaten her by saying that if she marries secretly, her marriage will be executed than celebrated. But she doesn’t care about her brothers’ warning and she secretly marries Antonio, her own steward.
Her encounter with Bosola
Her brothers appoints Bosola as a spy in the guise of the provisor of horses at the Duchess’ court. Bosola cunningly extracts the secret of the Duchess and informs everything to her brothers. Then the Duchess is arrested and imprisoned by Bosola under the instructions of her brothers. Once Bosola comes to the Duchess to represent himself as a tomb-maker. He says that he has come to make her tomb. But the Duchess doesn’t forget her status and wisely declares:
“I know death hath ten thousand several doors For men to take their exit.”
[The Duchess of Malfi, Act-IV, Scene-II)
Her motherly love and responsibility
The Duchess becomes a victim of her cruel brothers. Though she is not lustful, immoral or irreligious, her brothers think that so. She is a woman of dutiful husband and children. When she is going to strangle, she expresses her motherly love and responsibility for her children. She requests Cariola, her maid, to take care of her children. She tells Cariola that it is Cariola’s duty to look after her children to take care for and to take care her body’s cold by some syrup and to teach the girl to say her prayer before she goes to sleep.
To strangle the Duchess, the executioner led by Bosola enters the room with rope. But she is not afraid of death. Instead of being frightened, she requests the executioners to perform their job seriously. She declares:
“Pull, and pull strongly, for your able strength Must pull down heaven upon me.”
[The Duchess of Malfi, Act-IV, Scene-II]
The personality of the Duchess makes her extraordinary of the play. She expresses her personality at the danger point of her life. She doesn’t forget her status. Above all, as a tragic character, her predicament arouses pity and rear in us.
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