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AS and A Level: John Webster

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  1. IT HAS BEEN SAID THAT THE WHITE DEVIL IS BLOODY AND FULL OF HORROR. IS THE WHITE DEVIL ANYTHING MORE THAN A HORROR STORY?

    From the offset, then, Webster leaves no doubt that the goings-on in the play are bloody and horrible. However, the fact that the audience learns of Lodovico's murderous past at an early stage does more than contribute to a sense of bloody horror in the play. His association with Monticelso later in the play highlights the base and shady nature of the upper echelons of Italian society (or at least, Webster's perception of the Italian elites' corruption), as his status as a murderer and an outlaw has already been established in the first scene.

    • Word count: 1230
  2. Attitudes to women in "The White Devil" in Acts I and II

    However, it is never stated outright how willing Vittoria herself is in participating in the affair. Flamineo himself mentions women's "politic", and it is possible Vittoria uses Brachiano's infatuation for her own personal gain. This can most clearly be seen in her dream which she relates to Brachiano. She claims that in her dream both Camillo and Isabella "were struck dead by that sacred yew". The word "yew" is an obvious pun of 'you', and so it is Vittoria, through her dream, who appears to have provoked Brachiano to act against their spouses.

    • Word count: 990
  3. Corruption of the court within the Duchess of Malfi

    Webster has carefully portrayed this cynical view of human nature through the impression of the court within the opening act. This is apparent through his writing techniques and structure to reflect the given context through characterisations. During the first Act, the audience is introduced to a majority of the court, from Aristocrats such as the Duchess as well as her courtiers and stewards. There is an immediate indication of differing levels of status to the audience, which Webster has illustrated through the style of his language.

    • Word count: 989
  4. Corruption in "The Duchess of Malfi"

    Antonio is able to see through the rich tissue that has been used to hide a rotten and dead body. This is not the first suggestion that the Cardinal is a corrupt man; Bosola's claim that he "...fell into the galleys in your service," introduces the idea that the Cardinal may not be as religious and honourable as a man in his position should be. Bosola's account of the matter is reinforced by Delio's recollection of the event and Antonio professing that he has " heard he's very valiant."

    • Word count: 1192
  5. What impression does Webster create of courtly life in Malfi? How would a contemporary audience react to such a portrayal?

    Corruption is the main source for the deceitful goings on in Malfi and it is this Corruption that is interweaved with every aspect of the courtly life. Another theme that is expressed is the malcontent. Bosola is presented to us as a malcontent, which was typical characterisation in Jacobean tragedy. Even as he enters 'Here comes Bosola, the only court-gall'. We see he is a man who is on the outside of the cosy society that Antonio shows to Delio.

    • Word count: 1757
  6. Explore the ways in which Webster introduces his characters and themes in the play The Duchess of Malfi.

    Antonio "admires" the French system, which he sets up as the benchmark from which the audience must view the court of Malfi. In his speech, vital to the context of the play setting, Antonio first describes the French king as "judicious" suggesting wisdom and fairness. Antonio then goes on to mention that "flattering sycophants" were banished from the court. Thus, between the wisdom of the king, and the lack of falsities in France, a government has been created where justice flowed from a "common fountain."

    • Word count: 2974
  7. Critical opinion about the ways Webster presents the Duchess is divided. Some critics blame her for being irresponsible, bold and too passionate. Others praise her for her courage in fighting against tyrannical authority.

    It could be argued that the Duchess asking Antonio to marry her was an irresponsible action, she knew the society they lived in would not allow someone of her status to marry a man beneath her like Antonio, therefore some critics would argue she brought on her death herself by being irresponsible and also too passionate. At the beginning of the play, Antonio is describing how a good court should be run and sets up a contrast early on between the corrupt Italian court the play is based in and the model French court, "Quits first his royal palace of flatt'ring sycophants."

    • Word count: 1035
  8. How effective is "The Duchess of Malfi" as a Jacobean Revenge Tragedy?

    The "Duchess of Malfi" is set out into five acts. The narrative should be complex and it should involve complicated plotting. In "The Duchess of Malfi" the patterns of revenge often cross each other. The Aragon brothers, the Duke Ferdinand and the Cardinal move early in the play into a spirit of revenge against their sister for not following her duties of a young widow. Bosola wants to avenge himself against the Cardinal and Ferdinand for "neglect" and for forcing guilt upon him. Julia wants to revenge herself against the Cardinal for what she realises instinctively as his growing boredom of her.

    • Word count: 1048
  9. "Whether the spirit of greatness or woman reigns most in her, I know not, but it shows a fearful madness. I owe her much of pity" (I.i. 492)How far do you agree with Cariola's lines as a summary of the Duchess?

    The Duchess has the spirit of woman in her, she makes her judgements, like her decision to woo and marry Antonio, as a woman and essentially without reasoning and rationalising the possible consequences of her decision. The Duchess takes control in the sequence, 'a saucy ... devil is dancing in this circle' (Antonio) 'Remove him' (Duchess) 'How?' (Antonio) ... [She puts the ring on his finger], Antonio is seemingly in awe of her, and incapable of making the first move, which can be attributed to the Duchess' recognition that, 'The misery of us that are born great, we are forced to woo because none dare woo us'.

    • Word count: 1562
  10. Examine the ways in which the political and familial contexts and relationships are established in Act I of "The Duchess of Malfi"

    Bosola who himself is seemingly amoral, being introduced to the audience by Antonio as the 'court-gall', directly refers to Ferdinand and his brother, the Cardinal likening them to 'plum trees that grow crooked'. He suggests that too much power and riches has made them so, but also that they are surrounded by 'flatt'ring sycophants' who are like 'crows' and 'caterpillars' and use them to gain power and wealth for themselves. This analogy can be linked with Antonio's, to say that the corruption at the top of Ferdinand and the Cardinal has affected the rest of the court and made them equally depraved and greedy.

    • Word count: 1215
  11. Referring to Act 3, Scene 2, lines 88 to 140, Discuss the ways is which Webster reveals the nature of the relationship between the Duchess and Ferdinand at this point in the play. Analyse the language and Imagery used.

    Not only in Act 3, Scene 2, but also throughout the play, Ferdinand's abrasive temperament and unbalanced emotions are shown through his unrelenting sexual innuendoes towards his sister. Webster has given the repressed younger twin Ferdinand the capacity for extreme love and hate. He is not married, which adds to his sense of alienation and inability to relate to women. Ferdinand's incestuous feelings occur throughout the play, as in Act 1, for instance, Ferdinand speaks offensively towards his sister, finally calling her a "lusty widow".

    • Word count: 820
  12. In The Duchess of Malfi, Act II Scene I, Bosola says to the Old Lady: "And though continually we bear about us A rotten and dead body, we delight To hide it in rich tissue..." Discuss the corrupt world presented in the light of this quotation.

    The fountain and the standing pools are two contrasting images used to expose the corruption of the court. Whereas the fountain represents a flowing source of that can be infected according to it's ruler, the pools represent corruption and evil that remain in the land. The pools link to witchcraft and familiars, and in particular toads. The Cardinal at first is depicted as clean, yet in reality the 'spring in his face is nothing but the engend'ring of toads.' This water link emphasises that the world around is corrupt and also associates the Cardinal with evil, despite his holy role.

    • Word count: 1160
  13. Consider the relative merits of each of these judgements of Act 5: The Duchess of Malfi

    In doing so, she provides light to a somewhat melancholic play. The Duchess's persona is rendered as pure and dignified. She acknowledges that "Men are often most valued" when "th'are most wretched." The reader is therefore encouraged to draw a parallel between her view on men to her outlook in life. The protagonist is truly 'blind' in her 'violent passion' towards Antonio. She loves Antonio purely for love's sake. Juxtaposed against this love are the vile brothers 'For the devil speaks' for them and the Duchess 'speaketh divine.' This serves to highlight the polarity of the family.

    • Word count: 1206
  14. Critical review of the Duchess of Malfi

    This is foreshadowed by Antonio; there are 'sycophants' and 'death and diseases' which 'spread' through 'the land.' Additionally, he makes references to France; they have 'a judicious king' and 'works of heaven.' This is set against the greedy avarice of the Malfi court where lust, corruption 'sin and retribution'(Federick Allen ) is rife throughout the play.

    • Word count: 493
  15. How and where does the Duchess distinguish herself as a very remarkable woman in a man's world?

    The Duchess is a kind, grounded optimist, not a hardened realist who is cold and distant to emotions such as passion and love. She clearly cares very much about Antonio as is shown by their coyly shy and flirty courting ritual and the way she takes the impetus daringly risking herself by offering him her wedding ring - "I did vow never to part with it / But to my second husband." Again, this highlights how adept she is at coping in a world primarily controlled by men - as a high-ranking Duchess, it is she who must make the proposition.

    • Word count: 3188
  16. Assess the dramatic and thematic effectiveness of Act 1 of 'The Duchess of Malfi'.

    "Pure silver drops in general; but if 't chance Some cursed example poisoned 't near the head, Death and diseases through the whole land spread." The rhyming couplet makes it almost seem like a curse, and exerts a sense of doom. This already gives the impression that the court of Malfi is it self distorted, as Antonio describes the goodness of the French court, and then quickly goes onto describe how easily any court could be corrupted, as if 'pointing a finger' at the court of Malfi.

    • Word count: 999
  17. "Webster's view of the world is utterly bleak." Use your knowledge of three specific episodes in 'The Duchess of Malfi' to discuss this statement.

    "And though continually we bear about us A rotten and dead body, we delight To hide it in rich tissue." Bosola generally has a very cynical view of his surroundings, as he describes here that people are merely dead corpses covered in flesh. Although this is quite a graphic and striking comment, Webster uses this effectively in demonstrating how everything in Malfi is really one thing (usually corrupt) concealed by a screen the make it appear as another; as this is a fundamental element to the play as a whole, this further reinforces the idea that Webster is portraying the commentaries of the play through Bosola's eyes, thus creating a "bleak" and cynical view.

    • Word count: 1355
  18. By close consideration of two extracts of your choice, assess the importance of the Christian perspective in Webster’s presentation of the Duchess

    In I.i, Antonio, the Duchess' future husband, recounts a description of the French court, the King of which has 'quitted' "his royal palace | Of flatt'ring sycophants, of dissolute, | And infamous persons" (ll.7-9). This depiction acts as a yardstick by which we compare the court of Malfi. In fact, the entire presentation could be taken as an abstract concept presented visually, rather than any actual occurrence - however, the effect is the same either way. Unfortunately, we soon learn what becomes of the King - in III.iii, the corrupt Cardinal tells us that 'the famous Lannoy' had "had the honour | Of taking the French King prisoner".

    • Word count: 2059
  19. From your readings of Acts 1-3 (inclusive) show how Webster presents the play as set in a paternalistic world.

    Webster seems to portray the Duchess as a symbol of the Jacobean view of the roles of women. A widow, such as the Duchess, was considered to be an 'ungoverned woman', one who threatened the social normalities of the period. The Duchess is also portrayed in this way, because she 'threatens' the reputation of the court. Ferdinand fears that the Duchess will marry for pleasure, and warns his sister of the destructive nature of marrying for pleasure: "I'th'court, There is a kind of honey-dew that's deadly: 'Twill poison your fame." Ferdinand also suggests that by marrying twice the Duchess will be seen as 'luxurious', suggesting that a second marriage is portrayed as wicked.

    • Word count: 666
  20. With reference to Act 2, show how 'The White Devil' is psychologically rather than graphically horrific.

    Perhaps Webster uses this as a ?shock tactic?, making a Catholic Jacobean audience question whether a higher power is really protecting them if they would allow the archetype of goodness die in such a manner. This thought would have resonated in the 17th century as new discoveries in sciences such as astronomy may have made many wonder whether ?believers? were actually any better than ?non-believers?. Brachiano definitely has the qualities of a villainous ?non-believer? taken to a hyperbolic level, severing any ties with the chaste Isabella, referring to the man that married her as just a ?dead shadow? of himself.

    • Word count: 834

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