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Explore the ways in which Webster introduces his characters and themes in the play The Duchess of Malfi.

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Introduction

Explore the ways in which Webster introduces his characters and themes in the play The Duchess of Malfi In the opening of The Duchess of Malfi takes place between Delio and Antonio, a steward of the Duchess and his friend. Webster makes his audience aware that Antonio has journeyed outside Malfi, to France. The words "France, Frenchman, French" all appear within the first four lines of the text, a blunt indicator to ensure that the audience, however inattentive, grasps the point that Antonio has been absent from Malfi. He supports this point by referring to the timespan since Antonio last saw Delio, "You have been long in France." The word "long" suggests that a considerable time has passed since he was last resident in Malfi. Equally, Delio's description of Antonio, as a "very formal frenchman in habit" infers that Antonio had been in France for long enough to adopt French fashions, rather than his native Italian dress. Altogether, Webster, in the opening burst sets up Antonio as a stranger to Malfi, but an adopted resident of the French court. Thus, when Delio asks the open ended-question the audience appreciate Antonio speaks from experience built from a lengthy duration in France: "How do you like the French court?" Webster's question does not ask a specific question, rather it demands a lengthy reply. Antonio's response is not the view of an outsider whose short stay failed to unearth negative aspects of the foreign reign. Instead he speaks from fact due to the time he spent in France. The reply is informative, as expected from a character who is cast as a "formal frenchman" with a straightforward answer then an extended explanation. ...read more.

Middle

This is important because although he is cast as a gallant fearless man, he has been capable of committing murder. He wishes to be amongst the "panders" that are the detriment of the state of Malfi. The "panders" are the "crows and caterpillars" corrupting the state. Bosola's action, that of murder is also an example of how much he is willing to do to further his status. He like many others in Malfi, may he "could be... a flatt'ring pander" yet he knows he cannot thus is willing to 'sell his soul' and commit murder. It is a crime for which he was not paid, "The only reward of doing (it) is the doing of it." Furthermore, by casting Bosola as a retrograde, Malfi is seen to have corrupted something human, creating a murderer from a man who has shown exceptional bravery to ensure his early release. He was according to Antonio, "very valiant." The "crows and caterpillars" have eaten away at his heart, destroying his morals. The Cardinal in whose service he was enlisted has "diseased" him to the point of "murther." Webster also gives Bosola a greater authorial mouthpiece by crafting him thus: he is seen to be corrupt thus is more qualified to analyse the state of Malfi than other characters. He is not a white character, but rather a tragically flawed anti-hero, a murderer and a rogue who wishes to be a "pander" of the state. Antonio, while showing a clear understanding of corruption, appears as an upright character, thus while the audience appreciate his ideals. His rambling about the ideals of "judicious" government and his admiration for the French court without its "sycophants and panders" speak for his character. ...read more.

Conclusion

If the duchess is "more in heaven" then this image adds to that of her angelic beauty: she is an angel indeed. Overall, Webster's constructs present Malfi as a deeply corrupt regime. The "silver font" that should send down drops of justice instead sends out decay. The nobles in Malfi contrast greatly to the paragons of leaders offered in the French court. The Duke and Cardinal with their "sycophants" and "flatt'rers" are shown to be vain and use their power to control others. Worse, they corrupt the "rich" state of Malfi with their "political monsters, atheists (and) intellegeners." These "miserable dependances" leach from the state like the "pies and caterpillars" from the fruit of the "overladen" fruit tree. Webster portrays Antonio and the Duchess as the exact opposite of the malign presence offered by the Duke and his brother. Their influence is shown by Antonio's admiration of the uncorrupt French court. Equally, where Antonio favours the French court, he also favours the Duchess, then gives a list of the reasons for doing so. It is therefore assumed that they are the "silver drops" in the corrupt state, set to contrast against the corruption of the brothers. The final two characters of the act I feel are dramatic constructs. Delio is used by the writer in this scene so that Antonio can speak candidly about France. By speaking to a friend, the audience value his comment more than were it to be made in public to a group of people. Delio is also used later in the act to hold the plot together, when Antonio points out the duke and describes him as a scoundrel. "This is the Duke of Calabria.... The devils speak (in him)." Bosola is crafted in a similar way. The authorial mouthpiece of Antonio cannot intensely ...read more.

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