How effective is "The Duchess of Malfi" as a Jacobean Revenge Tragedy?
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How effective is "The Duchess of Malfi" as a Jacobean Revenge Tragedy? "The Duchess of Malfi" by John Webster holds the typical stereotype of a Jacobean Revenge Tragedy. A 'typical' Jacobean Revenge Tragedy contains conventions: - the play should be set into five acts as laid down by Seneca in his original rules of tragedy. There should obviously be a desire for revenge hence the term "revenge tragedy." There should be murders within a Jacobean revenge tragedy. The narrative should involve complex plotting. The story should centre on characters of noble birth. There should be Italianate or Southern European settings. The narrative should incorporate ghosts, skulls and madness. Lust should be a strong motivation. The plot should involve physical horrors, such as poisoning and torture. Order should be restored at the end of the play. All of the conventions set out by Seneca are relevant to the Duchess of Malfi. The "Duchess of Malfi" is set out into five acts.
Ferdinand tries to mentally torture the Duchess. She is forced to view a tableau that displays the seemingly dead bodies of Antonio and her eldest son. The bodies are wax images. The poisoning convention if fulfilled when the Cardinal poisons the bible so when Julia kisses it she dies. The fact that the Cardinal poisons the bible it could symbolise that he has lost his religious beliefs and has become secular again. At the time this play was written it was not uncommon to use mad people as entertainment. This is a Jacobean tragedy convention. England was a superstitious society. Many people believed in omens and portents. Witches and witchcraft were the object of morbid and fevered fascination throughout the rein of Queen Elizabeth. Most people believed that witches existed, and persecution of those accused of witchcraft. The dominant mood of the period was melancholic and sombre. Out of the melancholic mood came the malcontent.
The heroic figure in this play is undoubtedly the Duchess. She stoically accepts her fate and constantly takes the lead in her relationship with Antonio. Her strong character is typical of Jacobean tragedies. The tragedies of Shakespeare, Webster, Middleton and others reflected characters, emotions, actions and issues that were familiar to the London audiences. In "The Duchess of Malfi", Bosola, when he is about to have the Duchess murdered, speaks words which refer to the custom of a bell being toiled at Newgate prison just before the execution of a condemned criminal. "I am common Bellman That usually is sent to condemn'd persons, The night before they suffer" Contemporary audiences witnessed scenes of violence, revenge and forgiveness. They heard all kinds of direct and indirect comments on affairs of state, law and belief. Whether the drama supported or subverted religious beliefs, traditional values or social organisation, it held attractions that pulled in audiences. In conclusion "The Duchess of Malfi" is very effective as a Revenge Tragedy as it features all the conventions put down by Seneca. Charlee Milgate 13CD
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