• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

What impression does Webster create of courtly life in Malfi? How would a contemporary audience react to such a portrayal?

Extracts from this document...


Kate Salmon What impression does Webster create of courtly life in Malfi? How would a contemporary audience react to such a portrayal? The court of Malfi is a treacherous place, with political, religious and personal allegiances in constant conflict. Webster creates this impression of courtly life through the themes of corruption, religion, hierarchy, revenge, malcontent and gender segregation. It is through these themes that Webster is able to convey the hypocritical and sinister world of the court. The court reflects the period in which Webster wrote the play as it echoes the court of James. A modern audience may portray the court quite differently to one of the Jacobean time, as in those days corruption and religious dominance was accepted and came as no surprise to them. We as the audience are able to see how treacherous the court is through each character, as it is them that bring the themes to life within the court. Antonio's opening comments about the virtues of the French court set up a contrast with that of the rulers in Italy. Many political tragedies during this period were set in countries other than England, where "the corruption of the times" could be criticized without fear of the public censor. Through this opposition that Webster creates he depicts that the court of Malfi is a place full of malice and sinister happenings. ...read more.


This introduces the theme of hierarchy as well as revenge. A contemporary audience could easily relate to Bosala and grasp his way of thinking as in everyday society we see inequality and elitism. Hierarchy is shown through each character and there position in the court. We see how the people at the top of the social chain influence the people at the bottom, which was typical of the 16th century. 'That a Prince's court. Is like a common fountain, whence should flow pure sliver drops in general. But if't chance near the head' this divide between the rich and poor would come as no surprise to any audience analysing the court. We see that in the court each character has a position within the social hierarchy and it is this position that causes conflict within the play. There is great Irony within the social system of Malfi. The Cardinal and Ferdinand are both lower status to the Duchess but yet the try to oppress and control her. Ferdinand refers to the Duchess as 'lusty widow' showing his dominating, patronizing incestuous tone. Religion is a fundamental theme of the part play and court. It is religion that has the power and dominance over the people of Malfi. The Cardinal represents religion a man who has earned respect and dominance through his corrupt ways. ...read more.


Even though Bosola's intelligence takes years to produce the results required by the brothers, their threats have an immediate fulfilment in the life of the Duchess: their determined wills and the atmosphere of her own poisoned court limit her activities. Her marriage ceremony is literally confined within the walls of her chamber. In this sense, her marriage night is indeed, 'the entrance to some prison'. Like a prisoner, her movements and emotions are restricted. Even the imagery in her words to Antonio convey the idea of imprisonment 'this lowly roof of yours is too low built' and her speaking of not being 'the figure cut in alabaster, kneels at my husband's tomb'. Indeed, one sees the Duchess as one not only imprisoned physically by her brothers, but also one trapped in her role 'we are forced to woo because none dare woo us'. The imagery of the wooing scene suggests, prophetically, not only restraint, but also madness and violent death. Nevertheless, a happier instance of the image of confinement occurs in the Duchess's reply to Antonio's question about her brothers 'Do not think of them, all discord without circumference, is only to be pitied, and not feared' This may be interpreted as a reference to the wedding ring that she has given to Antonio, or to the confinement of the wife's arms as she embraces her husband. We see how the court influences the rise and downfall of each of the characters. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level John Webster section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related AS and A Level John Webster essays

  1. How effective is "The Duchess of Malfi" as a Jacobean Revenge Tragedy?

    The narrative should include ghosts, skulls and madness. Jacobean playwrights were not squeamish in portraying gory detail: fingers or hands are chopped off; poisoned skulls, books or portraits to kill those who kiss them; victims are mentally tortured with shows of madmen or waxworks of their dead children.

  2. In The Duchess of Malfi, Act II Scene I, Bosola says to the Old ...

    He views all women as unfaithful, and the sick-terms in which he relates to Julia highlight her own corruption in cheating on her husband. Through the play, the Cardinal is associated with anti-religious images such as 'fires', 'hell' and 'burning', associations that link him with evil and hell.

  1. Corruption of the court within the Duchess of Malfi

    This also implies that any correction of such a court can only "begin at" the "home"7 of the Duke. Nevertheless, this evil appoach by the Duke would be expected by Jacobean audiences as such tragedies relied upon the use of conspiring acts.

  2. Explore the ways in which Webster introduces his characters and themes in the play ...

    Webster uses the metaphorical image of a common fountain for two reasons. Webster wishes to note to the audience that the French court is "common," not in the sense that it fails in the traditional hierarchy of power, but rather that justice in France is "common."

  1. How and where does the Duchess distinguish herself as a very remarkable woman in ...

    in that she puts her pleasure and personal issues before those of the state. Perhaps she secretly believes that the justness of her cause will be sure to triumph, but she is too romantic a character and, in direct opposition to Ferdinand's callousness, the Duchess disregards his potential for evil saying, "Time will easily scatter the tempest".

  2. Critical opinion about the ways Webster presents the Duchess is divided. Some critics blame ...

    Allowing her husband to be used as a scapegoat is risky and shows she is courageous. In my opinion in some ways I can see that the Duchess is bold, irresponsible and sometimes too passionate however she shows alarming courage in order to face the situation she is in with dignity.


    Francisco tells Monticelso that he is a "worthy member of the state" who has done "infinite good" by liaising between Francisco and the murderous Lodovico; this shows a direct link between the self-absorbed corruption of the elites and the bloody horror which is so prevalent throughout the play.

  2. John Webster - Theatrical Language

    * Machiavellian ambition - Represented by Bosola and Ferdinand. Fascinated the English after the Prince Machiavelli's political instruction in duplicity. * Siblings - Spanish rulers, ruling parts of divided Italy - Can represent and exploit the xenophobic fears of Renaissance Italy and its murderous corruption.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work