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

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Introduction

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.

Middle

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.

Conclusion

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.

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