Assess the dramatic and thematic effectiveness of Act 1 of 'The Duchess of Malfi'.

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Assess the dramatic and thematic effectiveness of Act 1 of ‘The Duchess of Malfi’.

        The opening act of ‘The Duchess of Malfi’ is important in terms of the themes that John Webster is presenting. He uses the characters to explore such themes, and subsequently the audience are given detailed descriptions of most of the main characters. Moreover, Webster uses the characters to describe each other not only giving the audience an insight into their personal attributes, but also how each character perceives the other. Although not entirely apparent in the initial acts of the play, the fact that the audience only know about the characters from the other characters’ descriptions, implies the ideas of secrecy, deception, and spying, and the general theme that there are things that the characters think they know, when in fact they don’t.

        Antonio is the first character to be introduced, and he is initially presented as an outsider returning home from the French court, which he “admires”. He has a brief conversation with Delio about the French court, and how although it was orderly, it could easily be distorted.

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“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. Webster uses this contrast quite effectively to convince the audience from ...

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