Corruption in "The Duchess of Malfi"

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The world in which The Duchess of Malfi is set is riddled with corrupt practices and people. There are 3 major types of corruption that occur throughout the play: moral corruption, political corruption and mental corruption.




The idea of corruption is introduced in Antonio’s first speech. He comments on how a well governed, noble palace should be, then contrasts this with the idea of a court where “ some curs’d example poison’t near the head, death and diseases through the whole land spread.” This helps us to recognise Antonio as a noble, well-educated character who can be trusted to provide an honest view of the situation. It also points out that someone at the head of the court has caused the sickness and disease, the corruption, which has spread throughout the land.  The image of water in Antonio’s speech is continued through the act. The “ common fountain” links to Antonio’s view of the Cardinal that “ The spring in his face is nothing but the engend’ring of toads,” that something that appears pure can in fact be diseased, impure and polluting. Antonio is able to see through the rich tissue that has been used to hide a rotten and dead body. This is not the first suggestion that the Cardinal is a corrupt man; Bosola’s claim that he “...fell into the galleys in your service,” introduces the idea that the Cardinal may not be as religious and honourable as a man in his position should be. Bosola’s account of the matter is reinforced by Delio’s recollection of the event and Antonio professing that he has “ heard he’s very valiant.” The Cardinal must be very devious and infectious with his corruption if he is able to corrupt Bosola; it is said he “ were able to possess the greatest devil, and make him worse.”

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The Cardinals corruption is the most common throughout the play. His actions make him guilty of both moral and political corruption. His original corrupting of Bosola is before the play begins and his corrupting of the court is introduced at the beginning of the play. His first specific act of immorality in the play is his affair with Julia. He has allowed himself, a clergyman, to become corrupted morally by a married woman. His vow of celibacy has been forgotten so he can satisfy his lusts and desires. Despite all his religious finery he is still rotten to ...

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