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    hi there, this is aimed at both english AND history students :p:

    Im studying the Duchess of Malfi and need to have a good understanding of the context it was written in. All i know really is that it was a time of fear and people distrusted foreigners - does anyone have any extra info about the era and *wishful thinking* anything specifically to do with the Duchess of Malfi?

    thanks people :hugs:
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    (Original post by poptart86)
    hi there, this is aimed at both english AND history students :p:

    Im studying the Duchess of Malfi and need to have a good understanding of the context it was written in. All i know really is that it was a time of fear and people distrusted foreigners - does anyone have any extra info about the era and *wishful thinking* anything specifically to do with the Duchess of Malfi?

    thanks people :hugs:
    i had my english lit exam on the 15th and had the duchess of malfi on that exam. i may have fluked an A at AS, but im not the best english student... but this is what i know.

    cotext-wise, there's quite a lot for the duchess of malfi. but make sure you use the context either to support your argument or to make clear you understand it... integrate it carefully and skilfully. the exmainers dont want a history essay (but im sure you know that).

    the question i chose in the exam was to do with the audiences reaction to the barbarity and cruelty througout the play. i distinguished the different perceptions of both a modern audience and a jacobean audience. see, the jacobeans lived in close proximity with death, disease and suffering, therefore the merciless executions in the play (such as those of the duchess and cariola) didn't come across as exceptional or surprising. they'd be seen as intriguing and to an extent comic. wheras a modern audience would be more shocked. on the subject of death and destruction, Webster uses these themes as a metaphor of politcal corruption and deterioration in the play (such as with characters like the cardinal). jacobean audiences would also be able to relate this to the rule of King James I, which is likely to be under scrutiny too.

    the idea of the play being a revenge tragedy is important too. like the characters in a revenge tragedy are unsurprisingly motivated by the very act of revenge and this can make them corrupt, its certainly the case with ferdinand and the cardinal. revenge tragedy also relates to characters such as the malcontent and the machiavel; i.e. bosola and cardinal respectively.

    the malcontent (Bosola) - basically holds a grudge against society because of his failure to progress in it. he is solely preocuppied with his own advancement above anything else. (however bosola rises above this as he shows signs of morality in his soliloquies and attitudes toward the duchess and antonio - there is no doubt however that there is a lot of ambiguity in his morality)

    the machiavel (mainly Cardinal) - is politcally corrupt. scheming, will resort to violence/murder to cover up his tracks.

    another context is the position of women in elizabethan england. the start and end of the play are all-male affairs, and all the women are killed... you know feminism blah blah. also know about the duchess and that she's an independent woman with her own morals. she puts her husband and children before anything else, even her status and loyalty to her brothers. modern audience would possibly respect her for this and that her ultimate tragedy is due to a tragedy of situation. a jacobean audience however would condemn her for this and say that her tragedy is a result of her instrinsic qualities - shes naively in love and independent women were athreat to the social fabric... blah...

    hope that helps!!
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    Thank you so much! you've brought up points I never even noticed about the play before! So basically I need to realise that Jacobean audiences were familiar with scenes of corruption and murder and so would not be as shocked as today's audience about it in the play.
    Another thing, do you think Webster's aim in the play is mainly to condemn the currption in the jacobean court then? And would the Jacobean audience respect the Duchess for being strong-willed or not like her because she doesnt obey her brothers?
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    welll i think...

    there was actually a past question asking whether the duchess was 'bold and too passionate'. I think because of attitudes to women in jacobean times the audience would see the duchess as foolish - but maybe Webster meant to challenge views about women? (he wrote white devil too, similar in plot).

    Look at antonio's descriptions of the siblings to delio in the first act. These descriptions set us up to have certain expectations of the characters from the very beginning. we are supposed to dislike the brothers and like the duchess.

    "let all ladies break their flatt'ring glasses and dress themselves in her"
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    So maybe Wesbter wanted the audience to realise the Duchess was innocent and that there is nothing wrong with being a powerful woman? the fact that Julia dies because of the way men treat her portray her as a victim of society doesnt it?
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    (Original post by poptart86)
    So maybe Wesbter wanted the audience to realise the Duchess was innocent and that there is nothing wrong with being a powerful woman? the fact that Julia dies because of the way men treat her portray her as a victim of society doesnt it?
    Is that an echo of Elizabeth I's reign I see there?
 
 
 
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