The Duchess of Malfi Essay
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“Webster’s view of the world is utterly bleak. ” Use your knowledge of three specific episodes in ‘The Duchess of Malfi’ to discuss this statement. Like other tragedies, ‘The Duchess of Malfi’ is abundant in exploring darker and more unpleasant elements such as death and murder. Additionally, Webster portrays a variety of these themes including secrecy, deceit, and the general corruption of society; these are contrasted with themes such as love, honesty and courage, and thus all of the elements are highlighted as they complement each other.
Webster’s view of the world may be considered as “utterly bleak” on account of this wide variety of negative themes which are powerful enough on their own, and how they all contribute to the destruction of the little good that there is in Malfi. Moreover, the language and actions carried out by many of the characters are particularly graphic and at some times even morbid and unnerving.
It has often been said that Webster uses Bosola as the narrator to the audience; a commentator giving his opinion on certain situations and his view of the world as a whole. This can be seen through his frequent descriptions of what he sees as the deeper meaning of the situations that are occurring on the surface. “And though continually we bear about us A rotten and dead body, we delight To hide it in rich tissue. ” Bosola generally has a very cynical view of his surroundings, as he describes here that people are merely dead corpses covered in flesh.
Although this is quite a graphic and striking comment, Webster uses this effectively in demonstrating how everything in Malfi is really one thing (usually corrupt) concealed by a screen the make it appear as another; as this is a fundamental element to the play as a whole, this further reinforces the idea that Webster is portraying the commentaries of the play through Bosola’s eyes, thus creating a “bleak” and cynical view.
Webster was writing at a time when Jacobean tragedies were most popular in the theatre, and in that respect ‘The Duchess of Malfi’ cannot stand out as an “utterly bleak” view of the world. However, Webster maintains striking language and scenes throughout the play, which were extreme even for a tragedy. Playwrights such as Webster were also commonly known to criticise the societies of which they lived in through the ambiguity of their plays rather than directly condemn the court.
As ‘The Duchess of Malfi’ is entirely focused on the corruption of those associated with the court, and is portrayed in such a horrific and sometimes “bleak” manner, it could be argued that Webster was using the play as a means of expressing his view of the world in which he lived. The opening scene of the play presents the court of Malfi in a negative light by contrasting it with the goodness of the French court; this already gives a sense of the darkness in which the court is submerged in. “Pure silver drops in general; but if ‘t chance Some cursed example poison ‘t near the head, Death and diseases throughout the whole land spread. “