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  • Writer's pictureMackenzie Elisa

The Duchess of Malfi

by John Webster

AKA my favorite Early Modern play... which is a BOLD statement on my part... but I stand by it. This isn't post reviewing the play, because I don't want to spoil it for you. Instead, I am urging you to take a leap of faith and dive right into this play!

This play is truly everything you could ever want in a play, featuring a resilient Disney Princess- like female lead. Just to further entice you... this play also features: Werewolves/Lycanthropy, poisoned Bibles, severed limbs, allusions to incest, wax effigies of dead characters, secret marriages, madness, magic, murder, mayhem, and more! Like honestly what more could you possibly ask for in a play?!

But in all honesty, this is a literary masterpiece about a young widow, a Duchess nonetheless, fighting against the patriarchy (mostly her brothers). It's a commentary on gender, class, religion, suffering, guilt, and love. It's incredibly tragic, but also full of wit, dark humor, and tons of visual spectacle straight out of the Jacobean period. I find the Duchess to be an exceptionally beautifully written character. She is bright, warm, witty, and her integrity never wavers. Now the men in this play? Love Antonio... the rest? You're gonna have to read it for yourself.

Here's some of my favorite quotes:

"Why should only I,

Of all the other princes of the world,

Be cased up like a holy relic?"

-The Duchess, III.ii

What would it pleasure me to have my throat cut

With diamonds? or to be smothered

With cassia? or to be shot to death with pearls?

I know death hath ten thousand several doors

For men to take their exits; and ’tis found

They go on such strange geometrical hinges

You may open them both ways: any way, for heaven-sake,

So I were out of your whispering. Tell my brothers

That I perceive death, now I am well awake,

Best gift is they can give or I can take.

I would fain put off my last woman’s-fault,

I ’d not be tedious to you.

-The Duchess, IV.ii

The misery of us that are born great! We are forc'd to woo, because none dare woo us. -The Duchess, I.iii

I account this world a tedious theatre, For I do play a part in't 'gainst my will. -The Duchess, IV.i

Whether we fall by ambition, blood or lust,

Like diamonds we are cut with our own dust.

-Ferdinand, V.v

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