John Webster's Play The Duchess of Malfi

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John Webster's Play The Duchess of Malfi

In the opening of The Duchess of Malfi takes place between Delio and

Antonio, a steward of the Duchess and his friend. Webster makes his

audience aware that Antonio has journeyed outside Malfi, to France.

The words "France, Frenchman, French" all appear within the first four

lines of the text, a blunt indicator to ensure that the audience,

however inattentive, grasps the point that Antonio has been absent

from Malfi. He supports this point by referring to the timespan since

Antonio last saw Delio, "You have been long in France." The word

"long" suggests that a considerable time has passed since he was last

resident in Malfi. Equally, Delio's description of Antonio, as a "very

formal frenchman in habit" infers that Antonio had been in France for

long enough to adopt French fashions, rather than his native Italian


Altogether, Webster, in the opening burst sets up Antonio as a

stranger to Malfi, but an adopted resident of the French court. Thus,

when Delio asks the open ended-question the audience appreciate

Antonio speaks from experience built from a lengthy duration in


"How do you like the French court?"

Webster's question does not ask a specific question, rather it demands

a lengthy reply. Antonio's response is not the view of an outsider

whose short stay failed to unearth negative aspects of the foreign

reign. Instead he speaks from fact due to the time he spent in France.

The reply is informative, as expected from a character who is cast as

a "formal frenchman" with a straightforward answer then an extended

explanation. Antonio "admires" the French system, which he sets up as

the benchmark from which the audience must view the court of Mal...

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...tonio's admiration of the uncorrupt French court.

Equally, where Antonio favours the French court, he also favours the

Duchess, then gives a list of the reasons for doing so. It is

therefore assumed that they are the "silver drops" in the corrupt

state, set to contrast against the corruption of the brothers.

The final two characters of the act I feel are dramatic constructs.

Delio is used by the writer in this scene so that Antonio can speak

candidly about France. By speaking to a friend, the audience value his

comment more than were it to be made in public to a group of people.

Delio is also used later in the act to hold the plot together, when

Antonio points out the duke and describes him as a scoundrel. "This is

the Duke of Calabria…. The devils speak (in him)." Bosola is crafted

in a similar way. The authorial mouthpiece of Antonio cannot intensely

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