The Duchess of Malfi: A Character Study

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Webster based his plot on a true story set in Italy, a story that has as central themes inequality, injustice, and corruption. In my opinion one of the best techniques that Webster used to transmit these themes was to make the characters appear to be something that they are not. Furthermore, all the important characters of the play have both good and bad sides, and some of them (Cardinal) are “bad” but appear to be “good”. This contrast between good and bad and the changes of personality, help the author to build a play full of tragedy and therefore this maintains the reader’s attention focused on the play and anxious to see what is going to happen next.

To begin, at the start of the play, when the reader doesn’t know anything about Ferdinand and its purposes, it is assumed that all he wants is the best for his sister. It seems that he is protecting her, as he doesn’t want her to marry because her name would be “stained” and it would be seen as an improper act. However, Ferdinand is a younger repressed twin, and his wish for the death of the Duchess can be interpreted in many ways. He obviously wants to dominate her and control her, but his wish appears somewhat useless, as she has been married before, and has therefore gained her powerful status. Furthermore the character Ferdinand is notable for his exaggerated feelings and violent and abusive language. Some may feel that his characterization is so extreme that it makes it difficult to take The Duchess of Malfi seriously, but he plays a central role in the dynamics of the play.

“Ferdinand: And women like the part, which, like the lamprey, 
Hath ne'er a bone in't.

Duchess: Fie, sir!

Ferdinand: Nay, I mean the tongue” [Act 1, Scene II]

This extract shows Ferdinand's dark ...

... middle of paper ...

...he calmed one, however he can’t be both, even though he is at certain moments when he is living as he states a “double life”. This quote from the poem:

“But one says, "Stay" and One says "Go"

And one says, "Yes," and One says "No,"

States his doubt about who he wants to be, and according the circumstance he is one person or another. The same in “Duchess of Malfi”. It can be described as two persons in one.

In conclusion the author creates characters with two different personalities in order to describe the lies in which people are summited day a day, as people don’t know who they really are and they act according to what the society states or how they are supposed to act because of their rank. This is why there are two different personalities the one, which is the real person, and the one the person is supposed to be or which the person is manipulated to be.

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