The Duchess of Malfi: A True Villain

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According to Webster’s dictionary, the definition of ‘villain’ is “a character in a story, movie, etc., who does bad things” (Merriam-Webster). In John Webster’s play, The Duchess of Malfi, the plot line revolves around a duchess and her two brothers. The Duchess of Malfi is a very twisted and complicated story where the characters are not as they seem. One of the most significant parts of the story line is that the characters that appear to be the villains are not actually the villains. This makes the story complex, but eventually ties it together in unexpected ways. When first reading the play, it is easy to come to the conclusion that the duchess’s two brothers, The Cardinal and Ferdinand, are the villains. However, the Duchess lies and manipulates those closest to her for her own selfish gain. The Duchess is deceitful when she hides her marriage and hides her children even though she knows the drama it will cause in her family, which makes her the true villain in The Duchess of Malfi.
The story begins with the duchess getting married secretively. The Duchess asks Cariola to watch a secret engagement between her and Antonio. She then states, “Good dear soul, Leave me, but place thy self behind the arras, For I am going into the wilderness, Where I shall find nor path nor friendly clue to be my guide (Webster 1.3.64-68). So, why did the Duchess marry secretively? Why would such a powerful woman want to hide her marriage from the rest of her people? It is easy to assume that she did this to keep Antonio, her love, safe. Her brothers made many threats to her and her husband if she was to remarry, so it is plausible that she would want to hide her marriage. The power difference between her and Antonio was also something to conside...

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...thers as well. Her manipulative ways can be seen throughout the novel, specifically when she hides her marriage and pregnancy and when she seeks revenge on others. Therefore, she is undoubtedly evil. Ultimately, because it is the Duchess’s own personal decisions that result in everyone in the story being killed, she is the true villain of this story.

Works Cited

"Act III. Scene V. Webster, John. 1909-14. The Duchess of Malfi. The Harvard Classics." Act III. Scene V. Webster, John. 1909-14. The Duchess of Malfi. The Harvard Classics. N.p. , n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2013.
"The Duchess of Malfi Summary and Analysis." The Duchess of Malfi Study Guide : Summary and Analysis of Act 3. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2013.
"villian." 2011. (14 November 2013).
Webster, John. The Duchess of Malfi. Hoboken, N.J: BiblioBytes, 1990.
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