The two tragedies in this collection (which also contains "The Devil's Law Case") are Webster at his finest, and "The Duchess of Malfi" stands as an unquestionable classic. The language is almost fetid in its power, dank with atmosphere and bestial allusions and it tells a story of the Duchess whose two brothers choose to destroy her rather than allow her to remarry. The play ends in madness, death and mistaken murders, amidst a whelter of confusion, regret and betrayal. Redemption seems a far more remote prospect in Webster's tragedies than it does in Shakespeare's, and these tragedies are more muscular, dirtier and bestial than Shakespeare's work. Definitely needs to be read by anyone who has an interest in drama and literature, and those who like a corking good story.
Was this review helpful to you?
... on the page of this edition. Webster's The Duchess of Malfi is the best known of the plays here and is valued for its characters, imagery, themes, intense atmosphere and memorable scenes. The Duchess is a young widow whose brothers oppose a second marriage: Ferdinand, her twin, is so violent in his language that we suspect an incestuous interest, only partially acknowledged: "Till I know who leaps my sister, I'll not stir." The Duchess is introduced in a description by Antonio who praises her beauty, her virtue and her grace: "She stains [eclipses] time past: lights the time to come" but she has a strong will which we see in the memorable scenes where she woos and marries him. The greatest challenge to an actor is, perhaps, the interpretation of the role of Bosola, the wordly spy who connives in the mental torture of the Duchess and yet comes to pity her, finally making the existentialist decision to be himself: "I'll be mine own example." The scenes of this cruelty to the Duchess, her courage and endurance, and of her death and that of Cariola are enthralling on the stage but raise a problem: what is left for Act V and how can a director keep the drama alive? Other difficulties for a modern audiences are the distancing devices and set pieces which can seem formal and unnatural. There are few poetically sustained speeches but there are outstanding lines: " Cover her face. Mine eyes dazzle: she died young" which stay in the mind as do the claustrophobic atmosphere and main themes of corruption, love, public and private life and the harshness of man to woman.
Malfi is Webster's masterpiece, a dark tragedy set in a world that is brooding, bloody and corrupt. None of the characters come off well: not the incestuous and mad Ferdinand who imagines himself a werewolf; the adulterous Cardinal; the vacillating Antonio; or even the Duchess herself who woos and marries a courtier who serves her.
Despite Webster's attempt to offer hope and redemption at the end, this is a play that is soaked in blood. The light shines through it in Webster's jewel-dark poetry and the unrelenting pace, and this is fitting companion piece to the best of Marlowe and Shakespeare.
Was this review helpful to you?
bernieTOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 11 July 2013
This was originally published as "The Tragedy of the Dutchesse of Malfy."
Before you actuarially get to the play, do not over look this fairly good introduction including information on the author, early performances of Webster's plays, the source of the play, Webster's tragedy of the Duchess of Malfi, note on the text, and acknowledgements.
Many people find out about this play through college courses. I came across this because of a quote from the play in Agatha Christie's "Sleeping Murder." Then I ran across this again as "Cover Her Face" by P. D. James. Then it started turning up everywhere even "Queen of the Damned" by Anne Rice.