John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi
John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi

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John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi

Act 1: setting the scene

The representation of love in The Duchess of Malfi begins in earnest with the Duchess’s courtship of and marriage to her steward Antonio. This is also a major dramatic climax, the event which drives the action of the rest of the play. Yet it does not take place until the end of Act 1. Indeed, the Duchess’s wooing of Antonio does not even begin until we are 365 lines into the play. Why do we have to wait such a long time for this crucial episode? What is achieved by structuring the scene in this way? Clearly, by the time the marriage unfolds onstage, we are in possession of a good deal of information about the dramatic world in which it is taking place. Webster, it seems, is providing us with a dramatic context against which to respond to his representation of love and marriage. In the first section of this course, I will consider how Webster sets the scene for the Duchess’s forbidden marriage, before going on to examine his depiction of this important moment in the play.

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