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

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John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi

Act 2: discovery

Nine months elapse between Acts 1 and 2, and the bulk of the second act is taken up with Bosola’s attempt to determine whether or not the Duchess is pregnant. On this level, the play stresses her femaleness: we see her pregnant onstage, devouring apricots, watch her go into labour and then hear, at the close of Act 2, Scene 2, that she has given birth to a son. The play, then, highlights not only her role as duchess, but also her roles as wife and mother, emphasising the fertility of the marriage.

The danger of the couple’s position is conveyed through the desperate and ultimately futile attempts to keep the birth of the child a secret. By the end of the act, Ferdinand and the Cardinal have received Bosola’s letter informing them of the birth of the Duchess’s son.

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