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The Duchess of Malfi Summary | John Webster

The Duchess of Malfi Summary | John Webster

“The Duchess of Malfi” occurs in sixteenth-century Italy, specifically in the Duchess’ palace in Malfi. At first, the Duchess’ brothers, Ferdinand and the Cardinal arrive in town from Rome to see their sister. Antonio, her domestic manager, had recently returned from France. In this content, we are going to discuss the duchess of malfi summary. Let’s enjoy the topic.

The Duchess of Malfi Author’s Introduction

One of the most prominent playwrights of the English Renaissance was John Webster (1580-1625). He wrote “The Duchess of Malfi”. In this following content, we are going to discuss the Duchess of Malfi summary. So, let’s enjoy the piece of writing.

The Theme of  The Duchess of Malfi

The drama centers on the twin themes of sexual desire and the desire for revenge or payback.

The Character List of the Duchess of Malfi

The Duchess of Malfi: She is the sister of Duke Ferdinand and the Cardinal. She has strong moral convictions and profound understanding. She tied the knot with Antonio, the steward of the palace.

Ferdinand: The Duchess’ ruthless twin brother, Ferdinand, is the Duke of Calabra. He is so arrogant and ruthless that he bans his sister, who is just widowed, from remarrying and instead assigns the master spy Bosola to keep an eye on her.

The Cardinal: The Cardinal is a diabolical member of the Catholic clergy. He is absolutely heartless since he lacks the devil that drives his brother mad. When his mistress learns his secret liability in the murder of the duchess and her children, he kills her with his cold hand.

Daniel de Bosola: He is a cruel satirical antagonist. Intelligent and witty but also vicious, he betrays the duchess to the bad brothers in exchange for a position as a spy for them.

Antonio Bologna: He is the steward to the duchess. Even after the duchess quietly proposes to him, he keeps his feelings for her hidden. He is a decent human being who is wise enough to not put his trust in Bosola. Bosola kills him by accident after the duchess has already been dead.

Delio: He is a steadfast companion of Antonio. Following Antonio’s and the Duchess’ tragic deaths, he safeguards their sole surviving kid.

Cariola: He is the Duchess’ loyal servant who knows about her and Antonio’s secret marriage. In stark contrast to the Duchess’ grace in the face of death, fear causes her to make pitiful pleas for survival.

Julia: She is the Cardinal’s mistress and Castruccio’s wife. She can’t get enough of Bosola and uses this to her advantage by getting him involved in an affair. Her inquisitive nature ultimately leads to her murder at the hands of the Cardinal, who poisons her.

The Marquis of Pescara: He is an honorable guy with a keen mind and a strong moral compass.

A doctor: The Duke of Ferdinand has hired a doctor to help him with his mental illness. The man’s great assurance makes him a target for a thrashing at the hands of the crazed one.

Castruccio: She is the husband of Julia, the elderly and hapless Castruccio.

Count Malateste: Duke Ferdinand proposed a nobleman named Count Malateste to marry the duchess as her second husband.

Roderigo & Grisolan: They are the attendants to Ferdinand. They fail to respond to his screams for help because they believe he is testing them.

An old lady: He is a lynchpin (the person or thing at which criticism or humor,) in Bosola’s macabre jokes.

Some madmen: In an effort to drive the duchess crazy, Duke Ferdinand sends a number of madmen or psychopaths to visit her.

Three kids: The duchess and Antonio have two girls and a boy. We see only the eldest son is remaining and the rest of them were killed.

The first part of The Duchess of Malfi Summary

To ensure the Duchess remains chaste and does not remarry, Ferdinand, before leaving her, hires Bosola, a former hit man (A hit man is a person who accepts money to kill people, usually on behalf of a criminal or political group.) employed by the Cardinal, to ostensibly take care of her horses but in reality, spy on her for the brothers. After some initial resistance, Bosola cannot but agree because of the greed for assets he will get when he accomplishes their work.

Before they head back to Rome, Ferdinand and the Cardinal give the Duchess a stern lecture on the impoliteness of remarriage. After learning that the Duchess and he were indeed twins, Ferdinand admits that he had hoped to inherit her whole fortune if she had remained a widow.

She rejects their attempts to control her and angrily restates that she has no intention of getting married again. As soon as they leave, however, she and her maid, Cariola, hatch a plot in which she will propose to Antonio. Later we see that the Duchess marries Antonio and assures him that they will figure out a solution to make her brothers stop fighting.

 

The second part of the summary

Finally, nine months have passed. Bosola suspects the Duchess is pregnant and devises a strategy to prove it to himself by feeding her apricots. Now that he’s certain, Bosola looks to a horoscope Antonio crafted for the baby to prove his theory is right.

Once Bosola received confirmation of the news, he wrote a letter to the Duchess’ brothers to break the news. Both brothers are upset. Although the Cardinal keeps his cool, Ferdinand’s temper flares up unexpectedly. They have no idea that she has married Antonio and are therefore certain that the baby is a bastard. Ferdinand insists that he won’t take any measures until he learns the father’s identity.

Delio came back to the Duchess’ palace two years later. Two more children have been born to Antonio and the Duchess since then. Antonio and Delio are anxious that Ferdinand, who just arrived, knows something about the Duchess’ kids. When the Duchess admits she is the wife of someone, Ferdinand storms into her room. He warns her not to disclose to him the name of her lover lest he should pour terrible fury on them all. He also swears never to see her again.

The third part of the duchess of malfi the summary

By making up a story that Antonio stole from her, the Duchess can have Antonio exiled from Malfi to Ancona for his safety. Once he’s gone, Bosola argues passionately for his integrity to the Duchess so that she finally exposes their secret marriage to him. Bosola pretends to be on her side, and she sends him after Antonio with cash and word that she’ll be joining him shortly. Eventually, the Cardinal tracks them down to Ancona, where he exiles the Duchess and her family.

When Bosola delivers a letter from Ferdinand that seems apologetic but is threatening, the Duchess fears she has been set up and orders Antonio to leave with their eldest son. As soon as they part, Bosola and a group of soldiers capture the Duchess and her two surviving children and return them to her palace.

While in prison, the Duchess is enduring her torment with dignity, according to Bosola. But when Ferdinand learns it, it infuriates him. Wax figures of her deceased lover Antonio and the eldest son are presented to her to drive her mad with grief. While Bosola begs Ferdinand to stop torturing her, he ignores her and instead sends a band of madmen to torment her. In his reappearance, Bosola takes on the garb of a tomb builder to help the Duchess prepare for her inevitable death. The Duchess has no fear  although she will be killed by the executioners and feels that she will soon be reunited with her dead family. That’s when they suffocate her.

 

The fourth part of the summary

Next, Bosola gives the order to have her kids and Cariola killed. Cariola begs the doctor to spare her life, but he refuses. When Ferdinand approaches the dead Duchess, he suffers from guilt. At the same time, he becomes furious at Bosola for carrying out his commands. He displays signs of insanity before he leaves. He also betrays Bosola by refusing the latter a promised payment. Before she passes away for good, the Duchess displays a last trace of life, and Bosola assures her that Antonio is still alive. Bosola’s grief at her death is real.

Antonio has no idea that the two cruel brothers have killed his wife and children. Now he intends to apologize to the Cardinal that evening. He has been diagnosed with lycanthropic, or the notion that he is a wolf. Therefore, Ferdinand has entirely lost his mind.

When Bosola shows up, the Cardinal acts as though he has no idea that the Duchess has passed away. He offers Bosola a large sum of money in exchange for Antonio’s death. Besides, Bosola accepts the deal despite his desire for vengeance. Bosola manipulates the Cardinal into confessing his role in the Duchess’ murder by having his mistress, Julia, confess her love for him.

The final part of the summary

Bosola reveals that he overheard the secret and demands his reward for killing the Duchess. In the meantime, the Cardinal has already murdered Julia. After the Cardinal has slain Antonio and assisted him in disposing of Julia’s body, he makes the same vow once more. Bosola acts as though he agrees. However, he plans to find Antonio to assist him in exact revenge on the Cardinal and Ferdinand.

The Cardinal orders his courtiers to remain away, ostensibly because Ferdinand’s craziness escalates in the presence of others. However, it is more likely because he wants privacy to dispose of Julia’s body. Bosola, who has come to meet the Cardinal, is waiting outside the room. But he accidently murders Antonio, who has come to see the Cardinal. He storms into the Cardinal’s room in a rage and begins attacking him.

At first, his courtiers don’t respond to his pleas for help because of the Cardinal’s warning. And then Ferdinand steps in and stabs the Cardinal and Bosola. In this case, Bosola is the one who takes away Ferdinand’s life. Courtiers arrive just in time to see the Cardinal and Bosola’s deaths. However, not before Bosola had revealed the situation’s specifics. Delio enters the stage with Antonio’s body and the Duchess’ only living son, the future Duke. The play’s final ray of optimism comes from Delio and the courtiers. They commitment to nurture the boy as an inheritance to his parents.

This is the end of the topic the duchess of malfi summary. Thank you for reading the content. If you want to read more summaries, you can check the following articles:
The Merchant of Venice

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