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The Duchess of Malfi

The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster
By: (c.1580 - c.1634)

John Webster's bloody Jacobean tragedy exposes the decadence of the Italian court. The virtuous Duchess of Malfi, a young widow, secretly marries her steward Antonio, and is subsequently persecuted by her brothers: the sexually obsessed and eventually mad Ferdinand, and the corrupt Cardinal.

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The Duchess of Malfi

by John Webster

Introductory Note

Of John Webster's life almost nothing is known. The dates 1580 1625 given for his birth and death are conjectural inferences, about which the best that can be said is that no known facts contradict them.

The first notice of Webster so far discovered shows that he was collaborating in the production of plays for the theatrical manager, Henslowe, in 1602, and of such collaboration he seems to have done a considerable amount. Four plays exist which he wrote alone, "The White Devil," "The Duchess of Malfi," "The Devil's Law Case," and "Appius and Virginia."

"The Duchess of Malfi" was published in 1623, but the date of writing may have been as early as 1611. It is based on a story in Painter's "Palace of Pleasure," translated from the Italian novelist, Bandello; and it is entirely possible that it has a foundation in fact. In any case, it portrays with a terrible vividness one side of the court life of the Italian Renaissance; and its picture of the fierce quest of pleasure, the recklessness of crime, and the worldliness of the great princes of the Church finds only too ready corroboration in the annals of the time... Continue reading book >>

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