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The Duchess of Malfi
by John Webster
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I don't know what John Webster was on, but I want some of it. His plotting is so much more populist than Shakespeare, which ordinarily I would count as a mark against him, yet 'The Duchess' has a rare, guttural power that elevates it above the rest of Webster's output. A joy. ( )
Read in preparation for an Open University course.
Again (just also read 'Othello') lots of plotting, deceit and killing. Fascinating that the work 'puke' (for vomit) has been around for 400 years - who knew?
Other sins only speak, murder shreiks out:
The element of water moistens the earth,
But blood flies upwards and bedews the heavens.
Oh mercy, revenge upon the cursed Vengeful in five sumptuous acts of poetry, racy bits and bloodshed. The initial revengers are a creepy pair of powerful brothers miffed that their sis has moved on from bereavement and is now happily shacking up. They enlist the world's most literate assassin for the wet work. I began this a month ago and made it half way. I started over and completed the piece this evening. Touch your caps to the lyrical wizardry of John Webster. Extra points should be awarded for use of a poisoned book.
Warning: this review contains spoilers.
I read this for a group read. It was certainly a dramatic play: characters constantly left and entered the stage, and the action never let up. Years seemed to pass in a matter of seconds. In the bare-bones text supplied by Project Gutenberg, these chronological shifts were disorienting, and the stage directions didn't provide that much indication of where and when we were supposed to be. The story itself was interesting, especially that the Duchess had a stronger role than I would have expected from a play of that period -- she makes her own marriage and figures out a way to save her husband, even though in the end the scheming ring of men around her prove to be simply too many for her to outwit. The end reminded me of Hamlet, with the huge body count and the bewildered last person standing come to claim the title. There were a lot of people to keep track of before they became bodies, and without the commentary or background, it was hard to keep track of some of them. I'm going to have to read a print copy to get all of that background and perhaps further my understanding of the play.
I've given this 3 stars because it really did rocket along, and I bet the commentary will be interesting.
I'm torn over what I think about this play. On the one hand, there are some wonderful characterizations and character development in the play. Bosolo, the Steward of the household of the Duchess, has some wonderfully funny and poetic lines. In fact, he has some of the best lines in the play and is perhaps is one of the best written characters of the play.
One the other hand, the plot of the play is threadbare in places and has huge gaps in it in other places, which detracts from the character development, the plays on language/words, and the dialogue.
Belongs to Publisher Series
Is contained in
Elizabethan Drama, Volume II: Dekker; Jonson; Beaumont and Fletcher; Webster; Massinger [Harvard Classics Vol. 47] by Charles William Eliot
Elizabethan Drama in Two Volumes [set] by Charles William Eliot (indirect)
The Harvard Classics 50 Volume Set by Charles William Eliot (indirect)
Harvard Classics Complete Set w/ Lectures and Guide [52 Volumes] by Charles William Eliot (indirect)
Harvard Classics Five Foot Shelf of Books & Shelf of Fiction 71 Volumes including Lecture Series by Charles William Eliot (indirect)
The Five-Foot Shelf of Books, Volume 47 by Charles William Eliot (indirect)
A Treasury of the Theatre: An Anthology of Great Plays from Aeschylus to Hebbel by Philo M. Jr. Buck
The Duchess of Malfi, The White Devil, The Broken Heart and 'Tis Pity She's a Whore (Penguin Classics) by John Webster
Has as a commentary on the text
Has as a student's study guide
References to this work on external resources.
Wikipedia in English (1)
The Duchess of Malfi is one of the major tragedies of the early modern period and remains popular in the theatre as well as in the classroom. The story of the Duchess's secret marriage and the cruel revenge of her brothers has fascinated and appalled audiences for centuries. This new Arden edition offers readers a comprehensive, illustrated introduction to the play's historical, critical and performance history. The text is modernised and edited to the highest scholarly standards, with textual notes and commentary notes on the same page for ease of reference. This is the lead title in the launch of The Arden Early Modern Drama Series, a series which offers all the depth and quality of thinking long associated with the Arden. The edition will be valued by students, teachers and theatre professionals.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)822.3Literature English & Old English literatures English drama Elizabethan 1558-1625
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