• Antonio praises the French king for ridding the court of flatt’ring sycophants, of dissolute /
And infamous persons (1.1.8-9)
• Body as a microcosm for the state – if the head is poisoned, the body follows.
• James I: favouritism
• Suggests we will see a court that has not been purged like the French one has: will we see a purging during the play or the disastrous results of a failure to purge?
• Corruption = illness. Bosola describes the court: each man is dependent on the one just above him, their places being in a packed sequence just like beds in a hospital.
• Bosola:“court-gall” – a sore on the state, constantly chafing. A leech on the brothers’ corruption. Gives away integrity I am your creature (1.1.280).
• Ferdinand is not genuine amongst his courtiers, in 1.1, his jesting with them is uneasy.
• Ferdinand uses his power to entrap rather than protect. Delio: the law to him Is like a foul black cobweb to a spider, He makes it his dwelling, and a
prison To entangle those who shall feed him. (1.1.172-
5) Ferdinand’s cruelty is well known.
• In 4.2, madmen’s world is one of lechery, superstition and corrupt world – much like the world of the play.
• The way Ferdinand talks about female sexuality, you would think that the Duchess’ court was a pit of lust and debauchery.
• Depictions of the patriarchal powers of brothers is linked with tyranny and greed.
• References to containers – physical collections of wealth and the futility of hoarding is set against the mortality of human life.
• Cardinal uses religion as a cloak for his corruption, but can find no comfort there: Methinks I see a thing
armed with a rake That seems to strike at me (5.5.6-7).
• References to justice and the corruption of justice (ie.
Ferdinand: Was I her judge…Did a complete jury Deliver her
conviction up i’th’court – 4.2.289-291)
• Ferdinand recognises he has damned himself by murdering his sister – why didst not though pity her? (4.2.263), and so transfers his guilt onto Bosola – where shalt thou find this judgement registered unless in hell? See, like a bloody fool
Th’hast forfeited you life, and thou shalt die for’t (4.2.293-
• Ferdinand knows that a wolf shall…discover her horrible
murder (4.2.299-301), marking the wolf as his conscience.
Foreshadowing how his madness manifests itself.
• The brothers’ damned lives finally catch up with them as they are overtaken with visions of hell and damnation. Oh, my conscience! I would pray now but the devil takes away
my heart For having any confidence in prayer. (5.4.26-8)
• Rotten consciences. Bosola: You have a pair of hearts are hollow graves, rotten, and rotting
• In his exchange with Malateste, Ferdinand sees his inevitable fate; when I go to hell
(5.2.40). In his madness, he sees around him the corruption he has been guilty of: There’s nothing left of you but tongue and belly,
flattery and lechery (5.2.77-9).
• Bosola rails at the evils he would practise had he the means to do so
• He is the one who names the brothers as growing
crooked over standing pools (1.1.48-9), but this does not stop him from wanting to feed from them like a horse-leech (1.1.52).
• Antonio describes Ferdinand as having a most perverse, and turbulent nature; What appears in
him mirth is merely outside. (1.1.164-5). His laughter is a disguise for corruption, as well as its symptom.
• Spying = a symptom of a hypocritical and twofaced society
• When abusing to Castruchio and the old lady,
Bosola rails at the court-tricks and human decay and the modes of disguising it.
• Delio makes overtures to Julia, and this connects Antonio to qualities far from the saintliness he had praised in the Duchess.
• Bosola mocks Ferdinand for wanting a key to the Duchess’ chamber in 3.1, but still does as he wishes.
• 3.2 Bosola expresses disgust at his role as spy, but is still glad for the advancement it will bring.
• An irony develops in that Antonio begins the play as a commentator, but is brought into the action which overwhelms him. Bosola, who begins the play as an incidental commentator will become the most eloquent of the play’s observers.
• The duchess puts love before reputation
• Antonio is not great (that is, noble) but he is a well-versed gentleman. The brothers see his as a lowly beaurecrat. He is timid where she is bold.
He is persuaded by her frankness as she prostrates herself before him and steps off the pedestal.
• The wooing scene begins with servant and noblewoman, and ends with her inviting her betrothed to their wedding bed.
• For the duchess, marriage is virtuous if it is between two loving partners; the church is not required.
• The Duchess’ death contrasts with her previous pride in its stoic endurance. Contrasts in deaths point to “good” and “bad” characters (their true strengths). Ferdinand, Cardinal, Julia, Bosola all die as the result of their own sins.
• Play laced with misogyny and witchcraft. Bosola: closets of witchcraft – women deceive/trick men
• 2.1: The body discovers its own secret when the
Duchess eats the unripe (green) apricots and, as a consequence, goes into labour. She is presented as tetchy, and in her gorging, a Renaissance audience would have recognised an image of carnal desire.
• Bosola’s satire of women helps to differentiate between the Duchess and other women
• 3.2 D and A: a sweet love (with sexuality) contrasts with Julia and the Cardinal (with his misogyny and her mistrust).
• You can never divide fame from its opposite – infamy.
The Duchess lives in a world of rumour and sexual slander. The play raises the question: how do you maintain your integrity in such an environment?
– She dies with dignity
– Her echo watches over her husband