The Duchess of Malfi
Act 3 Seminar Discussion
3.1 Antonio and Delio (1-37)
v How does Webster handle the jump forwards in time in this Act?
v What is the gossip about the Duchess amongst the people of Malfi? What about Antonio?
3.1 Enter Ferdinand, Duchess, Bosola (38-56)
v How does Webster further share a joke with the audience about the two years that have passed in the world of the play in lines 38-9?
v There are echoes of which Shakespeare tragedy in Ferdinand’s instruction to the Duchess to marry the Count Malateste? How does this affect the audience?
v What do you notice about Ferdinand’s language in response to the Duchess’ mentioning the rumours about her? How does she respond to his speech?
3.1 Ferdinand and Bosola
v What ideas about fate are presented in this dialogue?
v Consider Bosola’s theory about the Duchess: do you think he really believes in potions and sorcery? How would you direct an actor to read these lines? What is Ferdinand’s response to Bosola’s theory?
v Bosola criticises Ferdinand in 89-91. What do you make of Ferdinand’s response?
3.2 Duchess, Cariola, Antonio bedroom scene
v How does Webster create a sense of relaxed domesticity in the opening of this scene? What is the marriage of the Duchess and Antonio like?
3. 2 Duchess and Ferdinand Confrontation
v Discuss the effect of the action and lines in 53-70. In particular, what facets of the Duchess’ character are shown?
v Discuss Ferdinand’s language in this scene. How does it add to the pattern of his language and imagery so far?
v What is the Duchess’ defence? Consider her key lines 108-110. Is she right?
3.2 Antonio leaves court; the Duchess confides in Bosola
v What lie does the Duchess tell to explain her sending Antonio away to safety?
v Consider lines 180-206. How might the Duchess’ and Antonio’s exchange be understood differently by the surrounding officers, each other and the audience?
v Discuss Bosola’s motives and feelings in this scene. Is he genuine in his praise of Antonio? Consider his lines 272-282 and his soliliquy at the end of the scene.
3.3The Cardinal and Ferdinand discuss their next move
v What is the significance of the Cardinal ‘turning soldier’?
v What is ironic about The Cardinal’s line 58?
v Note the nature of the brothers’ different responses. How do the Cardinal’s plans show his motives and character?
3.4Dumb Show and Pilgrims
v What is the dramatic function of the pilgrims in this scene? Discuss their judgement on the characters and events of the play.
3.5 The Duchess, Antonio, Bosola
v How does Webster emphasise the Duchess’ changed fortunes?
v Note the imagery used by The Duchess and Antonio in the opening of the scene.
v What do you make of Bosola’s insult to Antonio in 51-54?
v How does Webster make the parting of the Duchess and Antonio moving?
3.5 Bosola arrests the Duchess
v On Bosola’s re-entrance he is wearing a mask. Why do you think he does this?
v Consider the Duchess’ speech at the end of the scene. What imagery does she use to put forward her philosophy? How might Bosola respond to these ideas?
Essay Question: How has Webster presented the character of the Duchess in the play so far?
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