The Duchess of Malfi - Act 2

The Duchess of Malfi


Act 2 Seminar Discussion



2.1 Bosola, Castrucchio and Old Lady (lines 1-68)

v How does Bosola satirise courtly behaviour and the law at the expense of Castrucchio?

v Consider Bosola’s insulting words to the old lady. What imagery dies he use? How does this black comedy highlight the serious theme of womanhood in the play?

v What significant change happens at line 50 and why?


2.1 Bosola tricks the Duchess (apricots scene) lines 69-177

v What do you notice about the language Bosola uses when describing the Duchess’ symptoms of pregnancy?

v What is Antonio’s explanation for Bosola’s melancholy?

v How does Webster use word play and asides to build tension in lines 114-164?

v What is Delio and Antonio’s plan at the end of the scene?


2.2 The Duchess gives birth

v Bosola abuses the old woman again. Discuss his language and the imagery he uses. Why is this scene particularly tense?

v Why do you think Webster has the bawdy discussion between the servants about the supposed intruder in this scene?

v What contrast is drawn between Delio and Antonio at the close of this scene?


2.3 Bosola and Antonio- the horoscope

v How is the dialogue between Bosola and Antonio exploited for dramatic effect in this scene?

v Discuss the significance of objects in this scene (Bosola’s ‘dark lantern’, his candle and drawn sword, the horoscope, the handkerchief.) How might the horoscope impact the end of the play?

v Consider Antonio’s and Bosola’s final lines of the scene (51-52;76-77)These are examples of Webster’s frequent sententiae, rhyming couplets which express moral observations about the world of the play. Do you read these moments as artificial, or do they fit the characters?


2.4 Julia, the Cardinal and Delio

v The Cardinal’s hypocrisy and sin is obvious in the scene. What about Delio? Does his behaviour change the way the audience thinks of him, and his role at the end of the play?

v In what ways might Julia be read as a ‘foil’ to the Duchess? See OCR 1.9 on Love and Sexuality.

v This scene does little to advance the plot. Why do you think Webster included it?


2.5 Ferdinand and the Cardinal react to the news (from Bosola) that the Duchess has had a child

v Make a spider diagram or table to chart the language and imagery used by each brother. Note the differences in their responses.

v Complete the sheet tasks: Is Ferdinand simply a misogynist?


Essay question: Discuss ideas about women presented in Act 2. 

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