The Duchess of Malfi - Act 4

The Duchess of Malfi

Act 4 Seminar Discussion


4.1 Ferdinand and Bosola; Bosola and the Duchess (1-29)

v Bosola praises the Duchess to her brother. What impresses him about the Duchess? Do you think his admiration of her is genuine?

v Discuss the Duchess’ question to Bosola: “Why dost thou wrap thy poisoned pills/In gold and sugar?” How might the audience respond to this?


4.1 Enter Ferdinand in darkness- dead hand and wax figures scene (29-108)

v How does Webster use the ‘dead man’s hand’ to create tension in the audience?

v The reveal of the wax figures drives the Duchess to despair. Find quotations that show she has despaired. How does Bosola react?

v What do you make of Bosola’s judgement of Ferdinand at the end of this scene, and of his refusal to see the Duchess again ‘in mine own shape’?


4.2  Madmen scene

v Why does the Duchess ask Cariola to tell her ‘some dismal tragedy’?

v How would you describe the Duchess’ state of mind here?


4.2 The death of the Duchess and Cariola

v How does the Duchess react to Bosola (in disguise) telling her he has come to make her tomb?

v ‘I am Duchess of Malfi still’ is a key line. It has been interpreted quite differently by different actresses. What are the possible interpretations of this line?

v Although Bosola orchestrates her death, is there any evidence he is trying to comfort the Duchess or to offer her spiritual preparation for death?

v What facets of the Duchess’ character do we see in her death?

v How is the murder of the children handled?

v How does the manner of Cariola’s death contrast with that of the Duchess?



4. 2 Ferdinand and Bosola

v Find evidence of Bosola’s guilt and his anger at Ferdinand.

v Discuss Ferdinand’s reactions in this scene. How has his language to describe the Duchess changed?


4.2 Bosola and the Duchess

v Why does Bosola tell the Duchess about the wax figures trick when she revives?

v What are the possible interpretations of the Duchess’ last word, ‘Mercy’?


Essay: Close reading commentary on the death of the Duchess. 

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