The Duchess of Malfi
Act 5 Seminar Discussion
5.1 Antonio, Delio, Pescara
v Again, there is a sense of time having passed between the acts. What does the audience quickly realise and what effect does this have on Antonio and Delio’s discussion?
v The central incident of the scene, Pescara’s granting of Antonio’s confiscated lands to Julia in preference to Delio, seems a narrative contrivance. What do you think its purpose is? (Consider the themes of morality and rule).
5.2 Ferdinand’s madness; Bosola is ordered to kill Antonio; Julia tries to seduce Bosola; Julia is killed!
v Discuss Ferdinand’ s madness scene. What is the tone of, for example, Ferdinand attacking his own shadow? What has happened to Ferdinand’s dramatic stature, and why do you think Webster has done this?
v Discuss the Cardinal in this scene. What evidence is there of his growing discomfort?
v The Julia and Bosola scene is a parody of the earlier scenes of wooing, concealment and union played out by the Duchess, Antonio and Cariola. What are the crucial differences and what is Webster’s purpose in echoing the earlier scene?
v Discuss Julia’s final lines. What is Bosola’s reaction to her death?
v How is the Cardinal’s method of murdering Julia significant?
v Look at Bosola’s soliliquy which ends the scene:
Language: discuss Bosola’s use of abstract nouns (pity, revenge etc). What does this suggest? What is the effect of ‘the Duchess/Haunts me still’? What possible interpretations are there of ‘O penitence, let me truly taste thy cup,/That throws men down, only to raise them up’?
5.3 The Echo Scene
v How does Webster make this scene haunting and moving?
v What ideas of tragic fate can be found in this scene?
5.4 The death of Antonio
v Why does the Cardinal make Pescara and the other lords promise to stay in their rooms no matter what they hear?
v Are you persuaded by the Cardinal’s apparent crisis of conscience in line 25?
v Discuss the tone of Antonio’s death, especially lines 56-60. Do you find it darkly comic or serious in tone?
v Discuss Bosola’s famous line “We are merely the stars’ tennis balls, struck and banded/Which way please them.” Is this the moral universe of the play?
5.5 Deaths of Cardinal, Ferdinand and Bosola; Resolution (or is it?)
v How does the Cardinal’s opening speech fit into the moral universe of the play?
v How does Webster exploit the Cardinal’s plan in 5.4 to darkly comic effect? What style of story does this remind you of?
v Why does Bosola kill the servant?
v Why does Bosola instruct the Cardinal to pray in line 37?
v Read the note on p338 about line 45. What other metadramatic moments can you find in this final scene?
v Look closely at the final moments of Bosola, The Cardinal and Ferdinand. How do their last lines shed light on their characters? Are their souls damned? What would the original audience think?
v Characters in this scene muse on the subjects of life, death, and the afterlife. Make notes on what Ferdinand, Bosola and the Cardinal say on these subjects.
v The resolution of the play is an all-male affair. In what ways are traditional masculine rites enacted? How do the mentions of the Duchess undercut this?
v Delio promotes Antonio’s eldest son (and only survivor of Antonio and the Duchess’ family) to the dukedom of Malfi. How does Webster undercut this ‘happy’ ending? What suggestions are there that the boy’s claim is dubious and/or dangerous?
You can download a copy of this text here