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The Duchess of Malfi

3.6  ·  Rating Details ·  9,531 Ratings  ·  201 Reviews
More widely studied and more frequently performed than ever before, John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi is here presented in an accessible and thoroughly up-to-date edition. Based on the Revels Plays text, the notes have been augmented to cast further light both on Webster's amazing dialogue and on the stage action. An entirely new introduction sets the tragedy in the cont ...more
Paperback, 134 pages
Published December 2nd 2005 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1614)
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Bill  Kerwin
Jun 15, 2007 Bill Kerwin rated it it was amazing

This play, the finest Jacobean drama outside the Shakespeare canon, is not only a gem of poetry and wit, but also a meditation on the vanity of public life and the inevitability of death. The satiric prose is filled with such poetic imagery and the subtle verse is so sharp in its commentary that each individual use of language complements all the others.

The reader is surprised to find in such a merciless play so much goodness and such tender love scenes. Perhaps that is part of the reason why,
...more
Buck
Nov 11, 2008 Buck rated it really liked it
Shelves: histrionics
Life is a desperate business carried on by demented apes and ending in a welter of blood and shit. Everybody knows this, more or less, but it doesn't hurt to be reminded now and then. That, as I take it, is one of the modest functions of literature, reassuring us that we're all down here in the hole together, manning the pumps. Then again, I'm just a guy with a laptop and a Starbucks card, so what do I know?

So here's another thing I learned from Webster: I happened to read The Duchess of Malfi i
...more
Jonfaith
Sep 02, 2015 Jonfaith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Other sins only speak, murder shreiks out:
The element of water moistens the earth,
But blood flies upwards and bedews the heavens.


Oh mercy, revenge upon the cursed Vengeful in five sumptuous acts of poetry, racy bits and bloodshed. The initial revengers are a creepy pair of powerful brothers miffed that their sis has moved on from bereavement and is now happily shacking up. They enlist the world's most literate assassin for the wet work. I began this a month ago and made it half way. I started ov
...more
Sean Smart
Jul 22, 2015 Sean Smart rated it it was amazing
A great play, I have been lucky enough to see it performed twice. The most recent was with the wonderful Gemma Artherton playing the lead role at the Wannamaker theatre.
N.T. Embe
Mar 14, 2012 N.T. Embe rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who like pointless nonsense and mother-flippin' assholes. JERKS.
Recommended to N.T. by: Survey of English Literature (Class)
Shelves: education
First thoughts: THANK GOD THIS IS OVER WITH! AUGH.


My God. My brain hurts.

MY ANGER HURTS.



**Also just a forerunner: Everything after this will be going full tilt into spoilers. So if you don't want to see them, skip ahead to where the bold asterisks mark the continuation spot please!**



I read this play and I sit there and I'm like:

NOTHING IS HAPPY. NOTHING. ALL OF IT IS BULL.

And no, seriously. It's all bull. The entire story is about a woman who has been recently widowed and her two high ranking br
...more
Owlseyes
Oct 03, 2014 Owlseyes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Owlseyes by: sircrow
Shelves: british-lit, horror, drama



"Black-birds fatten best in hard weather"


It’s a still-performed play in our days. Though its best place for representation had been, for long, the Blacks Friars Theater. According to scholar James Shapiro, it’s a “story of intrigue and murder”…”a bloody dark work”of 1623.

Webster surely based his story on a real one: the real Giovanna D’Aragona, who in 1493 married the regent, soon to die.She had two brothers.

Yet Giovanna had a secret marriage and two children concealed. By 1510 she was quite
...more
Bruce
Oct 31, 2013 Bruce rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Yngvild
Jul 15, 2010 Yngvild rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: plays
Everybody’s favourite Jacobean tragedy (other than those by Shakespeare), really the only one that is played today with any regularity, The Duchess of Malfi has it all: a good story, great writing, enough comedy to keep it entertaining, complex characters, quotable lines and superb stagecraft. There is even horror, but not the gratuitous bloodiness of earlier plays. That severed hand with the ring is unbeatable.

There is some problem with our not having a clean copy of the play. Even John Webste
...more
Ana Rînceanu
This was heartbreaking.
Bettie☯
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Manu
May 25, 2013 Manu rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A revenge play, tragic and emotional, showing how good people can suffer but evil can not prevail too.
Duchess is widow, young and beautiful abandoned from marriage by her brothers. She marries her steward and murdered with husband and children, first herself, then children and in the end her husband. But her brothers were also killed by the villain, whom they choose to do all the evils.
All over tragedy and reality.
To be read only for text books, as one can not enjoy such things as tragedy that m
...more
Roya
Sep 17, 2016 Roya rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
ـامشب هوا بسیارطوفانی است.
ـهیچ نبود جز مهربانی شیطانکه کودک خویش را در گهواره تکان می داد.
Chandrakant Mhatre
Mar 29, 2015 Chandrakant Mhatre rated it it was amazing
Shelves: drama-theatre
Instead of reading this Masterpiece as a FALLEN TRAGEDY, approach it as a SUBLIMALLY HEIGHTENED MELODRAMA and see the wonders! The play will open itself to unimagined readings!!! Must try.
Esdaile
Nov 28, 2011 Esdaile rated it it was amazing
Webster's language is quite remarkable. All critics, so far as I am aware, feel obliged to comment on the "horror" of Webster's plays but they ignore the obvious humour of his grotesque extravagence. I have a problem with this "horror" as I do with the "horror" of Bosch's paintings. Wasn't the real world of the time more full of horror? Disease, war and torture were far more horrible that Webster or Bosch's portrayals of the same.

Webster seemed to have very little notion of religion and none of
...more
Anushka
Sep 26, 2016 Anushka rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: plays
meh
June Louise
"We are merely the stars' tennis balls, struck and bandied
Which way please them".


Hmmmm. This is an interesting play, and I have to admit, not my favourite. I have to study The Duchess as part of my Uni English course, and having read Othello immediately before it, I'm afraid I prefer the latter.

I'm not sure what it is about old-fashioned playwrights, but in both Othello and Duchess, women seem to die twice. In Othello, Desdemona miraculously survives a smothering, only to say a few words and d
...more
Leslie
Jan 29, 2013 Leslie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle, plays, british
The play itself deserves a higher rating but this free Kindle edition from Amazon was annoying in its formatting so I downgraded the rating.

I have been curious about this play ever since I first read Agatha Christie's Sleeping Murder as a teenager. I knew very little about it other than what I gleaned from that reference... It is a tragedy very much in the style of Shakespeare's great tragedies, which is not surprising since Webster & Shakespeare were contemporaries, but without the 'comic
...more
Amy
Feb 21, 2011 Amy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, classics
The Duchess of Malfi was one of the texts I read for AS English Literature, and I loved it.
The plot is slightly crazy; with The Duchess' husband having just died and her brothers the Cardinal and Ferdinand both petitioning her to re-marry a certain type of man. However, the Duchess is in love with Antonio, one her servants. Ferdinand, the Duchess' twin (who has some *complicated* feelings towards his sister) hires Bosola to spy on the Duchess; and he discovers that not only has the Duchess secre
...more
Alice Payne
Aug 28, 2015 Alice Payne rated it really liked it
Whilst The Duchess of Malfi isn't particularly progressive by the standards of the twenty-first century, I would consider it feminist text for the time (published 1623) in which it was written.

The Duchess of Malfi is one of the very first tragedies that places a woman at the forefront of the play. Usually, a tragedy focused on a male character because it was generally thought in the seventeenth century, that only men could be heroic ie. Hamlet. Likewise, The Duchess of Malfi offers a rang
...more
Vasha7
I read this in high school, reread it recently, and finally appreciated just why it was truly radical in its day. It scathingly questions convention, morality, and hypocrisy. Clearly, Webster suggests that the title character is the only person in the play who didn't do anything wrong, even though other characters think she is a bad woman for marrying for love (below her station), and actually proposing marriage to the man she wants. Compare this with the treachery, venality, and violence of the ...more
John Burns
Jul 10, 2014 John Burns rated it it was ok
Shelves: plays
It's a shame that one can't help but compare Webster to his near contemporary Bill Shakespeare. The all time great literary genius is a pretty tough person to have to be compared to. Webster seems very one dimensional by comparison. Shakespeare can dance effortlessly across so many different philosophies, emotions, perspectives etc and express each one, no matter how conflicting, with conviction and empathy. Webster's characters don't feel real, just cardboard puppets designed to express his sca ...more
Melissa
I don't really have much of an opinion on this other than what my textbooks and cliff notes have told me to think.

It wasn't dreadful or bad in the least but I won't be reading it again. I feel like three stars is an educated rating for something like this due mainly to my indifference. But I'm well aware its mainly because I'm not a fan of reading plays, I much prefer to watch them be performed than have to analyse different ways the text can be performed. (Ian McKellen is in everything, isn't
...more
Adam Floridia
Reading this really made me appreciate Shakespeare's plays that much more. This is one of the only other Elizabethan (or, technically Jacobean) plays I've read not by The Bard, and it is not nearly as good. Although there are a few interesting characters, I don't think they are developed quite enough. Julia, for example, comes in and out at the most random times simply to move the plot along. Also, Webster clearly preceded the neoclassical stress on unity of time. At times, this actually read li ...more
Kristine
Sep 02, 2016 Kristine rated it really liked it
The characters in the play are really well fleshed out! Up to now I'm still uncertain of who Bosola really was - a despicable villain? A villain with a change of heart? Just someone who got caught up in the puzzles life throws? All in all, it really depicts human nature and the intricacies of human existence. The language too is spot-on brilliant. Just to leave y'all with Ferdinand's dying words (he's finally sane then):

"Whether we fall by ambition, blood or lust / Like diamonds we are cut with
...more
Ilana C. Myer
I reread this recently, and have been thinking about it ever since. It has the kind of psychological complexity that sneaks up on you--in some ways, more subtle than Shakespeare. The character of Bosola is mercurial, impossible to pin down. The brothers are each monsters in their own ways--but the incestuous desires of one of them, dark and suppressed, are never articulated. That suppression is what makes him a monster.

This work, more than most, brings to mind for me what Freud once said--that a
...more
Paul Dinger
Jan 03, 2009 Paul Dinger rated it liked it
It is lot more depraved that the White Devil and much less successful. It is one of those rare Jacobian tragedies where the women aren't the worst things ever. It works because of the title character who makes you believe why she would do something like marry beneath her station. Then literally all hell breaks loose, and we do mean hell. Her killer ironically becomes her avenger as depravity rules the stage. Why Webster is rarely staged amazes me, he would fit in with our modern films.
Caleb Liu
Apr 17, 2007 Caleb Liu rated it liked it
This, along with King Lear and Chaucer's The Wife of Bath's tale constituted one of papers for English Literature at 'A' level. Webster was a contemporary (many would say a lesser one) of Shakespeare and this is your typical Elizabethen tragedy with the oddity that the main protagonist is female. [Please write an essay on the following: To what degree can the Duchess be seen to be the arbiter of her own destiny?]. Overall, it was good fun, with your usual malconents, blood, gore and revenge.
Stephanie
Jul 12, 2010 Stephanie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: college
I always remember being one of the few people dying of laughter during the film Shakespeare in Love when the little street urchin reveals his name is John Webster. Of course he also declared that his favorite part in the play was when when the lady stabbed herself.

I really don't know why I loved this play so much since it was so dark and morbid and filled with murder. But it was also pretty funny. I couldn't help but love every word.
Caroline
Dec 07, 2008 Caroline rated it liked it
I was assigned to read this book for a project for my Theatre History class and ended up being pleasantly surprised in the process. Webster's style of writing was full of imagery (which is something I always love) and contains many of the qualities of an action film today with the gore. It's in the vain of Shakespeare but a lot more intense and fun, yet still has a lot of meaning. I'd recommend to anyone who appreciates writing from the English Renaissance.
Charles
Apr 28, 2012 Charles rated it really liked it
Pretty good. It was a fun tale of power, lust, evil Italians, a corrupt cardinal and not a really innocent person among them. Even the Duchess and her lover betrayed the class system by their secret love. I suppose the children killed by their uncle were innocent, come to think of it, but they had no lines.
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John Webster (c.1580 – c.1634) was an English Jacobean dramatist best known for his tragedies The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi, which are often regarded as masterpieces of the early 17th-century English stage. He was a contemporary of William Shakespeare.

Librarian’s note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.
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“Cover her face; mine eyes dazzle. She died young.” 46 likes
“Whether we fall by ambition, blood or lust
Like diamonds, we are cut with our own dust”
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More quotes…