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The Duchess of Malfi

3.58 of 5 stars 3.58  ·  rating details  ·  7,306 ratings  ·  138 reviews
The evils of greed and ambition overwhelm love, innocence, and the bonds of kinship in this dark tragedy concerning the secret marriage of a noblewoman and a commoner. John Webster’s great Jacobean drama detailing the fiendish schemes of two brothers who desire their wealthy sister’s title and estates ends with a bloody and horrifying climax. A dynamic plot brimming with p ...more
Paperback, 96 pages
Published February 2nd 1999 by Dover Publications (first published 1623)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Buck
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
Bill  Kerwin

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
Owlseyes
Feb 16, 2015 Owlseyes rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Owlseyes by: sircrow
Shelves: british-lit, drama, horror



"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
N.T. Embe [Moved to Leafmarks]
Mar 15, 2012 N.T. Embe [Moved to Leafmarks] rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who like pointless nonsense and mother-flippin' assholes. JERKS.
Recommended to N.T. Embe 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
Yngvild
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
Bruce
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Chandrakant Mhatre
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.
Killthepopular
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
Leslie
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
Esdaile
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
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
Vasha7
May 30, 2011 Vasha7 added it
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
Amy
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
Melissa  (lissaaniela)
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
Manu
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
Lauren
Before diving into The Duchess of Malfi, I read a couple of articles and essays about the play and its history, something I find essential whenever wading into Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama. That desire for research is also why I don’t read more from that era of theatre.

The Duchess of Malfi summary: Widow marries man below her station. To exact their revenge, her brothers systematically destroy her life. Play ends with an obscenely high body count (because what says Elizabethan and Jacobean dra
...more
Jeff Hoffman
I read this concurrent with seeing the Globe's production with Gemma Atherton as the Duchess (via theatrical release at my local arthouse). Somehow I had remained completely ignorant of the contents of this play despite my so-called theater (sorry, theatre) education, beyond Webster's reputation for blood and guts -- he appears as a kid torturing a rat in Shakespeare in Love -- and what I think is taken as a kind of hip nihilism in a way that has a perennial appeal among the sourpuss outcast col ...more
Tyrannosaurus regina
I read this for the first time when I was a university student, and to be honest it didn't make much of impression. But then at the time I was cramming so many new texts into my head every week that few things did.

This time I read it for fun, and absorbed a lot more.

The challenge for any literature of this era is that one will inevitably compare it to Shakespeare and find it wanting. Even a play such as The Duchess of Malfi, which on its own is quite well written and well constructed, is plain a
...more
Paul Dinger
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
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.
Caroline
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.
Stephanie
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.
Sheena
Excellent multi-dimensional characterisation of the Duchess, Bosola and Ferdinand; a lot of exploration can be done on just these three alone. I just don't think it flows very smoothly--there are many questions unanswered, like Antonio's disappointing role and the point of creating Julia and Delio--and like other Jacobean plays (see: Volpone), I find it doesn't know where to stop.
Erin Kelley
One of my favorite, non-Shakespearean, 17th century dramas. Just read it again for the 2nd time around. Complete with Freudian and feminist literary criticism issues (among others), Machiavellian villians, corrupt Catholicism, insanity, death, love, and an extremely dysfunctional family to boot! Renaissance "soap opera" at its finest!
Charles
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.
Andrada
Well, that was rather bloody and violent. Reminded me of Titus Andronicus in terms of slaughter, but perhaps slightly less horrific in execution although a lot more graphical and vivid in language. Also, poor Bosola, he never could do anything right!
Shamela
Still just about my favorite play in the world. That speaks volumes about my psyche, I'm sure. It saddens me to admit that yes, I am pretty sure I am officially too old to ever play the Duchess.
Alecia
I haven't read this in years, but it was an enjoyable read. I think at the time I was reading it, it put me in the mind of some of Shakespeare's plays, which is a good thing.
Ben
This book loses a star because the language used is sometimes quite difficult to understand - although that may have been my fault, as I downloaded the free version from the Amazon store which doesn't come with any kind of translation.

The plot itself is beautifully depressing. There's a lot going on at the beginning and it becomes increasingly more twisted as it went along. The play is worth the read, as it not only gives an insight to the kind of entertainment that was popular in the 16th centu
...more
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Wrong Author 1 14 Nov 17, 2011 09:55AM  
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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.
More about John Webster...
The Duchess of Malfi and Other Plays The White Devil Three Plays: The White Devil; The Duchess of Malfi; The Devil's Law-Case The Devil's Law Case (New Mermaids) Famous Plays by Webster and Ford

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“Cover her face; mine eyes dazzle. She died young.” 42 likes
“I account this world a tedious theater,
For I do play a part in 't 'gainst my will.”
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