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ENGLISH LITERATURE: The Duchess of Malfi > ACT 4 > Flashcards

Flashcards in ACT 4 Deck (10):
1

How does the first scene in this act give an indication of the impending death scene that is approaching?

Webster greatly intensifies and prolongs the horror with scenes of psychological torture common in Jacobean revenge tragedy.

2

How does the Duchess react to the brutality she is witnessing around her?

What's important here is the Duchess' heroic response to the cruelty inflicted upon her, which enables Webster to elevate her to her true tragic grandeur (similar to Blanche's dignity in scene 11 of Streetcar). Even Bosola is impressed by her stoicism, setting us up for his guilt at her death later in the play.

3

How does Ferdinand behave in the first scene?

Ferdinand is in marked contrast to the Duchess - his cruelty and his obsessive jealousy exposes the full horror of his character.

4

How does the Duchess react to seeing the wax figures?

The Duchess temporarily succumbs to despair on seeing the waxwork and believing it to be true - she seems to be on the verge of a complete loss of faith. The moment of metatheatre when she declares that the world is a 'tedious theatre' is a familiar metaphor in Renaissance theatre, but it also reminds the audience of the need to observe and learn from the tragic events unfolding on stage. The staging is interesting here - rather than light being used to signify hope, it brings pain to the Duchess as in it she sees the severed hand and the waxwork bodies of her family. Here, then, is another similarity to Streetcar when light reveals too much and causes unbearable pain to the female protagonists.

5

How does Bosola's character change in the first scene?

Bosola continues to be ambiguous in character - in seeing the Duchess at her lowest point, her grief provokes his compassion and he demands to know Ferdinand's motives and refuses to see the Duchess again in his own person. Thus, a degree of genuine remorse begins to emerge which is dramatically important for his later actions to be credible.

6

What is the significance of the staging in the first scene?

The staging is interesting here - rather than light being used to signify hope, it brings pain to the Duchess as in it she sees the severed hand and the waxwork bodies of her family. Here, then, is another similarity to Streetcar when light reveals too much and causes unbearable pain to the female protagonists.

7

Why is scene two a particularly important moment in the play as a tradegy?

This scene is the play's dramatic and emotional climax as the conflict between the protagonist and main antagonist, Ferdinand, comes to a head. Unusually, the climax occurs here rather than at the end of Act 5.

8

What happens in scene two that makes the Duchess seem unconventional compared to most female protagonists?

The madmen symbolise how reason and order have broken down in the world of the play, but in the face of all this, Webster presents the Duchess with compassion and dignity. She remains utterly sane (unlike Blanche) and she responds with resignation to Bosola's appearance as 'tomb-maker'. She triumphantly affirms her identity with 'I am Duchess of `Malfi still'. (Or is this a desperate clinging on to her sense of herself, given that Bosola has just told her that everyone is 'wormseed'?). Nonetheless, her remarkable strength and courage are heightened when juxtaposed with Cariola's panic.

9

How is Bosola's character shown to be exceedingly complex in scene two?

Bosola remains in disguise - is this cowardice or a mark of his own shame at his actions? His demand for payment and his instruction to kill the children are shocking, so his apparent remorse after the Duchess' death is problematic. Does his struggle to know how to respond - either as a villain or as an emerging avenger - demonstrating the struggle to survive in this hostile world? Does it show the continued battle between good and evil as even though the Duchess has died, her influence continues? Does it also show how damaging ambition ultimately is - as it wins out over his compassion?

10

What is significant about Ferdiand's breakdown in comparison to what happens at the end of Streetcar?

Ferdinand's response to his sister's death ('Cover her face. Mine eyes dazzle') reveals the depth of his grief, but also affirms his extraordinary hypocrisy and warped values in this brutal, patriarchal world. This also heralds the onset of his lycanthropy - a complete breakdown, as he cannot face the reality of what he has done. In Streetcar, such a breakdown occurs in the protagonist whereas here it is in the antagonist. With the death of his sister and the loss of her 'light' from his life he has, both physically and spiritually, been plunged into a world of darkness. For the Christian audience of the day, that darkness would also foreshadow his eventual suffering in hell, too, in punishment for his sins.