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ENGLISH LITERATURE: The Duchess of Malfi > ACT 5 > Flashcards

Flashcards in ACT 5 Deck (14):

How does the first scene start?

The audience has just witnessed the death of the Duchess, so the dramatic irony is striking here (a structural device to heighten our emotions) as nobody on stage in this scene knows that she is dead. Antonio's opening line is darkly humorous, therefore, for the audience. He yet again seems weak here - naïve and desperate in his desire for reconcilement with the brothers and in his plan to reveal himself to the Cardinal in his chamber. This is a moment of analepsis as this is what Ferdinand does to the Duchess earlier in the play, so it foreshadows the violence to come and the vulnerability of Antonio.


How is Pescara presented in the first scene?

Pescara is presented as morally upright, but he too is impotent elsewhere in the face of the brothers' wickedness so this reinforces the theme of morally corrupt leaders creating a morally corrupt society, which Webster sets out in Antonio's opening speech in Act One.


How are the male attitudes towards Julia presented in the first scene?

Delio and Julia do not acknowledge each other here even though Delio offered her money to sleep with him. As she leaves, he describes her as 'a creature', (and Pescara describes her as a 'strumpet') reinforcing the misogyny in the society, as well as the commodification of women - the land for Julia is described as 'salary for [the Cardinal's] lust'.


How is comedy used in the beginning of scene two and what does this contrast with?

There is comic relief in the first part of the scene, relieving the tension cased by Antonio's naïve plans in the previous scene. The humour arises from the image of Ferdinand digging up corpses, howling like a wolf, leaping on his own shadow and beating the doctor. This is contrasted with the tragic intensity of the rest of the scene as we learn that the morally corrupt Cardinal agreed to the execution of the Duchess and her family and his murder of Julia with his Bible (a symbol of his evil and hypocrisy). Julia's lust for Bosola causes some comedy, as this wooing scene is an antithesis of the wooing scene between Antonio and the Duchess in Act 1. (She is revealed, however, as independent and courageous, refusing, like the Duchess, to conform to society's expectations of her. Indeed, unlike Blanche's need to conceal her sexual desire, here Julia celebrates it, dismissing the 'nice modesty in ladies' which haunts them and prevents them from satisfying their own desires.)


How does Webster present Bosola's attitude to the brothers at the end of scene two?

Nonetheless, Webster presents us with characters in their futile attempts to fulfil their ambitions. He reduces Ferdinand's status and, in the Cardinal's asides to the audience, there is evidence that his anxiety is growing. Bosola once again agrees to carry out murder for the Cardinal, but this time with a view to saving Antonio and avenging the Duchess' death, reinforcing his new-found 'morality'. Indeed, the sententia which closes this scene is an allusion to Jesus' words in the Garden of Gethsemane, distancing Bosola from the brothers.


Analyse the use of the echo in the third scene.

This haunting and moving scene presents us with Antonio in apparent communion with the Duchess, alongside the dramatic irony, as he still believes her to be alive. The echo foreshadows his doom and tragic fate. The dramatic device of the echo ensures that the Duchess, although dead, continues to have an impact on the remaining characters.


What is the link to context based on the staging in scene three?

By staging this scene in the remains of a cloister, Webster makes reference to the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII when many Church properties were looted then demolished - an upheaval which could be in the memories of the audience.


How does Webster's use of sound in scene three link to Streetcar?

Interestingly, Webster's use of sound here is not dissimilar to the sound employed by Williams to convey Blanche's inner fears and nightmares. Here, however, the echo is also heard by Delio and is meant to warn rather than convey emotional distress. Perhaps both are similar in that they reinforce the vulnerability of those hearing the sounds.


How is comedy used in the fourth scene?

Comedy is again combined with tragedy here in the Cardinal's attempts to ensure that the men will not attempt to enter Ferdinand's chamber, leaving Bosola free to move Julia's body. The men's determination to keep that promise contributes to the macabre humour.


How does the second part of the fourth scene keep in with tradegy in the Aristotelian sense?

Bosola does not recognise Antonio in the darkness and kills him, reinforcing the sense of a world devoid of any moral virtue. One critical view of Antonio is that he is weak and ineffectual and thus the manner of his death as a case of mistaken identity is appropriate. Nonetheless his tragedy is one of a good man caught up in events he is not strong enough to control. Indeed, he is pleased to die - he seems to have been altered beyond recognition by the events he has been involved in. Death is a release for him and it is on his death that Bosola swears he will no longer pretend anything further - he will be his 'own example.'


Describe the setup of the final scene in terms of traditional revenge tradegy.

In keeping with the genre expectations of revenge tragedy, the stage now fills up with bloody corpses, providing satisfaction for the audience as well as some sense of moral justice at the end of the play. (We can also laugh at the way the men leave the Cardinal to his fate, undermining his role and status).


How does the Duchess remain significant even after her death?

Despite having been killed in Act Four, Webster keeps the Duchess ever present as other characters acknowledge her central importance. Bosola presents her murder as of universal significance and Ferdinand also sees his sister as the primary factor in the tragic events. Some characters speak about the pointlessness of life but this may well be a reflection on human sin rather than human existence in general (especially bearing in mind the Christian context of the play).


Describe Bosola's character in scene five.

Bosola's final killings mire him deeper in damnation which for some cements his role as a tragic hero as he acknowledges his own damnation even having tried to do good at the end.


What is the significance of the way the play ends compared with the way it starts and the events of the play in general?

Delio announces Antonio's son as the heir to the dukedom in Malfi, but this is a moment of analepsis to the horoscope which predicted a 'short life' and 'violent death' of the boy, as well as to Antonio's last wish to 'let my son fly the court of princes.' Hope for the future, then, is laced with uncertainty. Thus the cycle of ambition, rivalry and revenge may be set to continue. Delio, who opened the play, now closes it, reflecting on the ephemerality of worldly (and ultimately worthless) success. (This is similar to Blanche's speech in scene 10 when she speaks about beauty and wealth being 'transitory').