Please give a critique of aristrocracy in as presented in the "Duchess of Malfi"?

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sullymonster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This Renaissance play paints the aristocracy is a mostly negative light.  The brothers of the Duchess are jealous, hypocritical and vindicative.  The Cardinal, supposedly a man of God, not only has a mistress but makes himself a murderer in the end through her death.  Ferdinand is controlling and violent, wanting in the end for his sister to suffer despair and be damned, in addition to suffering death for her deception.  The deception that causes this is a result of the brother's controlling nature.  They did not want the Duchess to marry because they did not want the wealth of the family to be spread to anyone else, such as heirs.  Not only does the Duchess marry, but she marries Antonio, a man of a lower class - not accepted by the aristocracy of the time, who were so superior as to think themselves above all other people and above the law.  This greed that leads to the Duchess' death also causes Ferdinand to order the death of her two small children.  The aristocracy here is portrayed as without morals.

The only saving grace is the Duchess herself.  She is a shining light, proving that in any social group, there will be exceptions.  She lets herself be led by love, does what she can to protect her husband and children, and in the end, faces her death with dignity.

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The Duchess of Malfi

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