The Duchess of Malfi Questions and Answers
by John Webster

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Discuss the line "Ambition, madam, is a great man's madness" from The Duchess of Malfi.

By the line "Ambition, madam, is a great man's madness," Antonio, the Duchess of Malfi's steward, expresses his concerns about being raised to her level of wealth and power by marrying her. Antonio believes that being raised to the level of such greatness will cause him to suffer the same madness of ambition that he sees in others, including the Duchess's own brothers, the violent and unstable Frederick and the corrupt, emotionless, immoral Cardinal.

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In act 1, scene 3 of John Webster's Jacobean revenge tragedy The Duchess of Malfi, the widowed Duchess defies her unstable twin brother, Ferdinand, the Duke of Calabria—who threatens her with their father's dagger if she dares to marry again—and her other brother, the corrupt and immoral Cardinal, by subtly convincing her steward, Antonio, to marry her.

Antonio doesn't take much convincing to marry the Duchess because he's already in love with her, but he's never acted on his feelings towards her because of his servant-class status.

The Duchess dismisses Antonio's concerns by convincing him that whether he's low-born or high-born, he's still a "complete man" and no less worthy of her than any other man.

DUCHESS. You were ill to sell yourself.
This darkening of your worth is not like that
Which tradesmen use i’th’ city; their false lights
Are to rid bad wares off. And I must tell you,
If you will know where breathes a complete man
(I speak it without flattery) turn your eyes,
And progress...

(The entire section contains 3 answers and 852 words.)

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