The Duchess of Malfi Questions and Answers
by John Webster

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What are some similarities and differences of plot and character between John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi and William Shakespeare's Othello?

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Thanh Munoz eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The basic plot and characters of these two plays, The Duchess of Malfi and Othello, are quite dissimilar. If I had to pick one play of Shakespeare closest in technique and theme to Webster's tragedy, it would probably be Hamlet, if only because of the extent of the bloodbaths occurring at the end of both. Nevertheless, we can still find connections with Othello, particularly, I think, with the roles of the female characters in both works.

In Othello, Desdemona has defied her father and the normal expectations of society for her in marrying Othello, which is at first unknown to her father. In Webster's play, the Duchess similarly defies her brothers in order to secretly marry Antonio. In both plays, a schemer—Iago in Shakespeare's play and Bosola in Webster's—is the mechanism by which the marriages are discovered, and a woman is destroyed who has asserted herself and made a life of (at least temporary) fulfillment in defiance of these outside forces and the commands of her family.

That said,...

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