Theme of madness in The Duchess of Malfi?

Expert Answers
coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the play 'The Duchess of malfi' by Joh Webster, the author touches upon many themes including reality v unreality, identity, appearances, deception and insanity. The Duchess is subjected to a tirade of insane comments and treatments, yet is clearly not mad. Ferdinad's main problem is anger (we would could it 'road rage' or 'anger management issues now') He goes crazy when he hears of the birth of the Duchess's child, driven demented by his anger and need to punish. he considers her so flawed that he wants to burn her and the child and let not even their smoke rise to the heavens. Then he subjects her to witnessing the horrors of madness in the hope that she will turn against God. it is he that is mad.

safiya123 | Student


I would say you can find some elements of, what was then called, male madness prior to his complete, apparent insanity. He says he has "grown mad" at the beginning of Act 2 Scene 5 and so the rush of rage and his uncontrolled babbling can be said to be symptoms of male madness. After his sisters death though we see a flip in the madness expressed by ferdinand. After the death he starts to express symptoms of female madness such as hysteria and it can be said he has lost all of the biblical virtue of fortitude as he somewhat reflects the madness of Ophelia in hamlet.


I know you probably wont need this anymore but i'm hoping it will benifit someone else.

Read the study guide:
The Duchess of Malfi

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question