Theme of madness in The Duchess of Malfi?

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Madness can be a useful device in literature: by abandoning the constraints of sanity and rationality, a character can explore grey areas which are not available to the sane. Elizabethan and Jacobean drama made full use of this device to create dramatic spaces which plumbed the heights and depths of human experience. Madness in the works of playwrights such as Thomas Kyd and John Webster also served as a tool of divine justice: the punishment the sane laws of man could not mete out, the laws of madness exacted. As we'll see, madness operates in all these different ways in John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi (1623).

The Duchess is a young widow who now wishes to marry the man she loves: her steward Antonio. However, her two brothers, Ferdinand and the Cardinal, object to the union on the grounds of propriety. They believe that the marriage will sully the reputation of their noble house, so they declare the relationship null. Refusing to toe the family line, the Duchess marries Antonio in...

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