The duchess of Malfi
The duchess of Malfi (MAHL-fee), the sister of Duke Ferdinand and the Cardinal. She is a woman of strong character and deep feeling. Capable of gaiety and affectionate teasing, she is also able to bear danger, grief, and terror with fortitude. Her brothers’ attempt to drive her mad fails, and her dignified nobility at her death transforms the character of her murderer.
Ferdinand, the duke of Calabra, the cruel twin brother of the duchess. Arrogant, domineering, and cruel, he forbids his widowed sister to marry again and sets a master spy to watch over her. Finding that she is in love and secretly married, he uses every form of inhuman torture that he can devise to break her mind, then has her murdered. Remorse drives him to madness. In his frenzy, he wounds his brother, mortally wounds Bosola, and receives his death wound from the latter.
The Cardinal, a worldly and evil churchman. Lacking the demon that drives his brother mad, he is completely unscrupulous, killing his mistress dispassionately when she worms from him his secret guilt in the murder of the duchess and her children. His death is a grisly irony, for he has forbidden his followers to enter his room, and they think his howls for help are tests of their obedience.
Daniel de Bosola
Daniel de Bosola (boh-SOH-lah), an embittered, satirical villain. A complex character, intelligent and witty but ruthless, he acts as a spy for the evil brothers and betrays the duchess to them. The fortitude and loveliness of the duchess pierce his heart, and after murdering her, he has a strange devotion for her and avenges her. His language is violent and sometimes filthy but emanates a savage poetry.
Antonio Bologna (boh-LOH-nyah), the duchess’ steward. Although deeply in love with the duchess, he does not declare himself until she subtly proposes to him. He is a good man, intelligent and loyal, and shrewd enough not to trust Bosola. He is killed accidentally by Bosola after the death of the duchess.
Delio (DEH-lee-oh), Antonio’s faithful friend. After the deaths of Antonio and the duchess, he protects their only surviving child.
Cariola (kah-ree-OH-lah), the faithful waiting woman of the duchess, who shares the secret of the duchess and Antonio’s clandestine marriage. Fear makes her plead vainly for life, in notable contrast to the dignity of the duchess in facing death.
Julia, the wanton wife of Castruccio and mistress of the Cardinal. She is fascinated by Bosola and entices him into an affair. Her curiosity leads to her death by poisoning at the hands of the Cardinal.
The marquis of Pescara
The marquis of Pescara (peh-SKAH-rah), a nobleman of integrity and sensitivity, endowed with a superior ethical sense.
A doctor, employed to treat Duke Ferdinand in his madness. His extreme self-confidence leads him to a beating by the madman.
Castruccio (kahs-TREW-chee-oh), an aged, impotent fool, Julia’s husband.
Count Malateste (mah-lah-TEHS-tah), a worthy nobleman, proposed by Duke Ferdinand as a second husband for the duchess.
Silvio (SIHL-vee-oh), a lord.
Roderigo (roh-deh-REE-goh) and
Grisolan (gree-SOH-lahn), attendants to Duke Ferdinand who refuse to answer his cries for help because they are sure that he is testing them.
An old lady
An old lady, the butt of Bosola’s gruesome jesting.
Several madmen, who are sent to the duchess by Duke Ferdinand in the hope of driving her mad.
Three children, the offspring of Antonio and the duchess. Two are murdered; one survives.