The Duchess of Malfi Sample Essay Outlines
by John Webster

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Sample Essay Outlines

  • Topic #1

    One of the most basic themes of The Duchess of Malfi involves the exploration of status and nobility. The play both examines the courtly assumption that being high-born makes an individual noble and proposes the notion that nobility derives solely from truth and virtue. However, it also presents the argument that nobility is not truly attainable because our basic nature is animal and corrupt. Examine the two different ways the play suggests nobility might be attained, and present a case arguing either that nobility is indeed attainable or that it is an illusory concept disguising our true human nature.

    I. Thesis Statement: An analysis of the notions of both nobility from virtue and nobility from birth leads to the conclusion that The Duchess of Malfi argues that nobility is attainable, but only through possessing the qualities of truth and virtue.

    II. Nobility from birth
    A. Ferdinand and the Cardinal advise the Duchess to avoid marrying any low-born or dishonorable suitor.
    B. Duchess places herself among those “born great.”
    C. Cardinal and Ferdinand fear an unworthy commoner has fathered the Duchess’s child.
    D. Ferdinand praises Reputation as the most precious virtue.
    E. Ferdinand dismisses Antonio as a man who never “look’d like a gentleman.”
    F. Bosola says Antonio’s fear comes from his low breeding.
    G. Ferdinand praises value of the Duchess’s noble body before she betrayed him.
    H. Duchess proclaims herself “Duchess of Malfi still” to Bosola before dying.

    III. Nobility from virtue
    A. Antonio praises Duchess for her shining virtue without mentioning her noble birth.
    B. Duchess marries Antonio, who has “long serv’d virtue,” without any concern for his ancestry.
    C. Bosola praises Antonio for his humility, faith, and honesty, without regard for his low ancestry.
    D. Duchess defends Antonio’s low birth to Bosola in her parable of the salmon and dog-fish.
    E. Bosola describes Duchess as enduring her imprisonment with noble fortitude.
    F. Ferdinand regrets his hatred for “the meanness of her match” after Duchess is dead.

    IV. Nobility not attainable, or attainable
    A. Bosola says all people are ruled by the same base passions.
    B. Bosola denounces man’s deformed nature.
    C. Bosola calls the Duchess’s glories insubstantial, having “neither heat nor light.”
    D. In speeches after Duchess’s death, Bosola rejects the brothers’ tyranny and praises Duchess’s virtue.
    E. Pescara refuses to give Antonio’s land to Delio because it, being unjustly taken, should go to a “strumpet.”
    F. Bosola values “the sword of justice.”
    G. Antonio rejects “our quest of greatness” as empty desire.
    H. Bosola proclaims it good for “worthy minds … to suffer death or shame for what is just.”
    I. Delio closes play by saying greatness and fame come only from “integrity of life.

    V. Conclusion
    The noble nature of the deaths of Antonio and the Duchess contrasts with repenting speeches of Ferdinand and the Cardinal before they die. Antonio and the Duchess are treated sympathetically, whereas the Cardinal and Ferdinand are ruthless villains. Nobility is attainable, but only through pursuing truth and virtue.

  • Topic #2

    The theme of deceit, intrigue, inconstancy, and illusion is present throughout The Duchess of Malfi. Bosola, the Duchess, Antonio and others struggle to gain control, power, and security by either properly discerning the truth or successfully propagating falsehoods. To what degree are characters successful in these efforts rewarded by achieving their goals of control, power, and security?

    I. Thesis Statement: Although all five key characters manage to either create manipulated falsehoods or uncover hidden truths, none of them attain their goals by doing this. Their efforts produce no material rewards; instead, all five end up being killed. All their attempts to maneuver through the murky world of the court end in futility.

    II. Antonio
    A. Successfully reads the character of the Duchess and her two brothers and is skeptical of her...

(The entire section is 1,182 words.)