Breakfast illustration of bacon, eggs, and coffee with the silhouetted images of the Duchess' evil brothers, one on each side

The Duchess of Malfi

by John Webster

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Act 1, Scene 1
1. Describe how this initial scene depicts Ferdinand’s court. What are some of the court's attributes and characteristics that can be discerned from this scene?

2. What do Bosola’s words in this scene reveal about his character? What impression does this scene give of him?

Act 1, Scene 2
1. Describe the ways in which this scene touches upon the proper ways to maneuver in Ferdinand’s court.

2. In the scene of Antonio and the Duchess’s marriage, there is much talk of accounts and the propriety of their marriage. How does this talk call attention to the significance of the Duchess deciding to marry below her station?

Act 2, Scenes 1-2
1. Describe the ways in which these scenes illustrate and expand on Bosola’s meditation on the deformities of human nature.

2. Analyze the two conversations between the Old Lady and Bosola. How do they reveal Bosola’s views of women and the place of women in the setting of the play?

Act 2, Scenes 3-5
1. Consider the conversation between the Cardinal and Ferdinand in response to the news of the Duchess’s newborn child. Are the two brothers right to react with such outrage? What does their conversation foretell, if anything, about the Duchess’s likely fate?

2. How are the themes of trust and deceit acted out in these scenes?

Act 3, Scenes 1-2
1. On what basis does the Duchess place her confidence in Bosola? Is there a convincing rationale for her decision?

2. Describe the Duchess’s reaction to her circumstances and her attempt to avoid the detection of her marriage. Are her words and actions praiseworthy or contemptible?

Act 3, Scenes 3-5
1. Discuss the treatment of religion in these three scenes, including both the Duchess’s fake pilgrimage and the Cardinal’s investiture as a soldier. Is religion seen in a positive or negative light?

2. Analyze the relationship between Antonio and the Duchess in scene five. Do they give good advice to each other? Are their attitudes toward their fates reasonable?

Act 4, Scene 1
1. Discuss the theme of manipulation and deceit as it appears in this scene. How do Ferdinand’s plans to show the Duchess the figures of Antonio and their children indicate his state of mind at this point in the play?

2. Analyze Bosola’s relationship with the Duchess in this scene. Is he truly sympathetic to her plight, or merely feigning sympathy for underhanded purposes?

Act 4, Scene 2
1. Compare Ferdinand’s madness, and his decision to send madmen to the Duchess’s lodging, with the Duchess’s response to her confinement and execution. Is the differing behavior of these twins meant to outline mirror aspects of human nature?

2. Discuss Bosola’s transformation from ruthlessly murdering the Duchess and her two children to expressing remorse for those murders. Is his penance convincing and legitimate? If so, how can it be explained?

Act 5, Scene 1
1. How does Pescara’s justification for refusing to give Delio Antonio’s land amplify the play’s theme of the connection between virtue and nobility?

2. What does Antonio’s intention to visit the Cardinal reveal about Antonio’s character?

Act 5, Scene 2
1. How is the relationship between Julia and Bosola in scene two emblematic of the basic themes of the play? What does the depiction of their relationship tell us about their respective roles in the court and the differing aspects of their character?

2. How does Bosola’s speech at the close of this scene epitomize the conflicts and contradictions of his character?

Act 5, Scenes 3-5
1. Interpret the philosophies articulated by Antonio and Bosola just after Bosola has given Antonio his fatal wound. Does the play as a whole agree with or dispute these philosophies?

2. Does Delio’s speech at the close of the play represent the basic message and theme of the play, or is it merely an illustration of his own character and nothing else?

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