Annotated Bibliography of Criticism


Callaghan, Dympna. “The Duchess of Malfi and Renaissance Women.” 31 March 2017.

The author of this article wanted to illuminate the fact that the Duchess was once the protagonist of the play but was met with tragedy and her demise in the end of act four. From reading the article and the play itself it seems like it was forbidden for any woman to remarry. From the article it sounds like men felt that women were not capable of making decisions. The Duchess, despite her status in the patriarchy, made decisions on her own without consulting with her brothers. The Duchess decides to marry someone who wasn’t on the same social status as her. She ended up choosing Antonio who was on a lower social status. Although society would not condone her actions the Duchess showed she was capable of making decisions on her own and she also showed that she was not inferior like everybody expected her to be. During this time period widowed women were expected to stay unmarried or consult with their family before thinking about remarrying.The males, the antagonists of the play, believe that women are immoral and weak-minded and this shows as the Duchess’s own brothers played mind games by tricking the Duchess into believing that her family was dead when they really weren’t. As a result of tricking the Duchess she no longer cared about anything or her life because she felt like everything was gone that she cared about. Her brothers again try to prove their point that women were weak minded.

—Louie Lewis


Jankowski, Theodora A. “Defining/Confining the Duchess: Negotiating the Female Body in John Webster’s ‘The Duchess of Malfi.’” Studies in Philology 87 (1990): 221–45. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Theodora A. Jankowski’s thesis regarding “The Duchess of Malfi” consists of tackling three concepts that the play develops: the concept of politics with the portrayal of the Duchess as a public figure, the portrayal of the Duchess’s brothers throughout the play, and the portrayal of the Duchess as a new woman in her secret marriage (224). The first concept Jankowski writes about describes the necessity of the Duchess’s role as a woman in an authoritative position. This position of power brings into question all of her actions as describe throughout the play, which includes her choices to have a secret marriage, have multiple children, and display said children without disclosing her marriage, thus portraying her as an authoritative woman who has sinned by having multiple children out of wedlock. Addressing the second concept of the play, Jankowski mentions the portrayal of Ferdinand and The Cardinal and their interpreted intentions throughout the play before their true intentions are revealed. For example, Jankowski points out the interpretation of whether they wished to protect their sister, the widow, in a private manner by forbidding her to remarry versus the control they attempted to impose upon her as a public figure (229). This concept is concluded once it is revealed that the Duchess’s brothers were after her fortune. The last concept Jankowski writes about addresses her portrayal as a new woman once she secretly marries Antonio. While Antonio is noble and trustworthy, he is not up to the social class standards that would usually be suited to marry royalty such as the Duchess. By doing so, the portrayal of the Duchess’s virtuousness remains intact, as she has chosen to marry because of compassion as opposed to wealth and stature (232-33).

—Derrick Martinez


“An introduction to The Duchess of Malfi.” The British Library, The British Library, 13 Apr. 2017,

The reception of The Duchess of Malfi over the last 200 years is interesting especially in the modern setting because of the debate over the status of the tragedy. It was initially performed in 1614 and was adapted many times throughout the years. The nature of the play that makes it one that is great is that it can have different interpretations throughout different time periods; it can be viewed as a serious play or it can be viewed as a play that is a “gory melodrama.” This play’s ability to portray a chaotic world makes it relatable and timeless. The paradox of the play that is particularly interesting is that in spite of painting a vivid picture of chaos within the play, the play at the same time manages to “resist” the chaos by forming its own art. The characters are all strung together with a complex set of motifs. This play could also be based upon actual events, there was a real-life duchess of Amalfi who was widowed at the age of 19. The play also has great roles that touch upon the complexity of morals. The duchess herself is a unique character who is “unorthodox” and “courageous,” some may even view her as being overly sexual for showing her love for Antonio. Bosola isn’t just a murderer but a man who can be in some ways viewed as a philosopher. Conclusively The Duchess Of Malfi is a play that portrays the uncertainty of human nature in a manner that requires one to take it seriously.

—Suriya Ahmed












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