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John Webster's Play The Duchess Of Malfi

2660 words - 11 pages

John Webster's Play The Duchess of Malfi

In the opening of The Duchess of Malfi takes place between Delio and
Antonio, a steward of the Duchess and his friend. Webster makes his
audience aware that Antonio has journeyed outside Malfi, to France.
The words "France, Frenchman, French" all appear within the first four
lines of the text, a blunt indicator to ensure that the audience,
however inattentive, grasps the point that Antonio has been absent
from Malfi. He supports this point by referring to the timespan since
Antonio last saw Delio, "You have been long in France." The word
"long" suggests that a considerable time has passed since he was last
resident in Malfi. Equally, Delio's description of Antonio, as a "very
formal frenchman in habit" infers that Antonio had been in France for
long enough to adopt French fashions, rather than his native Italian
dress.

Altogether, Webster, in the opening burst sets up Antonio as a
stranger to Malfi, but an adopted resident of the French court. Thus,
when Delio asks the open ended-question the audience appreciate
Antonio speaks from experience built from a lengthy duration in
France:

"How do you like the French court?"

Webster's question does not ask a specific question, rather it demands
a lengthy reply. Antonio's response is not the view of an outsider
whose short stay failed to unearth negative aspects of the foreign
reign. Instead he speaks from fact due to the time he spent in France.
The reply is informative, as expected from a character who is cast as
a "formal frenchman" with a straightforward answer then an extended
explanation. Antonio "admires" the French system, which he sets up as
the benchmark from which the audience must view the court of Malfi. In
his speech, vital to the context of the play setting, Antonio first
describes the French king as "judicious" suggesting wisdom and
fairness.

Antonio then goes on to mention that "flattering sycophants" were
banished from the court. Thus, between the wisdom of the king, and the
lack of falsities in France, a government has been created where
justice flowed from a "common fountain." Webster uses the metaphorical
image of a common fountain for two reasons. Webster wishes to note to
the audience that the French court is "common," not in the sense that
it fails in the traditional hierarchy of power, but rather that
justice in France is "common." Justice is handed down through "silver
drops" to every subject of the relm no matter their rank. Equally,
"common" as the adjective to the font (representation of justice)
suggests that it is not extraordinary for justice to be offered to the
people of France, rather that it is a "common" occurrence.

The description of the French court by Antonio gives way to a less
positive account of the mores in the duchy of Malfi. The rhyming
couplet below explains that it is vital for a country to have fair
noble leaders, else the badness would filter down and infect...

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