The Plot-construction of the Duchess of Malfi

Plot-construction of Webster is Satisfactory and praiseworthy. As usual, he takes two plots. One is main plot and the other is subplot. They are mingled, woven successfully.

In the play, The Duchess of Malfi, the main plot is connected with the story of The Duchess. She does not care for the orders of the Duke and marries Antonio, her lover and is ultimately murdered with children. But there are so many things in the plot. Let us see them.

When Ferdinand goes mad, the image of man as beast becomes an actuality. The beast in man appears in its grimiest, most horrible manifestation. Ferdinand is an animal. The metaphor is interpreted literally, and presented in a way unknown to other satirists of the age, as reality that underlies the cause of evil in the outward form of man. Bosola had said, “Man stands amazed to see his deformity, in any other creature but himself’ and Webster expected his audience to stand amazed at the spectacle of the bestial overthrowing the human, in the case of Ferdinand. “With the animal metaphor he deliberately set the deformities of men, physical and spiritual, into relief against a world of unregulated instincts.”

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Animal imagery and images of widespread moral and social corruption are abundant in the play, and they are realised in practice in the corruption and wickedness of the principal characters. “With the images pertaining to bodily rot, Webster approaches the farthest reaches of terror. Bosola had lamented that, “though continually we bear about us a rotten and dead body, we delight to hide it in rich tissue.” In the fourth Act, this aspect of the central theme is used to arouse the Duchess to the fullest assertion of her integrity. The body, he tells her, “is rotten, weak, worthless,” Thou art a box of worm-seed, at best a Salvatore of green mummy. What’s this flesh? a little curdled milk, fantastical puff aster; our bodies are weaker than those paper prisons boys use to keep flies in; more contemptible since ours is to preserve earth-worms.” It is the ultimate degradation, the final revelation of the reality beneath the Duchess’ dignified and gracious appearance.

But it is this image which enables her to assert, in spite of the worthlessness of her outward form, that she is “Duchess of Malfi still”. The supremacy of the spiritual over the physical, of the soul over the body, is thus asserted. The conduct of the Duchess at the moment of death is convincing depiction of the glory, dignity and greatness of the human soul. Webster degrades the physical in man only to highlight the glory and beauty of the spiritual. It is the function of Webster’s satire to make man conscious of his spiritual superiority.



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