The Duchess of Malfi Characters Analysis | Duchess of Malfi Characters

    The Duchess Of Malfi is written by John Webster, a famed dramatist of Jacobean Age about whose life almost nothing is known. He was perhaps a tailor in profession. As a tragedy writer he is assigned the rank only next to Shakespeare

Duchess of Malfi Characters
Duchess of Malfi Characters

      The Duchess Of Malfi inverts the usual structure of revenge tragedy

    With the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, The Duchess Of Malfi returned to the stage with a performance on 30 September 1661 . 

About the Drama/ summary of The Duchess Of Malfi–

    The Duchess , a high spirited and high minded widow, reveals her love for the honest Antonio, steward at her court and secretly marries him, despite the warnings of her brothers, Ferdinand duke of Calabria, and the cardinal after informing them that she has no intention of remarrying. Their resistance appears to be induced consideration for their high blood, and by as Ferdinand later asserts a desire to inherit her property ; their is also a strong suggestion of Ferdinand's repressed incestuous desire for her. The brothers place in her employment as a spy the cynical exgalleyslave Bosola, who betrays her to them ; she and Antonio free and seperate. She is captured and subjected by Ferdinand and Bosola to fearful mental tortures, including the sight of the feigned corpse of her husband and the attendance of a group of madmen. 

    Finally she is struggled with two of her children and Cariola, her waiting women. Retribution overtakes the murderers: Ferdinand goes mad, imagining himself a wolf. The Cardinal  is killed by the now remorseful Bosola and Bosola by Ferdinand. Bosola has already killed Antonio and their children ; the pride and dignity of the Duchess in her suffering (I am Duchess Of Malfi still) and individual lines such as the celebrated "cover her face : Mine eyes dazzle : she died young " have long been admired but until recently critics have been less happy about the overall structure, the abrupt changes in tone and the blood both of the last act. 

    There have been Many revivals, emphasizing T. S. Eliot 's point that Webster 's verse is essentially dramatic verse, written by a man with a very acute sense of the theater. (1941) 

Characters in the  " The Duchess of Malfi ":

The Duchess

    The protagonist, sister to Ferdinand and the Cardinal. At the beginning she is widow whose brothers take every precaution to keep her from marriage, her brother arrange to have her strangled. She is described as having sweet countenance and noble virtue , unlike her brothers. She is also witty and clever, helping her keep up with her brothers banter and has a tenderness and warmth which they lack. She has three children two sons and a daughter by Antonio.

Antonio Bologna : Duchess of Malfi Character

    Antonio returned from France, full of scorn for the Italian courtiers whom he sees as more corrupt than the French. Antonio is the steward of the Duchess Of Malfi's palace. His honesty and good judgement of Character are traits well known to the other characters. He accepts the Duchess proposal of Marriage because of her disposition rather than her beauty. Her marrying beneath her status is a problem, however and their marriage has to remain a secret and Antonio shares neither her title nor her money. 

Delio : Duchess of Malfi Character

    A courtier, who tries to woo julia. Based on Matteo Bandllo's self - depiction under this name, his purpose is to be the sounding board for his friend Antonio. He asks so many pertinent questions, he serves as a source of important information to the audience, and is privy to secrets of Antonio 's marriage and children. 

Daniel de Bosola : Duchess of Malfi Character

    A formal servant of the Cardinal now returned from a sentence in the galleys for murder. Publicly rejected by his previous employer the cardinal, he is sent by Ferdinand to spy on the Duchess as her provisor of Horse. ( Ferdinand hopes to keep her away from marriage) . Bosola is involved in the murder of the Duchess, her children. Cariola, Antonio, the Cardinal, Ferdinand and a servant. Witnessing the nobility of the Duchess and Antonio facing their deaths, he finally feels guilty, and seeks to avenge them. This change of heart makes him the play 's most complex characters. A malcontent and cynic, he makes numerous comments on the nature of Renaissance society.

The cardinal : Duchess of Malfi Character

    The brother to the Duchess and Ferdinand. A corrupt icy Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church who keeps a mistress. He has arranged a spy( Bosola)  to spy upon his sister- all this on the quiet, however leaving others ignorant of this plotting. Of remorse love, loyality,  or even greed,  he knows nothing, and his reasons for hating his sister are a mystery.

Ferdinand : Duchess of Malfi Character

    The Duke of Calabria amd twin brother of the Duchess. Unlike his rational brother the Cardinal, Ferdinand has rages and violent outbursts disproportionate to the perceived offense. As a result of his regret for hiring Bosola to kill the Duchess he gradually loses his sanity - he believes he is a wolf and digs up graves ( Lycanthropia) ( In reality his name was Carlo Marquis of Gerace) .

Castruchio / Castruchio : Duchess of Malfi Character

     An old Lord. He is the conventional elderly man with a young unfaithful wife (Julia) . He is genial and easygoing, attempting to stay on good terms with all. 

Roderigo- A courtier 

Grisolan - A Courtier 

Silvio - A courtier 

Pescara- A marquis, possibly Fernando d' Avalos.


    Duchess 's waiting - women privy to her secrets. She witnesses the Duchess wedding and delivers her children. She dies tragically by strangling following the murder of the Duchess and the youngest children.


Castrucio's wife and the Cardinal 's  mistress. She dies at the Cardinal 's hands from a poisoned Bible. 


A hanger - on at the Cardinal's court. The name means 'headache' . Referred to as a "mere stick of sugar candy " by the Duchess.


Sent for to diagnose Ferdinand 's madness and his supposed "Lycanthropia" .



  The story of the Duchess of Malfi is first told in Italian, the twenty - sixth novella in part one of Bandello's Novelle (4 volumes, 1554 - 73) . This was soo  adopted in France by Francois de Belleforest, Histories Tragiques, in 1565 . Belleforest's version in four times longer, adds dialogues and soliloquies, considerably – but with little art  - develops the characters of the Duchess and the Antonio, adds quantities of sentiment and expresses moralistic disapproval of the secrecy of the marriage and that this person of noble blood married a commoner.

    Webster's direct source is William Painter's English version,  "The second tone of the Palace of pleasure", 1567 , following Belleforest. Painter's Duchess disdains the "light"  young gentlemen cavorting on their fine horses in the city of Naples. Though disapproving of her marriage to a commoner, painter admits she choose" One of the wisest and most perfect gentleman that the land of Naples that time brought forth.

Interesting Fact in Hindi

Webster 's significant changes to painter are as follows:

1. His Duchess is emotionally direct in  in her affectionate and companionable marriage and strong in her Christian faith. 

2.Webster gives the brothers exaggerated personalities, and built up Ferdinand to equal the Cardinal in importance, so that the action now centers on the conflict between, on one side her brothers, on the others side Duchess and Antonio. 

3. Webster invents the visit to Malfi in Act by the Cardinal and their hiring of Bosola then, and he combines the wooing and the wedding. He brings forward the discovery of the Duchess secret (in painter it is delayed until after the birth of her second child) . 

4. Webster inverts the clue, the dropped horoscope (adopting from the dropped handkerchief in Shakespeare's Othello) as well as Bosola 's detection of it,  and introduces a new character, Julia, to reflect aspects of the Duchess and the Cardinal. 

5.For the movements leading to the Duchess arrest Webster follows Painter, but then invents the sequence in which Bosola devises torments for the Duchess, and also the episode when Ferdinand gives her the served hand. 

6. Webster invents Act v 's Echo scene, the Julia scene, the accidental manner of Antonio's death, the episode in which the Cardinal is trapped and the final deaths of the brothers and of Bosola himself (in painter the brothers live on and Bosola escapes after his efficient contract - killing of Antonio) . Finally Webster invents the presentation of Antonio's surviving son as heir to the dukedom of Malfi..

Themes in The Duchess Of Malfi 



Unorthodox marriage 

Religion / politics 



Counsel / Flattery 



Death and desire 

The futility of greatness 

Seeming and irony