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Madness in The Duchess of Malfi

Abstract : This chapter focuses on madness not as “foolishness resembling insanity” but in its clinical sense, that is, “mental illness or impairment, esp. of a severe kind”; to examine how mad characters, “the wild consort / Of madmen” (4.2.1-2) removed from the asylum and the lycanthropic Ferdinand, are impersonated on stage and to what effects; and to understand what Webster ultimately aimed at doing. Thus, the analysis will start with the playwright’s topical criticism (how his tragedy holds a critical mirror up to Jacobean practices, by which the mentally distressed were infantilized, tamed, exhibited and exploited); then move on to his dramatic appropriation (how madness is part and parcel of his economy of punishment, from the Duke of Calabria’s perverse instrument of torture to divine retribution or poetic justice); and end with Webster’s clinical insight: his play can finally be read as an exploration in madness, specifically Ferdinand’s descent into lycanthropy, not in that it produces a diagnosis but in that it shows the pathological process at work, to the point of generating hallucinations that betray displaced resurgences of guilt.
Keywords : madness theater
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Contributor : Vanessa Ernst-Maillet <>
Submitted on : Tuesday, May 7, 2019 - 10:22:33 AM
Last modification on : Tuesday, February 16, 2021 - 12:26:03 PM


  • HAL Id : halshs-02122147, version 1



Pascale Drouet. Madness in The Duchess of Malfi. Carroll, William C; Drouet, P. The Duchess of Malfi : Webster’s Tragedy of Blood, Belin/Humensis/CNED, pp.142-155, 2018, Agrégation d’anglais, 979-1-0358-0438-1. ⟨halshs-02122147⟩



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