The duchess of malfi as a decadent play 


Decadent play refers to a genre of literature and theater that emerged in the late 19th century, particularly in Europe. It is characterized by its exploration of excess, luxury, hedonism, and moral decay. “The Duchess of Malfi” by John Webster (1578-1632) is often considered a decadent play due to its exploration of themes such as corruption, death, and moral decay. Here are some points to discuss how the play can be seen as decadent:


The play explores the corruption of power and the moral decay of the aristocracy. The characters are obsessed with wealth and status, and they will do anything to maintain their positions, even if it means betraying those closest to them. The Duchess, for example, is a strong and independent woman who defies social norms by marrying beneath her station, but she is ultimately destroyed by the corrupt and manipulative men around her, especially Bosola and his two brothers.

More Notes: The Duchess of Malfi


The play is filled with graphic and disturbing scenes of violence, including murder, torture, and execution. The violence is often gratuitous and seems to serve no purpose other than to shock and unsettle the audience. This excessive violence can be seen as a hallmark of decadent literature, which often revels in the grotesque and macabre. For example, Bosola is a morally ambiguous character who serves as a spy and henchman for Ferdinand. He leads the plot of the play to the way of violence.


The play contains several sexually charged scenes that push the boundaries of what was considered acceptable in Jacobean society. For example, the relationship between the Duchess and her steward Antonio is both passionate and illicit. Again, their love is presented as a challenge to the rigid social hierarchy of the time. The play also features several erotic scenes, including the infamous scene where the Cardinal and his mistress spy on the Duchess and Antonio through a peephole.


The play is filled with a sense of doom and fatalism, with many of the characters resigned to their fates and the inevitability of death. The Duchess, in particular, seems to embrace her own mortality, telling her executioners, 

“I am Duchess of Malfi still.” 

This acceptance of death and decay is a common theme in decadent literature, which often celebrates the beauty of decay and the transience of life.

Moral ambiguity:

The play is full of characters who are neither wholly good nor entirely evil. The Duchess, for example, is a sympathetic character who is destroyed by the conspiracy of others. Again, she is also shown to be capable of cruelty and manipulation herself. The Cardinal and Ferdinand, meanwhile, are clearly villainous characters, but they are also presented as complex and multi-dimensional, with their own motivations and desires.


“The Duchess of Malfi” can be seen as a decadent play due to its exploration of themes such as corruption, violence, eroticism, fatalism, and moral ambiguity. These themes challenge the moral and social norms of the time and present a bleak and unsettling vision of human nature.

Rashedul Islam
Rashedul Islam

Hi, This is Rashedul. Researcher and lecturer of English literature and Linguistics.

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