Madness Scene in “The Duchess of Malfi”

 Madness Scene in “The Duchess of Malfi

Webster has made a two-fold use of madness in The Duchess of Malfi. Firstly, Ferdinand employs the madmen to torture the Duchess in her imprisonment, and thus to horrify the readers. Secondly, he tortures her by putting a dead man’s hand in her hand and also by showing the dead bodies of Antonio and his children artificially made of wax. He does so in order “to bring her to despair?”

So, a number of madmen are let Loose upon her. Their talk is of adultery and fornication. The references to hell-fire are frequent:

“Hell is a mere glass-house, where the devils are continually blowing up women’s souls on hollow irons, and the fire never goes out.”

They make a lot of noise, sing and dance and thereby disturb the Duchess. But the Duches bears all this torture with exemplary courage and patience. She remarks:

“Indeed, I thank him. Nothing but noise and folly, can keep me in my right wits, whereas reason and silence make me stark mad.”

The introduction of a crowd of madmen is intended to perscecute the Duchess, but the Duchess remains calm. This shows her admirable courage and heroic fortitude. The part played by the madmen has thus a psychological value.

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