best books list
Arbella Stuart, Catherine of Valois, and The Duchess of Malfi:
An Examination of Women, Marriage, and Widowhood in Jacobean England
Throughout history, man has sought to understand and chronicle himself, his experiences, and his culture. One of the primary ways this has been achieved is through the written word. Writing about
one's experiences and surroundings provides not only an outlet for self-expression and understanding, but also provides a means by which future generations can glimpse the past. John Webster's 1614
play The Duchess of Malfi gives us a glimpse into the politics of seventeenth century English marriage, social mobility, and the law. Additionally, we can use reactions to Webster's work as a means
of judging the attitudes of seventeenth century English society; Webster's play paints a vivid portrait of Jacobean society's relationship with women, and outlines the norms surrounding marriage, the
freedom of women, and the state of patriarchy in England.
Upon closer examination it becomes clear that the plight of the Duchess mirrors at least two real life cases. Our ability to consider the fictitious Duchess' situation in relation to two actual women's plight
sheds even more light on the relationship of women to, and as, property, both in and outside the confines of marriage. As a result, this Jacobean tragicomedy not only entertains and transports us, it can
also teach us about the English past, the status of noble women, and about the patriarchal system's transitional nature during the seventeenth century.
The Duchess of Malfi has been interpreted in many different ways since it was first performed nearly 400 years ago. Some have seen it as a cautionary tale that shows what can happen when
women marry without being granted the "proper" consent, while others argue that it is a feminist story of a strong woman ahead of her time.1 I argue that
neither of these interpretations is entirely correct, rather, The Duchess of Malfi is a study of an emancipated widow that reflects the great social and political transitions found in Jacobean England.
The Duchess's fight for autonomy and self-determination is, on the one hand, inspiring, yet given her ultimate failure, disheartening on the other. That the Duchess's life mirrors the plight of real
seventeenth century women cannot be ignored, thus she serves not only as a role model, but also as a tragic reminder of the world in which she had to function.
Her struggle for autonomy is lamentable on many levels. First, it is important to note that, while we understand her deepest thoughts and are privy to her most intimate moments, we are never told her
given name. She is known throughout the play merely as "the Duchess," a title which she would not have had were it not for her now-deceased first husband. Time and again reviewers have
praised the Duchess for her strength, passion, courage, ambition, and cunning, yet they have nearly universally failed to recognize that these traits were not simply desirable facets of her character, but
were integral to her very survival. She is a completely isolated character, utterly alone in the world, associated with no female companions of her own rank.2 She is
young, has lost her husband, has been left with a young son and daughter to raise, and has been forbidden by her brothers to remarry. Regarding her as a "strong" woman, considering her
circumstances, is the least amount of credit one can give her.
The Duchess's status as a wealthy widow can be regarded as both and asset and a liability. The most positive way to interpret her widowhood would be to focus on the new, special rights accorded to
her upon becoming a dowager, namely, freedom from the laws of coverture, the system of laws that applied to married and never-before-married women. Under the system of coverture, women were
governed by their closest male relative, usually their father or husband. This male relative enjoyed sole control over the fate of the woman's property, money, and any other chattels. Women under
coverture had no legal standing, and were, themselves, considered property. Widowed women, however, were not bound by these constraints, and thus exercised full legal authority over their person,
property, and chattels. Widows were allowed to enter into legally binding contracts, could bring a suit before a court, and were not subject to any male's personal authority. Another benefit to widowhood
under the laws of seventeenth century England concerned the control of widows' dowries. Upon the death of one's husband, the dowry of the wife was returned to her and she was given sole control over
one third of her husband's lands and property for the remainder of her lifetime. Widows were free to remarry or to remain single.3 Further, if a woman chose to
remarry but did not wish to lose control over her dower portion, she could turn it over to a trustee, thereby safeguarding her control of the property while at the same time eliminating the chance that her
new husband could seize its control.4
Despite these freedoms, few women wished to remain unmarried after the death of their husbands. For many women, widowhood actually resulted in an increased dependency on male family
members to secure the political and/or social favors previously sought on their behalf by their husbands. Additionally, they often suffered a loss of kinship connection to their husband's family, thus making
it even more difficult to repay the favors granted to her by her new advocates.5 Furthermore, many women saw remarriage as a wonderful tool with which they could
advance themselves both socially and financially. They retained the social status of their deceased husband until remarriage, thus they could use the title "Duchess," "Marchioness," or
"Countess" to attract a man of similar social ranking, along with their dower portions, which provided them excellent dowries to offer their suitors. Lastly, in an age when most women defined
themselves in terms of their husbands and families, widowhood left many women with a feeling of insecurity and purposelessness. In effect, women would often lose themselves when they lost their
husbands. Remarriage could provide definition, a renewed sense of purpose, and a feeling of belonging that was absent from their lives in the widowed state.
The Duchess of Malfi doubtless felt the pressures, both positive and negative, associated with widowhood, and there is evidence that she experienced some difficulty reconciling the two. She is clearly
aware of her rights as a widow, yet she still allows herself to be constrained by the traditional patriarchal elements of her society. On one hand she asserts her freedom by marrying Antonio against the
wishes of her brothers, yet on the other, most notably in her conversation with Ferdinand in Act I, scene 1, lines 290-304, she allows Ferdinand and the Cardinal to attack her virtue, and then adds the
self-defeating comments in which she likens herself to a diamond whose value increases each time it is passed through another man's hand.6 By sexualizing herself
and allowing the innuendoes about the lustiness of widows to go unchecked, she allows herself to be degraded. This sort of incongruous behavior continues throughout the play as the Duchess time and
again reconfirms her brothers' assumptions. When Ferdinand attacks her motives for remarriage, she only replies "If all my royal kindred/ Lay in my way unto this marriage,/ I'd make them my
low footsteps...Let old wives report/ I winked and chose a husband" (I.1.332-4; 339-40).
Despite these self-defeating comments early in the play, the Duchess continues to act as though she regards herself as a free, autonomous woman. She marries her steward, Antonio, despite the
objection of others, and even comments on the odd role reversal found in their courtship, "The misery of us that are born great:/ We are forced to woo because none dare woo us" (I.1.431-2).
She also represents herself as the sole heir and acting ruler of the Duchy of Amalfi, as we see in her death scene when she asks Bosola, "Am I not thy Duchess?" and then answers herself,
"I am Duchess of Malfi still" (IV.2.127; 134). Despite these efforts to assert her independence, her work is undone by her controlling brothers. In I.1.246-7, Ferdinand tells Bosola that
"she's a young widow,/ I would not have her marry again." When she does, he retaliates by telling the Pope who, "forehearing of her looseness,/ Hath seized into th'protection of the
church/ The dukedom which she held as a dowager" (III.4.31-34). With this duplicitous act, we see, as apparently the Duchess does not, that her "freedom" never truly existed. She was
allowed its illusion as long as it remained convenient for her brothers, but once she began to assert herself it was taken from her.7 Considering the problems the
Duchess encounters after following her own course, we see that her real strength of character lies not in her determination to marry the man of her choosing, or in her general defiance of her brothers;
rather, it can be found in her ability to endure the grief she brings upon herself as a result of her independent thoughts and actions.8
The complexity of the Duchess's plight, such as the question of remarriage, lends a great deal of realism to Webster's play; fortunately, his taste for realism extends beyond the question of remarriage
versus widowhood, and encompasses a great many more issues. The relationship of the Duchess and Antonio gives us an excellent insight into the state of matrimonial custom and law during the
seventeenth century. Because the Duchess and Antonio married secretly with only Cariola the waiting-woman as a witness, their marriage falls into the canonical category per verba de presenti,
or, an orally contracted marriage deemed wholly binding by the Roman Catholic Church. According to canon law, any oral contract of marriage executed in the present tense and in front of a witness was
substantially, though not ceremonially, complete.9 The church recognized such unions, however they were not binding under civil law until they were formally and
publicly solemnized in a church ceremony. Until the marriage was solemnized, women were not subject to the laws of coverture, no dower rights were conferred, and, according to civil authorities, any
children born of the marriage would be ruled illegitimate. We can assume that the Duchess and Antonio's marriage was at some time formalized, as the question of the children's legitimacy is never
broached. Given both the civil advantages and the church's belief that marriage is a sacrament, marriages performed away from the church were considered less desirable than those performed in a
more traditional manner at the church doors, one of the most public places in any community. Despite this preference for public marriage, the church did recognize that the traditional posting of the
banns and public celebration was sometimes, for whatever reason, not always feasible. This recognition of a binding, yet covert marriage signals a transition in canonical thought. Here we see a shift
from the focus on community, as evidenced with the public marriage ceremony, to a focus on the individual, as shown through the tolerance of private ceremony.
The Duchess and Antonio's marriage also signals a shift in marital expectations and customs found throughout seventeenth century English culture. By this time, the public had become familiar with
the notion of romantic love in marriage through works such as Chrétien de Troyes' Arthurian romances and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and Sonnets. Further, they were
accustomed to recognizing the power of lust in an open, honest manner, as shown in French fabliaux and Chaucer's "Miller's" and "Clerk's" Tales. Exposure to these
tales of love and lust slowly led the English population to regard them as valid, or at least potentially valid, reasons for instigating a marital relationship. While the traditional notion of marriage based
solely on economic and political factors had certainly not fallen by the wayside, people at this time were beginning to ask themselves if the marriage relationship wasn't deep and complex enough to
accommodate feelings of love and affection.10 The middle and lower classes were the first to embrace these notions, as they had the least to gain or lose from
marriage alliances, but by the seventeenth century, love matches like that of the Duchess and Antonio were not unheard of among the aristocracy.11 The Duchess
had already married for the "right" reasons, and, in her widowhood, sought to marry for love (dare we say even, lust) and companionship, while her brothers, for whom the traditional
modes of marriage proved more convenient, held fast to the marriage practices of the past. What we see here is the beginning of an ideological clash, one that would not fully resolve itself until the late
nineteenth century, between marriages based on duty, and favored by proponents of patriarchy, and marriages based on love, promoted by champions of the individual.
In addition to reflecting the changing nature of the marriage relationship in Jacobean England, we can find in the characters of the Duchess and Antonio traces of the new social mobility that was
working its way into English society at the time. As her title indicates, the Duchess is the ruler of Amalfi; she also claims lineage in the royal houses of Castile and Aragon. By virtue of her pedigree, her
social status is unquestioned and immutable. Antonio, however, does not enjoy this same background. He is what could be called a "self-made" courtier. He has no impressive pedigree, but
has worked his way into his position through hard work and (presumably) good networking skills. It is important to note that the first glimpse we are given of Antonio is at a joust he has just won. He is
pleased with his success in this sport of the nobility, while Ferdinand, an observer of noble blood, is bored with the tourney. Antonio appreciates where he is; Ferdinand takes it for
granted.13 Antonio's success is a classic example of the possibility for social advancement in Jacobean England. By approaching the proper people and
successfully performing the right tasks, Antonio's identity became "mobile" and carried him into the upper echelons of society.14
As a steward of the household, Antonio is valued by all, but as a marriage prospect for the Duchess, is soon cast as a feared interloper. Frank Whigham contends that Antonio's successful social
ascendance accounts for Ferdinand's incestuous desires for his sister. Whigham argues that Ferdinand's attraction to the Duchess belies his insecurity about the maintenance of his house, and that he,
above all, is seeking to prevent contamination of the bloodline. This desperate move to keep outsiders out is understandable in a time when any well-connected commoner, it seems, can enter the
aristocracy if he plays his cards right.15
Interestingly, Ferdinand is not the only person who seems intimidated by Antonio's newfound status as a Duchess's husband. Antonio himself seems a bit frightened by his situation. He has certainly
improved his social ranking, yet, by virtue of its clandestine nature, he cannot openly enjoy his new status. In III.2.147-9, Antonio hides while Ferdinand threatens the Duchess. Antonio's initial reaction is
to defend his wife, yet knows he must remain hidden. When he does emerge to console her, he is terrified by another knock at the door, and cries out, "How now! Who knocks? More
earthquakes?" (l. 155). He wants to exercise his new role to its fullest, yet he cannot without jeopardizing both himself and the Duchess.16 Antonio's unease
with his new role is also evidenced by his self-deprecating humor. He teases the Duchess that his "rule is only in the night" (III.2.8). Later, when asked by Cariola why he rises so early in
the morning, he jokes that "Labouring men/ Count the clock oftenest Cariola,/ Are glad when their task's ended" (III.2.17-9). He purports to be tired of "labouring" with the
Duchess all night when in reality he must rise early so as to avoid detection. Because he must keep it a secret, his sexual relationship with the Duchess seems more akin to adultery than it does to Holy
Matrimony.17 These "jokes" that Antonio makes indicate that, deep down, he is really very insecure in his new position. He doubtless had few qualms
about his previous social advances, yet those were always undertakes with the knowledge that there would be a limit to his success. With his marriage to the Duchess, all social boundaries have been torn
down, and Antonio is left without any usable frame of social reference. His commoner's upbringing prepared him to serve, not to be served, and this change, it seems, may be too much for him to
As we have noted, The Duchess of Malfi reflects Jacobean society on many levels, thus it should come as no surprise that it was based in part on another societal commentary or that it
also has roots in the real lives of at least two noblewomen. Webster acknowledged that he borrowed the names and general plot for his play from the 1566/7 tale of "The Duchess of Malfi, the
infortunate marriage of a Gentleman, called Antonio Bologna, with the Duchess of Malfi, and the pitiful death of them both," which can be found in William painter's Palace of
Pleasure.19 Painter's version of the story does not favor the Duchess at all, and blames her solely for the ruination of herself and Antonio:
Thus I say bicause a woman being as it were the Image of sweetnesse, curtesie and shamefastnesse, so soone as she steppeth out of the right tracte, and leaueth the smel of
hir duetie and modestie, bisides the denigration of hir honor, trusteth hir self into infinite troubles and causeth the ruine of such which should be honored and praised, if womens allurement solicited
them no to follie.20
Webster's more even-handed depiction of the Duchess might be a result of the influence of two real women's very similar circumstances.
The life of Lady Arbella Stuart bears a striking resemblance to that of the Duchess's, as does the life story of Catherine of Valois. Lady Arbella (1575-1715) was the first cousin of James I, the only
child of Charles Darnley (brother of Henry) and Elizabeth, the daughter of Bess of Hardwick. She was considered a likely claimant to the English Throne during the reign of Elizabeth I, and, upon James'
ascension to the Throne, was brought to court to serve as the "second lady" of England.21 She had never married, and in 1610, at age thirty-four,
asked her cousin's permission to wed. This was grated with the stipulation that she not marry any foreign prince. Arbella agreed, and soon announced her intention to wed the Oxford scholar William
Seymour (who possessed his own, more distant, claim to the Throne). James forbade the marriage, and made them promise to abandon their plans. They agreed, but later defied him and were married
that year at Greenwich. James retaliated by imprisoning them. Arbella was sent to Lambeth under house arrest; William was thrown into the Tower. In 1611, Arbella and William coordinated an escape
attempt. Arbella successfully crossed the English Channel, but was apprehended off the coast of Calais while she awaited word of William's whereabouts (he apparently did not escape). Arbella was
returned to England and imprisoned in the Tower, where she died of suicide by starvation in 1615.22 Presumably, William also died at the Tower.
An even closer parallel to the Duchess's life can be found in the case of Catherine of Valois (1401-37) and Owen Tudor (1400-61). Catherine was the widow of Henry V and mother of Henry VI. When
Henry V died in 1422, the year of Henry VI's birth, Catherine was forced to become dependent upon her brothers-in-law, John, Duke of Bedford, and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. Like many young
widows, Catherine wanted to remarry, but in 1428, Gloucester put a bill through Parliament that forbade the Queen Dowager to marry without the king's consent.23
Given that Henry VI was both a minor and a half-wit, Gloucester was the one whose consent was actually required. During the previous six years, however, Catherine's eye had been drawn to Owen
Tudor, a member of Henry V's household whom she had promoted to clerk of her wardrobe in 1422. Owen was poor and a servant, but did come from royal Welsh stock (he was a cousin of Owain
Glyndwr). It is likely that at the time of the bill's passage in 1428 Catherine and Owen were already wed. Catherine and Owen had five children together, four of whom survived to adulthood, three sons
and a daughter.24 The children were kept a secret until 1436, when Catherine fell ill and was sent to Bermondsey Abbey. The children were placed in the care of
Catherine de la Pole, Abbess of Barking. Catherine of Valois died the following year, in 1437, and Owen was imprisoned twice at Newgate. He later escaped and fled to Wales.
The similarities between the lives of the Duchess, Arbella Stuart, and Catherine of Valois cannot be ignored. All were noble women in socially isolated environments, each was at the mercy of more
powerful male relative(s), and the Duchess and Catherine were widows with young sons to raise. All three wanted to remarry but were forbidden to do so, yet each insisted on marrying anyway. Further,
each married not only the man of her choice, but someone beneath her on the social scale. Each woman and her husband was subjected to persecution and captivity after the marriage, and each died
under unpleasant circumstances while in confinement.
Examining the reception Arbella and Catherine received from their contemporaries can help us understand how the Duchess of Malfi (both as a character and the play as a whole) was regarded, just
as analyzing the attitudes revealed in The Duchess of Malfi can give us a greater insight into how society treated the true-life cases of Arbella and Catherine. In short, the notion that society
and literature often mirror one another is evident here.
Arbella and William's marriage apparently came as somewhat of a surprise to those around them, and was regarded both positively and negatively. Some, such as her cousin James I, thought that she
was guilty of shirking her public responsibilities when she married for love, not social or economic gain. He also thought her guilty of violating the norms established by the patriarchal system (since she
ignored his express wishes), and that she had committed a terrible breach of decorum by marrying beneath her. Perhaps the most shocking of all to her detractors, Arbella's choice of a mate reveled her
sexual desires and identity that most women of the day kept hidden at all costs.26 Given these charges, it comes as no surprise that many withheld their support of
the couple's union. James accused them before the Privy Council of "caprice" and claimed they were guilty of "divers great and hainous offences" with one another.
27 In reality, James was most hurt by Arbella's refusal to abide by his wishes, as he felt that her rebellion had hurt his honor. Moreover, James was aware that any
child born to Arbella and William could offer a claim to his Throne, or could easily become a rallying point for his enemies on the Continent.28 In 1611 and anonymous Latin treatise, which
was perhaps authored unofficially by the palace, circulated around both England and the Continent defending James' dealings with Arbella and William. It argued that Arbella had not in fact married William
for love, but rather married him so that she could forge a political alliance with the Seymour family. Such and alliance was unacceptable to James, thus once he was provoked he had no option but to act
as he did.29 By even mentioning the love aspect of Arbella's and William's relationship, the anonymous author revealed the extent to which he believed many
readers would be moved to sympathy in the face of mutual marital affection. If the public would not have deemed love a reasonable motive for marriage, they would have had no reason to support
Arbella's and William's cause, thus no "anonymous treatise" would have needed to be circulated. Other opponents of Arbella's and William;'s marriage condemned them not on legal grounds,
but on moral and social ones. One writer argued that their crime was not inappropriate marriage, but was lying, since they had given James their word that they would not wed.
Despite these critics, Arbella and William enjoyed widespread support from nearly all those around them. The court neither condemned nor defended them, but adopted an air of tolerance and
acceptance of their relationship. It is unclear whether this was because they had no qualms about the marriage, or whether their personal relationship with the involved parties made them more willing to
turn a blind eye "in the name of love." The Lords of the Privy Council and the Queen both accepted Arbella's and William's marriage, and publicly urged James to reconsider his position, as
did James' personal physicians. Arbella's servants remained loyal to her, and even followed her into confinement. While there, they worked with William's gaolers to arrange correspondence between the
couple, as well as the occasional clandestine meeting.31 Most telling, the Bishop of Durham often expressed a belief that one day God would soften James' heart
toward the couple and that a happy ending would result. Obviously he was not worried about the validity or appropriateness of their marriage or their supposed violation of decorum. Sara Jayne Steen
notes that, "clearly some Jacobeans regarded the separation more as a violation of the marriage than the marriage as a violation of anything."32
Reactions to the marriage of Catherine of Valois and Owen Tudor are not as well documented as those regarding Arbella Stuart and William Seymour. Modern sources usually discuss their relationship
in conjunction with the reign of Henry V or that of their grandson, Henry (Tudor) VII.
By examining these reactions to real-life events we can see that the public's reaction to The Duchess of Malfi was by no means homogeneous. Many critics who study the Jacobean period
assume that audiences would have soundly condemned the Duchess for marrying below her station, yet after reading of the widespread support for Arbella Stuart and William Seymour, this assumption
falls apart. Why would people have supported, accepted, and advocated the actions of a real couple while at the same time denouncing the same actions of a fictional couple? Rather, it is more likely that
audiences of the play, like the acquaintances of Arbella and William, would have had mixed reactions to the Duchess.33
One of The Duchess of Malfi's chief critics was James I. That the play was written and first performed during Arbella's imprisonment would not have been lost on James. As a result, he did all
within his power to distance himself from the play itself and the actions of the murderous Ferdinand. After Arbella's death in 1615, James went to great pains to distance himself from The Duchess of
Malfi. While the play was first performed in Blackfriars in 1614, it was still fresh in the public's memory when word of Arbella's death emerged the following year. James feared the public would
suspect foul play, thus only one day after her death he had a team of six doctors perform an autopsy on her body. An official report was then issued outlining the cause of death, liver failure,
34 and thereby eliminating any speculation of foul play.35 Further, James ordered Arbella's body removed from the Tower under
the cover of darkness, and forbade any royal funeral to be held. The basic funeral readings were performed in a private ceremony as her body was interred in a vault at Westminster
A final irony regarding the striking parallels between Arbella's the Duchess's lives can be found in IV.1.75-6, when the Duchess declares, "The church enjoins fasting:/ I'll starve myself to
death." Arbella refused all medical treatment beginning in 1614, thus she had already begun to starve herself to death by the time these lines were first uttered on the stage. Because of details
such as this, one cannot help but marvel at the eerie coincidences between the lives of these two women.
Considering the great of negative publicity the Crown brought to The Duchess of Malfi, one must wonder what, if any, positive feedback John Webster received about his play. Happily, the
play was a success and enjoyed a great deal of public support (as evidenced by the fact that it is still performed today, nearly four hundred years after its initial performance).
Anti-monarchal forces and proponents of romantic love and individualism were the greatest supporters of the play. They immediately embraced it, and soon the Duchess and her real-life counterpart,
Arbella Stuart, was regarded as a role model for others, a Protestant martyr and saint, and a woman of greatness. Anti-monarchal groups cited James' treatment of both his cousin and the play as
evidence of his tyrannical ways, and called for his downfall. This widespread public support for the play and the woman unnerved James, as it brought with it, according to Steen, "a hint of
unrest."37 Supporters of the individualistic ideal also championed both the play and the real couple, as they saw the two as role models for the triumph
of companionate marriage and romantic love over the colder, less personal marriage and family relationships of the past.38
Victorian-era critics almost unanimously cast their lots in with the supporters of the Duchess and Arbella. They held James personally responsible for not finding Arbella a suitable mate before she
reached the age of thirty-four, and also tended to regard Arbella and the Duchess as victims of a cold, uncaring and unfeeling, barbaric society; they often used these cases to congratulate themselves for
the advancement of English society. They could look back at this play and Arbella's plight to remind themselves of just how how far human behavior had advanced in the past three hundred
In short, The Duchess of Malfi was judged by some as a cautionary tale, by others as an inspirational one, and by most as one to be pitied, since "all may be attributed to the great
love she had for the person she had chosen to be her husband."40
In conclusion, The Duchess of Malfi shows us how literature can mirror everyday life and how everyday life is revealed through the written word. By analyzing the play as a whole, especially
the actions and statements of the Duchess and Antonio, we can gain a great deal of insight into the ways Jacobean men and women dealt with issues such as gender roles and expectations, familial
pressures, social mobility, sexual desire, and legal responsibility. The seventeenth century was a time of great change in the English mind set, as some elements of society struggled to fulfill the destiny
of the Renaissance by uplifting the individual, while others fought to maintain the traditional, community and family oriented mores of the past.
Though John Webster explored these issues nearly 400 years ago, the struggles are not entirely alien to our own late twentieth century experience. Today women must reconcile the pressures of
family and work, much as the Duchess had to maintain her relationships with her brothers, her husband, and her subjects in Amalfi. Furthermore, Antonio's struggle for self-definition is a universal one.
Upon his marriage to the Duchess, he found himself in a social setting for which he was totally unprepared. This is not unlike the way many of us feel today, given the relative smallness of our world, the
isolation brought on by increasing technology, and the seemingly limitless frontier of social interaction. As never before, people of the twentieth century are called upon to relate to others from infinitely
varied backgrounds and life experiences, and are expected to navigate the murky waters of human relations flawlessly. Given these circumstances, perhaps Antonio's feelings of insecurity, while not the
cornerstone of Webster's play, are in fact the most enduring and universal of all the issues explored in The Duchess of Malfi.
1 Lisa Jardine, "The Duchess of Malfi: A Case Study in the Literary Representation of Women." Teaching the Text, eds. Susanne Kappeler and Norman
Bryson (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983) 204.
2 Jardine, 204-5.
3 Miriam Slater, Family Life in the Seventeenth Century (London: Routledge, 1984) 81.
4 Lawrence Stone, The Family Sex and Marriage in England, 1500-1800, abridged ed.(new York: Harper Colophon, 1979) 167.
5 Slater, 106.
6 John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi, c. 1614, ed. René Weis, Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996.
7 Jardine, 215.
8 Jardine, 210.
9 Lawrence Stone, Uncertain Unions: Marriage in England 1660-1753, (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1992) 18.
10 Stone, Family, 134.
11 One prominent earlier example of such a match would be that of John of Gaunt, father of the House of Lancaster, and his second wife Katherine Swynford,
who were lovers for nigh on thirty years, and were married for the last three years of John's life.
12 Stone, Unions, 21.
13 Frank Whigham, "Sexual and Social Mobility in The Duchess of Malfi," PMLA, 100:2 (March 1985): 175.
14 Whigham, 168.
15 Whigham, 168-9.
16 Whigham, 176.
17 Whigham, 174.
18 Whigham, 175.
19 Jardine, 209.
20 Jardine, 209.
21 Sara Jayne Steen, "The Crime of Marriage: Arbella Stuart and The Duchess of Malfi," Sixteenth Century Journal, 22:1 (1991): 63.
22 Steen, 64.
23 Jameela Lares, "The Duchess of Malfi and Catherine of Valois," Notes and Queries, 40:2 (June 1993): 428.
24 They were: a priest named either Owen, Thomas, or Edward (1429-1502); Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond and father of Henry (Tudor) VII, (1430-56);
Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke and Duke of Bedford (1431-95); an unnamed daughter who became a nun; and Margaret (b. and d. 1437).
25 Lares, 208.
26 Steen, 61.
27 Steen, 66.
28 Steen, 67.
29 Steen, 71.
30 Steen, 68.
31 Steen, 69.
32 Steen, 70.
33 Steen, 62.
34 Interestingly, liver failure, or death of a "broken liver" was the seventeenth century equivalent to death brought on by a "broken
heart." This conclusion by James' physicians can only lead to speculation about the doctors' personal opinions regarding James' handling of the Arbella/William situation.
35 Steen, 74.
36 Steen, 75.
37 Steen, 72.
38 Steen, 72.
39 Steen, 66.
40 Steen, 76.