The Duchess of Malfi

Ferdinand's Growing Mental Disturbance 12th Grade

Webster's Machiavellian antagonist Ferdinand demonstrates a decline into insanity in 'The Duchess of Malfi' through displaying signs of uncontrollable emotions, fixations on his sister and incestuous desires, and the development of lycanthropy.


Ferdinand's explosive fits of rage and his passionate plotting against the Duchess when he discovers her secret marriage reflect a man without control over his own behavior. One example of this can be found when he plans to dip her children in 'sulphur/ and 'light them like a match'. In this scene Ferdinand delivers numerous lengthy monologues in which he describes murdering the Duchess and her children, whereas the Cardinal speaks only one or two lines at a time; the contrast between the two of them highlights Ferdinand's uncontrollable passion and anger, whereas the Cardinal is shown to be much more in control of his emotions despite holding the same anger at the Duchess' betrayal of the brothers. Later in this scene Ferdinand addresses his incestuous desires for his twin sister; he displays a literal loss of control of his thoughts when he asks the Cardinal to distract him or his 'imagination will carry (him) to see her in the shameful act of sin'. By asking the Cardinal to do this...

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