The Duchess of Malfi

Hubris in The Duchess of Malfi College

In John Webster’s tragic play The Duchess of Malfi, the titular character is undoubtedly subjected to great degrees of suffering, both physical and mental. However, it is less clear whether or not she can be viewed simply as an innocent victim. While it can indeed be argued that the Duchess provides an example of good people being made to suffer by the evil of in imperfect world, she can also be contrarily viewed as unwittingly contributing to her own downfall in fitting with the Aristotelian ideas of tragedy. To view the Duchess as a character who destroys herself can be to view her as a generally moral person who falls prey to her own hamartia, be it an error in judgement or rashness. Alternatively, it can be to view her as a character that brings about her downfall through moral discrepancies such as lust, selfishness or excessive pride or hubris. This latter portrait is one of a character who is deserving of her fate, as her suffering comes to be seen as a punishment rather than an instance of unjust persecution.

It is tempting to argue that the duchess herself is the culprit of her own downfall, due to her poor choices and actions. David Mann clearly lays the blame on the Duchess’s shoulders as he suggests that “unlike...

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