The Duchess of Malfi

The Puzzle of Bosola: A Reading of The Duchess of Malfi 12th Grade

In John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi, the audience’s opinion on the anti-hero Bosola and his moral integrity changes throughout the play due to his sudden catharsis and change in behavior after he realizes the consequences of his working for the Cardinal and Ferdinand. Bosola’s main goal at the start of the play, is to gain social status and climb the hierarchy; this striving mentality can be seen when he initially attempts to ‘return the money’ he is offered by Ferdinand, but then agrees to work for him for a higher role in the court. Although we are told initially that Bosola is reformed after spending time in ‘the gallows’, this clearly isn’t true, as he accepts corruption for what is essentially a promotion. Bosola’s almost instant accepting of Ferdinand’s corrupt offer of work leads audiences to believe initially that he is himself a morally corrupt character.

Critic Rupert Brooke described Webster’s world as filled with ‘people, driven like animals’ by their ‘instincts’; this interpretations of the characters in The Duchess of Malfi would posit that Bosola’s working for the brothers is driven purely by greed. Bosola’s want to gain social power is mirrored in Milton’s character of Satan in Paradise Lost, as he aims to...

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