The Duchess of Malfi

Discuss the character portrayal of Ferdinand in The Duchess of Malfi.

Discuss the character portrayal of Ferdinand in The Duchess of Malfi.

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The Duke of Calabria and the Duchess’s twin brother, Ferdinand boasts an impressive collection of vices: he has a terrible temper, is greedy, is lustful, and has an unhealthy obsession with his sister. He is powerful and corrupt, but as his anger over the Duchess’s actions grows, he becomes more and more deranged. Once Bosola has, under his orders, killed the Duchess and two of her children, he immediately feels deep regret and then loses his mind completely. In the play, Ferdinand is often associated with fire imagery, and represents violent, choleric evil.


Duke Ferdinand is the brother of the Cardinal and the twin brother of the Duchess. He doesn’t want his widowed sister to remarry, in part because of his pride and his greed for her wealth, but also because he harbors his own incestuous desires for her. It is Ferdinand who places Bosola in the Duchess’s employment and then hires Bosola to spy on her activities. When rumors reach Ferdinand of the Duchess possibly giving birth to children (and thus also having sex), his anger is so overwhelming that his violent outbursts about the horrible ways he plans to revenge himself on her are too much even for the Cardinal. When he finds out that she has secretly married Antonio and had three children, Ferdinand acts decisively: he has her imprisoned, tortured, and killed. He seems to enjoy the torture, and act as if the torture he makes her endure is just payback for torture that she has made him endure, though the clear implication is that the “torture” he experienced was his sexual jealousy of the Duchess. Upon seeing the Duchess’s dead body, however, Ferdinand almost immediately feels remorse, and his guilt eventually drives him insane. In his madness he stabs the Cardinal, and is killed by Bosola.