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The Duchess of Malfi

Comments on Act 3 Scene 3

Speaking of Ferdinand, Delio says, “In such a deformed silence, witches whisper their charms.” Webster likes to connect scenes together with verbal links, creating an intricate chain of images. Terms such as disease, anchorites, jewels, eclipses, glass-house, geometry occur in scene after scene. For example, let us look at how Webster refers to witches and witchcraft throughout the play.

In Act 1.2 Ferdinand warns his sister, “Be not cunning; for they whose faces do belie their hearts, are witches ere they arrive at twenty years, Ay, and give the devil suck.” Bosola, describing the strange makeup that the old lady uses, suspects her closet “for a shop of witchcraft” (2.1). The Cardinal tells Ferdinand that his rage carries him “as men convey’d by witches through the air, on violent whirlwinds” (2.5).

When discussing the Duchess’ secret marriage, Bosola suspects witchcraft, but Ferdinand believes “the witchcraft lies in her rank blood” (3.1), a synonym for the power of sex. When he confronts her in her bedchamber in the next scene, the Duchess says, “I have youth and a little beauty,” to which Ferdinand responds, “So you have some virgins that are witches” (3.2). As he torments her with the dead man’s hand, she accuses him of witchcraft (4.1).

–notes from John Russell Brown’s edition of the play (1964)

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