Background • Duchess’ story based on actual events from Italian history • Webster borrowed elements from multiple sources – ‘The Palace of Pleasure’ by William Painter; ‘Arcadia’, a romance by Sir Philip Sydney • Adapted his own themes to suit his own purposes. • Many writers covered real events in fictional form – Webster ‘used’ elements from these sources. • Revenge tragedy traditions employed.
The Real Duchess of Malfi • Born in Giorvanna d’Aragon • Brothers Carlo, Marquis of Gerace (Webster’s Ferdinand) and Lodovico, a cardinal • 1490 – married at age of 12 to Alfonso Piccolomini • Piccolomini – heir to the first Duke of Amalfi, succeeded him in 1493 • Duchess widowed @ 19 and left with daughter, Caterina. • Son born after husband’s death in 1499 – succeeded him as Duke • Lived prosperously for many years
Fell in love with Antonio Bologna, formerly served in the Duchess’s household • Feared wrath of brothers – married in secret • Had two children together – caused brothers to send spies – suspicion – Antonio leaves • Duchess follows to Ancona – reveals marriage to household – renounces her title • One maid tells Cardinal (brother Lodovico) – other maids desert to Amalfi
Life in Ancona – Cardinal puts on pressure to banish Antonio, who leaves • Duchess taken back to Amalfi in 1512 – murdered with two youngest children • Antonio killed in Milan in 1513 • No historical evidence to suggest guilt of Aragonian brothers.
Webster’s Play • Gathered information from a wide range of sources • Speeches, themes and lines • Sometimes altered names or events for dramatic effect • Common place to borrow from other writers – ‘a way for the writer to draw together various associations in a reader’s or the audience’s mind’.