Major Themes of Duchess of Malfi

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Major Themes Hell on Earth The Duchess of Malfi is a play replete with darkness, both literal and figurative. There are good figures, and these characters are associated with light. On the other hand, the brothers, who exhibit unrelenting evil, are associated with motifs of darkness, fire, the devil, and sin. The idea that the brothers have unleashed hell on Earth is most apparent in the fourth act, which includes utter horrors like fake corpses, a severed hand, a plethora of madmen, and most centrally, the vicious murders of the Duchess and her children. The Duchess, a symbol of motherhood and light, is unfazed by these horrors because she believes her family already dead, but she does explain that “the earth” seems made “of flaming sulphur” (4.2.26). And when Bosola tells her she must keep living, she makes it clear that hell is truly on Earth—“That’s the greatest torture souls feel in hell,/In hell: that they must live, and cannot die” (4.1.70-1), The Cardinal and Ferdinand are particularly responsible for bringing this fire to her world. Ferdinand is constantly associated with fire, by others and in his own language. He says only the Duchess’s “whore’s blood” can put out his “wild-fire” (2.5.46-7), he imagines killing her children by having them “burning in a coal-pit” (2.5.69), lighting “them like a match” after dipping them in “sulphur” (2.5.71-2). Additionally, he is associated with salamanders—at the time of the play, thought to live in fire—multiple times. Both brothers are also even more directly connected to hell through constant associations with the devil. Antonio says “the devil speaks in” (1.1.177) the Cardinal’s lips, and Bosola describes Ferdinand's manipulation as: “Thus the devil/Candies all sins o’er” (1.1.266-7). These are but two of several instances. This hell on Earth serves to emphasize just how virtuous the Duchess is, and how much
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