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Webster: The Duchess of Malfi

4. Women

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the portrayal of women and their oppression by the patriarchy in The Duchess of Malfi and in a recent adaptation of the play by the Royal Shakespeare Company. We also take a look at important parallels between the character of the Duchess and other notable female figures in early modern history and drama.


In this course, Professor Lisa Hopkins (Sheffield Hallam University) discusses John Webster’s play The Duchess of Malfi. We begin by thinking about Gothic motifs in the play, focusing in particular on instances of double-ness or twinning. In the second module we discuss the play’s setting, which shows characteristics of both early modern Italy and post-Reformation England, before moving on in the third module to exploring the role of religion in Webster’s play. After that, we think about the portrayal of women in the play-text and in a recent theatre production by the Royal Shakespeare Company. The final module explores the play’s imagery, focussing in particular on Webster’s use of sententiae and motifs from the natural world.

Note: We use the Arden edition of the play. Students using a different version of the play may encounter slight differences in either the text and/or line numbers.


Lisa Hopkins is Professor of English at Sheffield Hallam University. Her principal research interests are in Renaissance drama, especially Marlowe, Shakespeare and Ford. She is also interested in the influence of Darwin on fiction, adaptation, and the work of Bram Stoker. At the moment, she is completing a book on From the Romans to the Normans on the English Renaissance Stage. She is a co-editor of Shakespeare, the journal of the British Shakespeare Association, and co-editor of the Arden Early Modern Drama Guides.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Hopkins, L. (2019, January 07). Webster: The Duchess of Malfi - Women [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Hopkins, L. "Webster: The Duchess of Malfi – Women." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 07 Jan 2019,

Image Credits

• "The Duchess of Malfi" by Helen Maybanks © RSC

• "Ferdinand" by Helen Maybanks © RSC

• "The Duchess and the Cardinal" by Helen Maybanks © RSC

"Tomb of Mary Queen of Scots" by Kim Traynor, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

"Statue of Hermione" by Folger Shakespeare Library, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0