Teaching the Duchess of Malfi: Questions of Violence

In Webster’s cameo in Shakespeare in Love, he appears as a young child, reveling in the violence of the play he’s just scene in an unbalanced manner that is both comical and intentionally disturbing.  As we begin looking at this play, this time through the context of Swetnam and Speght’s near-contemporary gender materials, I wonder if framing the play as full of action, violence, themes of incest, and revenge is producing a false sense of the play that appeals to our own sense of what we think makes a play exciting to students and contemporary readers/viewers.  Do we sell students short by failing to draw their attention to the family dramas, gender issues, and history of the modern subject that are likewise important throughout this typical Jacobean play?

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