The Duchess is one of the finest creations in Elizabethan drama; no other female character outside Shakespeare surpasses her in vividness and subtlety.Her persecution transforms and her despair renders her personality a lofty and stoic touch. The setting to the play is provided by contemporary Italian court life. The courts are those of the small independent states into which Italy was divided at the time.
Like most of the other playwrights of his age, Webster too did not invent a story but found the same from a real sequel that was later historied by William Painter in his Palace of Pleasure (1567).Webster wished to show a fragmentary and disordered world and at the same time to suggest that there is a fixed order at the back of things.The dramatic dialogue both orders and disorders continuity and disruption.These are usually elaborately planned by those who perpetrate them.Disguise may give the murderer access to his prey; poison may be administered so unobtrusively that none suspects a crime within; the murderer may commence operations by subjecting his victim to an ordeal designed to break the spirit; or he may even try to engineer the victim’s eternal damnation.She was deserted by her household when she confessed about her marriage and after banishment, the Duchess, her children and her maid was taken to Malfi by her brothers and was never heard of again.In characterization, The Duchess of Malfi is an immense advance over other contemporary plays.The central motif is revenge, but the revenge is not taken as a sacred duty but out of selfishness and vindictiveness.The motif for revenge is dishonorable and our sympathies tend to be towards the victim of the revenge rather than with the avengers.Animal imagery is frequent in the play, and is an expression of the degeneration and corruption of man. The element of a true story will be enhanced by catchy dialogues.Webster’s dialogue is undoubtedly dramatic and appropriate.