'Greek is Turned Turk': Catholic Nostalgia in The Duchess of Malfi

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While serving as chaplain to the Venetian embassy in London, Orazio Busino attended a production of Webster’s Duchess of Malfi and was mortified by the portrayal of the conniving, lascivious Cardinal. The chaplain took particular umbrage at the scene of the Cardinal’s installation as a soldier at the shrine of Loreto, which he saw as a ‘condemnation of the grandeur of the Church, which they despise and which in this kingdom they hate to the death’. Due to his status as a foreign Catholic priest writing at a time of mounting anti-Catholic sentiment, is it not possible (as Leah Marcus suggests in her contribution to this volume) that an element of paranoia infects Busino’s account? His remarks may be the best contemporary record of the play’s reception, but only by virtue of the fact that no other comparable testimony survives. His observations are certainly noteworthy, but no more objective or representative than, say, the anti-theatrical diatribes of Puritans like Philip Stubbes. Nevertheless, much modern commentary on The Duchess of Malfi has blithely echoed Busino in characterizing it as a rococo fantasy of ‘exaggerated Catholic depravity’. In a classic essay, William Empson frames the play as a precursor of the Gothic novels of Radcliffe and ‘Monk’ Lewis, a sensationalized account of ‘the wickedness of Roman Catholic southern Europeans’. Similarly, Alison Shell has taken critics to task for finding modern agnosticism where Webster’s contemporaries would recognize anti-Catholic polemic. Huston Diehl, meanwhile, draws parallels between the horrified audience witnessing the onstage bloodbaths and the Protestant community forged via readings of Foxe’s Acts and Monuments. Swelling the chorus of critical orthodoxy, David Gunby and Dominic Baker-Smith have implicated the playwright’s grim view of mortality with Calvinist doctrine. ...
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Duchess of Malfi
Subtitle of host publicationA Critical Guide
EditorsChristina Luckyj
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781623560225, 9781441115003, 9781441117687
ISBN (Print)9780826443274, 9780826441249
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jun 2011
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameContinuum Renaissance Drama Guides

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