An Introduction to The Duchess of Malfi
The Duchess of Malfi is a popular choice as a set text, despite (or perhaps because of) the violence and horror of its later scenes. Generally considered to be the masterpiece of Jacobean playwright John Webster, it was first produced in around 1613. It’s a macabre tragedy, based on actual events, and tends to be either loved or hated by critics – while consistently captivating audiences across the centuries.
Set in Italy in the early fifteenth century, it starts out as a love story, with the Duchess marrying beneath her class. However, her two brothers, one cool and corrupt, the other secretly violent and warped, have other ideas. With incredible plot twists along the way, the play ends as an utter tragedy, as the brothers take revenge on her, destroying themselves in the process.
Dark, complex…and feminist?
The main themes of The Duchess of Malfi include revenge and corruption. It also looks at the status of women in society – Webster’s use of a strong, virtuous woman as the central character was rare for the time.
The play was originally written for and performed by The King’s Men, the same company which Shakespeare belonged to. Indeed, this Jacobean classic makes an interesting text to study in comparison to many of Shakespeare’s works.
The language is poetic, and subtle at times, but infinitely rewarding. Its complex characters are also rewarding to watch, as the play develops towards the highly dramatic climax.
The Duchess of Malfi 3 disc DVD pack contains:
- The full length feature DVD, with optional subtitles.
- The extras DVD, with in-depth interviews with cast and crew.
- The Mastershot DVD showing all entrances/exits, and lighting and scenery changes.
NOT FOR RENTAL: This DVD is authorised for retail sale for private home use and for use within schools and educational organisations.
Cast & Crew
Directed by Elizabeth Freestone
The Company (in order of appearance)
Theatre credits include: The Caucasian Chalk Circle (Shared Experience), Much Ado About Nothing (A.F.T.L.S), A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Timon of Athens (The Globe Theatre), Rough Crossings (Headlong), A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, The American Pilot, Venus And Adonis and season of Migration To The North (RSC), Sing Yer Heart Out For The Lads (UK tour, Pilot Theatre), Nakamitsu (Gate Theatre). Television credits include: The Trial of Gemma Lang, Casualty, Doctors, The Rotter’s Club & The Bill.
Trained at RADA. Theatre includes: The Importance of Being Earnest (Salisbury Playhouse), Wuthering Heights (Birmingham Repertory Company), Antony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, The Tempest, The Lord Of The Flies (Royal Shakespeare Company), As You Like It, A Christmas Carol (Bridge House Theatre), Rope (Watermill Theatre),’Tis Pity She’s a Whore, Human Rites (Southwark Playhouse), Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Twelfth Night (English Touring Theatre), Common Threads (Sadler’s Wells), Julius Caesar (Menier Chocolate Factory), Taming Of The Shrew(Thelma Holt national tour). Television credits include: Sensitive Skin (BBC), Agatha Christie – A Life in Pictures (BBC), As If (Channel 4). Film includes: Vocation, Swan Song, Within the Woods, Glasses of Wine and Freddie as FR07. Radio includes: Mercian World News, The Bulldog Has Landed (Tough Crowd).
Theatre credits include: The School For Scandal, Dr Faustus (Greenwich Theatre), Macbeth (Chichester/West End & Broadway), Twelfth Night (Chichester), Sing Yer Heart Out For The Lads (Pilot Theatre Tour), Thomas More, Richard II, Romeo and Juliet Sejanus, Back to Methuselah, Believe What You Will (all RSC), Henry V (National), The Beggar’s Opera, (Richmond Orange Tree), Rose Rage, (Haymarket/West End), Mountain Language (Royal Court). Film and Television includes: A Touch of Frost, Bombshell, Midsomer Murders, The Brief, Mine All Mine, Single, Foyle’s War, The Bench, Bomber, Silent Witness, Doctors, Casualty, Framed, Lewis, The Bill, Macbeth, Wondrous Oblivion, LSD, and Morning Has Broken. Radio: BBC Carlton Hobbs winner.
Trained: RADA. Theatre includes: Talent, Rookery Nook (Menier Chocolate Factory), The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other, Therese Raquin – WhatsOnStage, Olivier Nomination for Outstanding Supporting Performance – (National Theatre), Donkey’s Years, 39 Steps (West Yorkshire Playhouse), A Night At The Dogs (Soho Theatre), Child Of The Snow and Two’s Company (Bristol Old Vic), Man And Superman and Don Juan (Peter Hall Co.) By Many Wounds, Cracked (Hampstead), The Lion King (Lyceum Theatre), Becket (Haymarket), Much Ado About Nothing (Queens Theatre), Guys And Dolls (Prince Of Wales), Romeo And Juliet (Lyric Hammersmith), Snoopy The Musical (Duchess Theatre), The Danube and Amphytrion (Gate Theatre), The Miser (Chichester), Peter Pan and The Plough And The Stars (West Yorkshire Playhouse), A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Le Bourgeoise Gentilhomme (RNT). For the RSC: Hamlet, Love’s Labour’s Lost, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Canterbury Tales (Helen Hayes Award Nomination – Outstanding Lead Actor), Twelfth Night, Jubilee, The Seagull, The Two Gentlemen Of Verona, Talk Of The City, Bartholomew Fair, The Winter’s Tale, The Plain Dealer, The Plantaganets, Comedy Of Errors, Kissing The Pope. Television credits include: Doc Martin, Foyle’s War, Casualty, Holby City, Rhona, People Like Us, The Wyvern Mystery, Pig Sty, Posh Nosh, Headless, The Vice 2, Cracker, Van Der Valk, Butterflies, The Bill. Film credits include: Hamlet, A Cock And Bull Story, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, In The Bleak Midwinter, Century, Just Like A Woman. Radio credits include: A High Wind In Jamaica, Talk Of The City, Hamlet, Romeo And Juliet, Fungus The Bogeyman.
Trained: Central School of Speech and Drama. Theatre includes: Much Ado About Nothing (Open Air Regents Park), The Pride (Royal Court/ Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre), All My Sons (Liverpool Playhouse), Silver and Arcola (59e59 Off Broadway,NY), Cigarettes & Chocolate, Hang Up (Kings Head), An Inspector Calls (NT/Garrick Theatre), Amoeba Project (Out of Joint),The Importance of Being Earnest (The Royal, Northampton), The Threepenny Opera (City Centre, NY). Film credits include: Franklyn (Recorded Picture Company), Dark Ride (Action Factory), Love Me or Else (hsi). Television credits include: Peep Show (Objective), Happy Birthday Shakespeare, Rhona, WSH (BBC), Blonde Bombshell (ITV), Poirot (Carnival Films), Diary of a Somebody (SMG).
Richard trained at Rose Bruford School of Speech and Drama and Valparaiso University, Indiana. Theatre includes: Richard III, The Millionaires of Naples, King Lear, The Good Person of Sichuan, Machine Wreckers and Richard II (all for the Royal National Theatre), King John, Henry VI, Speculators, Great Expectations, The GreatWhite Hope, Kissing the Pope, Henry IV Part I and Henry V (RSC). As You Like It and The Beaux tratagem (English Touring Theatre), Richard II, (Salzburg Festival), Dreaming (The Royal Exchange Theatre), Julius Caesar (Shakespeare’s Globe), Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (West Yorkshire Playhouse’s), The Mayor of Zalamea (The Liverpool Playhouse/Everyman production), Mongoose (Southwark Playhouse), Dracula (Tour), How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found (The Sheffield Crucible), Nicholas Nicklenby (the Chichester Festival Theatre), Bent and Entertaining Mr. Sloane (West End), Treasure Island (Rose Theatre). Television credits include: Scarlet and Black, The Buddha of Suburbia, Persuasion (BBC), Twelfth Night, Without Walls, Drop the Dead Donkey, Made in Britain, Peak Practice, (all for Carlton), Sharpes, Doctors (BBC), Dunkirk, Coronation Street, Dead Man Weds (Granada), Kingdom (Red Productions). Film credits include: The Girl with Brains in Her Feet, Richard II, The Thirteenth Warrior, Crime and Punishment, The Visitors, Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone, Half Past Dead, Cromwell & Fairfax, Shanghai Knights, Ripper II, Aryan Couple, The Sin Eater and Control.
Theatre credits include: The School for Scandal and Doctor Faustus (Greenwich Theatre), The Travels of 3 English Brothers (RSC/National Theatre Studio), Romeo & Juliet (Shakespeare’s Globe / European tour), Othello and Taming the Tempest (Salisbury Playhouse), The Glass Menagerie and Geek Love (Young Vic), Donkeys’ Years (Comedy Theatre), A State of Innocence (Theatre 503), Abigail’s Party (Hampstead Theatre), Thriller Season (Nottingham Theatre Royal), Skyscraping (Soho Theatre Studio), Scopa! and Elegies for Angels Punks & Raging Queens (Bridewell Theatre), Charlie Sexboots and A Time to Speak (Stratford Circus), Royal Variety (Man In The Moon Theatre). Other credits include: The Visitor (Spool Films), In a Day (NW3 Films), Asylum (2nd Century Cinema), Secret Diary of a Call Girl (Tiger Aspect / ITV), Doctor Who audio series 2003-2009 (Big Finish / BBC).
James trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama. Theatre credits include: Benefactors (Samuel Beckett Theatre Dublin), Wives As They Were, Maids As They Are and Animal Magnetism (Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds and Basingstoke Haymarket), The Notebook of Trigorin (Northcott Theatre Exeter), Private Lives, (Manchester Library), The Way of the World, (Northampton Theatre Royal), A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Taming Of The Shrew (Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park), Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead (English Touring Theatre), The Tempest, (Liverpool Playhouse), The Mayor of Zalamea (Liverpool Everyman), Vermilion Dream (Salisbury Playhouse), Something Cloudy, Something Clear, (Finborough Theatre), The Way Of The World, (Wilton’s Music Hall), Dead Funny and The School For Scandal, Rough Magic, The Whisperers, (Rough Magic/ Traverse Theatre), Henry IV Parts I and II, (Royal Shakespeare Company), Lady Windermere’s Fan, (Chichester Festival Theatre), The Importance Of Being Earnest, (West Yorkshire Playhouse), Northanger Abbey, (Greenwich Theatre), Tartuffe, (Almeida Theatre), The Merchant of Venice, (Edinburgh Royal Lyceum), Hamlet, (Almeida at the Hackney Empire and on Broadway). Television includes: Pie in the Sky, Between the Lines, The Alan Clark Diaries, Abolition, Casualty, The Time of Your Life, The Queen’s Sister, Nazi Grand Prix, The Bill and The Prince. Film includes: Die Another Day, Piccadilly Jim, Lost in Chechya, Passage. James is also a Globe Education practitioner and has co-ordinated or acted in over 60 readings for the Globe’s Read Not Dead Project.
Trained at Rose Bruford School of Speech and Drama. Theatre includes: Dial M for Murder (West Yorkshire Playhouse and tour), The Homeplace (Lyric Belfast), Dancing at Lughnasa (Lyric Belfast), Twelfth Night (RSC), The Clearing (Shared Experience), Richard III (RSC), Henry VI Parts 1, 2 & 3 (RSC), Our Father (Almeida Theatre), The Steward of Christendom (Royal Court, Gate Dublin, B.A.M New York, Sydney, New Zealand tours). Film includes: The White Countess (Merchant Ivory), The Nephew (Foxgrange), Trojan Eddie (Cairndawn) Television includes: Holby City (BBC), Heartbeat (2 series/YTV), David Copperfield (BBC), The Creatives (BBC), Amongst Women (BBC), The Unknown Soldier (Carlton), Casualty (BBC).
Theatre credits include: Arabian Nights (RSC), The School For Scandal, Dr Faustus (Greenwich Theatre), England People Very Nice (National Theatre), There’s Something About Simmy (Rifco Arts), Meri Christmas (Rifco Arts The Deranged Marriage 2005/2006 (Rifco Arts), Behzti (Kali Theatre & Birmingham Rep), Twelfth Night (Albery Theatre), Calcutta Kosher (Kali Theatre), The Threepenny Opera (National Theatre), Higra (West Yorkshire Playhouse), Fourteen Songs, Two Weddings and a Funeral, A Tainted Dawn and A Yearning (Tamasha), Two Old Ladies, When We Are Married, Romeo and Juliet, Playboy Of The Asian World (all for Leicester Haymarket), Airport 2000 (Rifco), Exodus (Tara Arts), Staying On (Theatre of Comedy), Bravely Fought The Queen (Border Crossings), Magic Mirrors (Quicksilver), Juliet in Romeo and Juliet (Soapbox Theatre). Film and Television credits include: Casualty, Coronation Street, Britz, Holby City, Murphy’s Law, Doctors, Cherished, Whose Baby?, Rose and Maloney, Hear the Silence, Boohbah, The House Across The Street, Staying Alive, The Bill, Swinging With The Finkels, No Honour, No Choice, It’s a Wonderful Afterlife, Mad, Sad & Bad, Brick Lane, Venus, The Blue Tower, It Could be You, Mistress of Spices, Bride and Prejudice, Thunderbirds, Bend It Like Beckham, Anita and Me, Gran and Guru in Seven. Radio include: Inheritance of Loss, Westway, Zubeda, Silver Street, Legacy, Singh Tangos, Shakti, Dancing Girls of Lahore, A Yearning, Samsara (all for BBC).
Theatre credits include: The Hypochondriac (Liverpool Everyman/ETT), A Christmas Carol (Rose Theatre), Macbeth (AFLS, US Tour), Wide Sargasso Sea (Citizens Theatre Glasgow), Dr Faustus (Bristol Old Vic), Dembosch & Three Sisters (Birmingham Repertory Theatre), Two Gentleman of Verona (RSC), Julius Caesar (RSC), Oliver Twist (The Lyric Theatre), The Wedding (Southwark Playhouse), The Soul of Chi’en- un (Young Vic), The Winter Tale (Royal National Theatre), Bedroom Farce (English Theatre Frankfurt), Twelfth Night (RNT), Madame De Sade (Riverside Studio), The Taming of the Shrew (Southern Shakespeare Festival), The Legend of Pericles (Greenbelt Theatre), The Mikado & The Pirates of Penzance (New Victoria Theatre), Passion Play (Greenbelt Productions). Television includes: Identity (ITV), New Tricks (Wall to Wall), Holby City, Beck, Casualty & Silent Witness (BBC), Inside Out (Tiger Aspects), The Bill (Thames Television), William and Mary, Holding the Baby and In Defence (Granada), The Cry (Sally Head Productions), A Touch of Frost (Yorkshire Television), The Greatest Store on Earth (Film and General) and Wycliffe (HTV). Film includes: The Hardest Part. Brigid regularly reads for BBC Radio 4’s Poetry Please.
Maxwell trained at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Theatre includes: Origins (Pleasance Edinburgh), The African Company Presents Richard III (Greenwich & Tour), Burial at Thebes (US tour), The Importance of Being Earnest (Vaudeville London), A Passage to India and Madame Bovary (Shared Experience), A Woman of No Importance (Salisbury), Travels with My Aunt (Exeter), Misero Prospero (Almeida London), What Every Woman Knows (West Yorkshire), The Tempest (Old Vic London), Sunday’s Children (Derby), The Weavers, The Stick Wife and Outside on the Street (Gate London), As You Like it, All’s Well That Ends Well, The Duchess of Malfi, The Taming of the Shrew, A Jovial Crew and Antony & Cleopatra (RSC). Film, Television and Radio credits include: Trial & Retribution, The Amazing Mrs Pritchard, Band of Brothers, Kavanagh QC, The Bill, Tales from Hollywood, Close My Eyes, The Accountant and The Archers.
All other parts played by members of the company
The Creative Team
Elizabeth trained at Rose Bruford College and at the National Theatre Studio where she was Director on Attachment. Recent productions include: Dr Faustus and The School For Scandal, (Greenwich Theatre), The Tragedy Of Thomas Hobbes (Royal Shakespeare Company at Wilton’s Music Hall), Here Lies Mary Spindler (RSC), Romeo and Juliet (Globe Theatre, UK and European tour), The Water Harvest (Theatre 503), Skellig (tour), The Travels of The Three English Brothers (British Museum), Top Girls and Three Sisters (Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama), Six Characters Looking for an Author (Central), Lock the Gates (Lyric Hammersmith), Left on Church Street (Bridewell) and The Comedy of Errors (RSC, Complete Works Festival). She was Associate Director on The Caucasian Chalk Circle and Staff Director onMarket Boy (National Theatre) and Speaking Like Magpies, A New Way to Please You and Believe What You Will (RSC). Elizabeth was literary associate at Soho Theatre and has worked as an assistant director at the Royal Court, Soho and Hampstead theatres. Forthcoming productions include a new play for the Everyword writing festival at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool, The Rape of Lucrece (RSC) and developing a new play with April de Angelis.
Neil trained in Birmingham and later at The Slade. Recent productions include Pelleas and Mellasande (Opera Theatre Co Dublin for Dublin and Belfast Festivals), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Northampton Theatres and Edinburgh Festival) Rigged (Theatre Centre), The Cunning Little Vixen (Czech National Theatre and Opera in Brno), The Shape of Things (Atac Theatre Istanbul), the new Opera Confucius Says (HMDT at Hackney Empire, Winner of a RoyalPhilamonic Award 2009) and Woyzeck (Gate London). Also productions for West Yorkshire Playhouse, Watford Palace, Nottingham Playhouse, Birmingham Rep , Stephen Joseph Theatre Scarborough , Hull Truck, Gate Dublin, Bolton Octagon, Royal Lyceum Edinburgh, Arcola London, St Anne’s New York. Operatic productions include: Opera North, English Touring Opera, Opera Theatre Co Dublin, Holland Park Opera, Mid Wales Opera, Opera Comique Paris, BAM New York, National Opera Studio and Almeida ENO Festival. Neil has designed many touring shows for both Compass and Red Shift Theatre Companies, and has also worked for both Set and Costume Departments for BBC Birmingham.
Wayne studied at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. He spent several seasons at Contact Theatre, Manchester before moving to the Royal Shakespeare Company (1978-2007). There he lit many notable productions for The Other Place, The Pit and Barbican Theatres. He was Lighting Supervisor for the Swan Theatre where designs include: The Rover, The Fair Maid of the West, Titus Andronicus, The Jew of Malta, Doctor Faustus, The Duchess of Malfi, Edward II, The Seagull, Tamburlaine the Great, The Country Wife. RSC lighting designs in the West End include: The Shakespeare Revue, The Cherry Orchard, The ‘Jacobethan’ Season (Edward III, Eastward Ho!, The Roman Actor, The Island Princess, The Malcontent), The Tamer Tamed, The ‘Gunpowder’ Season (Thomas More, A New Way to Please You, Believe What You Will, Sejanus, Speaking like Magpies), Breakfast with Mugabe, The Canterbury Tales. Other theatre productions include: Chasing Fate, Cat and Mouse, Not About Heroes, Macbeth, Educating Rita, The Vanek Plays, (London & Prague), Sweeney Todd, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Present Laughter, Medea (West End and Broadway), Piaf, The Coventry Mysteries, The Birthday Party, Not the End of the World, The Truth About Lies, Death of a Salesman, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Life of Stuff, Whisky Galore!, Dr Faustus, The School for Scandal, Jungle Book, A Christmas Carol, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. His designs for Opera include: Eugene Onegin, The Mikado, Rinaldo (Grange Park Opera), The Mikado (D’Oyly Carte, Savoy Theatre), The Cunning Little Vixen, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Longborough Festival Opera), Lucia di Lammermoor, (Scottish Opera 2007 and Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg 2009). Wayne received Olivier Award nominations for Edward II, Tamburlaine the Great and Medea.
Theatre includes: My Zinc Bed (Royal and Derngate), The Grand Guignol (Drum), The Fastest Clock in the Universe (Hampstead),The Container (Young Vic), Here Lies Mary Spindler, The Tragedy of Thomas Hobbes (Royal Shakespeare Company), 365 (National Theatre of Scotland), 93.2FM (Royal Court Theatre), Woyzeck (St Ann’s Warehouse), Private Fears in Public Places, Just Between Ourselves (Royal and Derngate, Northampton), My Real War, (Trafalgar Studios), Small Change, (Sherman Cymru), Hysteria (Inspector Sands), Torn, An Enemy of the People, Silver Birch House, (Arcola Theatre, London), The Last Waltz Season(Oxford Stage Company), Reykjavik (The Junction), The Stage Coach (Dublin), Was He Anyone? (Union Theatre), Amedee (Young Vic), A Touch of the Sun (Salisbury Playhouse/Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford), Tejas Verdes, Woyzeck (The Gate Theatre), Playing For Time, A Touch of the Sun (Salisbury Playhouse), Lucy Porter: Lady Luck (Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh),MercyFine (Clean Break Theatre Company), 3 Women, Jarman Garden (Riverside Studios), Hideaway (Edinburgh), Forgotten Voices (Southwark Playhouse), Attempts On Her Life (BAC), Lighter Than Air (National Tour).
Stuart trained at the Arts Educational Schools London for three years in all aspects of performance, gaining both a diploma and a BA Hons. His Associate/ Movement Director credits include: Into The Woods (Central School Of Speech and Drama), Jerry Springer The Opera (Arts Educational), Dr. Faustus and The School For Scandal (Greenwich Theatre) and A Respectable Wedding (ONO Theatre). As an actor his theatre credits include: The Groom in A Respectable Wedding & Gregor in Metamorphosis (ONO Theatre), Puppeteer/Ensemble in Madam Butterfly (ENO), Puppeteer in Low Life & Puppeteer in An Odde Angel (all Blind Summit Theatre), Swing in Will Tuckett’s The Thief Of Baghdad & Gluck in Will Tuckett’s Faeries (all ROH2), Ensemble/Swing in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (European Tour), Jack and the Beanstalk (UK Productions Grand Theatre). Television credits include: Adventures On Orsum Island (Pineapple Squared Entertainment). His recordings include: The Twelve Irish Tenors (Spirit Of The Dance Productions).
Theatre includes: Dumb Show, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Treasure Island, The Winslow Boy, A Christmas Carol (Rose Theatre, Kingston), King Lear (Liverpool/ Young Vic), Home, Born in the Gardens (Bath), Much Ado About Nothing, The Tempest, Romeo & Juliet, Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Gigi (Regent’s Park), The Complete Works Festival, The Histories, The Canterbury Tales (RSC), The Giant (Hampstead), Wuthering Heights (Birmingham Rep), A Prayer for my Daughter (Young Vic), Far from the Madding Crowd, Hello & Goodbye, TheChangeling, Someone Else’s Shoes, The Old Country, Hamlet, French Without Tears, Mother Courage and Her Children, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (ETT), Stockholm (Frantic Assembly/Hampstead), Dancing at Lughnasa (Lyric Belfast), The Hypochondriac, Tartuffe, Intemperance, The May Queen, All My Sons (Liverpool), Macbeth, How Many Miles to Basra? (West Yorkshire Playhouse), Dr Faustus, The Taming of the Shrew (Bristol Old Vic), TheImportance of Being Earnest (Oxford Playhouse), A Passage to India (Shared Experience), Macbeth (Albery). Television and Film includes: The Kingdom, Prehistoric Park, The Great Abolition Mystery, Jason & the Argonauts; The Miracles of Jesus, George Orwell – A Life in Pictures, The Bill, Mary Shelley and the Creation of Frankenstein, The Real Jane Austen.