Article Title

Continuity in the Art of Dying: The Duchess of Malfi


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

The tilt of Jacobean tragic symbolism towards the melancholy undergoes an ironic balancing towards comfort as Webster uses elements from the old ars moriendi tradition to structure the death scenes in Act IV of the Duchess of Malfi.1 By 1612 or shortly afterwards when the Duchess was written, Webster employed his inventive dramatic imagination to refurbish the worn garments of the popular ars instruction so that they virtually glitter with poetic paradox. The art of dying well, at the heart of medieval and Renaissance iconography of death, had shifted in the last ten years of the sixteenth century from a major focus on its reassuring tragi-comic ending to an increasing emphasis upon one of the temptations. Literature of the nineties reflects a growing fear of falling victim to the temptation of despair.2 In spite, however, of such a seeming shift towards darkness, many writers, devotional and literary, continued in the first quarter of the seventeenth century to explore paradoxical reconciliations of hope and despair within the tragic frame.

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