John Webster, "The Duchess of Malfi" Reconsidered

Secrets, lies, dismembering, incest, madness, mental torture, lycanthropia, brutal murders : there is little that The Duchess of Malfi (c. 1613-1614) shies away from, inflicting on its spectators a whirlwind of conflicting passions and emotions. Webster’s drama has been labelled as baroque, grotesque, mannerist, gothic or feminist. Against Bosola, the figure of the malcontent who also embodies the typical early modern overreacher, the Duchess stands as a symbol of female transgression before she is eventually crushed by evil and male power.

Bloody sensationalism should not eclipse what some critics saw as a drama of knowledge ; in Delio’s concluding speech, Webster’s irony is at its peak when he encourages his audience to “make noble use / Of this great ruin” and seems to present the play as a vehicle for moral instruction, defining in a final twist an ethics based on an “integrity of life”. A masterpiece of Jacobean theatre, The Duchess of Malfi reinvents the genre of the revenge tragedy, and beyond the Renaissance concept of tragedy, it explores the construction of gender, the class structure of a changing society and the complex interlacing of desire, violence and cruel laughter.

Following the recent inclusion of The Duchess of Malfi in the Agrégation syllabus in France (2019-2020), this international conference is meant to provide new perspectives on the play, examining questions relating to politics, gender, aesthetics, textuality, materiality and performance. Organizers welcome a variety of approaches highlighting the richness and complexity of the play, and especially papers that reflect recent critical trends in early modern drama studies.

Contributors are invited to send their proposals (300-word abstract) along with a short bio-bibliography by July 10th, to Sophie Chiari and Sophie Lemercier-Goddard . The committee will examine proposals for 25-30 minute papers addressing any of the aspects mentioned above.

Papers will preferably be delivered in English. Completed, finalized submissions (6000-8000 words) will have to be sent to the organizers by December 21st, 2018.

The selected papers will be published in 2019 by Presses Universitaires Blaise Pascal.

Scientific committee

  • Sophie Chiari (Université Clermont Auvergne)
  • Anne-Valérie Dulac (Sorbonne Université)
  • Sophie Lemercier-Goddard (ENS de Lyon)
  • Michèle Vignaux (Université Lumière Lyon 2)

Confirmed Keynotes

  • Dympna Callaghan (Syracuse University)
  • Jane Kingley-Smith (Roehampton University)
  • Michael Neill (University of Auckland)
  • Wendy Wall (Northwestern University)

Ce colloque est soutenu par le Labex COMOD et s’inscrit dans son aire "Modernités anglo-saxonnes"