The Duchess of Malfi
by John Webster

John Webster - The Duchess of Malfi

BBC Third Programme

Broadcast: Sunday 16th May 1954

The evils of greed and ambition overwhelm love, innocence, and the bonds of kinship in this dark tragedy concerning the secret marriage of a noblewoman and a commoner. John Webster's great Jacobean drama detailing the fiendish schemes of two brothers who desire their wealthy sister's title and estates ends with a bloody and horrifying climax.

"The Duchess of Malfi" is a meditation on power--political, religious, and sexual--and presents a bleak, violent, and fascinating world couched in some of the most beautiful language ever put on the stage. The Duchess of Malfi's description of a world bereft of moral values on its highest levels fascinates and scandalises us to this day.

A macabre, tragic play, John Webster's "The Duchess of Malfi" was written in 161213. It was first performed privately at the Blackfriars Theatre, then before a more general audience at The Globe, in 1613-14. Published for the first time in 1623, the play is loosely based on true events that occurred between about 1508 and 1513, recounted in William Painter's The Palace of Pleasure (1567). The Duchess was Giovanna d'Aragona, whose father, Arrigo d'Aragona, Marquis of Gerace, was an illegitimate son of Ferdinand I of Naples. Her husbands were Alfonso Piccolomini, Duke of Amalfi, and (as in the play) Antonio Bologna.

Adapted for radio by Donald McWhinnie from John Webster's 1613 play, "The Duchess of Malfi".

With Paul Scofield [Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria and Twin Brother to the Duchess], Esme Percy [The Cardinal, Their Elder Brother], Paul Rogers [Daniel de Bosola, Their Spy; Provisor of the Horse to the Duchess], Tony Britton [Antonio Bologna, Steward of the Duchess's Household], Godfrey Kenton [Delio, Antonio's Friend], Cyril Shaps [Castruchio, an Elder Courtier, Husband to Julia], Geoffrey Matthews [The Marquis of Pescara, a Soldier], Alec Gunn [Silvio, a Courtier at Amalfi], Manning Wilson [Roderigo, a Courtier at Amalfi], Leonard Trolley [Grisolan, a Courtier at Amalfi], James Dale [The Doctor], Peggy Ashcroft [The Duchess of Malfi, a Widow, Afterwards Secretly Married to Antonio], Rosalie Crutchley [Cariola, Her Waiting Woman], Mary Wimbush [Julia, Wife to Castruchio, and Mistress to the Cardinal], and Nan Marriott-Watson [Old Lady, a Midwife].

Other parts played by Rupert Davies, Gregor Hagan and Alan Reid

Incidental music composed by James Bernard and played by the Boyd Neel Orchestra, conducted by John Hollingsworth.

Produced by R. D. Smith

150 min.


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