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Write an essay of no more than 1500 words in continuous prose on the passage. You should consider the following: Why the passage is important The distinctive features of its language

TMA 01

Remember to put a word count at the bottom of your assignment and to follow academic conventions as set out in Section 4.5 ‘Presentation and academic conventions’ in this Assessment Guide.

Read the passage below from John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi carefully several times.

Write an essay of no more than 1500 words in continuous prose on the passage. You should consider the following:

  1. Why the passage is important
  2. The distinctive features of its language
  3. Two ways in which the distinctive features of the language could be translated into performance.

The Duchess of Malfi

Act 4 Scene 2 
duchess                    Now what you please: 205
duchess    What death?  
bosola    Strangling. Here are your executioners  
duchess I forgive them  
       The apoplexy, catarrh, or cough o’th’lungs  
       Would do as much as they do.  
bosola Doth not death fright you?  
duchess                 Who would be afraid on’t, 210
       Knowing to meet such excellent company  
       In th’other world?    
bosola              Yet, methinks,  
       The manner of your death should much afflict you:  
       The cord should terrify you?  
duchess             Not a whit.  
       What would it pleasure me to have my throat cut 215
       With diamonds, or to be smothered  
       With cassia, or to be shot to death with pearls?  
       I know death hath ten thousand several doors  
       For men to take their exits; and ‘tis found  
       They go on such strange geometrical hinges, 220
       You may open them both ways – any way, for heaven’ sake,  
       So I were out of your whispering. Tell my brothers  
       That I perceive death, now I am well awake,  
       Best gift is they can give, or I can take.  
       I would fain put off my last woman’s fault, 225
       I’d not be tedious to you.  
executioner           We are ready.  
duchess     Dispose my breath how please you, but my body  
       Bestow upon my women: will you?  
executioner                 Yes.  
duchess     Pull, and pull strongly, for your able strength  
       Must pull down heaven upon me - 230
       Yet stay, heaven gates are not so highly arched  
       As princes’ palaces: they that enter there  
       Must go upon their knees (Kneels) Come violent death,  
       Serve for mandragora, to make me sleep.  
       Go tell my brothers when I am laid out, 235
       They then may feed in quiet.  
  They strangle her  

Guidance notes

This assignment is an exercise in close textual analysis, so you should begin by reading the subsection ‘Textual analysis’ in Section 4.2 of this Assessment Guide.

There are three parts to this question, but make sure you present your TMA as an essay written in continuous prose; that is, although your TMA will inevitably fall into three sections, you should not number them or include sub-headings.

Consider carefully how much space you allocate to each part of the question. With the first part – identifying why the passage is important – avoid just telling the story of the play. Think about why the passage is important; what dramatic function does it serve? Where does the extract occur in the play and in what way is it significant for the play as a whole? It is important to present this first section clearly and concisely.

You will want to spend most your time considering the second part of the assignment: the distinctive features of the language. Here you will find it useful to go back to Chapters 3 and 4 of The Renaissance and Long Eighteenth Century and remind yourself of the different aspects of Webster’s language examined there. Then re-read the extract carefully, and think about the use of, for example, metre and rhythm, sound patterns, registers of language, imagery and figurative language. You may feel after studying the passage that there are other features that should be mentioned, but remember that your tutor does not want a simple list of poetic and linguistic devices. You should not only identify the distinctive qualities of the language but also say why you think the passage is written in this particular way. What effect is created by Webster’s use of particular poetic techniques? How do these contribute to his creation of character? How does the language of the extract help to create and convey particular meanings? You will find it very helpful while doing this to refer to relevant sections of the ‘Skills tutorial: drama’ (2.1  ) and ‘Skills tutorial: poetry’ (

After discussing the distinctive features of the language and the ways in which this shapes the meanings of the extract, try to identify TWO ways in which this could be translated into performance. For example, if the language of the passage creates a particular mood or tone, how would you try to get this across to the audience if you were staging the play? You might think about lighting, or about how the actors’ delivery of the lines could help to convey the mood of the scene. If the language works to evoke a particular character’s personality or emotions, how would you go about conveying those to the audience through performance? How might the position and movement of the characters on the stage underline the meanings created by the language of the passage? Does the mood or tone change at any point? Does the language contain clues about how the passage should be performed? Are there any dramatic pauses or sudden breaks in the rhythm? You will find it helpful to watch the video ‘John Websters The Duchess of Malfi: from text to performance’ again for specific guidance on performance issues.

Your job is to focus on what the language itself tells us about how the passage should be performed. Remember that you only need to identify TWO ways in which the meaning of the extract might be related through performance, so the bulk of your TMA should be devoted to the analysis of the language.

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