Sunday, February 26, 2012

Duchess of Malfi: Ferdinand's Madness

When I first started reading the play, I was focused on the Cardinal's hypocrisy and on Bosola.  Now though I am fascinated by Ferdinand and his journey into madness.  Though I thought Ferdinand was weird because of his obsession with his sister, I didn't start thinking he was becoming mad until Act 2 Scene 5.  Here he rages to the Cardinal upon learning of his sister's marriage.  As we discussed in class, Ferdinand begins by stating that he has dug up a mandrake, a plant whose loud cry can supposedly drive you mad.  He then seems to admit to growing insane because he says, "And I have grown mad with 't".  I think that this is Ferdinand's first step into insanity.  Because he is so focused on his sister, when he learns that she has a lover, it literally drove him mad.  It caused a mental break.  However, after reading through the entire play, I was able to make some other connections with this important passage.  For starters, Ferdinand makes several references here that I believe foreshadow his mental collapse and his eventual disease of lycanthropy.  First, this scene is extremely violent.  Although it is known that Ferdinand is aggressive, I believe this scene takes it to a new level.  He is very descriptive as to how he wants to murderer his sister; it is psychopathic.  His thoughts are completely disturbed and suggest that he is falling into madness.  Another thing that I found interesting was when Ferdinand called his sister a hyena.  Although we discussed in class many things that this could mean, after learning that Ferdinand becomes a werewolf I now think this statement is foreshadowing Ferdinand's impending doom.  Though a hyena is not a dog per se, it is similar to a wolf, especially considering its violent nature.  A final statement from this passage that predicts Ferdinand's fate is when the Cardinal tells him "there is not in nature a thing that makes man so deformed, so beastly, as doth intemperate anger".  Having finished the play, I now realize how prophetic the Cardinal's warning was.  This entire scene points towards Ferdinand's becoming a werewolf.  

I also found several references to wolves that I believe foreshadow Ferdninand's growing insanity, represented by the werewolf.  For example, Ferdinand continually uses words such as "howling", "wolf" or "dog" that point to him becoming a werewolf.  He tells his sister "the howling of the world is music to thee", when in reality Ferdinand was speaking to himself.  He also makes another animal/wolf reference to the Duchess when he calls her children her "cubs".  As shown throughout the play, he continually uses animal references when speaking of the Duchess, and though the reason for this could be because of his warped view of her, it could also be because of his own animal instincts.  As he is making this transformation into madness, into a werewolf, he is becoming more animalistic and his language reflects this change.  Lastly, after Bosola has killed the Duchess, Ferdinand comes to him to confirm her death.  "Is she dead?" "She is what you'd have her. But here begin your pity. Alas, how have these (the Duchess's children) offended?" "The death of young wolves is never to be pitied".  Ferdinand has lost his human ability to feel pity and guilt.  He is like an animal, like a wolf.  From this point onward, he treads further and further into madness.  With all of these wolf references and violent rages, it comes as no surprise when in Act 5 Scene 2 the doctor proclaims that Ferdinand has lycanthropia.  Everyone was already suspicious that he had gone insane, and Ferdniand himself seemed to know it initially.  The doctor says that Ferdinand "howled fearfully; said he was a wolf". This is his final step into madness.  Becoming a werewolf sealed his fate of insanity.  

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