A Dally of Musings

Hello yes, I am procrastinating.


What I am supposed to be doing is analysing how a section of John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi uses literary devices to present different themes, and how these distinctive features of language could be translated into performance.

It’s curious, it sounds so complicated. How do actors analyse literary devices and use them to act out how they think a character would have done.

I know it must be simpler than I imagine, and I could be simplifying it further by reading course material and analysing the play, rather than writing about my ignorant opinions.

I could be thinking about how an actor stands, and how it would affect the delivery of a line. Or whether a scene would become more dramatic if an actor were to sit on a chair during a dialogue, or stand as an equal to his Lady.


But I am not. I am musing in a most cretinous manner. I am spattering my uncultured, obtuse thoughts on a topic so well-loved and so well-researched, that frankly I am a little ashamed of myself.

However I cannot help sometimes wondering at our tendency to analyse plays written hundreds of years ago, in a language very few of us understand, with references to a culture and a society not a living soul on earth remembers.

What are we gaining from this?

In my copy of The Duchess of Malfi, almost every line has an explanation on the adjacent page, because the majority of people of my ilk will know nothing about the meanings or the cultural references behind the speech. I know it is good to learn new things, but really, we are just learning old ones.

It’s like studying a lesson in physics from a book written five hundred years ago. The concepts are outdated, new ones with more plausible evidence have replaced them.

But language is not a science, and in order to understand language, we must revert back to the origins of language and literature and entertainment. It is a burden to be borne, I suppose.

Webster’s Malfi is quite entertaining and odd, though. It’s garish and discomfiting, but it is proving to be surprisingly enjoyable. The language is immensely satisfying, and there are plenty of little linguistic gems to please. There is no denying that Webster made a true art of words.

How about you, dear reader? Have you read many seventeenth century plays? Did you enjoy them?

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