Stories of werewolves have been around for ages – from stories spread by word of mouth to modern day films and books. But these new and bloody werewolves may not have come to be if it weren’t for the macabre renaissance play, The Duchess of Malfi.
Written in 1612 by John Webster, this sinister and violent play switched things up and added lycanthropy to the mix, something quite unheard of at the time. The Duchess of Malfi is a play full of dark themes such as murder, revenge, insanity and all sorts of other disturbing and wicked things.
Set in Italy in the 1500s, the plot follows two deceitful brothers, the Cardinal and Ferdinand, who are determined to not only usurp their widowed sister from her throne but to also keep her from remarrying below her station. But the independent Duchess runs off and secretly marries her steward Antonio. Her and Antonio continue to keep their marriage secret until her brother’s spy, Bosola finds out about them and their children, and that’s when the story really starts.
What follows is a plethora of tortures all meant to destroy the Duchess. Her brothers furious at her “whorish ways” do everything they can to not only punish her, but to also take her wealth for themselves. The brothers and their agents first kill her husband and children, then they have Bosola kill the Duchess by strangling her.
As for the werewolf bits of the play, it was the incestuous and corrupt brother Ferdinand that was the beast. In the story he grows furry, and even more insane, on the night of the full moon. And in regards to the deaths of his sister and her children he says, “She and I were twins. The death of young wolves is never to be pitied.”
If you enjoy old-school plays filled of death and chaos then The Duchess of Malfi is for sure something you should check out.