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25 March 2018

The Duchess of Malfi at The RSC

On Saturday March 17th, the English department braved snow, wind and ice to see The Duchess of Malfi at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon.

To see a play in performance that you have studied on the page is always intriguing – as the two are so different. This modern dress production boldly cut much of the text and excised characters, while also recasting courtiers as soldiers/IRA members and eschewing the original songs, dances and most of the exposition. It used incidental music in a filmic way, often over the dialogue.

The stage was dominated throughout by a powerful visual symbol – the duchess dragged on the corpse of a mutilated animal at the beginning of the play and approximately half way through it was slit with a knife. Blood - staged, obviously - filled the stage and the actors had to skilfully avoid slipping in it.

All of this provoked debate on the way back to London and in class this week. While some students found it a potent and dramatic way of depicting Webster’s violence, others felt it lacked depth and sacrificed the heart of the play. It is certainly true that modern interpretations take liberties with a text that would never be taken with a contemporary play such as Jerusalem.

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