The Duchess of Malfi is a Jacobean revenge tragedy written by English dramatist John Webster in 1612–1613. It was first performed privately at the Blackfriars Theatre, then later to a larger audience at The Globe, in 1613–1614.
The first notice of Webster so far discovered shows that he was collaborating in the production of plays for the theatrical manager, Henslowe, in 1602, and of such collaboration he seems to have done a considerable amount. Four plays exist which he wrote alone, “The White Devil,” “The Duchess of Malfi,” “The Devil’s Law–Case,” and “Appius and Virginia.”
“The Duchess of Malfi” was published in 1623, but the date of writing may have been as early as 1611. It is based on a story in Painter’s “Palace of Pleasure,” translated from the Italian novelist, Bandello; and it is entirely possible that it has a foundation in fact. In any case, it portrays with a terrible vividness one side of the court life of the Italian Renaissance; and its picture of the fierce quest of pleasure, the recklessness of crime, and the worldliness of the great princes of the Church finds only too ready corroboration in the annals of the time.