The Duchess of Malfi was written by John Webster (?1578–?1638) over the period 1612–13, and was presented by the King’s Men, London’s premier company, at both their public playhouse, the Globe, and their indoors house, the Blackfriars Theatre, in the winter of 1613/14 or early in 1614. At least three revivals took place within Webster’s lifetime, the latest in 1630 before King Charles in the Cockpit Theatre at Whitehall. A list of ‘The Actors’ Names’ in the edition of 1623 (the first such cast-list to be published in England) makes it possible to reconstruct much of the original casting for the first production and a subsequent revival. John Lowin, Richard Burbage, Henry Condell, William Ostler, (probably) Richard Robinson and Richard Pallant created the roles of Bosola, Ferdinand, the Cardinal, Antonio, the Duchess and Cariola; in a later production, datable to shortly before 1623, John Taylor, Richard Robinson, Richard Benfield, Richard Sharpe, John Thompson and Robert Pallant played the parts of Ferdinand, the Cardinal, Antonio, the Duchess, Julia and Cariola. A Venetian observer, writing in 1618, noted the splendid robes of the Cardinal, the spectacle of his mistress sitting on his knee (2.4), the erection of an altar on stage (for 3.4) and the Cardinal’s ceremonial preparations for war: ‘He goes to war, first laying down his cardinal’s habit on the altar, with the help of his chaplains, with great ceremoniousness; finally he has his sword bound on and dons the soldier’s sash with so much panache that you could not imagine it better done.’ This is a rare glimpse of the contemporary staging of a Renaissance tragedy.
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