Having just brushed up my Shakespeare I was more-than-usually susceptible to a mention in another book: Sleeping Murder. Since the original publication date is more than 400 years ago, it is quite easy to find a free copy. Total instant gratification!
The saucy Duchess just popped again, as an epigraph in Silent in the Sanctuary, a book with quite a bit of Shakespeare as well.
Curiosity is satisfied, but I did not love it.
After pondering some more: it's all very one dimensional. At the very beginning we are introduced to all the bad guys. We are told and shown that they are bad guys. Bad guys put out a hit on their sister, her second husband, and their four children. For the money. And then the hitman decides to go after the bad guys for revenge. Lots of murder, sure, but no jokes, no reversals, no mystery, only one character ever changes course and no very satisfying motivation is ever given. Without good special effects, which you don't get in a script, there isn't anything else of interest. You'd have to really love going to the theater, or be a superfan of some actor, to be anything more than horribly disappointed after sitting though it. All that murder and yet, boring. The only interesting thing here is that this script didn't disappear.
BOSOLA. Break, heart!
Which pretty much sums up my reaction to this play. That and the recurring question of "Why have I not read or seen this before now?".
As much as I am sure that I will never truly love Jacobean revenge tragedies, and as much as I am sure that I will always be grossed out by Titus Andronicus, I loved The Duchess of Malfi. It may have helped that unlike Titus A., The Duchess has a clear message...but also, there was "method to the madness" (which Will S. may not have mastered yet when he wrote Titus. He did master it later on, of course. ).
In The Duchess of Malfi we have complexity and human frailty and grand character scenes and greed and treachery and mischief and repentance.
Oh, and as an added bonus, I found a radio production of the play starring Roger Allam as Bosola and Fiona Shaw as the Duchess. (I may have actually squeed when I found this.)
Yup, it's gory and horrible ... and absolutely brilliant.
Whether we fall by ambition, blood, or lust,
Like diamonds, we are cut with our own dust.