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The Duchess of Malfi

In the autumn of 2000 Richard Armitage appeared in his second Royal Shakespeare Company production, as Delio in John Webster’s Jacobean tragedy ‘The Duchess of Malfi’.

Opening at London’s Barbican Theatre on 10th November 2000 (two weeks late due to cast illness), it toured the UK before transferring to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, where it ran from 6th February to 3rd March 2001.

First performed around 1614 and based on a true story, Webster’s play concerns the secret marriage of the Duchess of Malfi to her steward, Antonio, and her grim fate at the hands of her twin, Duke Ferdinand, and her elder brother, the Cardinal.   It is a brutal exploration of the politics of gender, family, misogyny and power which Gayle Edwards’ "raw and feverish" modern dress production invested with a "brittle contemporary feel" [1,2] .

The role of Delio is substantial; acting throughout as Antonio’s friend and adviser, he appears in nine of the play’s eighteen scenes.  Delio is also an incompetent seducer who offers money to Julia, a married woman, in a failed attempt to persuade her to become his mistress (Act 2 scene 4).

Delio opens the play by welcoming his friend Antonio back from France, and to him fall its final lines, which look to the future in the installation of the eldest son of the Duchess and Antonio, both now slain, as the future ruler:

Richard Armitage as Delio in The Duchess of Malfi‘…………………Let us make noble use
Of this great ruin; and join all our force
To establish this young hopeful gentleman
In’s mother’s right.  These wretched eminent things
Leave no more fame behind ‘em than should one
Fall in a frost and leave his print in snow:
As soon as the sun shines, it ever melts,
Both form, and matter.  I have ever thought
Nature does nothing so great, for great men,
As when she’s pleased to make them lords of truth;
“Integrity of life is fame’s best friend,
Which nobly, beyond death, shall crown the end”’. [3]



[1] Independent on Sunday, 12th November 2000
[2] Financial Times, 14th November 2000
[3] John Webster, ‘The Duchess of Malfi’, Act 5, Scene 5

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