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John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi Reconsidered
Colloque d’agrégation

John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi Reconsidered

John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi Reconsidered
13-15 Dec.
ENS de Lyon, amphi Descartes

Texte de cadrage

Confirmed Keynotes

Dympna Callaghan (Syracuse University) Jane Kingsley-Smith (Roehampton University) Wendy Wall (Northwestern University) Michael Neill (The University of Auckland)

Secrets, lies, dismembering, incest, madness, mental torture, lycanthropia, brutal murders : there is little that The Duchess of Malfi (c. 1613-1614) shies away from, inflicting on its spectators a whirlwind of conflicting passions and emotions. Webster’s drama has been labelled as baroque, grotesque, mannerist, gothic or feminist. Against Bosola, the figure of the malcontent who also embodies the typical early modern overreacher, the Duchess stands as a symbol of female transgression before she is eventually crushed by evil and male power. Bloody sensationalism should not eclipse what some critics saw as a drama of knowledge ; in Delio’s concluding speech, Webster’s irony is at its peak when he encourages his audience to “make noble use / Of this great ruin” and seems to present the play as a vehicle for moral instruction, defining in a final twist an ethics based on an “integrity of life”. A masterpiece of Jacobean theatre, The Duchess of Malfi reinvents the genre of the revenge tragedy, and beyond the Renaissance concept of tragedy, it explores the construction of gender, the class structure of a changing society and the complex interlacing of desire, violence and cruel laughter. Following the recent inclusion of The Duchess of Malfi in the Agrégation syllabus (2019-2020), this international conference is meant to provide new perspectives on the play, examining questions relating to politics, gender, aesthetics, textuality, materiality and performance. The organizers welcome a variety of approaches highlighting the richness and complexity of the play, and especially papers that reflect recent critical trends in early modern drama studies.

Contributors are invited to send their proposals (300-word abstract) along with a short bio-bibliography by July 10th, to Sophie Chiari ( and Sophie Lemercier-Goddard ( The committee will examine proposals for 25-minute papers addressing any of the aspects mentioned above.

Papers will preferably be delivered in English. Completed, finalized submissions (6000-8000 words) will be sent to the organizers by December 21st, 2018.

The selected papers will be published in 2019 by Presses Universitaires Blaise Pascal.

Scientific committee :

  • Sophie Chiari (Université Clermont Auvergne)
  • Anne-Valérie Dulac (Sorbonne Université)
  • Sophie Lemercier-Goddard (ENS de Lyon)
  • Michèle Vignaux (Université Lumière Lyon 2)

Contacts :

  • sophie.lemercier-goddard@ens-lyon .fr



13h30 Opening of the Conference Sophie Lemercier-Goddard (ENS de Lyon) and Sophie Chiari (Université Clermont Auvergne)

CHAIR : LINE COTTEGNIES (Sorbonne Université)

13h45 Anna Demoux (Université Clermont Auvergne), ‘Reconsidering The Duchess of Malfi and its Sources in Context’ 14h15 Rachel E. Holmes (University of Cambridge), ‘Reading The Duchess of Malfi Transnationally’ 14h45 Lisa Hopkins (Sheffield Hallam University), ‘Diamonds or Pearls ? Doubling the Duchess’ 15h15-15h30 Discussion

15h30-16h00 Break

CHAIR : LINE COTTEGNIES (Sorbonne Université)

16h-16h45 Keynote Jane Kingsley-Smith (University of Roehampton), ‘“Mine Eyes Dazzle” : Editing The Duchess of Malfi’ 16h45-17h Discussion



9h-9h45 Keynote Wendy Wall (Northwestern University), ‘Reversions : Domestic Ecologies in The Duchess of Malfi’ 9h45-10h Discussion

10h-10h30 Break

CHAIR : ANNE-VALERIE DULAC (Sorbonne Université)

10h30 Roberta Barker (Dalhousie University), ‘“The Spirit of Greatness or of Woman” : The Duchess of Malfi in the repertoires of her First Players’ 11h Eike Kronshage (Chemnitz University of Technology), ‘“Purchased honour” : Economic Expediency in The Duchess of Malfi’ 11h30 Sophie Chiari (Université Clermont Auvergne), ‘“The work of heaven” in The Duchess of Malfi’ 12h Discussion

12h30 Lunch (buffet)

CHAIR : FRANCOIS LAROQUE (Université Paris 3-Sorbonne Nouvelle)

14h Keynote Michael Neill : ‘Superfluous Men’ : the Graveyard Politics of The Duchess of Malfi 14h45 Discussion

CHAIR : FRANCOIS LAROQUE (Université Paris 3-Sorbonne Nouvelle)

15h Misako Takahashi (University of the Sacred Heart), ‘Seeking for the Female Body : The Duchess and Ferdinand in Canine Skins’ 15h30 Joseph Kidney (Stanford University), ‘Man is Wolf to Man : Playing Dead in Webster and Shakespeare’ 16h discussion

16h15-16h45 Break

16h45-17h45 Conversation with Anne-Laure Liégeois (Compagnie Le Festin, with Sophie Lemercier-Goddard and Sophie Chiari)

19h30 Dinner


CHAIR : MICHELE VIGNAUX (Université Lyon 2)

8h45-9h15 Sophie Lemercier-Goddard (ENS de Lyon), ‘“Strange Geometrical Hinges” : Going Places in Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi’ 9h15-9h45 François Laroque (Université Paris 3-Sorbonne Nouvelle), ‘Webster’s camera obscura : The Duchess of Malfi’ 9h45-10h Discussion

10h-10h30 Break

CHAIR : SOPHIE CHIARI (Université Clermont Auvergne)

10h30-11h15 Keynote Dympna Callaghan (Syracuse University), ‘Theatre, Art, the Woman and the Wolf : Revisiting The Duchess of Malfi’ 11h15-11h30 Discussion

11h30-12h15 Round table : Dympna Callaghan (Syracuse University), Wendy Wall (Northwestern University), Jane Kingley-Smith (University of Roehampton), Michael Neill (The University of Auckland), Anne-Valérie Dulac (Sorbonne Université), François Laroque (Université Paris 3-Sorbonne Nouvelle), Will N. West (Northwestern University).