How to Do Things with Organs: Moving Parts in The Duchess of Malfi




This article analyzes the agency of mobile organs and parts in John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi. While criticism on the individuated part in the play has primarily focused on Ferdinand's blazonic renderings of the Duchess’s body, I argue that the Duchess reappropriates her brother’s language and develops what I refer to as a rhetoric of intercorporeal exchange. For the Duchess, the exchange of unruly parts — organs and spirits that leave one body to enter another — has desirable rather than disastrous effects, allowing her to merge metaphysically with Antonio. In its allusions to Neoplatonism and theories of hidden sympathies, the play, I argue, dramatizes a conception of humoral subjectivity that was inextricably linked to the exchange of itinerant and invasive parts.

Author Biography

Roya Biggie, Knox College

Roya Biggie earned her PhD from the City University of New York Graduate Center and her MA from Georgetown University. She is assistant professor of English at Knox College in Galesburg, IL.