The Duchess of Malfi is divided into five acts, but act divisions were a recent innovation at the time (see pp. 11–12). Playwrights tended to write in scenes, probably pretty much as the scene divisions appear in modern editions of the play. These are ‘English scenes’ — scenes that continue until all characters exit, leaving the stage clear for a new scene to begin. Generally speaking an English scene, long or short, contains a complete episode. Yet for purposes of analysis (and probably for Webster when writing), it is useful to consider what we now call ‘French scenes’ — scenes that continue only until any character leaves the stage, or any new character enters. Act V, scene i, for instance, is a single English scene but contains five French scenes. The difference in stage activity, mood, rhythm, and content between the first and last French scenes, with just the two close friends Antonio and Delio talking alone; the second and fourth scenes, in which Antonio observes Delio testing the Marquis of Pescara’s integrity; and the central third scene, in which Pescara gives Antonio’s confiscated lands to a courtesan as a moral lesson to Delio; these structural divisions give a clear sense of the importance of French scenes as units of playmaking and analysis. They are also usually the basic units of rehearsal of a play.
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