An Italian Werewolf in London: Lycanthropy and The Duchess of Malfi
Brett D. Hirsch
University of Western Australia
Hirsch, Brett D. "An Italian Werewolf in London: Lycanthropy and The Duchess of Malfi." Early Modern Literary Studies 11.2 (September, 2005) 2.1-43 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/11-2/hirswere.htm>.
Al things doo chaunge. But nothing sure dooth perrish. This same sprightHowever, metempsychosis (especially into animals) was clearly at odds with the majority of Renaissance thinkers, despite their tremendous efforts to synthesize as much of the newly ‘rediscovered’ literature of antiquity as they could into their Christian worldview. Like Shakespeare’s Malvolio, the majority of Renaissance Neoplatonists thought “nobly of the soul” and could “no way approve his opinion” (TN. 4.2.43); with the notable exception of Guillaume Postel and Giordano Bruno, none of these thinkers “could tolerate the notion that human souls could be imprisoned in the bodies of animals” (Ruderman 131).
Dooth fleete, and fisking heere and there dooth swiftly take his flyght
From one place too another place, and entreth euery wyght,
Remouing out of man too beast, and out of beast too man.
But yit it neuer perrisheth nor neuer perrish can.
And euen as supple wax with ease receyueth fygures straunge,
And keepes not ay one shape, ne bydes assured ay from chaunge,
And yit continueth alwayes wax in substaunce: So I say
The soule is ay the selfsame thing it was and yit astray
It fleeteth intoo sundry shapes.
These things are either false, or so extraordinary as to be with good reason disbelieved. But it is to be most firmly believed that Almighty God can do whatever He pleases, whether in punishing or favouring, and that the demons can accomplish nothing by their natural power [...] Demons, if they really do such things as these on which this discussion turns, do not create real substances, but only change the appearance of things created by the true God so as to make them seem what they are not. I cannot therefore believe that even the body, much less the mind, can really be changed into bestial forms and lineaments by any reason, art, or power of the demons. (624)St. Augustine’s position on the subject of real and illusory change was affirmed by St Thomas Aquinas and incorporated into Canon law with the Canon Episcopi, which denounced many popular beliefs including transformations other than those by God:
Whoever therefore believes that anything can be made, or that any creature can be changed to better or to worse or be transformed into another kind of likeness, except by the Creator Himself who made everything and through whom all things were made, is beyond doubt an infidel. The notion that God could transform a man into an animal (or allow the Devil to do so) was certainly terrifying for Medieval and early modern Christian thinkers, since it threatened not only the concept of a charitable, loving God, but also that of sin and salvation: for if a man is transformed into a beast (and thereby divorced of his rational nature), he is not responsible for any sinful act he commits, since the rational consent of the sinner is lacking. This is not the case when relinquishing one’s own sense of rational control: since any indulgence in carnal desire flows from the consent to abdicate restraint, a man who chooses to live like a beast is answerable for his sins. Thus, the Christian theological rejection of the reality of the werewolf is “essentially a rejection of two frightening notions: that God or the devil can divorce a living person from the possibility of Heaven”, and “that a man can commit a sinful act for which he is not responsible” (Kratz 78).
You are called Lycanthropus: that is, a man transformed to a woolfe: which name is verie fitlie derived from the verie disease it selfe that disorders your braine, called Lycanthropia. Which word, some Physitions do translate Daemonium Lupinum, that is, a woolvish Demoniacke: others Lupina melancholia, and Lupina insania, that is a woolvish melancholie, or a woolvish furie and madnes. And it is nothing else in effect, but an infirmitie arising upon such phantasticall imaginations, as do mightily disorder and trouble the braine. (159, emphasis original)The trend seemed to step backward with A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft (Cambridge, 1608), in which William Perkins, defending belief in witchcraft, returned to the argument that lycanthropy was the result of “brains possessed and distempered with melancholy”, of which the Devil exacerbated:
The devill knowing the constitutions of men, and the particular diseases whereunto they are inclindes, taks the vantage of some, and secondeth the nature of the disease by the coccurence of his owne delusion, thereby corrupting the imagination, and working in the minde a strong perswasion, that they are become, that which in truth they are not. (24)Other authors on witchcraft were hesitant or unable to accommodate transformations within the discourse of medicine, and so clung to the familiar territory of supernatural causation. However, it must be noted that the majority of these writings barely mention lycanthropy, or transformations in general for that matter; and on those rare occasions mention is only in passing. For example, Thomas Cooper’s The Mystery of Witchcraft (London, 1617) provides a voluminous examination of all aspects of witchcraft; nonetheless, Cooper’s discussion of transformations, “as a Witch into an Hare and Cat”, is completed in a paragraph – that Satan “cannot change one creature into another”, and that “this is a meere delusion of the sense” (Ch
Madnesse is therfore defined to be a vehement Dotage, or raving without a fever, farre more violent then Melancholy, full of anger and clamor, horrible lookes, actions, gestures; and troubles the Patient with farre greater vehemency both of Body and Minde, without all feare and sorrow, with such impetuous force, and boldnesse, that sometimes three or foure men cannot hold them. The testament of the later physician Robert Bayfield affirms Burton’s position in his account of lycanthropy: “Wolf-madness, is a disease”, writes Bayfield, who follows with the story of a patient of his, “a certain young man” with “a wild and strange look” who set about “barking and howling”. In the course of his inspection, Bayfield “opened a vein, and drew forth a very large quantity of blood”, which was “black like Soot”. The patient, having been provided with a potion and a vomitive to remedy his abundance of black bile, “became perfectly well” (Bayfield 49-50).
The doctor proceeds to inform Pescara (and the audience) that lycanthropes not only imagine themselves wolves, but also act accordingly, running about “churchyards in the dead of night” to “dig dead bodies up” (5.2.11-12). As it turns out, Ferdinand has been seen at midnight behind a church, “with the leg of a man / Upon his shoulder” (5.2.14-15) and howling. When approached during this particular incident, Ferdinand “said he was a wolf”, and that while “a wolf’s skin was hairy on the outside”, his was hairy “on the inside” (5.2.16-18). This diagnosis reveals that Ferdinand’s lycanthropia is a natural illness, since it is referred to as a “very pestilent disease” (5.2.5) and a “madness” (5.2.26), and it is treated as such: although he is “very well recovered” (5.2.20), there are still fears “of a relapse” (5.2.23).
In those that are possess’d with’t there o’erflows
Such melancholy humour, they imagine
Themselves to be transformed into wolves.
There’s a mad lawyer, and a secular priest,In each of these instances, illness is treated in wholly natural, medical terms. So too are their cures: for example, to counter the effects of the apricots Delio suggests that the Duchess “use some prepar’d antidote” (2.1.171); and Ferdinand calls for rhubarb “to purge [his] choler” (2.5.13), although he later suggests a more radical therapy:
A doctor that hath forfeited his wits
By jealousy; an astrologian
That in his works said such a day o’th’month
Should be the day of doom, and failing of’t,
Ran mad; an English tailer, craz’d i'th’brain
With the study of new fashion; a gentleman usher
Quite beside himself, with care to keep in mind
The number of his lady’s salutations,
Or ‘How do you’, she employ’d him in each morning;
A farmer too, an excellent knave in grain,
Mad ‘cause he was hinder’d transportation.
Apply desperate physic:
We must not now use balsamum, but fire,
The smarting cupping-glass, for that’s the mean
To purge infected blood …
… physicians thus,
With their hands full of money, use to give o’er
in the yeare 1541 who thought himselfe to bee a Wolfe, setting vpon diuers men in the fields, and slew some. In the end being with great difficultie taken, hee did constantlye affirme that hee was a Wolfe, and that there was no other difference, but that Wolues were commonlie hayrie without, and hee was betwixt the skinne and the flesh. Some (too barbarous and cruell Wolues in effect) desiring to trie the truth thereof, gaue him manie wounds vpon the armes and legges: but knowing their owne error, and the innocencie of the poore melancholic man, they committed him to the Surgions to cure, in whose hands hee dyed within fewe days after. (387)The resemblance between the doctor’s description of Ferdinand’s lycanthropy and Goulart’s passage “is so striking as to settle the question of Webster’s source immediately” (Boklund 32). However, Goulart’s report on werewolves hardly satisfies the question of why Webster incorporated lycanthropy into his play, and for this we must look elsewhere.
the damnable life and death of one Stubbe Peeter, a most wicked Sorcerer, who in the likeness of a Woolfe, committed many murders, continuing this diuelish practise 25 yeeres, killing and deuouring Men, Women, and Children. (Title page)Although Webster would have clearly enjoyed reading such a provocative pamphlet, it does not appear to be a source for his play since the only similarities between it and The Duchess are that both involve a werewolf and incestuous desires.  Even so, the incest motif in Webster’s play remains debatable, and differs from Stubbe Peeter in that Ferdinand’s alleged desires are directed towards his sister (as opposed to his sister and daughter) and are nonetheless, to our knowledge, never fulfilled. Whatever his sources may be, Webster’s motivation must surely have rested upon the consequences, dramatic and moral, of constructing a villain afflicted with lycanthropy.
Theology taught that human form was no guarantee of humanity when angels or devils might take that shape; when, under certain circumstances – as in the case of children, the mad, the colonised other – creatures that appeared human might also be understood to be closely associated with the animal.
Italy represented a nation among whose famous identity effects were Popery, atheism, sodomy, murder and poison, deceit, “practice”, erotic obsession and sexual promiscuity, and a preternatural propensity for revenge, any and all of which were available for the playwrights’ use in plot devices that both shocked and titillated. (Bovilsky 627)Even the mythical city-state of Venice was tainted by its Italianate excesses:  for example, in The Merchant of Venice Shakespeare depicts Venice as a mercantile state whose economic openness, the very reason for its financial success, literally threatens the lives of its (Christian) citizens. Jonson’s vision of Italy in Volpone is one of such moral decay that men of wealth and power use their position only for decadence and deceit, whilst others disinherit their sons and sacrifice their wives in the pursuit of monetary gain. Amidst these contemporaneous examples, Webster’s corrupt and unbridled Machiavellian – a Duke whose depravity is literally inhuman – is hardly out of place.
The relevant paradigm was established in 1553 with the publication of The Vocacyon of Johan Bale to the Bishoprick of Ossorie in Ireland. The woodcut on the title page displays two contrasting figures, ‘The English Christian’ and ‘The Irish Papist’. The one is meek and civil, like the sheep that shelters by his legs, the other violent and savage, like the wolf that accompanies him. (Spenser’s Monstrous Regiment, 106)Thus the emblem of the wolf cemented iconographically the danger of the bloody Papist, whether this threat was from over the waters on the Continent, over the border in Ireland, or hidden away in secret on English soil. Webster was certainly aware of this popular conception of the Irish when he penned his earlier play, The White Devil, which is rife with derogatory references to the “wild Irish” (4.1.137), and their “howling” at funerals (4.2.96-7). Although The Duchess lacks direct references to Ireland and the Irish, it is not implausible to suppose that Webster and his audiences may have noted the similarities between the Italian werewolf Ferdinand and the howling, wild Irish closer to home.
FERDINAND. How do you like my Spanish jennet?
RODERIGO. He is all fire.
FERDINAND. I am of Pliny’s opinion, I think he was begot by the
wind; he runs as if he were ballasted with quicksilver.
SILVIO. True, my lord, he reels from the tilt often.
RODERIGO, GRISOLAN. Ha, ha, ha!
FERDINAND. Why do you laugh? Methinks you that are courtiers
should be my touch-wood, take fire, when I give fire;
that is, laugh when I laugh…
FERDINAND. Leave me.
MALATESTE. Why doth your lordship love this solitariness?
FERDINAND. Eagles commonly fly alone: they are crows, daws, and
starlings that flock together:–look, what’s that follows
MALATESE. Nothing, my lord.
FERDINAND. Yes :–
MALATESTE. ‘Tis your shadow.
FERDINAND. Stay it, let it not haunt me.
MALATESTE. Impossible: if you move, and the sun shine :–
FERDINAND. I will throttle it. [Throws himself down on his shadow.]
MALATESTE. O, my lord: you are angry with nothing.
FERDINAND. You are a fool: how is’t possible I should catch my
shadow unless I fall upon’t?
I wish to thank Chris Wortham for his continued guidance, friendship, and editorial suggestions; Philippa Maddern for her insight on early modern witchcraft, and Yasmin Haskell for hers on all things Jesuit; and Susan Broomhall for her generous help in translating what was, to me, incomprehensible.
[1 The lack of wolves in England by this time has been attributed to intense hunting campaigns sponsored by the state and increased deforestation. An Elizabethan account of such a campaign is from Johannes Caius, in his Of Englishe Dogges (London, 1576):
Our shepherdes dogge is not huge, vaste, and bigge, but of an indifferent stature and growth, because it hath not to deale with the bloudthyrsty wolf, sythence there be none in England, which happy and fortunate benefite is to be ascribed to the puisaunt Prince Edgar, who to thintent ye the whole countrey myght be euacuated and quite clered from wolfes, charged & commaunded the welsheme (who were pestered with these butcherly beastes aboue measure) to paye him yearely tribute which was (note the wisedome of the King) three hundred Wolfes. Some there be which write that Ludwall Prince of Wales paide yeerly to King Edgar three hundred wolves in the name of an exaction (as we have sayd before.) And that by the meanes hereof, within the compasse and tearme of foure yeares none of those noysome, and pestilent Beastes were left in the coastes of England and Wales. This Edgar wore the Crown royall, and bare the Scepter imperiall of this kingdome, about the yeare of our Lorde, nyne hundred fifty, nyne. Synce which time we reede that no Wolfe hath bene seene in England, bred within the bounds and borders of this countrey, mary there haue bene divers brought ouer from beyonde the seas, for greedynesse of gaine and to make money, for gasing and gaping, staring, and standing to see them, being a straunge beast, rare, and seldom seene in England. (23-24)
Presumably this is the “tribute of wolves paid in England” (4.1.72) that Webster refers to in The White Devil.
 That is, the only genuine werewolf character, since a staged werewolf (in the sense that both the audience and the players onstage are aware that it is merely a theatrical device) appears as part of the ‘Masque of Melancholy’ in John Ford’s The Lover’s Melancholy (London, 1629), 66. Similarly, Shakespeare portrays characters with “wolfish” desires (MV. 4.128-38) or “wolvish visage[s]” (Lr. 1.4.263), but these figurative descriptions are not developed to suggest lycanthropy.
 For a more detailed discussion of Plato and Pythagoras on this subject, see: Herbert Strainge Long, A Study of the Doctrine of Metempsychosis in Greece from Pythagoras to Plato (Baltimore: Furst, 1948).
 For a more detailed discussion of the theological debates surrounding bodily transformations and the Eucharist, see: Caroline Walker Bynum, “Metamorphosis, or Gerald and the Werewolf.” Speculum 73 (1998): 987-1013.
 Reported in Henry C. Lea, Materials Toward a History of Witchcraft, Vo1. 1 (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1939) 180.
 Reported in Otten, 84, 90.
 Taken from Scott’s translation of Boguet, published as On the Demon-Mania of Witches, trans. Randy A. Scott (Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 1995) 127.
 Another example is John Cotta, The Triall of Witchcraft (London, 1616), which discusses the “seeming transmutations by the Divell of the substances of Men into Cattes, and the like” only as part of a much larger effort to establish that the Devil cannot act contrary to Nature, and therefore “cannot make a true transmutation of the substance of any one creature into another” (Ch VI, 34).
 Imported or translated literature relating Continental accounts of werewolves included: A True Discourse Declaring the Damnable Life and Death of One Stubbe Peeter trans. George Bores (London, 1590); Richard Verstegan, A Restitution of Decayed Intelligence (Antwerp, 1605) 236-7; and Simon Goulart, Admirable and Memorable Histories of Our Time trans. Edward Grimeston (London, 1607) 386-92.
 The Roulet case is reported in Sabine Baring-Gould, The Book of Were-Wolves (London: Smith, 1865) 69-84. The judgment of the appeal appears at 84.
 As reported in Baring-Gould 85-98. In Grenier’s case, the court determined that he was incapable of rational thought, stating that “the change of shape existed only in the disorganized brain of the insane, consequently it was not a crime which could be punished” (98), and so sentenced Grenier to spend the rest of his life in a monastery.
 Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy (London, 1621), Part 1, Sec 1, Mem 1, Sub 4, 12-13 (emphasis original).
 Albert H. Tricomi, “Historicizing the Imagery of the Demonic in The Duchess of Malfi.”Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 34.2 (2004): 345-72; and Albert H. Tricomi, “The Severed Hand in Webster's Duchess of Malfi.” SEL: Studies in English Literature 44.2 (2004): 347-58. Although Tricomi tries to distance himself from Gunby’s analysis of the play, both critics argue that Ferdinand’s lycanthropy is a case of demonic possession: see David C. Gunby, “The Duchess of Malfi: A Theological Approach.” John Webster, ed. Brian Morris, Mermaid Critical Commentaries (London: Benn, 1970), 179-204. Wiseman argues that Ferdinand is not possessed, although “the play’s language toys with this possibility”: Susan J. Wiseman, “Hairy on the Inside: Metamorphosis and Civility in English Werewolf Texts.” Renaissance Beasts: Of Animals, Humans, and Other Wonderful Creatures, ed. Erica Fudge (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2004), 61.
 Also, before wounding his brother Ferdinand calls the Cardinal ‘The devil!’ (5.5.52).
 Tricomi, “Historicizing” 363.
 Representative studies that canvas Ferdinand’s possible sexual interest in his sister include: Elizabeth Brennan, “The Relationship between Brother and Sister in the Plays of John Webster.” MLR 58 (1963): 488-94; Charles R. Forker, “'A Little More Than Kin, and Less than Kind': Incest, Intimacy, Narcissism and Identity in Elizabethan and Stuart Drama.” Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 4 (1989): 13-51; and Richard A. McCabe, Incest, Drama, and Nature’s Law: 1500-1700 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993) 251-2. It has also been argued that Ferdinand’s incestuous actions are political manoeuvres geared towards maintaining class structures: Frank Whigham, “Sexual and Social Mobility in The Duchess of Malfi.” PMLA 100 (1985): 167-86.
 Tricomi, “The Severed Hand” 356. Tricomi recognises the “defect in designating Boguet as a source is that despite Webster’s strong attraction to Continental sources, he usually resorted to them in translation” (351). However, Boguet’s tale seems to be a source for The Late Lancashire Witches (1634) by Thomas Heywood and Richard Brome. This is explored further in my forthcoming note, “Werewolves and Severed Hands: Webster's The Duchess of Malfi and Brome and Heywood's The Witches of Lancashire.” Notes & Queries, March 2006.
 The implications of the Stubbe Peeter pamphlet in relation to The Duchess of Malfi are discussed by Wiseman, 59.
 Erica Fudge, Ruth Gilbert, and Susan J. Wiseman, “Introduction: The Dislocation of the Human.” At the Borders of the Human: Beasts, Bodies and Natural Philosophy in the Early Modern Period, ed. Erica Fudge, Ruth Gilbert, and Susan J. Wiseman (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002) 3.
 Reported by the assizes clerk, Thomas Potts, The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the County of Lancaster (London, 1613).
 Enterline discusses these oppositions and their implications in detail at 111-3.
 An important study of the varied English perceptions of Venice is David C. McPherson, Shakespeare, Jonson, and the Myth of Venice (Newark: U of Delaware P, 1990).
 Michael G. Brennan, “Foxes and Wolves in Elizabethan Episcopal Propaganda.” Cahiers Elisabethains 29 (1986): 83-86, at 84. The most detailed treatment of the fox and wolf in Spenser is Anthea Hume’s Edmund Spenser: Protestant Poet, esp. 13-41.
 Flannagan’s note in The Riverside Milton suggests that Milton’s wolf is a reference to “the agents of the Roman Catholic Church, seeking converts”, and that “The Jesuits, whose coat of arms included two wolves, were especially liable to be accused of such secret proselytising” (105, n. 54). The traditional explanation for the Jesuit coat of arms comes from the etymology of the name Loyola as a contraction of “Lobo y olla” (“wolf and pot”), supposedly referring to the reputation of the House of Loyola as being so generous to its armed retainers that even the wolves could feast on the leftovers.
 Nescio an Lunae diuinum honorem deferunt, cum enim primum ab interlunio vident, vulgo genu flectunt syluestres illi, & orationem Dominicam recitant, & sub finem, Lunam alta voce alloquuntur: Tam sanos nos relinque, quam inuenisti. Lupos sibi adsciscunt in patrimos, quos Chari Christ appellant, pro eis orantes, & bene precantes, & sic se ab illis laedi non verentur. (601)
 Quod vero nonnulli Hibernici, & qui fide digni videri volunt, homines quosdam in hoc tractu quotannis in lupos conuerti affirmant, fabulosum sane existimo, nisi forte illa exuberantis atrae bilis malitia… medicis dicitur, corripiantur, quae eiusmodi phantasmata ciet, vt sese in lupos transformatos imaginentur. (581)
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