'It Seems She Was Born First': The Persistence of Twinship in The Duchess of Malfi and The Broken Heart.

Louise Powell


This article considers how the respective representations of twinship in John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi (1614) and John Ford’s The Broken Heart (1629) respond to early-seventeenth-century ideas regarding twins. As an exploration of medical works from this milieu makes clear, circumstances surrounding the identification in utero, birth order, and biological sex of each twin led them to be linked with specific traits. Webster’s and Ford’s plays both engage with, and problematize, such associations: the former’s play highlights how their contradictory nature destabilises each twin’s identity, and the latter’s illustrates the pressure each twin feels to conform to the characteristics expected of them. Yet whilst The Duchess of Malfi and The Broken Heart are both critical of the negative effect which the links between circumstances and characteristics can have upon twins, the plays are unable to offer a credible solution to them.



Twins; medicine; drama; Webster; Ford

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