In the play the Duchess of Malfi, John Webster has shown his outstanding skill in characterization. He has created many significant characters in the play. The character of Bosola is essentially a remarkable character.
At the very opening of the play, we come to know about Bosola. We see him a discontented person, a rebel, satirical and melancholic. But it becomes clear to us that he has knowledge and intelligence but he was a man without social status. We can consider him a typical renaissance figure.
Bosola wants success in his life— be it in the fair means of foul. It is his renaissance quality. When the play opens, we see him already trapped in a bad circumstance. Circumstance made him a criminal. There was a time when he was a devoted scholar. He wanted to distinguish himself through learning. But he could not come in contact with his wealth and used him in doing murder. He was arrested and imprisoned for seven years. He suffered terribly. This suffering makes him a malcontent and cynic. He develops a dark view of life in him.
Through the character of Bosola, the dramatist has shown how a man develops criminality in him. Not he becomes an antihero. He had a hope that the cardinal would reward him for having done the murder. But the cardinal gives him nothing Bosola comes down with a kind of bitterness In him as he has become subject to tyranny and treachery of the society. He criticizes everything around him.
We can mention the statement of Antonio, the manager of the Duchess of Malfi, who becomes the husband of the Duchess later on. Antonio terms Bosola a court gall. Bosola criticizes the princess, the women and he dislikes life in general. As for example, we can say that when Bosola sees an old lady, he scolds the whole women folk.
Bosola was a neglected character. He has learned to make struggle of his life in his own way. It is for survival that Bosola becomes a devil. So he could not get sound idea of human life. He compares man of the most ferocious beasts. He becomes pessimistic in life. Let us mention the lines which he utters regarding the earth-
O, this gloomy world!
In what a shadow of deep pit of darkness, doth womanish and fearful mankind live!
Bosola was employed by the evil brothers-cardinal and Ferdinand in the palace of the Duchess. In the palace he plays the role of a spy. Bosola successfully plays the role delivering all the hidden information of the palace of the Duchess and thereby he gets all secret information from the Duchess. Bosola has cunning and intelligence. But he used it at the service of the evil brothers.
Sometimes Bosola’s philosophy is quite accurate. It is evident when he comments on the two evil brothers of the Duchess. He compared the brothers, the cardinal and Ferdinand with the crooked palm trees over the pond. The fruits of such bending trees man cannot eat because the fruits fall into the polluted water of the pond. The two brothers are like those palm trees. Actually, no man is benefited by the brothers.
But the naked fact is that Bosola develops a Machiavellian mind. He wants his gain by hook or by crook. Bosola becomes the instrument of the two brothers. The two brothers tortured their own sister. Finally, she was imprisoned and they let loose some lunatics around the Duchess to shout and frown day and night. But at the order of the brothers Bosola strangled the Duchess to death. He also strangled her maid servant Coriola and the children of the Duchess. It is the inhuman villainy of Bosola only to get some profit from the brothers.
It is ironical that Bosola imprisoned the Duchess at the order of the evil brothers. And thereby he himself becomes victim. Bosola throws darkness over Duchess’s life but the same darkness covers him also when he was deprived of the reward by the two brothers. He tries to come out of darkness. Reason works in him. He realizes that he has done a great crime by murdering the Duchess. But it was too late for Bosola. Now he becomes an avenger. Now he decides to kill the two evil brothers. He goes into the palace at night to kill the cardinal. He stabbed but he stabbed Antonio in the darkness. He was greatly shocked for his tragic mistake he says-
We are merely the star’s tennis balls, struck and banded.
Which way please them
Thus, Bosola fails in life.
In the light of above discussion, we can say that Bosola is a highly is a highly complex. He is a mixture of a philosopher an honest malcontent and the Machiavellian villain obviously, he becomes the victim of circumstance.