I have a problem understanding some sentences in RC. Below is a part from one of the RC passage:

Critics have long been puzzled by the inner contradictions of major characters in John Webster's tragedies. In his The Duchess of Malfi, for instance, the Duchess is "good" in demonstrating the obvious tenderness and sincerity of her love for Antonio, but "bad" in ignoring the wishes and welfare of her family and in making religion a "cloak" hiding worldly self-indulgence. Bosola is "bad" in serving Ferdinand, "good" in turning the Duchess' thoughts toward heaven and in planning to avenge her murder.


  1. In the second sentence, I don't understand the part making religion a "cloak" hiding worldly self-indulgence. Could you explain what it means in the sentence?

  2. In the third sentence, I don't understand the part in planning to avenge her murder. It is confusing whether this avenge is part of Duchess' thought or Bosola's plan.

  3. Do the words good and bad in second and third sentences mean the quality of personality or the ability to do something?

Thanks for your help in advance.

  • Good and bad here are terms of moral judgment. Here they mean "praiseworthy" and "blameworthy", respectively.
    – TimR
    Oct 3, 2016 at 11:01

1 Answer 1


The (nested) participle-phrase "making religion a cloak hiding worldly self-indulgence" means

Deliberately presenting herself as someone who is motivated by spiritual concerns and then using her apparent asceticism as a smoke-screen to hide her own desire for pleasure and comfort.

making religion a "cloak" = a figurative expression, "to use her spirituality as a cover which obscures..."

hiding worldly self-indulgence = to hide her worldliness

"To avenge something" means to exact vengeance (upon someone) for doing something.

The grammatical object of avenge is the result of another person's action.

He wants to "avenge her murder". He wants to punish someone for the murder of her, for murdering her.

  • I understand the first question, but I am still having a problem with the second question. So is Duchess the one who died (="her" in the sentence)? Also, what does "turning the Duchess' thoughts toward heaven" means?
    – user198952
    Oct 4, 2016 at 0:45
  • To cause someone "to turn their thoughts to heaven" is to make them think of the afterlife, the eternal reward that awaits the virtuous Christian. With respect to the question of who is doing what, look at the parallelism of the prepositional phrases headed by in: is bad in serving...good in turning...and in planning.... and then trace those phrases back to the subject they modify. Who is that?
    – TimR
    Oct 4, 2016 at 2:03
  • Oh now I understand. I didn't recognize that it has parallel structure. Thanks!
    – user198952
    Oct 4, 2016 at 2:48

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