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How and where does the Duchess distinguish herself as a very remarkable woman in a man's world?

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Introduction

How and where does the Duchess distinguish herself as a very remarkable woman in a man's world? The Duchess is clearly the central figure in the play and manages to dominate proceedings, despite the untouchable power of her brothers and the firmly established patriarchal system in early-16th century Italy. She displays many admirably qualities, although her courageous strength and passion could be perceived as threatening in a male-dominated society. The Duchess is the sole female figure with any sort of power and respect in Webster's play. This is unusual firstly, because he based The Duchess Of Malfi on a version by William Painter in which the Duchess was portrayed as too lusty in a sternly moralistic fashion honourable as opposed to honourable. Also, although the Duchess is never referred to by her name, she is a very individual character and, having no female equals, conducts herself very well as a free spirit in a world of stifling constrictions. The Duchess exhibits her free will and nonchalance toward her brothers' controlling nature by marrying Antonio irrespective of their opinions. In response to Ferdinand and the Cardinal's bitter diatribe against remarriage, the Duchess wittily responds completely unafraid, "I think this speech between you both was studied, / It came so roundly off." Not only does she marry against the rule of jealous men, but also, she marries someone she loves instead of using her body as a tool of commerce as was common with fathers practically selling their daughters to their husbands. The Duchess breaks the accepted rules regarding station as Antonio is a commoner and not a highly respected courtier, who was worthy of receiving the family's riches, as would have been expected. She deserves a lot of respect for her courage and the way she avoids using her body as a means for political power by allying warring factions or providing heirs for a lonely despot with her childbearing capabilities. ...read more.

Middle

The Duchess is far ahead of her time and as a woman is an encouraging symbol for times ahead. Even though her struggle required so much torment and took so many life, the on-going battle was greatly furthered and the respect and admiration she attracted did a lot toward her goals for Malfi and beyond. * Respect and admiration - marries for love, intelligent and witty charmer, doesn't plot herself, only duplicitous out of necessity, stays sane through Ferdinand's torture,, , strong, independent, intelligent, witty, cunning, ambitious. * Pity - cos of Ferdinand and no way out, has to married but knowingly condemns them both to inevitable death - futile and desperate, "oh I pray, when were we ever so happy?", tragic heroine, however hasn't planned or seen through Bosola, dies for what she believes in despite only privately caring about herself - personal before state, na�vet� and innocence in being conned * Emerge most strongly - wit and sententia, wishful thinking in hoping she'll get away with it or no-one will ever find out, prime mover, doesn't plot against, accepting and dignified death, refuses to be subservient to men, only herself to rely upon - physical and spiritual solitude. Defiant and unrepentant: "whether I am doom'd to live or die, I can do both like a prince", take initiative in planning escape. * Why Antonio besotted - because clever and pretty sensual * "Stain the time past and light the time to come" - see above, hope for the court. Webster likes using aphoristic sententia. Nature thingy. Along with The White Devil, one of John Webster's more famous plays. Our heroine, the Duchess, has already married and is now a widow. Her vile brothers, Ferdinand and the Cardinal, urge her not to remarry, but she defies their wishes and marries Antonio, a lowly clerk. Bosola, a malcontent spy for Ferdinand, discovers the Duchess' pregnancy through a mistake of Antonio's and reports this back, sending Ferdinand into an insane rage. ...read more.

Conclusion

She disregards the opinion of the people ("let old wives report I winked") and admits to be blinded by passion for her new husband. Notice how the Duchess' strength of character shines through the darkness of this scene. In the face of death she is defiant and unrepentant: "whether I am doom'd to live or die, I can do both like a prince," foreshadowing her most famous line in the next act, "I am Duchess of Malfi still." Once the immediate threat is past, she takes the initiative in planning their escape, not Antonio (whose bold words are seldom matched with action). The final action provides another contrast between the Duchess' attempt to create a cover story for their escape, which Bosola easily sees through, and Bosola's superb acting as an accomplished liar who convinces the naive Duchess too quickly to offer him her confidence. On the Duchess' mournful observation, "The birds that live i'th' field / On the wild benefit of nature, live / Happier than we": The French essayist Montaigne (1533-1592), whose influence can be seen throughout this play, challenged the common Renaissance and Christian assumption of human superiority to animals, based on the faculty of reason. As he noted, unlike men, animals are kind to their young, faithful to their mates, and do not wage war against each other. He felt the superiority of reason was overrated, having severed men from their natural, instinctive qualities (which the Duchess seems to possess above her brothers). William Painter's collection of stories The Palace of Pleasure (1566-67), with the difference being that Painter adopts a judgmental & sternly moralistic attitude toward the duchess because she proves too lusty and breaks the accepted "rules" regarding degree or station. Webster breaks with this tradition: he presents the duchess as courageous, strong and honorable. Does not use body as means of power, woman as tool of commerce "sold" from father to husband, political power found in child-bearing capabilities. Jonathan Hobbs - 1 - 5/7/2007 ...read more.

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