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Act II, Scene 5: By looking closely at language and imagery, what impression is created of the brothers in the following dialogue? In what way is this scene significant in the play as a whole?

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Introduction

Act II, Scene 5: By looking closely at language and imagery, what impression is created of the brothers in the following dialogue? In what way is this scene significant in the play as a whole? Act II, Scene 5 of John Webster's, The Duchess of Malfi is a crucial point for both the plot and of the critical understanding of two of the play's main characters: the Aragonian Brothers, Ferdinand and Cardinal. The scene is a dialogue between the two brothers and has an abundance of imagery, providing an insight into the pair's differentiating mentalities, moods and motives. The significance of this scene can be explained in terms of the recent developments of the plot and how the two brothers react to and intended to deal with them. These developments are the recent news that Bosola has brought to Ferdinand in the form of a horoscope, telling that "The Duchess was deliver'd of a son" [II.3.56]. This must mean that the Duchess has allowed someone to "sway your [her] high blood" [I.2.218]. The revelation of the birth of a son asks the brothers whether or not they are going to carry out their previous threats: "This was my father's poniard: do you see, / I'll'd be loathe to see't look rusty," [I.2.251-2]. Ferdinand begins to suggest means in which to punish and eventually kill the Duchess and her children: "I'll bequeath this [his handkerchief] to her bastard / .............to make soft lint for his mother's wounds, / When I have hewn her to pieces." ...read more.

Middle

The Cardinal, however, is far more concerned about the damage that could be done to his family's reputation: "Shall our blood? / The royal blood of Aragon and Castile, / Be thus attained?" [II.5.21-3]. He blames women for the downfalls within the human race as he blames the Duchess for his family's loss of honour, and he speaks of women as an evil with "...hearts / So far upon the left side" [II.5.32-3]. When he says this, he is referring to the belief that hearts on the left side "are full of deceit, / Truth freedome and loyalty are rare unknowne and exiled qualities"2 He continues to state that women consciously try and cause the downfall of men, "Foolish men, / That e'er will trust their honour in a bark, / Made of so slight, weak bulrush, as is woman, / Apt every minute to sink it." He feels that, men who trust in women are self destructive. His feelings towards the Duchess are far from Ferdinand's passionate desires, he sees her as an animal, "curs'd creature!" [II.5.31], and perhaps as a tool the family can use as a show piece to society. Their reactions, springing from different issues and emotions, also show their varying personas. Ferdinand reacts passionately to the news of his sister giving birth. His physical obsession towards her erupts in violent ideas by which to punish her, he threatens to revenge her with a bloody death, and says he will not calm until he has seen her dead: "'Tis not your whore's milk, that shall quench my wild-fire / But your whore's blood" [II.5.48-9]. ...read more.

Conclusion

The happy family unit of the Duchess and Antonio is now under threat and the hourglass has been turned; there is only a matter of time before this fresh optimism will be forced to come to an end. I feel that Webster uses this scene in the play to show his feelings, as an English Protestant, of the Spanish Catholics in Italy. We are already aware that the Cardinal is far from the respectful clergy man he should be, by our knowledge of his mistress, Julia. Now we see Ferdinand's inner-rage and incestuous wishes he holds towards his sister. By knowing this, the scene persuades the audience to feel for the Duchess, a young woman only trying to live her life as she wishes, under the forceful control of her brothers. We feel proud for her courage to break away from their demanding requests and separate herself from them. At the time it may well have been expected for the widowed sister to do as her brothers said, and by showing us this insight into the brothers' conversation, Webster has led us to a greater understanding of the Duchess, giving us permission to sympathise with her. 1Information gained from: http://virtual-park.uga.edu/~cdesmet/sabrin/malfi.htm 2From Matthieu's "History of Lewis the Eleventh", found in New Mermaids "The Duchess of Malfi" edited by Elizabeth M Brennan. (3rd edition, 1993) 3 From New Mermaids "The Duchess of Malfi" edited by Elizabeth M Brennan. (3rd edition 1993) 4 Information taken from: www.britannica.com/seo/h/humour-1/ ?? ?? ?? ?? Juliet Cook 20th January 2001 4 ...read more.

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