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The Duchess is a modern heroine, a rebel against all that her society holds dear. To what extent do you agree that Webster creates a critique of the expressed values of the seventeenth century in his depiction of her?

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Introduction

Coursework Essay: ` parm bains 'The Duchess is a modern heroine, a rebel against all that her society holds dear.' To what extent do you agree that Webster creates a critique of the expressed values of the seventeenth century in his depiction of her? The tragedy of the Duchess that ironically raises her position as a heroine begins with her reign over Malfi. Being under the influence of a patriarchal society, men are granted rulership and women regarded secondary. During the seventeenth century, the norms of society were built upon religious laws that enforced one's appearance reflecting their inner self, behaviour encompassing qualities such as fidelity, courage, integrity, and nobility, and the acceptance of responsibilities within one's status. Though these are Christian values that society holds dear, complying with them is a different issue, which contributes to the Duchess' tragedy. It is ironic that though Duchess does comply with such values, she is condemned for doing so. Perhaps Webster is indirectly identifying the flaws of society where not only were there stratifications of classes, but with sexes too. It is understood that the order within society was to emulate heavenly order. ...read more.

Middle

Relating back to the Duchess' marriage with Antonio, Webster sets up a parallel of relationships that occur in the play to show the legitimacy of her marriage. Of the three siblings, the Duchess seems to have the most lawful and holy of relationships because of her genuine love, purity, and commitment to Antonio. Though Calderwood may say that her marriage was an act of rebellion- "For what the Duchess is engaging in here is not properly ceremony but ceremony in reverse, a form of deceremonialization by which she divests herself of the responsibilities of her social role" , those in favour of the Duchess as a heroine can argue that she is willing to risk her appearance and reputation for the sake of a lasting marriage comprised of Christian values. Subsequent to the Duchess' marriage come the consequences of her suffering inevitably leading to death. Her tragedy begins when she faces separation from her husband and son in Act 3 Scene 5. Her initial reactions are sorrowful and perhaps hint humility. "Farewell boy, thou art happy that thou hast not understanding to know thy misery..." ...read more.

Conclusion

Her strength shown exteriorly and her internal suffering perhaps reflect her pathway to heaven. As the play progresses, Ferdinand's vengeance over his sister becomes increasingly brutal. Through this, Bosola paradoxically comforts her. "What's this flesh? A little crudded milk...a lark in a cage? Such is the soul in the body...gives us a miserable knowledge of the small compass of out prison." This profound notion justifies the Duchess' emotions and behaviour. A sense of entrapment seems to prevail. Webster parallels this idea of entrapment to the individual's soul set free through salvation. He also acknowledges the unimportance of the flesh. The Duchess shows her worthiness of salvation just before she dies when she kneels. "...heaven gates are not so highly arched... they that enter there must go upon their knees." Kneeling symbolizes an act of humility and obedience in accepting her fate. Comparing this with her pride in raising Antonio's status, the Duchess' moral intentions are revealed. This concludes the Duchess supporting the values of the seventeenth century, alongside Webster. Feminism has too narrow a view of the play. The Duchess only appears to be rebelling due to the circumstances she faces. However, such circumstances may be seen as tests to prove that she embraces moral value. Thus, we are confident that she has attained salvation. ...read more.

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