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Do you agree with Juliet Dusinbierres claim that Renaissance Drama is feminist-in-sympathy? Include a Discussion of TWO or more of the set plays.

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Introduction

Do you agree with Juliet Dusinbierre's claim that Renaissance Drama is 'feminist-in-sympathy'? Include a Discussion of TWO or more of the set plays. The Renaissance oversaw a debate that challenged the roles of women. Although, feminism did not exist in Renaissance, there were women in society who struggled to achieve equality with men.1 However, whether Renaissance Drama contains feminist sympathies is controversial. John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi 2and Ben Jonson's Volpone3 are two plays that portray a female struggle for freedom and equality. Yet at the same, both plays show that there were limitations to this freedom and equality as not only were women dominated by patriarchy but also it seems that any women who proved resistant to this and strived to achieve equality were eventually punished for their actions. Webster demonstrates how women struggle to achieve equality and freedom as the protagonist, The Duchess is very dominating and independent. Siobhan Keenan supports this as she argues that "Webster's portrayal of the Duchess does not conform to either stereotype. The woman that we finally meet in the play is witty, self-assured and sexually knowing."4Keenan makes a strong argument because , seems that the Duchess in the first half of the play at least is domineering and therefore does not remain the ideal, chaste and virtuous woman that formed the typical feminine stereotype in the Renaissance.5 The Duchess is "self-assured"6 and domineering by the way that she courts Antonio and marries him, despite defying her brothers, Ferdinand and the Cardinal, and marrying beneath her social class. ...read more.

Middle

Is this curl In his right place? Or this? Why is this higher Then all the rest? You ha' not washed your eyes yet? Or do they not stand even i' your head? Where's your fellow? Call her. (3:4:10-14)10 Lady Politic - Would Be's questioning of her beauty is significant here because it demonstrates that not only is she critical of her own image as a woman but also that she wants to control her own femininity and identity. Jonson also demonstrates to a certain extent through his portrayal of Celia that women are resistant towards men. This is particularly seen in Act 3 Scene 7 when Volpone tries to both seduce and rape Celia: VOLPONE Think me cold, Frozen, and impotent, and so report me? That I had Nestors hernia, thou wouldst think. I do degenerate, and abuse my nation. To play with opportunity thus long. I should have done the Act and then have parleyed. Yield, or I'll force thee CELIA O Just God! (3:7:259-264)11 Celia's adornment of Christian values and religion is used to camouflage her resistance to men to a certain extent. Celia's Christian values and beliefs play an important role in allowing her to prove her resistance because it demonstrates that apart from her husband, she is only responsible to God, and therefore this offers protection and comfort to her.12 Furthermore, both Celia's refusal to "yield" (3:7:263)13 to Volpone and her cry for help could be viewed as a key turning point in the play. ...read more.

Conclusion

FERDINAND Whores by that rule are precious. (1:3:7-9)17 Ferdinand's description of the Duchess as a form of jewellery that is "precious" (1:3:9)18 is significant in demonstrating how men try to reduce women to objects. This is because by trying to exert influence and dominance over women in this way; it not only allows men to become more prosperous but also more competitive and prestigious in society. Webster also shows how women never really achieve equality as this is seen by the way that the Duchess is murdered towards the end of the play and does not outlive any of the male characters.19 Although, Webster's play is a tragedy, it is significant that he alters the conventions in choosing a woman as his tragic hero. Webster's choice of a woman for his tragic hero and the Duchess' death in the play is important because it could demonstrate that women never really achieve freedom. Women never really achieve freedom because despite striving to achieve a voice, this ultimately proves too artificial and weak within a society governed and driven by men. Renaissance Drama only contains feminist sympathies to some extent. Although Webster and Jonson in their plays show that women struggle to achieve freedom and equality alongside men, this ultimately proves limited and counterproductive as not only are female characters heavily influenced by patriarchy. However, they are also eventually oppressed and punished for any attempted actions or resistance against this. ...read more.

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