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AS and A Level: John Webster

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  1. Attitudes to women in "The White Devil" in Acts I and II

    However, it is never stated outright how willing Vittoria herself is in participating in the affair. Flamineo himself mentions women's "politic", and it is possible Vittoria uses Brachiano's infatuation for her own personal gain. This can most clearly be seen in her dream which she relates to Brachiano. She claims that in her dream both Camillo and Isabella "were struck dead by that sacred yew". The word "yew" is an obvious pun of 'you', and so it is Vittoria, through her dream, who appears to have provoked Brachiano to act against their spouses.

    • Word count: 990
  2. Corruption of the court within the Duchess of Malfi

    Webster has carefully portrayed this cynical view of human nature through the impression of the court within the opening act. This is apparent through his writing techniques and structure to reflect the given context through characterisations. During the first Act, the audience is introduced to a majority of the court, from Aristocrats such as the Duchess as well as her courtiers and stewards. There is an immediate indication of differing levels of status to the audience, which Webster has illustrated through the style of his language.

    • Word count: 989
  3. Referring to Act 3, Scene 2, lines 88 to 140, Discuss the ways is which Webster reveals the nature of the relationship between the Duchess and Ferdinand at this point in the play. Analyse the language and Imagery used.

    Not only in Act 3, Scene 2, but also throughout the play, Ferdinand's abrasive temperament and unbalanced emotions are shown through his unrelenting s****l innuendoes towards his sister. Webster has given the repressed younger twin Ferdinand the capacity for extreme love and hate. He is not married, which adds to his sense of alienation and inability to relate to women. Ferdinand's incestuous feelings occur throughout the play, as in Act 1, for instance, Ferdinand speaks offensively towards his sister, finally calling her a "lusty widow".

    • Word count: 820
  4. Critical review of the Duchess of Malfi

    This is foreshadowed by Antonio; there are 'sycophants' and 'death and diseases' which 'spread' through 'the land.' Additionally, he makes references to France; they have 'a judicious king' and 'works of heaven.' This is set against the greedy avarice of the Malfi court where l**t, corruption 'sin and retribution'(Federick Allen ) is rife throughout the play.

    • Word count: 493
  5. Assess the dramatic and thematic effectiveness of Act 1 of 'The Duchess of Malfi'.

    "Pure silver drops in general; but if 't chance Some cursed example poisoned 't near the head, Death and diseases through the whole land spread." The rhyming couplet makes it almost seem like a curse, and exerts a sense of doom. This already gives the impression that the court of Malfi is it self distorted, as Antonio describes the goodness of the French court, and then quickly goes onto describe how easily any court could be corrupted, as if 'pointing a finger' at the court of Malfi.

    • Word count: 999
  6. From your readings of Acts 1-3 (inclusive) show how Webster presents the play as set in a paternalistic world.

    Webster seems to portray the Duchess as a symbol of the Jacobean view of the roles of women. A widow, such as the Duchess, was considered to be an 'ungoverned woman', one who threatened the social normalities of the period. The Duchess is also portrayed in this way, because she 'threatens' the reputation of the court. Ferdinand fears that the Duchess will marry for pleasure, and warns his sister of the destructive nature of marrying for pleasure: "I'th'court, There is a kind of honey-dew that's deadly: 'Twill poison your fame." Ferdinand also suggests that by marrying twice the Duchess will be seen as 'luxurious', suggesting that a second marriage is portrayed as wicked.

    • Word count: 666
  7. With reference to Act 2, show how 'The White Devil' is psychologically rather than graphically horrific.

    Perhaps Webster uses this as a ?shock tactic?, making a Catholic Jacobean audience question whether a higher power is really protecting them if they would allow the archetype of goodness die in such a manner. This thought would have resonated in the 17th century as new discoveries in sciences such as astronomy may have made many wonder whether ?believers? were actually any better than ?non-believers?. Brachiano definitely has the qualities of a villainous ?non-believer? taken to a hyperbolic level, severing any ties with the chaste Isabella, referring to the man that married her as just a ?dead shadow? of himself.

    • Word count: 834

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