"Whether the spirit of greatness or woman reigns most in her, I know not, but it shows a fearful madness. I owe her much of pity" (I.i. 492)How far do you agree with Cariola's lines as a summary of the Duchess?

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“Whether the spirit of greatness or woman reigns most in her, I know not, but it shows a fearful madness.  I owe her much of pity” (I.i. 492)

How far do you agree with Cariola’s lines as a summary of the Duchess?  You should base your answer on an examination of two or more appropriate sequences of your choice.

The Duchess certainly has the spirit of greatness in her, as she shows in her death scene, where her nobility and courage are proved.  However, she is also subject to the ‘spirit of woman’, shown in the scene where she woos Antonio, as it is essentially this which leads to her downfall and can be seen as her hermatia, her fatal mistake which was part of the typical structure of a revenge tragedy.  It is her longing for a loving relationship regardless of her public responsibilities, a completely new philosophy in the Jacobean time, and her blindness to the impossibility of what she is trying to achieve (the separation of her private and public bodies), which lead to her death.  Cariola’s lines are a fair assessment of the Duchess, who has both the spirit of greatness and woman in her, although I think that by the end of the play her spirit of greatness certainly reigns most in her.

The Duchess has the spirit of woman in her, she makes her judgements, like her decision to woo and marry Antonio, as a woman and essentially without reasoning and rationalising the possible consequences of her decision.  The Duchess takes control in the sequence,

‘a saucy … devil is dancing in this circle’ (Antonio)

‘Remove him’ (Duchess)

‘How?’ (Antonio)

… [She puts the ring on his finger],

Antonio is seemingly in awe of her, and incapable of making the first move, which can be attributed to the Duchess’ recognition that, ‘The misery of us that are born great, we are forced to woo because none dare woo us’.  She does not recognise that the whole idea of being wooed, especially by someone like Antonio is inappropriate for her, and that she should marry, if at all, for her family.   In the Jacobean period, family was regarded as dynastic, as Theodora Janowski comments, ‘the nature of Renaissance dynastic marriage served almost totally to objectify the woman’.  The female would be regarded as a producer of heirs, she would be married to a man of equally noble blood and would be expected to have children to keep the family blood going for another generation.  The Duchess here looks at her marriage as for love and separate from family or public duties.

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In the same speech the Duchess states, ‘we [those of noble blood] are forced to express our violent passions in riddles and in dreams, and leave the path of simple virtue’, she recognises she has ‘violent passions’ and sees no wrong in it, Ferdinand sees it as in inherent flaw in women, as did most men of the period, women were stereotyped as hot-blooded and ‘lusty’, a character trait embodied in the play by Julia, who typifies all the male views of women.  

The Duchess’ repetition of ‘forced’ in her speech suggests that she sees it as inevitable that ...

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