The Duchess As a Very Remarkable Woman in a Man's World

Powerful Essays
The Duchess As a Very Remarkable Woman in a Man's World

The Duchess is clearly the central figure in the play and manages to

dominate proceedings, despite the untouchable power of her brothers

and the firmly established patriarchal system in early-16th century

Italy. She displays many admirably qualities, although her courageous

strength and passion could be perceived as threatening in a

male-dominated society. The Duchess is the sole female figure with any

sort of power and respect in Webster's play. This is unusual firstly,

because he based The Duchess Of Malfi on a version by William Painter

in which the Duchess was portrayed as too lusty in a sternly

moralistic fashion honourable as opposed to honourable. Also, although

the Duchess is never referred to by her name, she is a very individual

character and, having no female equals, conducts herself very well as

a free spirit in a world of stifling constrictions.

The Duchess exhibits her free will and nonchalance toward her

brothers' controlling nature by marrying Antonio irrespective of their

opinions. In response to Ferdinand and the Cardinal's bitter diatribe

against remarriage, the Duchess wittily responds completely unafraid,

"I think this speech between you both was studied, / It came so

roundly off." Not only does she marry against the rule of jealous men,

but also, she marries someone she loves instead of using her body as a

tool of commerce as was common with fathers practically selling their

daughters to their husbands. The Duchess breaks the accepted rules

regarding station as Antonio is a commoner and not a highly respected

courtier, who was worthy of receiving the famil...

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As he noted, unlike men, animals are kind to their young, faithful to

their mates, and do not wage war against each other. He felt the

superiority of reason was overrated, having severed men from their

natural, instinctive qualities (which the Duchess seems to possess

above her brothers).

William Painter's collection of stories The Palace of Pleasure

(1566-67), with the difference being that Painter adopts a judgmental

& sternly moralistic attitude toward the duchess because she

proves too lusty and

breaks the accepted "rules" regarding degree or station.

Webster breaks with this tradition: he presents the duchess as

courageous, strong and honorable.

Does not use body as means of power, woman as tool of commerce "sold"

from father to husband, political power found in child-bearing