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

2509 Words11 Pages
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... ... middle of paper ... ... 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 capabilities.

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

      Open Document