The Duchess of Malti

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John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi and Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock each feature females as the dominate characters, but represent them in very different ways. In Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi it is made clear and significantly expresses how being vigorous, prideful and independent are not solely male characteristics, but assist in empowering women. In Pope’s The Rape of the Lock he presents women of circumstance and their over the top reactions to events that are superficially inconsequential, ruled over by a culture of consumerism and materialistic and vain necessities. In The Duchess of Malfi the Duchess is a powerful and independent widow who defies her male kinsmen by ignoring their warning against her remarrying, a steward beneath her station, as they view this second marriage as an act of dishonor against the family. The Duchess, a character that is in control of her actions, displays a strength and sense of pride that successfully personifies the contradictory traits of “manly” behavior while maintaining the feminine appearance needed to uphold the balance in-between the barricades of social confines. Webster contrasts the weaknesses of the male character to reveal the superiority of the Duchess over the male characters, the Cardinal, Bosola, Ferdianand, and Antonio are all juxtaposed to the qualities of the Duchess showing her true rule over them. The Cardinal is painted as a detached, manipulative, important official in the Roman Catholic church who is contrasted by the Duchess' fervent personality which illuminates the power of the female presence in the play. Through his relationship with his mistress, Julia, the Cardinal shows his lack in emotion. In opposition to the Cardinal's relationship with Julia, t... ... middle of paper ... ...own heaven upon me then may feed in quiet." (IV ii 208-215) In this her final address, the Duchess reinforces herself as the opposite of Antonio, who wavers and makes several missteps throughout the play. By contrasting these two honest and good hearted lovers only brings further confirmation even honest male characters have faults and weaknesses that lead to the further empowerment of the female character. The Duchess of Malfi, shows characteristics like passion, integrity, strength, virtue, and independence. However, this alone does not bring about the true heir of dominance, this is shown through the faults that lie within the male characters of the play. The Cardinal's uncaring disposition, Bosola's lack of stability and evil nature, Ferdinand's abuse of power, and Antonio's lack of direction all play part in the illumination of the Duchess' dominant qualities.

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