The Ways Webster Presents the Duchess

1025 Words5 Pages
Critical opinion about the ways Webster presents the Duchess is

divided. Some critics blame her for being irresponsible, bold and too

passionate. Others praise her for her courage in fighting against

tyrannical authority.

Consider these two opinions in the light of your study of the play.

What do you think of Webster's Duchess?

In good pieces of literature such as Webster's Duchess of Malfi, an

intriguing and captivating character should always have two sides, and

with such a complex character critical opinion will always be divided.

In this essay I will assess ways in which the character of the Duchess

causes conflict in opinion, and show my opinion as to whether she is

courageous or perhaps irresponsible.

During the course of the play, the Duchess can be seen to commit a lot

of irresponsible actions, ones, some might say eventually cause her

own downfall and some what tragically, her death. It could be argued

that the Duchess asking Antonio to marry her was an irresponsible

action, she knew the society they lived in would not allow someone of

her status to marry a man beneath her like Antonio, therefore some

critics would argue she brought on her death herself by being

irresponsible and also too passionate. At the beginning of the play,

Antonio is describing how a good court should be run and sets up a

contrast early on between the corrupt Italian court the play is based

in and the model French court, "Quits first his royal palace of

flatt'ring sycophants." Antonio explains how an honest court makes a

successful court, and shows the Duchess as irresponsible as it is her

who starts the deceit and lies which lead to the court becoming a


Critics describing her as 'bold' seem to be using ...

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...s of

the society. I believe the Duchess illuminates that there is goodness

in the society and this was Webster's point in creating her. Webster's

play hence is a statement against the society at the time, however the

Duchess doesn't survive the society, therefore I think Webster is

trying to point out that the corruption that occurs in such a society

has to end before more innocent lives are tragically ended.

In conclusion although opinion about Webster's Duchess of Malfi is

critically divided, I would sooner praise her for her courage in

fighting against tyrannical authority rather than blame her for her

own death due to being irresponsible, bold and too passionate. I think

Webster created his Duchess in order to show that the Jacobean society

they lived in was corrupt and it takes a strong person like the

Duchess of Malfi to stand dignified within it.
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