Defying Male Power in John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi Essay

Defying Male Power in John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi Essay

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   John Webster's play The Duchess of Malfi is an illustration of the unequal power relations between the sexes during the sixteenth century. In the play the brothers Ferdinand and the Cardinal are shown as men who want to control their sister the Duchess by not letting her remarry. Out of this situation emerges the Duchess who, in spite of her promise not to marry again (p. 1298), will do the complete opposite, thus defying male power. Her conversation with Antonio (lines 317-61, pp. 1292-3) is an example of this because in her speech the Duchess intends to make Antonio realize that she is against both the conventions of marriage codes and men's assumptions of women's sexuality.

The Duchess, after she puts her wedding-ring upon Antonio's finger, sets out to convince him that they have the right to become husband and wife. She tells him that his lower status should not stop her from marrying him. Being a Duchess, she argues, she has the power to "raise [him] higher" (line 319). When Antonio objects to such an "ambition" she even offers him her riches. Thus the Duc...

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