To What Extent Can Bosola Be Considered a Tragic Hero?

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To what extent can Bosola be considered a tragic hero?

“Let worthy minds ne’er stagger in distrust/ to suffer death or shame for what is just. / Mine is another voyage.”

Thus the dying Bosola concludes his last speech and, in doing so, ends the life of a character whose very nature is at odds with the others’ – and with himself. For Bosola is a paradox: as a malcontent, he delivers line after line of poisonous verse; insults old women; sneers at the Cardinal and Ferdinand, whom he sees (justifiably so) as having manipulated him; and maintains an almost universal apathy towards the rest of the characters – in the words of Brian Gibbons, a “stance of disgust inclining towards the misanthropic”[1] – and yet, for all his shortcomings, Bosola begins to exhibit a change of heart that we would not otherwise have expected from such an odious character. He begins to redeem himself, both by revealing a more sympathetic side to his persona and by ultimately sacrificing himself in order to kill Ferdinand. This inherent duality within Bosola – a duality which proves to be both his downfall and his salvation – is closely linked with the classical notion of the tragic hero: that he should neither be wholly good, nor wholly evil, and that “there remains a mean between these two extremes” which the tragic hero is meant to occupy[2]. While the Duchess is marked from the outset as the protagonist – and, arguably, a tragic heroine in her own right – it is left to Bosola, when all the others have been killed, to avenge her. Moreover, Bosola’s final act – his killing of the chief antagonist, Ferdinand – serves partly to reconcile him with the audience; by ending his life with a ‘good’ deed, Bosola redeems himself in our eyes and we finish the play with a renewed respect – and pity – for him. By no means, however, does he necessarily satisfy all the classical criteria for the role of tragic hero – he is of a relatively low social standing; the classical tragic hero was typically...
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