The fact that Antonio can never have an equal relationship with the Duchess has prompted some readers to feel that his importance as a character in the play is limited, while others suggest that his main role is as a mouthpiece for Webster's own judgements and opinions. To assess the importance of his role we need to consider it relation to the Duchess, and in the context of the play as a whole. Inequalities of power associated with gender and social status are highlighted in the relationship between The Duchess and Antonio, and the reactions of others towards their relationship. In Antonio's self-deprecating dying speech,
Antonio: We follow after bubbles, blown in th'air. [Act V, Scene iv] we see that he admits to his life having been filled more with promise than performance. He is a good man, but has been no match for the situation in which Webster placed him. Antonio is introduced into the play as an outsider to Amalfi, returning home along with his confidant Delio. Delio can be perceived as a more intelligent character than Antonio; almost the 'counsellors counsellor', and more down-to-earth than his friend. Their dialogue serves to introduce the audience to the theme of how a well-governed court could be run, which will contrast dramatically to the corrupt Antonio will find at Amalfi. At the court they encounter Bosola, the malcontent, who later likens the virtuous Antonio to a 'cedar planted by a spring', an image which contrasts to Bolola's view of the Aragon brothers (The Duchess's brothers: The Cardinal and Ferdinand) as, plum trees, that grow crooked [Act 1, Scene i]
Being of lower social status, Antonio is perhaps an unlikely match for the scheming Duchess, and being an honest man he is uncomfortable with the plotting and deceit in which he becomes involved. Antonio is considered to be equal to the Duchess in that he has acquired the level of education necessary to be a counsellor; he has gained status, in terms of the Renaissance humanist...
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