With reference to at least two plays you have studied, explore how the playwrights’ use of contrasting characters contributes to the impact of the plays. Introduction
Ferdinand and the Duchess
The Duchess of Malfi is a woman of strong character and deep feeling. Capable of joy and affectionate teasing, she is also able to bear danger, grief, and terror with courage. Her brothers’ attempts to drive her mad fail, and her dignified nobility at her death transforms the character of her murderer. Ferdinand, the twin brother of the duchess is hopelessly corrupt, arrogant, domineering, and cruel; he forbids his widowed sister to marry again and sets a master spy to watch over her. Finding that she is in love and secretly married, he uses every form of inhuman torture that he can devise to break her mind, then has her murdered. Remorse drives him to madness. In his frenzy, he wounds his brother, mortally wounds Bosola, and receives his death wound from the latter. The duchess of the play is a headstrong but noble woman who says to her executioners: “Pull, and pull strongly, for your able strength, Must pull down heaven upon me.” Nobility notwithstanding, her “passion is out of place,” for Antonio is but head steward of her household. In wooing Antonio she denies the chain of being on its social level. Even at the moment when she and Antonio confess their love, they are therefore threatened. In act 1, scene 3 she tries to ease his fears: Ant.: But for your brothers?Duch.: Do not think of them:All discord without this circumferenceIs only to be pitied, not fear’d:Yet, should they know it, time will easilyScatter the tempest. Her optimism is that of the pure soul, but she misjudges the power of those outside “this circumference.” Her willfulness and passion are lust in the eyes of her brothers, the Church, and society at large. Webster communicates the sweetness of the romance, however, so thoroughly that the lovers are totally sympathetic throughout. The Duchess is a...
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