To What Extent Can Bosola Be Considered a Tragic Hero? Essay

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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,
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Bosola’s role as a malcontent – a notion which implies a restless, disillusioned spirit – is essential to the part he has to play as an antagonist to the Duchess and Antonio. As soon as he enters in Act I, scene i, this bitterness is instantly revealed in his address to the Cardinal – “I do haunt you still”, “I have done you better than to be slighted thus”. We are shown a man who, while perfectly willing to carry out orders, is unwilling to be snubbed. This reveals an independence of character in Bosola, which, unlike the character of Iago in Othello (whose sadism and cruelty place him firmly as the lead antagonist of the play) lends itself to a strength of spirit that will ultimately lead him to rebel against his employers and avenge the Duchess. This disparity in what he allows Ferdinand to instruct him to do and what he eventually does could be taken to be a tragic flaw – one which leads to his downfall. This essential dichotomy in Bosola’s character – that his cynical nature would have the Duchess fail, but his unexpressed empathy would have her survive[3] - leads us, unavoidably, to pity him; his contempt leads to the Duchess’ death, but his compassion leads to the death of her enemies.

The notion of the tragic hero as a victor – and a victim – is also intrinsically linked with the concept of the tragic hero. Were we to argue that Bosola’s role as a tragic hero is a convincing one, necessity predicates that he would need to have
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