Women in The Duchess of Malfi and The Changeling Essay

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The Duchess in John Webster’s tragic play, The Duchess of Malfi, and Beatrice Joanna in Thomas Middleton and William Rowley’s The Changeling, are both strong women living in a male-dominated society. The two women attempt to free themselves from this subordination by choosing to love that they desire. Both pay with their lives for this chance at freedom, but differ in their moral decisions about how they attempt it. Beatrice Joanna’s plan involves murder, whereas the widowed Duchess merely lives the life she chooses, then plots to leave Malfi. Both women are forced into their actions, but, whereas Beatrice Joanna is Machiavellian in her actions, the Duchess is morally superior. Webster based his play on a real-life 16th…show more content…
It is her brothers, Ferdinand and the Cardinal, who are murderous and immoral in their plot to save the family reputation and inheritance. It is they who are consumed with aristocratic pride. It is their sibling jealousy and male pride that causes them to kill the Duchess. From the onset of the play the Duchess is described as noble and virtuous. Antonio says: Her days are practiced in such noble virtue That sure her nights –nay, more, her very sleeps— Are more in heaven than other ladies’ schrifts (1.1.201). She is sexually confident and outgoing, and views marriage as a positive, loving venture. On the contrary, her brothers see marriage as a prison for women and a playhouse for men. The Cardinal believes “The marriage night/Is entrance into some prison” (1.1.326), and Ferdinand views it as the males’ time for sex when he says “And those joys,/Those lustful pleasures, are like heavy sleeps/Which do forerun man’s mischief (1.1. 328).” The Duchess defies society’s view of marriage. She marries the second time for love, but only after she has had an active sex life, and three children. Furthermore, it is she who proposes to Antonio, and it is she who puts a ring on his finger. When he kneels before her, she helps him up. Here marriage is not a contract where husband is superior to wife, but rather

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