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Duchess of Malfi

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‘The outsider is always an intriguing figure in literature’ Consider ways in which writers explore those who are placed outside the centre of society.

In duchess of Malfi, we are introduced with an ‘outside’ location in which Malfi is a warning against dangers of corruption within their court. Similarly, Milton’s disillusionment of Paradise lost is highly criticised as it’s viewed that Satan is a representative of Cromwell. Women such as wives and mothers in the 17th century were seen as outsiders and this can be supported with both the Duchess in the Duchess of Malfi and Eve in Paradise Lost. The Duchess and Eve are restricted by their gender and therefore can be seen as an outsider due to their masculine traits and also a transgressor for not staying within their role. Duchess of Malfi characters are also Catholics who in Webster’s era were mistrusted and despised. Milton on the other hand, may be warning against acting outside of God’s jurisdiction as he was a Protestant. Both Webster and Milton can be seen as outsiders in that they offer critiques of the centre of society from the outside an example is Cromwell’s puritans, supported by Milton, persecuted free expression of the arts and Charles II allowed for much freer expression in his reign.

In both texts the Duchess and Eve can be seen as an outsider who are intriguing figures as they are both women who transgress against men. The Duchess is a compelling stage presence as a critic refers to her as ‘strength…in weakness’ due to her not being able to win against her all-powerful brothers however, she is ‘Duchess of Malfi still’. The Duchess can be seen as bold as she has the desire to live life away from the life of authority which we may perceive as an undeniable strength. The play is seen as a social tragedy involving a woman attempting to transgress social bounds and seen as a threat to society. Therefore, it was seen by audiences to be a warning against questioning of social norms. We can see Webster’s play to be a challenge to a society if his time which didn’t allow women to have it all - which forced the Duchess to face her brothers’ retribution. The Duchess faces problems of being an independent woman and this makes her a tragic protagonist like the real life Duchess Giovanna of Amalfi.

Similarly, Eve’s strive in Paradise Lost to being independent enables her to transgress and also causes both her and Adam’s fall. Her initial proposal for increasing productivity independently seems at first sensible however Eve insists on her independence and moral in seeking her ‘happiest knowledge and her praise’ in her own unaided ability to resist temptation. Eve yields to temptation through a combination of vanity and argument by the serpent - it is Eve’s weakness that Satan plays with and therefore Eve can not detect the flaws in his arguments. Eve changes after she eats the forbidden fruit and, like the Duchess, wants to become equal to man or perhaps his superior. However, she is fearful of losing Adam to another female creation and it therefore could be argued Eve still relies on dependency. Overall, both the Duchess and Eve’s craving for independence provokes their fall and turns them into a tragic character.

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