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ENGLISH LITERATURE: The Duchess of Malfi > ACT 2 > Flashcards

Flashcards in ACT 2 Deck (13):

How does the structure in this act clearly contrast to the themes presented in the previous act?

Act One ends with an image of a loving relationship in which women can be powerful and men can accept that shift in roles and, indeed, reject ambition (often seen as a masculine trait). This is immediately juxtaposed at the beginning of Act Two with the return to mockery, ambition and misogyny. This reminds us of the fragility of the relationship between the Duchess and Antonio in the 'rank pasture' of the court. Our fear for their survival is heightened when we realise that time has passed and the Duchess is pregnant - reminding us of her female and domestic role, vulnerable in late pregnancy. Just as Antonio and Delio began by observing the court in Act One, so Bosola, as 'intelligencer' for the brothers, observes the Duchess at an intimate moment of her life and his language and attitude further reinforce the danger she is in. The proxemics, therefore, of people watching other people remind us that no one is safe, that 'actions . . . will come to light.'


Describe the beginning of this act and why the interaction between Bosola and Castruchio is significant?

The scene begins by reintroducing the central theme of ambition - which Antonio has already called 'a great man's madness'. In terms of both the play and Jacobean society, one of the key ambitions was to rise at court. Here, however, the tone is obviously satirical as Bosola instructs Castruchio, through his evident intellect and wit, on how to fulfil his ambition of being an 'eminent courtier' through such ludicrous acts as twirling 'the strings of your band with a good grace' and blowing one's nose at the end of a sentence. He then mocks an Old Lady as well as humanity's obsession with appearances.


Why is Bosola's differing dialogue important here?

Bosola's dialogue changes from prose to blank verse, presumably to reflect the more serious tone as his images of disease and rottenness highlight another theme - the ephemeral nature of man.


Describe the use of the symbol of apricots.

In the same way as with his changing dialogue, although Bosola reveals that he is about to tempt the Duchess with apricots as part of his spying mission for the brothers, Webster develops his complexity as a character, ensuring that we view him as more than simply an antagonist in the tragedy. Even as he watches the Duchess eat the apricots, his use of humour and asides ensure that we can laugh at and maybe even admire his wit whilst wincing at Antonio's naivety in thinking that he 'understand[s Bosola's] inside'.


How does Bosola describe women in the second scene and how does this contribute to the misogyny seen throughout the play?

Bosola has much to say about women in this scene, reducing the Duchess to animal status by referring to her pregnancy as 'breeding'. Indeed, in his conversation with the Old Lady, he suggests that women are interested only in financial gain ('precious reward') which they seek to achieve through their relationships with men. The brothers share his low opinion of women, but interestingly, the Duchess has nothing to gain through her marriage to Antonio, other than love. Nonetheless, both Bosola and the servants engage in sexual innuendos contributing to the misogyny in the scene.


Describe the interaction between Delio and Antonio in the second scene.

Delio attempts to calm Antonio when his fear provokes him to predict danger. He suggests that it is ridiculous to be controlled by superstition, reinforcing his own practical common sense and reminding us that Antonio does not represent a stereotype of masculinity in his anxiety. (Connection to Mitch?) But, contextually, in the Jacobean world, ideas about superstition and fate were rife given the instability of the period. Indeed, Jacobeans believed in the alignment of the stars at the exact time of a child's birth predicting that child's future. Such mystical belief did not appear to conflict with their Christian conviction.


How is tension presented between Antonio and Bosola in the third scene?

The tension here is heightened by the night-time setting and the offstage noises which all help to intensify the antagonism between Bosola and Antonio, a tension which is further enhanced by Antonio's anxious asides to the audience especially given Webster's use of dramatic irony here as we know that Bosola is a threat to the arguably naïve Antonio. The tension between the two men is demonstrated in the shared and half lines and interrogatives and stichomythic dialogue - all give a sense of breathlessness and anxiousness. Interestingly, whilst Bosola's language is often full of animalistic imagery, here so is Antonio's, suggesting a development in his character as he seeks to protect his wife and unborn child from danger.


How are props used in the third scene for dramatic effect?

Props are significant here - the 'dark lantern' (a convention of the time to indicate night), the horoscope and the handkerchief which is then soaked in blood, provide a sinister foreshadowing of the inevitability of the tragedy to come. Indeed, the horoscope threatens a 'short life' and a 'violent death' - which is a proleptic moment to the end of the play (and beyond) when this child is presented as the 'hopeful' heir.


How does Julia intensify the misogynistic view of women in the fourth scene that has been previously presnted?

The Cardinal's conversation with Julia reminds us of the misogynistic patriarchal society in the play and as this is immediately followed by Delio's propositioning of her reducing her to a prostitute, this adds to the sense of women being continually demeaned by men whilst simultaneously deepening the play's moral ambiguity.


Could Webster possibly be suggesting something other than misogyny in this fourth scene, particularly through Delio's character?

Misogyny is evident because Webster tarnishes Delio's reputation here since he has previously been seen as a virtuous character by the audience. Is Webster suggesting that the corruption of the court eventually taints even the good characters? Is he exposing the essential weakness of women, furthering our fear and pity for the Duchess? Are Delio's actions a way of ensuring that he can obtain further information about the Cardinal in order to protect his friend and the Duchess? Does our disappointment in Delio remind us that Antonio is too naïve in trusting him? (Bear in mind that it is Delio who seems to be a 'father-figure' for the orphaned son at the end of the play - does this suggest that the 'restored order' we can expect at the end of Renaissance tragedies will simply result in another patriarchal society no different from the one we have seen in the course of the play?)


Describe the effects of the Cardinal and Julia's relationship.

The scene is also interesting in providing us with a powerfully contrasting relationship to the loving one shared by the Duchess and Antonio. Instead, the Cardinal and Julia have an adulterous, manipulative relationship which heightens the moral legitimacy of the Duchess - even though she has disobeyed her brothers. It also serves to intensify the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church evident in the play. The role of Julia is interesting - she is presented as witty but also as a commodity for the male characters. Delio offers her money and the Cardinal speaks of her using animalistic and sexually charged language. All this is being presented whilst the Duchess is presumably nursing her baby - structural decisions which once again heighten the vulnerability of women. (Compare this to the staging decisions in Streetcar where Blanche is so often isolated and vulnerable at the end of each scene).


How is Ferdinand presented in the final scene of this act and why is this significant when considering his downfall at the end of the play?

Volatile and unstable, Ferdinand has been thrown into a violent passion by Bosola's news of the birth of the child. His mental imbalance develops from this point to its climax into lycanthropia after the Duchess' death in Act 4. His fury is motivated in part by what seems to be incestuous jealousy, yet he also takes a perverse delight in imagining his sister in 'the shameful act of sin' with various lovers of low social status. His urge towards sexually sadistic revenge is just as unrestrained as his sexual fantasising, culminating in the threat to feed the Duchess' lover a broth made from their child. A psychoanalytical reading of Ferdinand's lycanthropia suggests that it reveals, in the animal and bestial behaviour, a deep anxiety about male sexuality and gender roles.


Why is the realtionship between the two brothers particularly important in the fifth scene?

The scene is made more interesting because we see the contrasting characterisation of the two brothers - the Cardinal is angry but restrained, unlike the gathering madness of Ferdinand. Both, however, as a combined force, remind us how dangerous they are to the women (and men) of the play who do not conform to their desires. There's clear connection to Streetcar here with the brothers' dislike of the royal blood being 'tainted' by a commoner. This is similar to Blanche's mistrust of Stanley, although, in contrast, she accepts that people from different backgrounds will mix ensuring a degree of survival.