Theme Of Dualism In The Duchess Of Malfi

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The Dualities of “The Duchess of Malfi”
Throughout Webster’s play “The Duchess of Malfi”, there is an ever present theme of duality that pervades through the story. Instances of characters being depicted as either animals or insects, imagery of poisoned and pure water, and the depiction of characters being each other’s twin both figuratively and literally, are constant. However, this is not simply story building by Webster. One could argue that the symbolism of all of these actions helps to make each of the characters slightly more homogenized to the others, but in fact, it does the complete opposite. By introducing this concept “twinning” Webster compares and contrasts his own characters without saying he is doing so outright. Though there
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The first of their similarities is in their view of interclass relations. The primary conflict of the play is due directly to the desire of Antonio and the Duchess of Malfi to be wed. Antonio, understanding that this type of matrimony would be generally frowned upon due to his role in society, is hesitant to enter into any sort of relationship with the Duchess regardless of his desires, as shown in act I scene II. Though he is willing to flirt with the Duchess, Antonio initially states that he sees marriage as either a personal heaven or hell (I.i. 401). Not only does this show his reservations of marriage in general, but also this is Antonio’s way of politely informing the Duchess that he does not think their relationship is appropriate to continue further, yet when prodded further to embrace her, he does so. In this, Ellen Belton argues that Antonio is “modeled after the stoic philosopher, the man who had realized his potential inner strength to a degree where he was contemptuous of the rewards of Fortune, ready for death” and in this is able to withstand any evil which is produced to hinder his efforts (474). Antonio’s good nature as an “everyman’ provides Ferdinand the opportunity to shine in what he does best: …show more content…
Antonio’s love of the Duchess is shown as romantic, natural, and above all, healthy. His affections do show a desire to be seen by others as her husband instead of ruling “only in the night” (III.ii.8), which also shows an aspect of the desire to have control, but unlike Ferdinand, his ambitions do not reach much further than that. Ferdinand exists as the corrupted representation of Antonio’s love for the Duchess. Instead of showing affection, Ferdinand exerts control on his sister, demanding that she remain unwed as shown in the lines “ Marry? They are most / luxurious, / Will wed twice” (I.i.304-305) though she is in a position of immense power and should be able to control her own life and sexuality. In addition to his desire to control her, Ferdinand uses phallic symbolism towards his sister, not only mirroring the affections of Antonio, but also adding incestuous to his list of personality flaws. In Martha Lifson’s Essay “Embodied Morality in The Duchess of Malfi”, she argues that Ferdinand “exhibits incestuous longing out of a desperate ‘desire to evade degrading association with inferiors’”(50). By living her life as she chooses, the Duchess is attempting to upend the rule that he brother attempts to impose upon her, but by doing so brings upon his wrath further,

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