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Challenging cultural stereotypes: women tragic protagonists in Jacobean drama Marriott, John Eric 1994

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CHALLENGING CULTURAL STEREOTYPES:WOMEN TRAGIC PROTAGONISTS IN JACOBEAN DRAMAbyJOHN ERIC MARRIOTTBEd., The University of Saskatchewan, 1954B.A., The University of Saskatchewan, 1955B.Th., Wycliffe College, Toronto, 1959M.A., The University of Saskatchewan, 1975A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILMENT OFTHE REQUiREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OFDOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHYinTHE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES(Department of English)We accept this thesis as conformingto the required standardTHE UNWERS1TY OF BRITISH COLUMBIASeptember 1994© John Eric Marriott, 1994In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanceddegree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make itfreely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensivecopying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of mydepartment or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying orpublication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my writtenpermission.Department of EnglishThe University of British ColumbiaVancouver, CanadaDate October 11, 1994DE-6 (2/88)ABSTRACTWritten against a background of intellectual and social ferment over woman’s nature and role, the eight plays discussed implicitly criticize Renaissance society’s refusalto recognize woman’s full humanity by presenting strong, intelligent heroines seekingpersonal fulfilment in a hostile culture. For Shakespeare’s Desdemona and Cleopatra,sexuality is an integral part of the love they offer Othello and Antony who, however,stereotypically see women’s sexuality as wantonness and temptation. lago easily persuades Othello that Desdemona’s independent spirit is a sign of lust. For Antony,Cleopatra’s love is a temptation to political and military indolence. Because her brothers see her remarriage as a taint on family honour, Webster’s Duchess of Malfi must actclandestinely to obtain a sexually and personally fulfilling marriage for which, on its discovery, the brothers take a horrible revenge. Socially ambitious, Vittoria Corombonatoo seeks sexual fulfilment and resorts to murder to escape an unfulfilling marriage andgain status. For both women, the resort to deception or to evil seems necessary in anevil, corrupt and hostile world which takes its revenge on both. Beaumont’s Evadneuses her sexual power to become the King’s mistress, hoping thereby to escape the social forces that victimize women. She finds herself, however, caught between conflictingcodes of honour whose adherents all reject her as a kind of social pariah. Middleton’sBianca Capello, Isabella and Beatrice-Joanna attempt to escape the tyranny of enforcedmarriage by elopement, adultery, or murder in a corrupt society, which paying lip service to, but not itself observing conventional morality, passes harsh judgement on themfor their breaches of convention. Acceptance of, rather than rebellion against, enforcedmarriage leads Ford’s Penthea to a pathological brooding which results in her owndeath and the deaths of the chief characters. Though the five playwrights offer no solutions to their society’s tyranny over women, they strongly imply the need to adopt amore natural and comprehensive paradigm of woman.11TABLE OF CONTENTS11Table of Contents iiiAcknow1edement ivDedicationvChapter One Introduction: Historical, Social and Conceptual Background 1End Notes 22Chapter Two Shakespeare: Desdemona and Cleopatra 27End Notes 70Chapter Three John Webster: Vittoria Corombona and The Duchessof Malfi 73End Notes 117Chapter Four Beaumont and Fletcher: Evadne 124End Notes 153Chapter Five Thomas Middleton: Bianca Capello, Isabella andBeatrice-Joanna 156End Notes 207Chapter Six John Ford and the Closing of the Debate, and Conclusion 212End Notes 235Bibliography 237111ACKNOWLEDGEMENTThe author acknowledges with gratitude the invaluable advice, direction and criticismof his supervisor Dr. Kay Stockholder of the Department of English, University ofBritish Columbia, as well as the valuable help of the other members of his committee,Dr. Anthony B. Dawson and Dr. Kate Sirluck, also of the English Department,University of British Columbia. He is also grateful for the practical advice andassistance of the successive Chairpersons of the Graduate Committee during his time asa graduate student, Dr. Laurie Ricou, Dr. Paul Stanwood and Dr. Ira Nadel, andespecially to Ms. Rosemary Leech, the Graduate Secretary. He also thanks the EnglishDepartment for the five graduate teaching assistantships granted him during his timewith the Department which provided both a means of financial support and theopportunity to teach.ivTo the Memory ofBarbara Ruth St. John,1942-1994VCHAPTER ONE: HISTORICAL, SOCIAL AND CONCEPTUALBACKGROUNDThe highest development of the English Renaissance drama, it is generallyagreed, occurred during the last decade of the sixteenth century and the first two of theseventeenth, the age of Shakespeare and his younger contemporaries and immediatesuccessors. This high point was itself contemporary with the most intense period in acontroversy over the nature of woman and of her role in society. This controversy,arising out of social change, was accompanied and fueled by the humanist affirmationof the dignity of man which, in some circles at least, raised the question whether manwas to be taken as a sexual word meaning only male or as a generic word including in itsmeaningfemale. Although strong willed, strong minded women of the privileged classeshad probably always been able to carve out for themselves places of power andinfluence, the lives of women in general in Western European society had been severelycircumscribed. By the end of the Renaissance that circumscription appears to havebecome even stricter and narrower, but during the intervening period, for a number ofreasons, women were, in the words of Bridenthall and Koonz, “becoming visible”;notice was being taken of them, and a lively debate developed about them. Womenthemselves were, in fact, beginning to assert their own claim to at least a sort ofequality. Some men, accustomed by centuries of tradition to a dominant role, expressedoutrage at the new prominence women seemed to be achieving, while women founddefenders and new champions in the more liberal minded of the humanists.At the same time women characters receive a new prominence on the stage.Although the Jacobean dramatists who make women major tragic figures in their playsprobably should not be considered protofeminists, they were, nevertheless, keenobservers of the world around them, men who recognized that the traditional12stereotyping of women as either chaste virgin goddesses or as intemperately lustfulwhores did not accord with or account for the complexity and variety that theyobserved. Whether by intent or not, by portraying women on stage in a more realisticmanner, as neither angels nor devils, but as human beings, they challenged thetraditional attitudes and views.Those traditional views and attitudes were often expressed by characters on stage,but they are frequently undercut by the portrayal of the women characters themselves.They are not always portrayed as good, but their wickedness is not attributedexclusively, if at all, to their sexuality and lust, though some of them, certainly, do usetheir sexuality to gain their ends or to achieve their ambitions. Following Roland deSousa, Noel Carroll, in his article “The Image of Women in Film: A Defense of aParadigm”, calls these stereotypes, or images of women “paradigm scenarios”. Becausethe modern motion picture plays a very similar role in our culture to that of the dramain Elizabethan-Jacobean culture as popular entertainment, da Sousa’s and Carroll’sviews are of relevance to the present study. Carroll quotes da Sousa’s explanation ofparadigm scenarios:We are made familiar with the vocabulary of emotion by association withparadigm scenarios. These are drawn first from our daily life as smallchildren and later reinforced by the stories, art and culture to which weare exposed. Later still, in literate cultures, they are supplemented andrefined by literature. Paradigm scenarios involve two aspects: first asituation type providing the characteristic objects of the specific emotionaltype, and second, a set of characteristic or “normal” responses to thesituation, where normality is first a biological matter and then veryquickly becomes a cultural one. (The Rationality ofEmotions, 182, quotedby Carroll, 356. Original emphasis.)Carroll himself states, “Given a situation, an encultured individual attempts, generallyintuitively, to fit a paradigm scenario from her repertoire to it” (356). He states a littlelater that “Male emotional responses to women...will be shaped by the paradigmscenarios that they bring to those situations.” (356-357) Carroll does not see these3paradigms as necessarily defective representations, but he does note that a “pattern ofemotional attention, if made operational in specific cases, can be oppressive towomen...” (357). This chapter will examine that cultural response and its development,the development of “paradigm scenarios”, up to the time of Shakespeare and his fellowplaywrights. The basic thesis of the succeeding chapters will be that the dramatists ofthe late Elizabethan and the Jacobean eras knew the paradigm scenarios by which theirsociety tended to judge women, and though they portrayed many characters, particularlymen, who held those paradigms and judged women by them, they portrayed womenthemselves in such a manner as to undercut and call into question the adequacy ofthose paradigms and to challenge their “normality”.1Those traditional attitudes were the product of a long history reaching back intoantiquity. At early stages of the Middle Ages, high born women, at least, enjoyed adegree of freedom, autonomy, and power. As McNamara and Wemple note, earlymedieval women “were capable of carrying responsibilities equal to those of men”, andwere frequent participants “in Merovingian times in spreading Christianity and buildinga new society”. Such activities “led to the legal recognition of their economic andmarital rights in the Carolingian period” so that “the women of tenth and eleventhcenturies had an unprecedented opportunity to use their talents.” Women’s totalsubordination to men, according to McNamara and Wemple, did not occur until thefeudal system was fully in place some time after 1100 C.E. (Bridenthal and Koonz 92).Over time, medieval society developed the attitudes inherited from the collapsedRoman world in keeping with its own ethos. The transition from relative freedom togreater subservience occurred “with the growth of a more structured society, wherechurch and state aimed at centralized control,” so that in the high and late Middle Ages(ca. 1100-1500) women “found their rights and roles increasingly curtailed and theirambitions frustrated”, women holding “the most influential positions” being “the first4to suffer...” (Bridenthal and Koonz 116). The situation in England at the same periodwas similar to that on the continent. Stenton states that Anglo-Saxon women enjoyed a“rough equality” with men, but after the Norman Conquest of 1066 with theintroduction of the “essentially...masculine world” of “feudalism...organized for war inwhich women were expected to take no part” and until the reign of Charles II “nobleEnglish ladies lived in a world governed by feudal law” (29).Women’s subordination was a product of a Catholic Christianity profoundlyinfluenced by the thought and customs of the Graeco-Roman world and adapted to theneeds of the new feudal aristocracy. That aristocracy’s primary wish and goal was theperpetuation of family line through a male heir to whom the family patrimony would betransmitted, and that in a form preferably augmented by profitable marriages (Stone,Crisis 172, Family 70-72). Thus, woman’s chief role became that of wife and mother.Though the feudal system often gave her as the chatelaine considerable authority withinthe noble household, her life beyond the castle tended to be fairly strictly circumscribed(Duby 99-106). Patristic theologians, particularly the influential Augustine of Hippo, byasserting that women as the daughters of Eve, the original sinner and temptress ofAdam, so they argued, were inherently even more evil than men, gave religious sanctionto women’s subordination. The subordination of daughters to their fathers beforemarriage and of wives to their husbands in marriage was necessary, it was argued, torestrain their natural tendency to lasciviousness. Duby states, however, that, despite thefavorable position feudalism granted them over their wives in practical matters,aristocratic husbands were haunted by the “secret dread” that their wives “might takesome insidious revenge by way of adultery or murder” (106). Though Duby writes of thesituation in France, similar fears are found in English medieval poetry and are stillbeing expressed in England as late as the sixteenth century. Grosyuhill, for example, in5his sixteenth-century anti-feminist pamphlet The Scholehouse of Women, shows that thefear was still alive and felt as an offence to male honor and dignity:No pain so fervent, hot or cold,As is a man to be called Cuckold.And be he never so fearful to fray,So stark a coward, yet will he rageAnd draw his knife, even straightway,Be he never so far in age,Call him once Cuckold and his courageForthwith will kindle and force him strikeWorse than ye named him heretic.(Henderson and McManus 147)Such fears are often expressed by or implied in the conduct of many of the malecharacters in the drama of the English Renaissance, and they go very far in explaining,for example, the ease with which lago is able to convince Othello that Desdemona hasbetrayed him by having an affair with Cassio. Furthermore, a woman’s sexual offencewas widely considered to be only the prelude to other crimes. Hamlet’s accusation inthe Closet Scene of “almost as bad, good mother,! As kill a king and marry with hisbrother” (Ham.3.4.27-28) suggests that his mind entertained, even if only in passing, thepossibility that because his mother has committed adultery with Claudius, she must alsohave been involved in the murder of her former husband. In the minds of some, itwould seem, the “insidious revenge” might take the form of adultery and murder.Woman, it was averred, is weak morally. At the same time, paradoxically andinconsistently, her beauty is a snare to entrap the supposedly morally stronger man andto lead him into evil. Thus woman was seen also as a potential temptress andseductress, a whore, as Cleopatra is judged by most of the Roman characters inShakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. The celibate clergy particularly were warned to beon their guard against woman’s wiles, and many of the most scurrilous medieval attackson women were written by them. The clergy were urged by their bishops to regardMary, the immaculately conceived and perpetually virgin mother of Christ, as their6ideal of womanhood, and she became a virtual object of worship, particularly for themonastic clergy and their lay brothers. To her they devoted their manhood that theymight not give it to one of the daughters of Eve whom they were taught to regard asabominations (Bullough 144-148). Women, on the other hand, were urged to modelthemselves on the Mother of God and handmaid of the Lord in order that they mightbetter and more willingly play their assigned role in the medieval social hierarchy.Besides providing legitimate heirs to great and minor lords, woman’s role was, by hermarriage, to cement alliances between her father’s family and some other great, or evengreater, family into which she married. Her role was to augment her new family’spatrimony by the dowry she brought to her husband (Duby 94-99, Stone Family 69-73).Thus, in effect—and in law-_woman became a chattel, a piece of property; and atheology which encouraged her to be “chaste, silent and obedient” gave religioussanction to that diminished social position. The authority of fathers to bestow theirdaughters on husbands of their choice lies behind many of the conflicts between parentsand children in the Elizabethan-Jacobean drama, both comic and tragic.Yet despite its theoretical and in many ways real subordination of women to men,medieval society, as much recent scholarship has shown, was full of contradictions in itstreatment of women (cf., eg., Bridenthal and Koonz). The noble lady frequentlyorganized and ran the daily affairs of feudal households and received, virtually asthough she were the lord, the homage of the household servants. In fact, in the lord herhusband’s absence, she was left in full charge of the domain and received the homage ofthe lord’s vassals in his stead (Bullough 153, Bridenthal and Koonz 145).As a vernacular literature developed, particularly out of the troubadourmovement, the noble lady often became a patron of poets and other writers and artists(Bullough 153-154). That literature itself, in fact, conferred a kind of special status on7the noble lady. Courtly love, or fine amour, that most striking of all contradictions to themedieval norm, combined elements of feudal fealty and devotion to the Virgin Marywith a positive recognition and acceptance of the lady as a sexual being. The courtlylover offered his lady service and devotion in an extramarital—in C. S. Lewis’s word, anadulterous_relationship. There has been much scholarly debate over whether or notcourtly love was mere literary convention or actual practice, and if it were actualpractice, how it was conducted. Yet even though the primary purpose of the adorationof the lady was the moral and spiritual elevation of the adoring male (Rogers 76), thecult, in the view of Vern Bullough and his associates, nevertheless made “an importantcontribution to giving women a sense of self, a sort of reification of women.” As the onewho “gave man courage, skill, and honor...she had ennobling qualities” (155). Thisreally meant, however, that woman’s sense of identity was still strongly reliant on themale dominated world; yet, because of the attention and identity it gave to women, thecourtly tradition may have helped lay the foundation for the reassessment of womenduring the Renaissance. Furthermore, because in part at least, courtly love developedas a kind of compensation for the lack of love which often existed in marriages thatwere largely financial transactions, it may have contributed to the conception whichbegan to emerge in the Renaissance that marriage, as advocated in the New Testament,ought to be a relationship of mutual love.2 Somewhat later, in Petrarch’s developmentof the courtly literary tradition in his Canzoniere at the dawn of the Renaissance, thecourtly lady becomes an unobtainable womanly ideal “who is both mistress and saint”.3This “Petrarchanism” accorded to woman a kind of status_the status of thepedestal_but again this was a status conferred by male regard for and attitudes towardher.The Renaissance drama frequently reflects the conflicts and tensions betweennewer and older understandings of the relationship between men and women,8particularly in marriage. Though the heyday of the Petrarchan development of thecourtly tradition was past by the Jacobean era, it still has many echoes both in thepoetry and the drama of the period. In some of the tragedies, adulterous relationshipsare seen by the characters involved in terms of a kind of perverted Petrarchancourtliness. In The Maid’s Tragedy of Beaumont and Fletcher, the perverse relationshipbetween Evadne, the King and Amintor, in which the mistress takes a husband, ratherthan the wife taking a lover in order to become a courtly mistress, seems to turn thecourtly relationship on its head.Other factors in the medieval social environment also influenced attitudes towardwomen on the eve of the Renaissance. Duby, writing about northern France but verylikely describing what was generally the case in northwestern Europe, says that from atleast the ninth century, “The Christianization of marriage practices seems to have beeneffected easily enough in the lower strata of society” (48), but he notes that during theperiod about which he writes_the ninth to the twelfth centuries_”It is probable thatthe behavior and perhaps also the rites of ordinary town-and-country-dwellers weredifferent from those of the gentry” (20). Both Keith Wrightson, in English Society 1580-1680 (71-79) and Peter Laslett, in The World We Have Lost (154) have shown that insixteenth century England life in the lower classes of society, contrary to Stone’sassertions, did not always follow the pattern of the aristocracy. Among the peasant,artisan, and, initially, the business communities, women had both greater freedom ofmovement and, because there was not the same concern for lineage and preservation ofthe patrimony as among the nobility, young people had a greater freedom of choice ofmarriage partners. Such relationships were contracted_often without ecclesiasticalsanction_on the basis of propinquity, friendship and neighborliness and other informalassociations, and mutual attraction. There was also less tendency to make roledistinctions based on sex among the peasantry, all of whom worked long and hard9simply to survive. After the Black Death of the fourteenth century, when many of thosewho escaped serfdom made their way to the towns to join the growing middle class, theytook many of their attitudes with them.In the sixteenth century, foreign visitors to England were amazed to see welldressed English middle class women freely walking the streets in pursuit of their variousdomestic needs (Hurstfield and Smith 34-35, Wrightson 93, Woodbridge 172-173). Withthe passage of time, however, among the mercantile classes, women’s and men’s rolesbecame more distinct. As the middle class gained in influence and in prestige, attitudesamong its members changed in emulation of the nobility. This emulation intensified asaristocratic parents, for financial reasons, became willing to marry their sons todaughters of the bourgeoisie who, in turn, were glad of the status thus conferred.Gilmore notes in The World of Humanism that “the men who were at different periodsmost active in creating new wealth gave their entire allegiance to the values of the oldersocial order” (68). Thus the degree of independence initially enjoyed by middle classwomen was slowly eroded.There was, however, a counter force to these developments. With the ProtestantReformation, a more positive attitude toward human sexuality began to emerge.Celibacy was no longer regarded as the ideal state, and marriage was exalted. Theclergy themselves were urged to marry_Luther himself married a former nun_and thephysical relationship between husband and wife was given a new sanctity. As Wrightnotes, “No longer, as in the medieval church, was virginity held to be the highest good,but a chastity of marriage was glorified by the Protestants” (203). In keeping with theirnew outlook, the Reformers urged that marriage ought to be based on mutual love andshould be, therefore, a matter of the free choice of the partners4_though never inoutright opposition to their parents. In England, over the course of the sixteenth and10seventeenth centuries, that attitude began to influence the attitudes and practice of thenobility among most of whom, as well as among the middle class, Protestantism hadtaken root (Stone, Crisis 274, 279; Wright 207-209). Protestantism also gave womenresponsibility for the moral education of the children of the family, and so urged thatwomen be educated at the very least in the Scriptures, Christian doctrine and Christianmoral teaching. Therefore, the Reformers, by and large, argued that woman’s place wasstill in the home and any education they received must be geared to their natural anddivinely decreed roles as wives and mothers. Thus women gained a new respect with theReformation, but not social equality or the degree of freedom enjoyed by men. In theview of some of the Reformers, only education in Scripture was appropriate for women,for they still regarded women as potentially wanton, and any secular learning wouldonly encourage that natural tendency. As Richmond notes,the sexual situation in any society is never a simple circumstance, foragainst these obvious advances for women must be set persistent negativeattitudes. Many protestant theologians accept woman because she knowsherplace; and this is well defined as a moral subject, for man’s physicalsuperiority is argued as clear evidence that men should also be superior inthe household (333-334. Original emphasis).Thus, in a sense, what women gained on the roundabouts, they tended to lose on theswings. Greater freedom in some areas resulted in greater subservience and restrictionin others.The cultural and intellectual movement called the Renaissance, roughlycontemporary with many of the foregoing social developments, brought otherdevelopments. Humanists, advocates of the full development of the human mind andspirit, often advocated that women were as deserving as men of such development. Themost ardent advocate of women’s equality with men was Henricus Cornelius Agrippa,two of whose titles, in English translation, Female Pre-eminence or The Dignity andExcellence of that Sex, above the Male, and A Treatise of the Nobility and excellencye of11woman kynde, suggest his more enlightened attitude. Woodbridge says that the“arguments Agrippa marshals in support of his amazing thesis [of the superiority ofwomen over men in all respects “except equality of divine substance”] are ingenious ifnot outrageous” (39), but, she argues, his “hyperbolic praise of women is not an ironicvehicle for laying bare the sex’s unworthiness but a graphic demonstration of theabsurdities one must resort to if one claims superiority for either sex” (42). His realconcern is to proclaim equality. He dismisses physical differences as negligible andquestions the existence of a natural order which made men superior and womennaturally subordinate (Woodbridge 39, 43). Woman’s subordination was a product ofcultural forces: “And thus by the laws, the women being subdued as it were by force ofarms, are constrained to give place to men and to obey their subduers, not by no [sic]natural, no divine necessity or reason, but by custom, education fortune, and a certaintyrarmical occasion” (A Treatise Sig. G verso, quoted Woodbridge 43. Spellingmodernized). Melantius’s use of his sword to force his sister Evadne to his will inBeaumont’s The Maid’s Tragedy forcibly illustrates Agrippa’s point. Few, however, wentso far as Agrippa in asserting the power of culture and convention to shapefundamental attitudes.Nevertheless, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, humanists did begin to urgethat women as well as men should learn to read and write; and many women, in fact,did so. There were, of course, as might be expected, detractors such as Vives__broughtto England by Catherine of Aragon, Queen to Henry VIII, to be the tutor of theirdaughter Mary—who was only a guarded advocate. Mary, he argued, as a royal princesswas entitled to a full humanist education, but other women should be given only sucheducation as would assist them in the performance of their household duties. Theyshould not be allowed to read romantic and other literature which might distract themfrom their appointed role.5 The distinguished humanists Thomas More and Desiderius12Erasmus, however, advocated a full humanist education for all women. Erasmusregarded uneducated women as idle and frivolous, whereas education gave themrational control; and More, whose daughter Margaret Roper became a highly regardedscholar and translator, could not see why learning “may not equally agree with bothSexes: For by it reason is cultivated...with wholesome Precepts, which bring forth goodFruit” (Bullough 181-182). Stenton believes that the influence of Erasmus and Morewas “far reaching” and that “the example of the court was followed by aristocraticparents all over the country” so that “Young women of high birth” were “taught Greek,Latin, and even Hebrew, with their brothers” (123). Anne Boleyn, Katherine Parr, LadyJane Grey, and of course, the young Princess Elizabeth, later Queen, were among theoutstanding examples of learned English ladies of the early sixteenth century.Though few denied outright women’s right to read, many of a more traditionalcast of mind believed, like Vives, that reading was a dangerous pastime for them andshould be severely restricted lest they read what would encourage in them lasciviousthoughts, and even deeds, to which they were already prone by nature. Ruth Kelsonotes that “the free, bright world into which we step when it is a question of educationfor boys vanishes on consideration of girls, and we move in an atmosphere of doubt,timidity, fear and niggardly concession” (58). Still, in 1578 a woman named MargaretTyler was bold and learned enough to defend in print woman’s right to unlimitedreading, and by her time a large amount of reading matter was being produced by malewriters for a growing female clientele. The drama of the English Renaissance presentsmany intelligent and literate women, a sign that women, at least among the highersocial classes, were achieving a degree of education.In the matter of women’s reading we see just one aspect of the Renaissancedispute over women. The influence of the Reformation was equivocal. On the one13hand, it encouraged marriage based on mutual love, but on the other reaffirmed thehusband’s lordship_albeit benevolent—over his wife. It encouraged women to read,but chiefly so that they might read the Bible and teach its precepts to their children. Itencouraged marriage over celibacy, but did not recognize the possibility of women’sbeing anything other than wives and mothers. Furthermore, the old view that womenwere by their very natures wanton, shrewish, extravagant, vain, wilful and garrulous wasstill held by the majority, a number of whom expressed their views quite vehemently inprint. They were answered by those who maintained that woman was by nature meek,gentle, quiet, dutiful, tenderhearted, uncomplaining and nurturing_in a word,subordinate as she was expected to be. Little effort was made to follow Agrippa inseeing other possible roles for her in society than that of wife (Woodbridge 38), exceptin several instances, as Henderson and McManus note, by women themselves.The controversy over women came to a head with the publication, in 1616, of TheArraignment of Lewd, Idle, Froward, and unconstant Women by Joseph Swetnam whichthe nineteenth century clergyman A. B. Grosart called “a mendacious attack on womenqua women” (Wright 486). Another attack, possibly inspired by the misogynist KingJames, was entitled Hic Mulier; or the Man-Woman, a denunciation of the supposedmasculinity of much current female attire and the transvestism practised by somewomen as an assertion of their equality with men. Such women, the author urged,possessed the “impudence of harlots” (Woodbridge 180-181, 216-219). That pamphletgenerated two responses, Haec-J4i or the Womanish-Man; Being an Answere to a LateBooke intituled Hic Mulier (1620) and Mulde Sacke; or The Apologie of Hic Mulier to theLate Declaration against Her (1620). These diatribes called forth a number of otherresponses in print, three of which were very probably by women, an indication that atleast some women were becoming “strong and assertive” in their own behalf(Henderson and McManus 20-24).Q14More significant, for this study, is a play which seems a refutation of viewsexpressed in Hic Muller and The Arraignment, the anonymous Swetnam the Woman-hater Arraigned by Women, where Swetnam is tried, condemned, and made to see theerror of his views. Earlier, in 1611, Middleton’s and Dekker’s The Roaring Gfrl, basedfreely on the life of the historical Margery Frith, known as Moll Cutpurse, had treatedwith great sympathy the subject of female transvestism. Woodbridge states that weprobably cannot know just how strong and assertive Renaissance women really were,but she affirms that “for a few years they were strong enough and assertive enough toinfluence the drama’s image of womankind...” (266). In regard to altered attitudes,Rogers notes that although in this “dominant genre” of Renaissance England“misogyny remained a subject of lively interest, in drama it was no longer accepted asan acceptable attitude” (118).6 Though characters on stage frequently expressmisogynist views, the plays themselves in their entireties undercut that misogyny bypresenting women with a very considerable degree of sympathetic understanding.There was, in the upshot, no real liberation of women in the Renaissance. Theweight of tradition was too heavy, and women did not have adequate weapons,economic power in particular, to implement change. For that they had to wait a fullthree centuries. Women, as Joan Kelly-Gadol argues, did not really have arenaissance.7Even the humanists most favorable to women still saw their roles as thoseof wives and mothers, and their advocacy of a humanist education for women theyenvisaged as preparation for these roles.Yet society was becoming aware of women in a new way and for a time, as VelmaBourgeois Richmond notes, “women enjoyed a life-giving respite, in the time before thefull impact of Luther and Calvin, when there were an unusual number of women15achievers both in England and on the continent...” (Midwest Quarterly 19, 332). Also, asStenton notes:The mere existence of the highly educated ladies of the Elizabethan ageand their highly intelligent successors of the seventeenth century forcedmen to reflect on the social and legal position of women. Such a womanas Mary Countess of Pembroke could no more be ignored than QueenElizabeth herself (14).Of the possible influence on Elizabethan ideas of the presence of a woman on thethrone, Angela Pitt, in Shakespeare’s Women, suggests thatAs a figurehead, and because her policies in both Church and Statetended to the ‘middle way’, thus setting a standard of judiciouscompromise and tolerance rather than confrontation, Elizabeth indirectlycreated a society in which women were more respected and hence more‘free’ than they ever were before. It is this social ease between men andwomen that must underlie the comments on their ‘liberty’ by men likeThomas Platter and the Duke of Wurttemburg. Renaissance goddessesthey are not, for the moral ideal was still firmly Christian, based onsubmission and obedience, in contrast to that set up for men, which owesa great deal to the classical figure of the lordly Greek. What they did havewas sufficient sense of their importance in society to create unsuppressedvitality in their speech, their action and their relationships (29).Even at that, we know that many in the court and government were uncomfortable witha woman on the throne, and so Elizabeth had to be imbued with the aura of a kind ofPetrarchan courtly patroness. She herself appears to have accepted the need tomaintain this image by remaining a virgin, an image that was an important part of herpolitics, whether or not it was based on personal preference. Nevertheless, it may be the“vitality” in “speech”, “action” and “relationships” that Pitt mentions that lies behindWoodbridge’s comment that Elizabethan men must have had difficulty reconciling “thetheory that women were weak and the fact that they were strong, the theory thatvirtuous women never left the house and the fact that seemingly virtuous women theyknew worked in shops and attended the Globe” (325).Such contradiction, however, is the stuff of drama. The tensions among thesecontradictory and conflicting attitudes and practices regarding marriage and woman’s16role are frequently reflected in the drama of the English Renaissance, and the Englishtheatre seemed peculiarly free dramatically to examine and represent such tensions. Asa theatre which had developed out of a long tradition of moral and religious didacticdrama going back to about the tenth century, it was a theatre which interested itself inissues of vital concern to its audience—a concern which has existed in all times of thetheatre’s greatest vitality. As time passed, and especially with the various developmentsafter Henry Viii’s breach with Rome, those interests became more and more politicaland secular. This theatre was still in the early seventeenth century, despite theaccelerating development of the so-called private, coterie theatres, very much a publictheatre appealing to a broad spectrum of public interest. For a considerable time playsappear to have been written for both the public and the private theatres and there wasprobably a degree of cross-fertilization.8 Somewhat simplistically perhaps, V. G.Kiernan says that Shakespeare’s theatre “allowed the dramatist a flexible frame ofreference which was more complex and more vital to the experience of living andfeeling within the social organism than the achievement of any other theatre before orsince” (Kettle 37)•9 Shakespeare’s theatre, of course, was also Webster’s andIVliddleton’s theatre and, somewhat less so, Beaumont’s and Fletcher’s. Ford, on theother hand, seems to have written almost exclusively for the private theatres, but, asseveral recent critics have shown, that theatre was also capable of examiningdramatically the issues of the day. The English renaissance theatre was then, both by itshistory and its nature, a theatre that was no longer didactic in the strict sense, andentertained by exploring the issues of the day. Andrew Gurr writes of this theatre thatLondon [in the “strange period” of the 1590s—and thereafter] had a newphenomenon to wonder at. For the first time there was a forum for airingimportant questions in public. Playhouses drew people in their thousands,and plays opened up a wealth of subjects for gossip and debate.Censorship made it necessary to be discreet, but since plays claimed to befiction they mostly seemed incapable of giving direct offence (14).17Gurr further notes that “The plays served as the newspapers of the day” and “couldpromote public debates about questions which had never before had a forum” (14). InHamlet’s words, the theatres were “the abstract and brief chronicles of the time”(Ham.2.2.520).10Although in the works of playwrights such as Chapman and Jonson women wereoften presented in their traditional guises of shrew, spendthrift, termagant, and whore,women found in the works of many other authors a powerful platform on which many ofthe tensions and controversies surrounding them were aired and on which theythemselves were presented in something like their true complexity. As the playsSwetnam The Woman-hater Arraigned and The Roaring Girl attest, playwrights gave theissues revolving around women an important public forum. Though no accurateassessment of their numbers is possible, a fairly significant part of the audience of thistheatre “were women who moved and responded with a freedom unknown on thecontinent” (Richmond 332).h1 Especially significant and important is the fact that thistheatre continued in the initial years, at least, of the reign of James I to explore theissues surrounding women, their nature and their role in society even when the officialclimate was unfavorable to such exploration.12This exploration continued despite whatMary Beth Rose says was James’s “considerable” misogyny, and the fact that he seemsto have been troubled by “female pretention” (Bourgeois 335). Because of censorshipand the known attitudes of the court, the dramatists of the late sixteenth and earlyseventeenth centuries often set the action of their plays in remote times and places, butthe issues, including issues involving women, they discussed under this guise were thoseof their own time and place.13Given the complexity of the currents that shaped English Renaissance drama, it isnot surprising that the question should arise as to whether or not and, if so to what18degree, the drama of the late English Renaissance can be considered subversive.Stephen Greenblatt in Shakespearean Negotiations has argued that the subversiveness ofthe theatre was contained by royal power (65). James Shapiro in an article on TheSpanish Tragedy, however, suggests that “Perhaps the vicious cycle of ‘subversioncontained’ is not quite as grim as Greenblatt would have us believe”, and argues that“Evidence suggests...that the Elizabethan theater’s relationship to political and judicialauthority was more complex than either subverting or confirming state power; thetheater’s boundaries as to judicial institution were especially problematic” (Kastan andStallybrass 99).14 According to Steven Mullaney, the very location of the theatres in theliberties beyond the London civic authorities and only somewhat uncertainly underroyal authority gave them a considerable degree of flexibility (Kastan and Stallybrass17-26). Shapiro notes that “its boundaries in relationship to competing sources of socialand political authority in Elizabethan England remain uncharted” (99). Dollimore saysthat “the transgressive impulse” of the theatre involves the expedient of “the inscribingof subversive discourse within an orthodox one, a vindication of the letter of anorthodoxy while subverting its spirit” (Kastan and Stallybrass 131). Greenblatt himselfhas recognized that “the stage was not part of a single coherent, totalizing system” (19)but “served”, in the words of Kastan and Stallybrass, “as a fertile medium trough whichcultural meanings and values were shaped, transmitted, challenged and changed” (6).15In the dramas to be examined herein, there is much that, if not finally subversive,nonetheless seems, in its impact, clearly to challenge or question accepted attitudes andtraditionally held beliefs, and so the basic social ordering of society, even if in the end,something like the orthodox view appears to be reaffirmed. Particularly, the plays to beexamined challenge the view prevailing that human sexuality in general, and femalesexuality in particular, is to be seen as simply lust and so a negative and destructiveforce. A number of the plays suggest strongly that the evil lies far more in the restraint19of sexual desire than in its natural expression. In that respect, the plays could certainlybe seen as subversive. On the other hand, of course, in every play the representative,whether evil or virtuous, of this alternate view of woman’s sexuality “comes to a badend” and makes some kind of submission to the traditional attitudes. In that way, thesubversion may be said to be contained so that the ultra-orthodox, much as somemodern critics do, might see the deaths even of such virtuous women as Desdemonaand the Duchess of Malfi as receiving just retribution for their breaches of order anddecorum. Yet the ironies, the ambiguities, the ambivalences and the often equivocalnature of the presentations of all these women seriously undercut the orthodoxinterpretations of their fates so that a significant challenge is offered to the acceptedorthodoxies.Not all the issues discussed in the foregoing paragraphs become the subject matterof the drama. Much, however, of the controversy over women echoes strongly in thedrama, particularly of the latter part of the era, the Jacobean period. Mary Beth Rosespeaks oftwo dominant forms of sexual discourse in the English Renaissance. Thefirst comprises a dualistic sensibility in which women and eros areperceived either as idealized beyond the realm of the physical...or asdegraded and sinful (3-4).Then, “during the sixteenth century...there is a gradual shift from the dualistic mentalityto the Protestant idealization of marriage” (4), and “in Jacobean tragedy, thecontradictions and paradoxes inscribed in the two dominant modes of Renaissancesexual discourse explode into destruction and protest” (6). Much of the dramatic effectof these plays arises from the conflict between the desire of major female characters toassert at least a degree of the independence that some humanist writers—and womenwriters influenced by humanism—believed they deserved and the unwillingness of theirsocieties at large, and the male members in particular, to grant that independence. In20virtually every instance, the woman of independent mind and will is finally defeated, atleast in part, by the persistence of old attitudes among those who hold power in theirsocieties, but the presentation is such that the attitudes and the conduct of the society ingeneral and of male characters in particular are at least as open to question as those ofthe women defeated by these forces. One school of critics argues that such defeats showthat the playwrights affirm the accepted social and moral values of their society. Thefate of Desdemona, for example, is seen as a judgment on her, despite her basicgoodness, for having eloped, in violation of custom, with one whom her father wouldnot have approved as a husband. The Duchess of Malfi receives similar adversejudgment because she marries below her rank and in violation of the wishes of herbrothers. Women such as Vittoria Corombona, Bianca Capello, and Beatrice-Joannaare seen simply as immoral and their ultimate destruction as the punishment theydeserve. However, by the complexity with which these women are portrayed, by theambiguity given to their motivations, and by the representation of their frustrationamong hypocritical and seffishly motivated adversaries, the playwrights call intoquestion the old paradigm of womanhood, showing it to be inadequate for a fullunderstanding of woman’s nature and destructive of her genuine need for humanfulfilment.In summary, the controversy over women in the later years of Elizabeth’s reignand the early years of that of James I was a reaction to the attempt to understandwoman’s nature in a new way and to redefine her role in society. That controversy madeit possible for the dramatists of the period to portray women in ways that defied andquestioned the validity of the old stereotypes. Women themselves by theirachievements, their demonstrations of competence, and the preservation of their virtuein situations where traditional thought said they were bound to fail, and sometimes bytheir rebelliousness, were demonstrating that they did not fit those stereotypes. The21dramatists made the same point by presenting women of singular abilities and strengthin their plays. Not only do the playwrights thereby show the old, traditional paradigm ofwoman to be inadequate, they also show these new women to be subversive of the oldstandards and norms. Their male dominated, masculinely oriented societies, of course,also see these new women as subversive and, therefore, endeavor_successfully in allthe plays to be examined_to destroy them. The dramatists, however, do not therebydefend, as has often been thought, the traditional morality, but, rather, show how thatmorality perverts and destroys women’s best qualities. The dramatists present thesewomen—whether immoral women like Vittoria Corombona in Webster’s The WhiteDevil, or Bianca Capello and Isabella in Middleton’s Women Beware Women, or suchmoral, virtuous women as Desdemona and the Duchess of Malfi—as subversive in thename of what the women themselves see as a higher principle. One does not alwayshave to assert that the playwrights approve of the specific actions of their womenprotagonists in their pursuit of that principle in order to see in their plays an affirmationof women’s right to make free choices and to claim a happiness greater than that whichtheir societies and culture traditionally granted them. Simplistic moral judgments,therefore, are both inadequate and irrelevant. Whatever moral judgment on thewomen’s actions characters make within the plays, the playwrights themselves reveal theways in which women come to tragic ends in the process of struggling for personalfulfilment in spite and in defiance of the norms and standards of their societies.Whatever moral judgments the playwrights or their audiences might have made, theprominence given to women as tragic protagonists itself undermines assumptions abouttheir lesser significance.22END NOTES TO CHAPTER ONE1. An interesting parallel to Carroll’s thesis may be found in Robert B. Heilman,“Manliness in the Tragedies: Dramatic Variations” (Edward A Bloom, ed.,Shakespeare 1564-1964, Providence, R. I.:Brown U P, 1964, 19-37) who says ofShakespeare’s portrayal of male characterizations that he “never falls into a thinone dimensional theory of man” (21) and that “even in a single episode he cansuggest different perspectives” (23). Shakespeare, he says, “places a common idealin very ironic perspective. But at the same time he develops dramatically a counter-view of manly action, one that permits us to sense a dramatic struggle...betweendifferent values that find a sanction in the nature of man.” (28) Heilman’s thesiswith regard to male characters is very similar to the position to be taken in thisstudy regarding the manner in which Shakespeare and his fellow dramatists portraywomen.2. Duby in The Three Orders (trans. Arthur Goldhammer, London and Chicago, U ofChicago P, 1980) notes that several writers of the late twelfth and early thirteenthcenturies indicate that among those whose counsel princes and noblemen shouldseek are “good ladies”. He comments, “This ought not to surprise us: courtlinessalso signified making way for the fair sex—for womanhood” (279). (Duby, inmaking an important point, must be forgiven his use in speaking of “the fair sex”,of what would now be regarded as a sexist epithet.5 Bullough and his associatescaution, however, that courtly love gave birth to “the myth of the feminine mystiquethat raised woman to a pedestal” (155). They conclude that “Though few womenprobably enjoyed the pedestal that the concepts of romantic love put them on, mostof them thought that at least temporarily it was better than the gutter, and themyths of the feminine mystique appealed to them. The difficulty of the pedestal,however, was that it was hard to remain there without falling” (165).3. The quotation is from Penguin Guide to English Literature, ed. Marion WynneDavies (Harmonsworth: Penguin Books, 1989), 796a.4. Mary Beth Rose in The Expense of Spirit acknowledges the truth of the argumentsof a number of scholars that many of the Protestant views were not new. Thedifferences were more of emphasis than substance. What is “the importance,” sheaffirms, “of English Protestant sexual discourse in the Renaissance lies not in itsoriginality, but in its proliferation, elaboration, and wide accessibility to a variety ofsocial groups, as well as in its attempt to construct marriage as a concretizedrelationship enacted in social life” (3).5. In Middleton’s A Mad World, My Masters, the foolish Harebrain tells the courtesan,ironically and at the same time appropriately named Frank Gullman, whom heregards as a “sweet virgin, the only companion [his] soul weishes for” his wife(1.2.36-37, Regents) that he has “conveyed away all [his wife’s] wanton pamphlets,as Hero and Leander, Venus and Adonis” (1.2.43-44). The foolishness of suchprecautions is demonstrated by the fact that Harebrain is cuckolded nonetheless.6. Frequently quoted is this passage from the Journal of Thomas Platter of Basel:What is particularly curious is that the women as well as the men, in fact,more often than they, will frequent taverns or ale-houses for enjoyment.They count it a great honour to be taken there and given wine with sugarto drink; and if one woman only is invited, then she will bring three or23four other women along and they gaily toast each other. (Quoted AngelaPitt, Shakespeare’s Women, 12)John Dover Wilson quotes from Van Meteren’s Nederlandische Historie that:although the women there [England] are entirely in the power of theirhusbands, except for their lives [a very important exception, one wouldthink], yet they are not shut up as they are in Spain or elsewhere. They goto market to buy what they like best to eat. They are well dressed, fond oftaking it easy, and commonly leave the care of household matters to theirservants...In all the banquets and feasts they are shown the greatesthonour.... All the rest of their time they employ in walking and riding, inplaying at cards or otherwise, in visiting their friends and keepingcompany...etc. (Life in Shakespeare’s England, 1949 Harmondsworth:Penguin, 1944, 26-27. Orig. pubi. Cambridge UP, 1911.)Van Meteren notes the apparently common expression that “England is called theParadise of married women,” but he notes that “The girls who are not yet marriedare kept much more rigorously and strictly than in the Low Countries.” (DoverWilson 27) On the matter of women’s freedom, Ruth Kelso in Doctrine for the Ladynotes, however, that Frenchmen claimed that their women were freer than those ofother countries. (267-268)7. “Did Woman Have a Renaissance?” in Bridenthall and Koonz, 137-161.8. The view of Ann Jennalee Cook in The Privileged Playgoers of Shakespeare’sLondon, 1576-1642 (Princeton: Princeton U P, 1981) “that only the privilegedminority possessed the time, money, education, personal associations, geographicalaccess, and inclination to attend the theatre regularly” (Cohen, Drama of a Nation,168n92) has been disputed. Martin Butler in Theatre in Crisis 1632-1642,(Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 1984) devotes an Appendix of fourteen pages (293-306) to a rebuttal of Cook’s position, noting, inter alia, that some of the evidenceshe herself cites undercuts her argument. Butler says that “while the evidence ofprivileged playgoing which Cook supplies illustrates and supplements the orthodoxpicture of socially mixed audiences, we do not have to assume (as Cook tendsincreasingly to suppose...) that it contradicts it” (298). In Drama of a Nation Cohenwrites that “Although this controversy will most likely not be soon resolved, thehypothesis of primarily elite spectators represents no more than an abstractpossibility, and one fraught with logical and empirical problems. On the other hand,an insistence on a heterogeneous compatible with the existingevidence and hence considerably more plausible” (168). Cohen also says in the notepreviously cited that Cook “cannot quite deny a popular majority at the Fortuneand Red Bull in Jacobean times (p. 137), an implicit concession that fundamentallyundermines her basic claim.”9. Ben Jonson and Chapman may be cited_as indeed Rogers herself does_asexceptions to this general rule. In Mary Beth Rose’s words, “In all of Jacobeandrama, no misogyny is so detailed and unmitigated, so utterly triumphant, as BenJonson’s is in Epicoene” (57).10. V. G. Kiernan expresses the moderate Marxist view that:Elizabethan drama grew in a no man’s land be tween the two historicalepochs that we call the feudal and the capitalist. All around it old habitsand ways were crumbling, new ones beginning to take shape, in a medley24of fragmented relics and experiments. In the medieval society that wasfalling to pieces the individual had been enclosed, snugly thoughcrampingly, inside a narrow framework of institutions and beliefs.... Nowthe snug crib which was also a prison was releasing or ejecting him into astrange environment where he must find his way about, among othersgroping likewise (Kettle 43).The theatre of the Elizabethan and early Jacobean eras might be said to havedramatized that groping, in particular the gropings of women for a new place and anew status in a changing world.11. Jean E. Howard in “Women as Spectators, Spectacles, and Paying Customers”writes that “From Andrew Gurr’s important study, Playgoing in Shakespeare’sLondon [Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 1987) we now know that women were in thepublic theater in significant numbers and that the women who attended the theaterwere neither simply courtesans nor aristocratic ladies; many seem to have beencitizens’ wives, part of that eme1gent group, ‘the middling sort,’ whom Gosson [inThe Schole ofAbusel addresses” (Kastan and Stallybrass 70).12. Angela Pitt says of James I that he “appears to have been alarmed by women andtried to suppress their ‘arrogance’ through the clergy [a fact noted in a number ofthe studies cited in the bibliography]. The light of tolerance and respect that hadbegun to burn in Elizabeth’s reign was now firmly put out.” (Shakespeare’s Women30) Pitt’s statement is undoubtedly true of the ultimate effect of James’s active andaggressive misogyny, but that effect was not instantaneous. Robert Weimann states:When at the turn of the century and shortly after, division among theruling classes gradually upset the much praised harmony of City, Courtand Country, important sections of the theatre-going population werelikely to remain unimpressed by either the case for puritanism or that ofthe prerogative of an increasingly conservative (not to say corrupt) court.For a few precious years, the ‘public’ (as distinct from the increasinglyimportant ‘private’) playhouses not only defied the emerging socialdivisions but actually seemed to thrive on the richness of theircontradictions. Consequently the popular dramatist continued to find inthe theatre the support that allowed him a measure of independence ofthe rival ideologies. (“The Soul of an Age” 42, in Arnold Kettle (ed.),Shakespeare in a Changing World 17-42)Velma Bourgeois Richmond writes:Elizabeth dominated her age in countless ways, and there can be littledoubt that the enhanced situation of woman owes much to her presence.One reason for the shift to a different kind of woman in Stuart tragedymay well be the hostility of her homosexual successor James I, who foundfemale pretensions especially irritating and who was adept at findingwitches, an evil type that is supposed to be predominantly feminine.However, since the Shakespearean audience was not exclusivelyaristocratic, there was a popular tradition that balanced courtlylimitations. (“Shakespeare’s Women” in Midwest Quarterly 19, 335)13. Robert Ornstein says in The Moral Vision ofJacobean Tragedy that:Particularly in the first Jacobean decade the drama was keenly sensitiveto contemporary issues. On platform stages where fact and fantasy25intermingled, the spiritual and moral dramas of the age found obliqueartistic expression. For a brief hour in the theater the demons thathaunted the Jacobean artistic mind assumed a flesh and blood as well aspoetic reality (24).Elsewhere in the same work he writes:It is striking that [dramatists] “discovered” the tragic heroine at the verytime that serious interest was developing outside the drama in the placeand role of women in society. When they dramatize the anguish ofenforced or forbidden affections, Beaumont, Webster, Middleton, andFord make clear the helplessness of women in a world ruled by men andmasculine ideals. Their heroines long for freedom from the tyranny offamily and convention; they are sacrificed at the altars of masculine“honor” and ambition. Of course the Jacobean playwrights are not socialreformers. Just as Elizabethan patriotic fervor and anxiety gave impetusto the history play, so too, I think, Jacobean debate over the status ofwomen suggested to the playwrights a fruitful subject for psychologicalinvestigation_the emotional drama of women restricted by the moresand conventions of society to a subservient and passive role, to a life ofreaction rather than action...(172).14. A comment by Cohen reflects the kind of ambiguity in the treatment of issuesinvolving women that one finds in the drama. He says that:Improvement in the actual conditions of women did not necessarilyaccompany these ideological shifts [discussed earlier in this chapter].Nonetheless, the love marriage remained a contested ideal in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and accordingly a primary source ofconflict in romantic comedy. On the one hand, married love could be aprogressive step for women and men alike. On the other, the concludingmatrimony of many a comedy reintegrates women into a family andsociety dominated by men, thereby alleviating male sexual, procreative,and emotional anxieties. In addition it constitutes a transference, diffusion, or suppression of conflict, designed to produce reconciliation (188).What Cohen says here helps explain the dissatisfaction many modern readers andviewers feel at the ending of comedies such as As You Like It, Twelfth Night andcertainly such dark comedies as Measure For Measure and All’s Well That Ends Well,where superior women become the wives of men in varying ways and degrees lessthan they and even unworthy of them. What on earth, for example, was Sylvia, inTwo Gentlemen of Verona, thinking when her lover Valentine offered her toProteus who, moments before, had tried to rape her? Olivia in Twelfth Night of allShakespeare’s comic heroines finds perhaps in Sebastian the best partner, butironically, she thinks she is marrying someone else. Some of the tragedies to bediscussed herein reflect the difficulties, perhaps even the impossibilities, of suchreconciliations as the comedies endeavor to establish. Just possibly, in the equivocalendings of his comedies Shakespeare himself was exposing the problems ofmarriage in his day.15. Philip J. Finkelpearl in Court and Countiy Politics in the Plays of Beaumont andFletcher goes so far as to question the effectiveness of Jacobean censorship sayingthat “It remains one of the greatest mysteries in Jacobean censorship that muchmore severe action was not taken against The Maid’s Tragedy”, a play which in his26view is “as menacing to the institution of kingship as any in Jacobean drama” (199).Was the concluding couplet sufficient to pass it?CHAPTER TWO. SHAKESPEARE: DESDEMONA AN]) CLEOPATRAIn Desdemona and Cleopatra Shakespeare creates women of independent mindand will. Because they live in male dominated and frequently misogynist worlds, theirindependence has tragic consequences both for themselves and for the men with whomthey are closely associated. Neither conforms to the culturally established stereotype orparadigm of woman, that is, to her culture’s definition of womanhood or expectations ofwoman. Therefore, the men they love, Othello and Antony, cannot, until it is too late,appreciate or understand them. Furthermore, sensing these women as threats to theirown masculine self-image, the men easily believe that the women betray them. Othellois easily persuaded that Desdemona’s independence and self-confidence indicate alustful nature which leads her to be unfaithful to him. Antony feels an often almostintolerable tension within himself between that part of him which is attracted toCleopatra and that part of him that wants to play a major role in the world of Romanpower politics. When he fails in that world, he blames Cleopatra and accuses her ofbetraying him. Both men, themselves somewhat exceptions to the norms of theircultures, were drawn initially, however, to these women by the independent spirit whichmade them exceptions to the cultural norm; but as inheritors of the cultural demand forwomen’s subordination to masculine control, both men experience ambivalent feelingstoward that self-reliance which initially attracted them.The women, on the other hand, because of their autonomy and self-assurance, donot easily accommodate themselves to the traditionalist expectations of the men theylove that they be totally subservient. Desdemona innocently and naively sees no conflictbetween her independent spirit and her role as wife; therefore she has no sensewhatever that her support of Cassio’s suit for the restoration of his lieutenancy willcause Othello to become jealous. As queen and ruler in her own right, Cleopatra2728experiences no tension between that role and her role as Antony’s lover. Thus she isunsympathetic to the conflict Antony feels between being her lover and a Romantriumvir, a conflict which prevents his giving her the total dedication she desires of him.Much of the tragedy in Othello, The Moor of Venice and in Antony and Cleopatra arisesfrom the tensions and confLicts between these self-confident women and theexpectations of them generated by the male dominated society in the men in their lives.In their love relationships both Desdemona and Cleopatra expect their men to treatthem as equals. The men, however, both Othello and Antony, tend to allow culturallyconditioned attitudes to erode their initial respect for their chosen women’s freedomfrom such conditioning. Not entirely conscious that they have been attracted to theexceptional qualities of these women, they show themselves less able than the women toescape the cultural stereotyping that would subordinate the women to them. Theirsense of their masculinity being so firmly tied to cultural concepts, the two men find thewomen’s independence of mind and spirit threatening. For Othello, Desdemona’s self-assurance threatens his carefully and painfully built-up sense of his role as Venetiangeneral to which his sense of self is so closely tied; for Antony, Cleopatra’s autonomyand demand for commitment from him threatens the political and military career towhich his sense of identity is also closely tied. In these two tragedies, Shakespeareexplores both the tensions already beginning to be felt in his society between traditionalattitudes toward women and the more liberal views of the humanists upon which somewomen were already beginning to act, and the discordant and tragic potential of thattension.Some may argue that Desdemona is not a true tragic protagonist. However, TheTragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice is so dominated by its antagonist that even therole of the eponymous protagonist Othello often seems secondary to Iago’s.1 Thetragedy, nonetheless, is the Moor’s, and his tragedy is intimately linked to his29relationship with Desdemona. The plot configuration emphasizes the destructive role ofconventional attitudes as Desdemona figures importantly in the action, and her owndecisions and acts help propel the action to its tragic outcome. She is not by her actions,however, as some have argued, morally responsible for that outcome. Desdemona’sinitial decision to elope with Othello contrary to the wishes of her father occasionsBrabantio’s rejection of her and, ironically, makes it easy for lago to persuade Othelloto see her as a whore. lago’s misogynist comment that “our General’s wife is now ourgeneral” rings in our ears as Desdemona’s decision to support Cassio in his bid toregain his lieutenancy leads her to act in ways contrary to those traditionally expected ofa dutiful and obedient wife. As she thus opens herself even further to the charge ofpromiscuity, she plays with tragic consequences to herself into lago’s scheme to arousethe Moor’s jealousy. Nonetheless, because of the innocence of her motives and the goodintentions behind all her actions, Desdemona retains the audience’s sympathy, so thather death is at least as deeply moving as Othello’s. Therefore, if not a true tragicprotagonist, Desdemona is, nevertheless, a figure of tragic dimensions.All the traditional and stereotypical images of woman cluster around Desdemona.To Cassio she is “the divine Desdemona” (2.1.73),2 and the general picture of hercreated in the play is of a woman of surpassing beauty and impeccable virtue. Yet thefirst images applied to her are not Cassio’s but lago’s, who draws on conventional viewsto equate her desire for and enjoyment of a sexual relationship with Othello withanimal lust rather than human love. Thus, the textual imagery initially associatesDesdemona with the traditional portrait of woman as profligate and wanton, anassociation that will ultimately condemn her to death. For lago will use her own actionstoward the Moor himself and toward Cassio as his “evidence” to persuade Othello thatthe widely held, culturally conditioned view of woman as debased applies to30Desdemona, making the “womanly virtues of love, sympathy, kind-heartedness andfidelity in friendship into the vice of insatiable lust” (Ranald 136).From the outset, therefore, Desdemona unwittingly opens herself to attack on herfidelity and chastity, for in marrying Othello without her father’s permission, she hasbroken with social convention to follow instead the more liberal view of somehumanists and reformers that children ought to have free choice of their marriagepartners. Mary Beth Rose, in The Expense of Spirit, demonstrates, however, that theReformers themselves became trapped in ambivalence in their vehemence againstparentally enforced marriages and their inexplicable and contradictory view thatchildren must not marry without parental consent (147). In a society dominated still bythe older ideas and unwilling to commit itself fully to newer ones, such an action asDesdemona’s cannot escape conventional censure. To her father Brabantio,Desdemona is initially “jewel” (1.3.195) and “gentle mistress” (1.3.178), and has been,so he thinks, the typical “chaste, silent and obedient” daughter prized by her society:A maiden never bold of spirit,So still and quiet, that her motionBlushed at her self... (1.3.94-96. Qi lineation.)It is inconceivable to him that his daughter, or any well brought up young Venetianwoman, should love and willingly “Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom! Of sucha thing as” Othello (1.2.70-71) or marry “what she feared to look on,” (1.3.98). For herto have done so, black Othello from darkest, pagan Africa, must have “practis’d on herwith foul charms.” (1.2.73) When, however, he learns from her own mouth that she hasmarried Othello of her own volition, he disowns her, saying he “had rather adopt a childthan get it” (1.3.191), accepts the fait accompli and reluctantly and grudginglyrelinquishes her to Othello’s care.3 Now he seems almost to believe that the witchcraftwas Desdemona’s, practised on him to deceive him, to beguile him, to hide from himher true nature and true intent: “Look to her, Moor, have a quick eye to see:! She has31deceiv’d her father, and may do thee.” (1.3.292-293). Rose suggests that Othelloinitially at least has a partial commitment to what she calls the heroics of marriage,marriage seen as “a perilous quest” (139), a commitment expressed when he says inresponse to Brabantio, “My life upon her faith.” However, lago, who seems to intuitthat older ideas are deeply ingrained in the Moor’s subconscious mind, will useBrabantio’s words to break down Othello’s faith in Desdemona. It is an easy step fromBrabantio’s “Look to her, Moor,” to lago’s insinuation that she is like other Venetianwomen who “let God see the pranks! They dare not show their husbands” (3.3.206-207). Thus, by following her heart in marriage and breaking with convention to elopewith Othello, Desdemona almost immediately invites the conventionally minded to seeher action as a major breach of decorum, and a symptom of basic female wantonness.Although Brabantio does not accuse Desdemona of lust, lago, on Cyprus, willdraw from his words the implication that Desdemona’s deviation from the norm ofbehavior make her a whore, and that her marriage to Othello was motivated solely bythe lust which he has now begun to insinuate draws her to Cassio. lago, whom Othelloregards as both honest and more knowledgeable than he of Venetian society, draws oncultural stereotypes to make his case to Othello that Desdemona will act according tothe standard behavior of her class. As an alien to that culture and in many waysignorant of its practices, who has nonetheless absorbed many of its stereotypicalattitudes, Othello is open to receive such calumniation. When Othello demands thatlago “prove [his] love a whore” (3.3.365), he reveals how difficult it is to maintain anunconventional view of women. Thus the two men, her father and her husband, whoought to know Desdemona best come to judge her in terms of cultural stereotypes.5Ironically, it is the cynical lago who is most aware how falsely the stereotype representsDesdemona.32To Cassio, on the other hand, Desdemona’s beauty, high social status, andaccomplishments make her a near goddess. His vision of her as “divine” is, however, asfalse in its own way as that presented to Othello by lago. The conversation about herbetween the Lieutenant and the Ancient just prior to Cassio’s dismissal from hislieutenancy, sharply contrasts their views:Jago. ...she is sport for Jove.Cassio. She is a most exquisite lady.lago. And I’ll warrant her full of game.Cassio. Indeed she is a most fresh and delicate creature.lago. What an eye she has! methinks it sounds a parley to provocation.Cassio. An inviting eye, and yet methinks right modest.lago. And when she speaks, tis an alarm to love.Cassio. It is indeed perfection.lago. Well, happiness to their sheets!... (2.3.16-36)Whereas lago here represents Desdemona as a potential wanton, Cassio almostcompletely disassociates her from her sexuality, a sexuality which in his mistress Biancahe finds attractive but at the same time demeaning and disgusting. His is the long-heldmale view that if a woman sleeps with a man, even if the initiative is his, she must be aslut. Cassio’s understanding of Desdemona is closer to the truth than lago’s, but it arisesfrom a limited understanding of her, for he regards her almost as the idealized womanof Renaissance Neo-Platonism.Cassio himself, however, if he is “almost damn’d in a fair wife,” as lago claims(1.1.21), in having a mistress on Cyprus practises the double standard. Even if lago’scomment is to be explained as one of those details that Shakespeare occasionallyprovides and then forgets, Cassio’s speech proclaims his attitude. The superficiality ofCassio’s view of women appears in the fact that the play presents Bianca in asympathetic light. Although Bianca provides him with a bit of off-duty pleasure, she is inhis eyes merely a “caitiff”, a “rogue”, a “monkey”, a “bauble” and a “perfum’d”“fitchew” or polecat whom to marry would indicate an “unwholesome” “wit” on hispart (4.2.107-144).33The play, in fact, provides two interesting man-woman relationships whichfunction as foils to that of Othello and Desdemona. Both, like the central one, show themale partner in an unfavorable light. lago constantly maligns Emilia who, in spite of histreatment, remains faithful to him. (It is likely that we are meant to see lago’scontention that she has had an affair with Othello as the mere concocting of anotherjustification for his attack on Othello. She herself denies it, and nothing else in the playsupports Jago’s accusation.) Cassio continually belittles Bianca who, even though acourtesan, genuinely loves him and shows both courage and integrity of character.Shakespeare’s humanizing of a prostitute is another indication that this is a play whichchallenges the culturally transmitted view of women, showing that even a “fallen”woman can demonstrate those qualities praised in women conspicuously virtuous. BothEmilia and Bianca demonstrate heroism, Emilia in defying both Othello and lago todefend Desdemona’s honor, and Bianca in going to Cassio’s aid, after lago haswounded him from behind in the dark, when Lodovico and Gratiano hang back. Neelysays of the play’s three women that they show “affection, good sense, and energy” but“fail to transform or be reconciled with the men”, Othello, lago and Cassio, who“persistently misconceive the women” (127), judging them, not according to what theyare, but by cultural preconceptions which the women, in their own different ways,demonstrate to be totally inadequate.In The Stranger in Shakespeare, Fiedler notes that Cassio and lago “talk the samelanguage” in speaking of Bianca, and disagree “only on the subject of a high lady” likeDesdemona (156). Though, in a sense they represent the opposite poles of their society,they fundamentally agree on and accept the cultural stereotypes about the nature ofwomen. Cassio’s contrasting attitudes toward Desdemona and Bianca clearly show theera’s bi-polarized understanding or vision of woman, the virgin goddess versus thewhore, of which Desdemona becomes the victim. As Rose comments, Cassio’s and34lago’s dialogue shows “how readily Cassio’s idiom of sentimental exaltation can betranslated into lago’s idiom of misogynistic contempt” (135). How easy, therefore, it isfor Othello, who similarly idealizes Desdemona, to be led to the belief that his wife is awhore. Othello, like Cassio, places Desdemona on that pedestal from which it is so easyfor a woman to be toppled.Like many women of the Renaissance and like many of Shakespeare’s heroines,Desdemona is a woman of very considerable accomplishment. Rosalind quotes Caesar’sCommentaries and reads both Phebe’s letter and Orlando’s verses, and, though flatteredby the latter, has the literary judgment to recognize that they are doggerel. Both Oliviaand Maria, her lady-in-waiting, in Twelfth Night read and write, and Viola sings (thoughin fact we never hear her do so) and is able to respond in kind to Sir Toby’s French. InHamlet Laertes requests Ophelia to write him while he is in France. Maria, though aprankster, is not a really vicious person; all the others are models of virtue. Shakespeareappears, therefore, to reject the common notion that education will lead women “downthe primrose path to dalliance”.Desdemona also demonstrates, in contradiction to the views of such conservativewriters as Vives that much education was dangerous in a woman, that a woman may beaccomplished and also be sexually pure and a faithful wife. Othello twice remarks onher achievements, saying that she is “free of speech, sings plays and dances well”(3.3.189), and that she is “delicate with her needle, an admirable musician” (4.1.183).These accomplishments suggest at least the possibility that she has received a solid,though not necessarily a humanist, education, and her general demeanor and mannersuggest an educated woman. Othello appears initially to have admired Desdemona forthese accomplishments and for her strength of mind and character, as well as for hercompassion for his sufferings and for her chastity and purity, of which initially he has no35doubt. He had tried to see Desdemona’s accomplishments positively, somewhat in thelight of the views of Erasmus and More, regarding her accomplishments asenhancements to her virtues and her virtues as enhancements to her accomplishments:‘tis not to make me jealousTo say my wife is fair, feeds well, loves company,Is free of speech, sings, plays, and dances well;Where virtue is, these are more virtuous: (3.3.187-190).Yet in almost the same breath that he initially recognizes that Desdemona’saccomplishments are not grounds for jealousy, he admits the possibility that he could bemade to doubt her fidelity, and were that to happen, his love would evaporate:I’ll see before I doubt, when I doubt prove,And on the proof, there is no more but this:Away with love and jealousy. (3.3.194-196)Later, her achievements are turned to her detriment. Traditional stereotypes enablelago to turn Desdemona’s strengths and virtues against her, to “turn her virtues intopitch” in Othello’s mind. When in his imagination she has lost her virtue, heraccomplishments intensify his vision of her wickedness. He has a lingering sense thatthose accomplishments are, or ought to be, more appropriate to virtue:so delicate with her needle, an admirable musician, 0 she willsing the savageness out of a bear; of so high and plenteous wit andinvention!lago. She’s the worse for all this.Othello. A thousand thousand times: and then of so gentle acondition!lago. Ay, too gentle.Othello. Ay, that’s certain, but yet the pity of it, lago: 0 Igo, the pityof it. (4.1.183-192.)The view that a woman can have a healthy sexual appetite and be accomplishedand at the same time be pure, faithful and loving has failed to penetrate theconsciousness of any significant male character in the play, certainly not Cassio’s nor, inany meaningful way, Othello’s. They are unable to understand the concept of chastity asthe dedication of sexuality to married love espoused by Protestantism and celebrated36poetically by Spenser in “Epithalamion” and The Faerie Queene. Thus bothDesdemona’s admirers and detractors judge this emancipated Renaissance woman onthe basis of the older, narrow cultural stereotypes.Like lago and Cassio, Othello also holds the accepted attitude that marriagelimits and constricts male freedom and power. Cassio refers to Desdemona as “ourgreat captain’s captain”(2.3.74), and lago counsels Cassio to regain his office andOthello’s favor by courting Desdemona’s assistance because “Our general’s wife is nowthe general” (2.3.305-306). These remarks imply that by marriage, Othello has given upcontrol of his life and become a puppet manipulated by his wife. Othello himself, on thevery night of his marriage, tells lago:But that I love the gentle Desdemona,I would not my unhoused free conditionPut into circumscription and confineFor the sea’s worth. (1.2.25-28)Later on the same night, Othello defends Desdemona’s wish to accompany him toCyprus by disavowing any possibility that her presence there will lead him into“disports” and neglect of duty:And heaven defend your good souls that you thinkI will your serious and great business scant,For she is with me;, when light-winged toys,And feather’d Cupid, foils with wanton dullnessMy speculative and active instruments,That my disports corrupt and taint my business,Let housewives make skillets of my helm,And all indign and base adversitiesMake head against my reputation. (1.3.266-274)He expects that he can subordinate his role as husband to his public role as governorand military commander of the island and that his wife will behave in accordance withtraditional patterns as his inferior and subordinate, allowing him to get on with beingthe general. The implication is that he will not let sexual pleasure interfere with duty.As Rose argues, although Othello has some inkling of and commitment to the heroics37of marriage_for that reason Desdemona is his “fair warrior”—he still clings to and ismore deeply committed to the older heroism of what Rose calls the “disappearingpast”, the heroics of public life which treats “women and eros either as potentiallydestructive or as subliminally idealized, but always as peripheral” to the action of themale hero (9-10). Othello, in his love for Desdemona, like Tamberlaine in his love forZenocrate, “recognizes the dangerous potential for the defeat of his heroic militaryambitions” (Rose 107). Unlike Tamberlaine, however, Othello is unable fully tosubordinate his love to his ambition. “From the point of view of the heroism of action,his tragedy emerges from unsuccessful repression: desire proves more central to him,marriage more necessary, than such heroism will allow” (Rose 134). So when hebelieves his love is gone, he also believes his military career is gone:0 now for everFarewell the tranquil mind, farewell content:Farewell the plumed troop, the big wars,That makes ambition virtue:...Farewell, Othello’s occupation’s gone! (3.3.353-356, 363, cf. Rose 132)Yet, Othello seems initially to have been at least open to the vision ofDesdemona’s full sharing in his career. In supporting Cassio’s suit for the restoration ofhis lieutenancy, Desdemona implies that prior to the marriage, Othello had treated heras an equal and that she felt free to criticize him. She says:What? Michael CassioThat came a wooing with you, and so many a timeWhen I have spoke of you dispraisingly,Hath ta’en your part, to have so much to doTo bring him in? (3.3.71-75)In their days of courtship not only did Desdemona feel free to criticize Othello, but he,too, vigorously protested her criticisms. These details suggest a relationship that wasbased on a kind of dialogue and exchange of views on the basis of a recognized equality.Having accepted Othello’s seeming openness at face value, Desdemona expects that he38will allow her the same freedom when she is his wife. In fact his greeting her on Cyprusas his “fair warrior” suggests such an implicit equality.Once his jealousy has been aroused, however, Othello falls back on ingrainedstereotypical patterns. By the time Desdemona makes her appeal on Cassio’s behalf,the seeds of distrust have already been sown by lago’s “I like not that” (3.3.35.) and“Indeed” (3.3.102.) Adopting the conventional view of wife as chattel, Othello refusesto reason or to argue with her over Cassio’s dismissal, but responds to her appeal onCassio’s behalf in the manner of an indulgent father to a pampered favorite child: “Iwill deny thee nothing.” Dash claims thatIn Othello, Shakespeare is dealing with two people who have known andloved each other for some time. Until they marry, the tragedy does notoccur because until that time they do not have to conform to any setroles; they function as two individuals. With marriage, they receive a newset of rules, new patterns of behavior (109-110).Left to themselves, the couple might conceivably have developed rules andpatterns of their own, but, subjected to lago’s machinations, Othello adheres rigidly tothe conventional patterns of thought because the traditional stereotype of woman seemsto have been confirmed for him by Desdemona’s supposed adultery with Cassio. In herignorance of what is happening, Desdemona retains her former manner as she attemptsto share and examine concerns which she feels touch them mutually. RecognizingOthello’s condescending tone, Desdemona retorts:Why, this is not a boon,‘Tis as I should entreat you wear your gloves;Or feed on nourishing dishes, or keep you warm,Or sue to you, to do a particular profitTo your own person: nay when I have a suitWherein I mean to touch your love indeed,It shall be full of poise and difficulty,And fearful to be granted. (3.3.77-84)39Desdemona implies that Othello has been too severe with Cassio who acknowledges hisfault and wishes to make amends. Arguing that his fault is not, to the common, asdistinct from the military, mind, a serious one, especially now that “our wars are done”(cf. Dash 112), Desdemona says,i’faith, he’s penitentAnd yet his trespass, in our common reason,(Save that, they say, the wars must make examplesOut of our best) is not almost a faultTo incur a private check. (3.3.65-68)She expects Othello to recognize that her reasoning is sound and not an undue attemptto influence his military judgment with irrelevant feminine concerns. What she urges, inother words, is good sense, and she invites him, in dealing with Cassio, to draw on thehumanity which she feels is the essence of his nature. She makes a powerful andsurprisingly modern case for the free exchange of ideas by equal partners.On the other hand, if she had wanted a favor, she makes it clear that she knowshow to get it. She is so confident in the strength of her relationship with Othello, sheimplies in her assurances to Cassio, that she feels she can wheedle and even play theshrew with her husband if need be:If I do vow a friendship, I’ll perform itTo the last article; my lord shall never rest,I’ll watch him tame, and talk him out of patience;His bed shall seem a school, his board a shrift,I’ll intermingle everything he doesWith Cassio s suit. (2.3.21-26)Without lago’s interposition, she might have been safe in behaving in this manner.Once his jealousy is aroused, however, Othello can no longer accommodate thesuperior qualities that made her his “fair warrior” or admit the kind of equality andpartnership the compliment implies. Prompted by his jealousy, Othello retreats into thepatterns and paradigms which his adopted culture has taught him are normative. Henow sees his wife as a wheedling, manipulative female seeking favors for her lover.40Desdemona, however, shows herself an extraordinary and exceptional woman inher transcendence of the issue of Othello’s color.6 Both she and Othello had recognizedthat despite his willingness to entertain Venice’s great general as a house guest,Brabantio would not have approved of their marrying. Venice had not provided fromamong its own Sons a fitting mate for a woman of Desdemona’s unusual qualities. Incomparison to Venice’s “curl’d darlings_imagery suggesting effeminacy—Othello, byhis courage, his power to lead, and his dignity, appears to her a far more worthy manthan any other whom she has met. Furthermore, his human vulnerability seems to cryout for her particular strengths.7 Stanley Cavell argues that when she says she “sawOthello’s visage in his mind” Desdemona says far more than that she is able to overlookOthello’s color; rather she is saying, “I see Othello as he sees himself.” She“understands his blackness as he understands it, as the expression of his mind” and “Asthe color of a romantic hero...the color of one with enchanted powers and magicalprotection, but above all it is the color of one of purity, of a perfect soul.” (35) Cavellmay overstate the case somewhat, but clearly Desdemona saw Othello as out of theordinary. In a sense, it might almost be said that this daughter of the Venetianpatriciate saw black Othello, not as a member of an inferior race, but as her equal. Shetherefore believed that in committing herself to him she would experience no loss ofselfhood.A comparison between Desdemona’s disregard for convention, and Ophelia’s toowilling obedience and conformity in Hamlet is revealing. By conforming to conventionand obeying her father’s command to avoid Hamlet, Ophelia becomes a pawn in thechess game Polonius and the King play with the Prince to uncover his secret; thereby, ineffect, she betrays the man she loves. Even worse, because she loves Hamlet, in obeyingher father she betrays herself and compromises her own integrity. In contrast,Desdemona’s integrity demands that she follow her heart rather than social convention.41However, because she does not know how deeply conventional Othello is, ultimately,despite her courage in following her own inclinations, she unwittingly places herself inthrall. Even her acceptance of Othello’s blackness will be turned against her.Desdemona, in fact, unconsciously betrays herself before the Venetian Signorywhen she says:My noble father,I do perceive here a divided duty:To you I am bound for life and education,My life and education both do learn meHow to respect you, you are lord of all my duty,I am hitherto your daughter: but here’s my husband:And so much duty as my mother show’dTo you, preferring you before her father,So much I challenge, that I may profess,Due to the Moor my lord. (1.3.180-189)In acknowledging Othello as her lord, she partly recognizes the rules and patterns ofwifely submission, and so is partly compliant with Othello in defining herself assubmissive wife. So strong, however, is her confidence in Othello that she does notrecognize that by so submitting herself she violates a central part of her nature.Desdemona’s understanding of marriage seems to correspond to that of the moreliberal reformers who expected wives in their public roles to submit to their husbands,but urged husbands in the home to treat their wives as their Christian equals. Becausewomen possess rational souls equal in all respects to those of men, husbands areenjoined to take their wives’ views into account and to treat them as partnersCornelius Agrippa wrote, in A Treatise of the Nobility of Women, that “Woman hath thatsame mind man hath, that same reason and speech.... Between man and woman bysubstance of soul, one hath no higher preeminence of nobility above the other, but bothof them have equal dignity and worthiness” (Sig. A ii verso. Spelling modernized). Witha self-conception based on these ideas, Desdemona’s trust in Othello leads her tobelieve that marriage to him would not compromise her independent nature. She42expects that Othello will recognize that she has both the ability and the right to reasonwith him as his equal.The disparity between her expectation and Othello’s understanding of the role ofsubmissive wife leads Desdemona unknowingly to contribute to his already arousedsuspicions. In the process she allows her own ambivalence to turn her into the oppositeof the kind of woman whom we see at the beginning. In her final acts, as Ranald notes,she conforms to requirements set out in the conduct books and, becoming PatientGriselda, takes blame on herself (150). Though not without first protesting that she didnot deserve to be struck by him, she humbly obeys Othello’s peremptory dismissal,prompting Lodovico’s approving exclamation, “Truly, an obedient lady” (Cf. 4.1.236,242, 243)_in other words, a conventionally submissive wife. Alone in her chamber withEmilia, she wonders whether she has committed some “ignorant sin” (4.2.72) which hasturned Othello against her; then thinking that perhaps she has been falsely accused, shecannot believe that there has been anything in her conduct on which to base even afalse charge of infidelity:‘Tis meet I should be used so, very well;How have I been behav’d, that he might stickThe smallest opinion on my greatest abuse. (4.2.109-111)Ranald states thatThe very transparency of her virtue blinds her to the possible implicationsof some of her previous actions as she discusses [with Emilia after the“Brothel” scene] the possibility of having offended Othello, trying too lateto placate rather than cross him. She looks at her own conduct, vainlytrying to find the “ignorant sin” which might have caused his accusationof whoredom (149-150).Because whatever offence she may have committed has been so small, she believes thatshe will regain his love by receiving him into her bed once again as a submissive bride.43It is significant that at the very point at which Desdemona declines into the role ofa conventional wife, Shakespeare has Emilia argue, very much along the lines of JaneAnger, that women’s infidelity represents a reaction to their husbands’ promiscuity andto the double standard that allows men a freedom which is denied to women. Though inShakespeare’s source, Othello has had an affair with Emilia, the play provides nogrounds on which to suspect her of any misconduct. Though lago treats her so badly asto provide ample motivation for Emilia to be unfaithful, in fact, throughout the actionher conduct has been that of the submissive, obedient wife. Coming, therefore, as itdoes at the moment of Desdemona’s apparent submission from one who has remainedfaithful and obedient despite provocation, Emilia’s defence of everywoman offers a verypowerful counterbalance which undercuts any implication that Desdemona, by hersubmission, is now acting rightly and that in her earlier spirited self-confidence andindependent-mindedness she had been behaving wrongly.In the final analysis, what has defeated Desdemona is Othello’s retention of thetypical male attitudes toward women. Exceptional in many other ways, Othello is notexceptional in his sexual attitudes. Desdemona had begun her marriage, however,confident both in herself and in Othello’s good will and nobility. As general to theVenetian Republic, Othello had rejected sexual desire as destructive to the heroiccareer of a public servant. Desdemona, taking the initiative in the courtship, hadawakened his love and his sexual desire. The only partly rejected and half-recognizedfear of eros and distrust of human, and especially female, sexuality contributes toOthello’s readiness to believe lago. lago draws out that fear to undermine his love. ForOthello, having seen Desdemona’s love more as a compassionate response to hissufferings—”She lov’d me for the dangers I had pass’d,/ And I lov’d her that she didpity them.” (1.3.167-168)_fails to appreciate that her love also involves a sexual andemotional response to the man who had endured the sufferings. Inga-Steena Ewbank44says that his account before the Venetian senate of their courtship suggests that he wasreally in love with his own fantasy of her, believing her love for him the result of his“verbal persuasion,” a response to his stories of adventure and adversity (227).Therefore, as Cavell says, he is shocked to find her a real flesh-and-blood womanwhom, therefore, he can see only as a wanton. Like Cassio, Othello has idealizedDesdemona, seeing her as Divine. lago, however, knows that she is “flesh and blood”,with normal and healthy desire, and perverts that knowledge to make it appear thatbecause Desdemona is flesh and blood she is wanton and lascivious. WhenDesdemona’s sexuality is presented to him in that way, “Othello cannot bear what lagoknows” (40). Just as, in Rose’s words, Cassio’s “sentimental exaltation” is readily“translated into lago’s idiom of misogynistic contempt”, so too Othello’s idealism canbe easily perverted.Desdemona’s supreme self-confidence and unashamed sexuality identify her withthe humanist and more liberal protestant view of a wife. She proclaims without shamethat, as Neely says, she loves Othello for both his body and his mind (116) with ahealthy physical passion about which she is quite forthright:That I love the Moor, to live with him,My downright violence, and scorn of fortunes,May trumpet to the world.... (1.3.248-250)Therefore, she refuses to stay behind in Venice while Othello goes to the wars:...jf I be left behind,A moth of peace, and he go to the war,The rites for which I love him are bereft me,And I a heavy interim shall support,By his dear absence; let me go with him. (1.3.255-259)Henderson and McManus note that even in our supposedly sexually liberated age, “fewnew brides would confess to sexual desire before the English Parliament or the UnitedStates Senate” (55). As Rose notes, by her use of a “quasi-military idiom”, Desdemona“emphatically draws together public and private domains” (137-138). However,45contrary to the accepted “wisdom” and to the prevailing attitude of her Venetiancompatriots, Shakespeare presents her sexuality as in no way compromising her virtue.Othello’s contrary view of sexuality appears in his speech supporting his wife’srequest to accompany him to Cyprus. In saying that he had married Desdemonabecause her compassion for his sufferings had moved his love, he subordinates her rolein his life to his military career, and denies that it was sexual desire that drew him toher. Therefore, the “potent, grave and reverend signors” need not worry for hisgovernance of the island if his wife is with him:I...beg it notTo please the palate of my appetite,Nor to comply with heat, the young effectsIn me defunct, and proper satisfaction,But to be free and bounteous of her mind;And heaven defend your good souls that you thinkI will your serious business scant,For she is with me;.... (1.3.261-268)It is possible that he speaks this way for the benefit of the Venetian senate, for onCyprus, when he believes Desdemona has played him false, he feels her supposedbetrayal in the depth of his being. Still, he seems never to share Desdemona’s positiveview of sexual pleasure as of the essence of marriage. His words here imply that he seesit as merely one of the “perks”, a kind of permitted self-indulgence, or casual diversionfrom more serious matters, and as a temptation to dalliance. For him “the public andthe private domains” are separate and distinct. Stockholder comments that Othello’sdefence “renders [Desdemona’s] role in his life demeaning to rather than confirming ofhis manliness” and that “By playing to the Venetian view he maintains the split betweenhis self-image and his passions” (88). Furthermore, he demeans and diminishesDesdemona’s sexuality, and, in fact, her very womanhood. He sees her role ascomforting him in his distress, but not as being directly involved in the life that creates46that distress. He never gains anything like Desdemona’s view of sexuality as theexpression of a relationship of mutual love between equals.Furthermore, his words “corrupt” and “taint” hint, in fact, that he sees sexualintercourse as something obscene. Desdemona’s understanding of human nature andher understanding of marriage as a sexual partnership posits a modern standard ofpsychological health. Her husband’s attitudes, however, correspond more to those ofAugustine and the medieval theologians. Ranald, in fact, suspects, on the basis of hisremarks to Emilia in the “Brothel” Scene, that Othello’s only previous intimate contactwith women—his life having been spent almost exclusively in military camps_had beenin real brothels (cf. 147-148).Clearly, Othello has too thoroughly imbibed the ideology of his adopted culturethat human sexuality in general and female sexuality in particular is a dangeroustemptation leading to the perversion, rather than to the fulfillment, of one’s humanityand so is, from the beginning, prone to credit the accusations lago will make againstDesdemona. The relationship between Othello and Desdemona, thus, is founded on anunexamined and fundamental conflict of understanding that makes their relationshipvulnerable from its inception.Through Desdemona Shakespeare suggests that there should be no conflictbetween personal wholeness, which includes a healthy sexual desire, and the role ofwife. In this way, he challenges the traditional view that woman’s sexuality is inevitablylascivious and so must be severely constrained. The culture of Renaissance Europe,however, was finally unable to free itself from its legacy of medieval attitudes towardsexuality. It too readily judged women in general by its ingrained cultural stereotypes,47just as Othello, who has accepted and internalized the attitudes of European culture,judges Desdemona in particular.Part of the problem lay in the fact that Renaissance humanists, with fewexceptions, were unable fully to free themselves from traditional attitudes. They urgedthat women be educated, but offered little scope for the educated woman other than tobe a wife more able, by her education, to please her husband. Though they also urgedhusbands to be more kindly disposed to their wives, most of the humanists argued forno fundamental changes in the social structure. The Reformers, too, were caught in thesame dilemma. The wife was her husband’s equal, but she was also to be submissive andobedient. As Rose notes:Throughout the heroics of marriage is riddled with ironies and paradoxesthat are continually inscribed but inconsistently acknowledged. Althoughthey are everywhere present, most of the unresolved logical discrepanciescenter on the issue of equality between spouses and the corollary tenet ofwifely obedience and subordination (126).The educated wife was, in the final analysis, no less subservient than the uneducatedwife. Carole McKewin notes that “Shakespeare realized the full range and power offeminine identity, but he was also aware that even a brilliant woman had to modulateher independence to the mores of his own age” (20).8 The same was true in the matterof freedom of choice: children were free to choose their own partners but they must notmarry without parental consent.Thus the continued contradiction between ideas of woman’s freedom and equalityand the demands that as wife she be subservient to her husband turn the qualities thatmake Desdemona such a remarkable woman into defects rather than assets, into“pitch” rather than virtue. The Tragedy of Othello is almost equally the tragedy ofDesdemona who tried to reconcile the traditional role of the wife with the woman ofaccomplishment, independence and strength of mind and character. Her failure was not48a failure of character, but one of assuming too much of the society in which she livedand of the man she married. She fails to recognize that neither her husband nor hersociety and culture had really absorbed and accepted new ideas and so were unreadyfor her kind of woman. The play suggests that, until it has also developed males whocan appreciate mature, cultivated women, there is little point in a society’s urgingwomen to develop their inner potential.The social conflict also constitutes Desdemona’s inner conflict. She has tried andfailed to reconcile two conflicting positions, that of the woman of independence andpersonal autonomy with that of the obedient and submissive wife, and falls back finallyon the latter attitude.9 Her momentary revival at the end, wherein she blames herselffor her own death and appears to forgive her “kind lord” Othello, is the ultimateassertion of her submission and surrender. It is her admission of defeat, but at the sametime reveals the self-destructiveness of the conventional stereotype. At the conclusion,Emilia, who has up to that point been an entirely obedient wife to a husband whodespises her, even committing the theft he has demanded of her and then remainingsilent about it to Desdemona’s detriment, in the face of an outrage she can no longeraccept, manifests a courageous spirit in denouncing both Othello and lago. Especiallywhen the part is played by a fine actress, Emilia’s final outrage can “steal the show.”Perhaps Shakespeare in this way gives dramaturgical demonstration to Desdemona’sdefeat. Yet the “reward” of Emilia’s courage is also death. Bianca, too, Cassio’smistress who has also shown great courage, in her last appearance is led off to prison,her ultimate fate left unresolved, but with a strong suggestion that it will not be a happyone. Emilia’s rebellion which results in her death, and Bianca’s unsuccessful endeavorto rise above her condition, and especially Desdemona’s final submission, which fails tomake atonement for her previous boldness or save her from death, all reflect theunhappy circumstances of women in a society that has not yet learned to accept their49full humanity and grant them equality with its male members, a society that speaksequivocally, encouraging women to develop their full human potential while at thesame time denying that potential any real scope. The play reveals the potentially tragicconsequences to women of Renaissance society’s failure or refusal to resolve the issuesthat it has raised about women’s nature and role.Like Desdemona, Cleopatra is also a woman of rich and complex character whomthe males of her world cannot understand and whom they persist in trying to force intoconformity to their stereotypes of womanhood. More so than with Desdemona,Cleopatra is associated with conflicting images of divinity, with both Isis and Venus, andtherefore with both fecundity and harlotry. Until recently, most criticism has tended tosee Cleopatra as a courtesan, but a “magnificent” one, “a creature of gaiety, instinctand passion with few if any higher feelings than the enjoyment of the moment” who,because she is unique among woman, “can defy all normal rules of propriety andmorality” (G. B. Harrison in Shakespeare, The Complete Works, 1222). Perhapsfollowing Coleridge,10 A. C. Bradley, in his well-known and in many ways still relevant1909 lecture “Shakespeare’s ‘Antony and Cleopatra’,” sees her as the woman who“ruins a great man” but whose inner “spirit of air and fire...glorifies the arts and therages which in another would merely disgust or amuse us” (Signet Antony and Cleopatra238, 239-240). Like Bradley, critics frequently have seen Cleopatra as the seducer, thebetrayer, and the destroyer whose seduction, betrayal and destruction of Antony weforgive, or even overlook, because she herself is so magnificent. More recently,however, several critics, not exclusively feminists, have challenged that interpretation.Critics often note that Shakespeare in Antony and Cleopatra followed his source,in this instance Plutarch, more closely than in almost any other play. Bradley, forexample quotes Coleridge: “There is not one [historical play, as Coleridge designates it]50in which he has followed history so minutely...” (218). Interestingly, Bradley suggeststhat Coleridge’s assertion “might well be disputed”, perhaps on the grounds thatShakespeare builds Plutarch’s minor figure Ahenobarbus into the major characterEnobarbus, and that he more sharply delineates Octavius Caesar. Critics, however, havetended to adopt the negative, unflattering portrait of Cleopatra that is found in Plutarchand reflected in the views of many of the play’s Roman characters (See Dash 212 andpassim), rather than to see her as Shakespeare presents her.11 Despite recognizing thatShakespeare, even though he adheres relatively closely to its basic outline, does notslavishly follow his source, Bradley did not see that Shakespeare portrays Cleopatra as amuch more complex and ambiguous character than Plutarch’s sexual enchantress anddestroyer of Antony.Cleopatra is and represents something very different from Rome. As thepersonification of Egypt, she represents an alternative system of values. Bradley, whoseinterest is primarily in Antony and who sees the play as essentially (though notexclusively) his tragedy, says that Cleopatra is both Antony’s “play-fellow, and yet agreat queen” (233). In “Women’s Fantasy of Manhood” (SQ 20, 1969), D. W. Hardingnotes in reference to her participation at Actium that:Cleopatra, supremely, if not exaggeratedly feminine in her personal life,is also a ruler having powers and responsibilities like those of men rulerswith whom she shares the world. Antony carries the main responsibilityfor the war, but he lacks full power; Cleopatra can insist upon enteringthe man’s world, though she can no more stand the stress than LadyMacbeth could use the dagger herself (251).Feminist critics may object to Harding’s reference to her as “exaggeratedly feminine,”but would agree with his recognition of her political role, a secondary emphasis,perhaps, in the play, but present and important nonetheless.12 Cleopatra herself assertsboth her sexuality and her royalty and sees no conflict between them. In part,Cleopatra’s tragedy arises from the fact that the male-dominated world cannot accept51that royalty might be combined with an assertive sexuality. Her political role is seen asan affront and ignored while she is judged by the stereotypes of womanhood: temptress,seducer and emasculator.Though her political role is kept largely in the background of the play, Cleopatrais a monarch, head of the Egyptian nation, and on occasion, particularly at Actium, sheasserts her political role. Shakespeare presents her primarily, however, as theembodiment and personification of Egypt which represents values in conflict with thoseof Rome which stands for law, order, discipline, rationality, and political power. Suchare the qualities embodied in the coldly efficient, unheroic, Machiavellian OctaviusCaesar who symbolizes Rome as Cleopatra symbolizes Egypt. There was, however,another Rome which emphasized somewhat different values, and of that Rome, Antonyis the representative. Whereas Caesar, the efficient, often ruthless ruler of theMediterranean world, stands for Rome as it has become, Antony symbolizes an older,more heroic Rome, characterized by something of that plenitude and perfection ofvirtues called magnificence which are embodied in Prince Arthur in Spenser’s TheFaerie Queene. Although one might argue that in Antony the magnificence has gone abit seedy, yet there is enough of a residue of the old heroic Roman virtues in Antony tomake him dissatisfied with Caesar’s redefining of Rome and resonate to Cleopatra.Although Antony is as politically ambitious as the almost heartlessly cold Caesar, he is,in contrast, of a warm, passionate nature. Although for political motives he marriesCaesar’s sister Octavia who “is of a holy, cold and still conversation”, she cannot makehim happy. Though, as Menas says, many a man would “have his wife so,” Enobarbusrecognizes Mark Antony “is not so” and “He will to his Egyptian dish again” (See2.6.119-123).52Antony will indeed return, but Cleopatra should not be seen, as many have seenher, from Enobarbus’s often clear-sighted but one-sided viewpoint. As Dash notes:“Because [Enobarbus] praises [Cleopatra’s] ‘infinite variety’ as a woman, we believehim an objective commentator. But Enobarbus misdirects us if we identify with hispoint of view rather than listen to the characters themselves” (212). Enobarbus himselfrecognizes at the end that, though he has accurately judged Antony’s failures, he hasfailed to recognize the greatness and nobility he still possessed despite them. We shouldbe wary, therefore, of seeing Enobarbus as a choric figure who represents the views ofthe author. Enobarbus, Dash notes, denigrates Cleopatra as much as, if not more sothan, Philo at the outset. Cleopatra is much more than just an “Egyptian dish.”However, Enobarbus’s references to Venus in his description of Cleopatra’sarrival at Cydnus do point up the Queen’s sexual allure:For her own person,It beggared all description: she did lieIn her pavilion_cloth of gold, of tissue—O’er picturing that Venus where we seeThe fancy outwork nature. (2.2. 197-201)So does Caesar’s description of her in “th’ habiliments of the goddess Isis” in hisaccount of Antony’s behavior on his return to Egypt (cf. 3.6.17). That allure isconfirmed by Antony’s return to her after his sojourn in Rome and his politicalmarriage to Octavia. Cleopatra attempts to use her sexuality to her advantage when, forexample, she instructs Charmian to deliver contradictory messages to Antony as heprepares to depart for Rome:If you find him sad,Say I am dancing; if in mirth, reportI am sudden sick. (1.3.3-5)On this point Linda Fitz (Woodbridge) comments that Cleopatra is “almost uniqueamong Shakespeare’s female characters in her use of feminine wiles” in order to“remain fascinating” to the man she loves. She adds that “while Shakespeare may53disapprove of feminine wiles, he understands why Cleopatra feels...that she mustpractice them: she is getting old.” She says she is “with Phoebus’ amorous pinchesblack,! And wrinkled deep in time” (1.5.28-29). Woodbridge adds that “Shakespeareunderstood that women, unlike men, are valued only when they are young andbeautiful” so that Cleopatra “has adopted desperate means to compensate, by beingfascinating, for the ravages of age” (299-301). The protagonist of the Sonnet whichbeginsThat time of year thou mayst in me beholdWhen yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hangUpon those boughs that shake against the cold,might argue that the problem is not always exclusive to women, but in general, however,Woodbridge is probably right. It should be noted, however, that in this one instancewhere the Queen attempts to use her wiles, she is unsuccessful, for contrary to herhopes, Antony, “Roman thoughts” weighing heavily on his political conscience, freeshimself from his “dotage” and departs for Rome. Normally Cleopatra is quitestraightforward, but here she is desperate, trying to prevent Antony from leaving Egypt.She nevertheless demonstrates here her versatility and her self-control which enableher to adapt to every situation and to turn everything to her own advantage.The Romans, however, cannot appreciate the aspect of Cleopatra’s sexuality thatthe play emphasizes and which makes her fascinating to Antony. What for the Romansmake her merely a femme fatale, also make her, as Enobarbus notes, a life-affirmingenergy which transforms her “wiles” into something more. She is associated with Venus,goddess of love, but also with Isis, the restorer of Osiris. She is, also, the “serpent of oldNile” (1.5.25), who symbolizes fertility as does the Nile itself whose mud breeds lifeboth for “the seedsman” who “Upon the slime and ooze scatters his grain” and for“Your serpent of Egypt” and “your crocodile” spontaneously generated “from yourmud by the operation of your sun” (2.7.20-23, 26-37). As Dipak Nandy notes, “The Nile54is the symbol of the indissoluble unity of growth and decay, and twice [3.13; 5.2]Cleopatra links the Nile with herself”_—a link which “seems to suggest an undercurrentof dynamic processes continuing beneath and through decay” (Kettle 187). In theiudaeo-Christian tradition, however, the serpent is associated with evil and temptation,and Venus was also seen as a voluptuary. Therefore, the symbols associated withCleopatra suggest something of the ambiguity and complexity of her character. She is atemptation for Antony; at the same time she represents the potential for integrationand nurture.Criticism has tended to stress one aspect or the other of Cleopatra’s character.For many, the implications of Enobarbus’s description of Cleopatra at Cydnus arenegative and destructive. Neely, on the other hand, argues that qualities traditionallycondemned in other women as changeability and inconstancy are in Cleopatra“transmuted” to and praised as an “infinite variety’ that guarantees perpetualpleasure” (Neely 154). Even more positively, Dash maintains that Cleopatra is one who,if Antony would let her, might nourish his greatness (225). The desire of feminist criticsto redress the balance is understandable, but the tendency of some of them to stresspositive aspects of her nature to the exclusion of others is also to distort andoversimplify her character. Much of Cleopatra’s fascination lies in her ambiguity. She iscapable, as occasion warrants, of playing any of the roles traditionally ascribed towomen—the coquette, the submissive female, the termagant, even the ficklefemale_-but always at her own will and discretion. As Enobarbus notes, she alwaystransforms the stereotype. Whatever role she plays, she plays it by choice, and she isalways, or nearly always, in control of the situation.Those who condemn Cleopatra often praise and pity Octavia, Caesar’s sister.Because she is used as a pawn in the political chess game played by Antony and her55brother Octavius Caesar, Octavia can be seen as an object of pity. She represents thequalities traditionally valued in women, “beauty, wisdom, modesty” (2.2.241), andembodies all the Roman virtues. Octavia does not possess, however, Cleopatra’s vitalityand “variety.” Furthermore, the juxtaposition of scenes with Octavia against scenes withCleopatra works to the detriment of Octavia, showing that Octavia’s loyalty is equallydivided between Caesar and Antony, or as Dash puts it, her “allegiance to her brotherequals her allegiance to her husband” (226). In sharp contrast, Cleopatra remainstotally concentrated on Antony in his absence.In addition, Cleopatra’s loyalty and devotion to Antony contrast sharply with hisdisloyalty to her. Dash refers to Act 1, scene 5, and the first part, at least, of Act 2, scene5 as Cleopatra’s “two separate scenes of longing and loneliness.” The second of thesescenes contrasts her loyalty with the fact that Antony is “feeling very unattached toher...” (223). Before Antony’s departure for Rome, Cleopatra knows that Antony’s mindand heart are divided, only a part of them hers, the other part Rome’s. She realizes thatin refusing to receive the messengers, Antony puts on an act for her, and that hispretense of indifference to Caesar and to Rome is denied by the very vehemence of hisprotests. She knows he really wants to hear the news from Rome:Call in the messengers. As I am Egypt’s queen,Thou blushest, Antony, and that blood of thineIs Caesar’s homager: else so thy cheek pays shameWhen shrill-tongued Fulvia scolds. The messengers! (1.1.29-32)Similarly seeing through the hyperbole of his protestation that they are such a “mutualpair” that Rome might “in Tiber melt”, and seeing herself as a fool for having becomehis mistress without first receiving any kind of commitment from him, she replies withblunt truthfulness:Excellent falsehood!Why did he marry Fulvia, and not love her?I’ll seem the fool I am not; AntonyWill be himself. (1.1.33, 36, 40-43)56In much the same way, Cleopatra had seen through the hypocrisy of his partingdeclaration of “his love, which stands! An honourable trial”, responding:So Fulvia told me.I prithee turn aside and weep for her,Then bid adieu to me, and say the tearsBelong to Egypt. (1.3.74-78)Because Antony had shed no tears for Fulvia’s death, Cleopatra questions the realdepth of his feeling for herself, seeing his protestations as mere hyperbole, and impliesthat he is a hypocrite. Dash comments that inAccusing him of dishonesty in his dealings with her, Cleopatraunderstands what Antony fails, at this early point to recognize_that theirunion is more than one of sexual attraction, that it represents... the best oflove between man and woman...that is a love that includes companionship(220).Cleopatra demonstrates the genuineness of her love at Antony’s departure, when thedepth of her love renders her inarticulate, in sharp contrast to Antony’s forcedhyperbolic bombast:Courteous lord, one word:Sir, you and I must part, but that’s not it;Sir, you and I have lov’d, but there’s not it;That you know well, something it is I would,—0, my oblivion is a very Antony,And I am all forgotten. (1.3.86-91)Here is no pretense; she plays no games, exercises no wiles. For one of the few times inthe play, the Queen is not in control of her feelings; they are in control of her.M. R. Ridley, in the Arden Antony and Cleopatra (29b-30a n. 90-1) interprets herwords “I am every way forgotten,” as an affirmation that she virtually ceases to be or toknow herself. So complementary are they to one another that she lacks an essential partof herself when Antony is not with her.13 Long before Antony does, Cleopatra knowsand understands the depth, importance and significance of their love, and she regretsthat she is merely a mistress and not a wife. She has some sense that they might, indeed,be the mutual pair of Antony’s hyperbole, and she desires the fullness of relationship57that such mutuality ought to involve. When at her death she cries, “Husband, I come!”she claims the relationship she had always wanted with him.Though others in the play see her only as a temptress, her role as such is linked toher desire for a closer deeper relationship with Antony. To some degree he shares thatdesire but feels it conflicts with his Roman and imperial ambitions. It is for this reasonthat Antony cannot really recognize or accept the depth of the relationship into whichhe has entered with Cleopatra. “Roman thoughts” constantly break into hisconsciousness, and he can see Cleopatra only as “this enchanting queen” who keepshim in “dotage” and away from what he sees as his true role.The tension within Antony between the lover and the soldier-politician leads himinto disloyalty to Cleopatra. Initially, it is not she who is disloyal to him. Antony’sRoman side finds his Egyptian “dotage” shameful. Stockholder notes that he “crumblesbefore Caesar’s mockery of his Egyptian life with Cleopatra” (154); and Dash notes thatAntony “experiences perpetual conflict between self-realization as a soldier and a lover,between male bonds and heterosexual ones, between his own autonomy and hiscommitment to Cleopatra” (209), a commitment which he experiences as, inStockholder’s words, “loss of selfhood” (148). Cleopatra, on the other hand, in Neely’swords, experiences no conflict “between her roles as Queen and lover...Her desire forAntony affirms rather than threatens her identity” (138). Dash notes further that “InAntony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare suggests that a woman of power has the unusualopportunity of combining her sexual and political selves” (209), an opportunity whichAntony cannot grasp or appreciate.Antony sees the world of Egypt and Cleopatra only as a place of dalliance and of“strong Egyptian fetters” (1.2.113). He rouses himself temporarily to reassert his58political and military role. As Stockholder notes, “To prevent the serpent that ‘hath yetbut life’ from becoming poisonous, Antony flees to Rome, whose values overtly contrastto those of Egypt” (151). He soon realizes, however, that politics and a politicalmarriage by themselves can never satisfy him. When the Soothsayer tells him,Thy daemon, that thy spirit which keeps thee, isNoble, courageous, high unmatchable,Where Caesar’s is not; but near him, thy angelBecomes afeard, as being o’erpow’r’d... (2.3. 18-21),Antony realizes that he “hath spoken true” (2.3. 32), but he does not yet understandthat the Soothsayer’s words are, as Dash states, counsel of “departure from a life whosevalues conflict with one’s own and espousal of a life where one’s ‘unmatchable spiritmay flourish. In such a world, Cleopatra, far from inhibiting Antony’s greatness,nourishes it” (225). A Caesar-dominated Rome destroys his genius, whereas Egyptunder Cleopatra nurtures it. Antony, however, sees his return to the East as a returnmerely to the “pleasure” which he believes only Cleopatra can provide.The struggle of the play is, at least partly, the effort to integrate the sexual-emotional and the heroic-political roles of the two characters. It is, as Neely says, toovercome the “antithesis”, enunciated at the beginning by Philo and confirmed byAntony, between “love and heroism” (147). Even though he does not fully understandthe nature of his relationship to Cleopatra, a reconciliation of sorts occurs on his returnto Egypt between “heroic activity and love”, so that, as Neely says further, he andCleopatranow play more mutual roles. Loving and fighting together their union ispolitical, erotic, dynastic. Antony delegates power to Cleopatra, and sherules, gives audiences and fights (not well). She, in turn, now that Antonyis fighting on her side, wholeheartedly supports his political and militarygoals instead of mocking them (145).That reconciliation is implied by Antony’s apparent willingness that the Queen shouldbe present with him at the Battle of Actium and in her support of his decision to meet59Caesar in battle at sea, a decision which, in the play, in contrast to Plutarch’s account, iswholly Antony’s. Also, as Dash notes, Cleopatra is rightfully there as a monarch, as“president of [her] kingdom” (3.7.17) as she herself says to Enobarbus who denies herthat right on the grounds that her “presence must needs puzzle Antony”. (3.7.10) Sherejoins that as Queen of Egypt “A charge we bear i’ the war” (3.7.16). Antony, at least,seems to have some recognition of her sovereign right.Cleopatra involves herself with Antony at Actium as his equal partner. However,it is not her participation in the battle that is disastrous, as Enobarbus feared it wouldbe, but her retreat. But her venture into this traditionally masculine world of warsuggests that she is not opposed to Antony’s participation in the world of Romanpolitics per Se, but only in so far as that life keeps him from entering fully into a life withher and excludes her from his. At all times she demands that Antony the RomanTriumvir accept her both as woman and queen, and that woman and queen are oneperson, not, as usually they tend to be in Antony’s mind, separate identities. Here atActium at least, Antony does appear to accept their unity.Enobarbus, however, is at least partly right. Though Cleopatra does have thesovereign right to be there, she has no military ability. She flees—whether from fear orbecause she had made a deal with Caesar is never made completely clear_and Antonyfollows her, even though as Scarus notes, Antony followed “When vantage like a pair oftwins appeared! Both as the same, or rather ours the elder.” (3.10.12-13) The questionof why Antony fled is also not clearly answered by the play. Nevertheless, Antonyblames Cleopatra for his defeat, telling his followers that “I follow’d that I blush to lookupon” (3.11.12). Yet, just as his blush in the opening scene betrays his incompletecommitment to his profession of love to Cleopatra, here it is an implicit andunrecognized admission of his own fundamental responsibility: “I have fled myself and60instructed cowards! To run and show their shoulders” (3.11. 6-7). He knows hisgeneralship to be better than Caesar’s, and he says that it is from his own bettergeneralship that he has fled. Brower says, “Antony acknowledges__though for a time hewill forget it_that his defeat was his own, a failure within, not a betrayal by Cleopatra”(331). Here he implicitly acknowledges that it is not Cleopatra herself who has madehim act like a coward but his own “dotage”, his love for her that he cannot reconcilewith his military-political role and which the military-political part of him findsshameful and un-Roman. Though the characters are otherwise quite dissimilar,Antony’s is a love, somewhat like Claudius’s love for Gertrude which makes her “soconjunctive to my life and soul! That, as the star moves not but in his sphere,! I couldnot but by her” (Hamlet 4.413-15. Arden). It would seem that Antony, without realizingit, has made, like Othello in Rose’s view, though with different results, his emotionalattachment to Cleopatra central rather than peripheral to his life and being, so thatwhen he finds himself torn between “the heroism of action” (Rose 140) and hisunacknowledged emotional dependency, he chooses the latter.14Antony’s real enemy is his divided soul which still cannot unite the soldier-politician and the lover. Here the lover wins out over the soldier-politician who then, asit were, turns and reproaches the lover. The lover, then in turn, reproaches the beloved.Antony forgets very quickly his recognition of his own responsibility. As soon as theQueen appears before him, he blames her for his defeat, saying:Egypt, thou knew’st too well,My heart was to thy rudder tied by the stringsAnd thou should’st tow me after. (3.11.55-57)Here Antony falls back on stereotype: his “dotage” made him run from battle, but theone on whom he dotes is responsible because she has “caused” his dotage. Cleopatra,however, points out that her flight did not necessitate his: “I little thought /You wouldhave followed” (3.11.55-56). As Dash notes, “Antony has reacted to her as a woman,61not as a head of state” who despite her “poor military judgment” had “acted as apolitical person”. She adds, perhaps somewhat overstating the case, that the audiencecannot easily accept Antony’s claim that she is at fault (231).Cleopatra, despite her protest that Antony had no need to follow her, takes theblame. Here she acts somewhat as Desdemona does in the face of Othello’sdispleasure: she becomes submissive. Dash says that “Cleopatra pitying his anguish,adopts the female role only, taking sole responsibility for the defeat by repeating,chorus-like, the word ‘pardon” (232). Whatever her motive, she does for a time at leastrestore Antony’s vigor. He is quickly reconciled and recovers his confidence:Fall not a tear, I say, one of them ratesAll that is lost: give me a kiss,Even this repays me.... Fortune knows,We scorn her most, when most she offers blows. (3.11.69-74)By their urging her to go to him, Enobarbus and the women imply that only she canrestore Antony, and Cleopatra plays the role of submissive female to rouse Autonyfrom his suicidal despair. This apparent submission of Cleopatra, in fact, manifests herpower over him.Cleopatra’s power over Antony consists only partly in her sexual fascination whichAntony cannot resist. It also resides in the fact her sexuality is the female counterpart toand the nourisher of Antony’s warm and passionate side. Despite all his annoyanceswith her, all his petulance, his anger, and his vehement denunciations, despite thestorminess of their relationship and the ambiguity of her conduct, they areindispensable to one another. Each finds personal fulfillment in the other. But it is onlyafter the last battle, when still believing that Cleopatra had betrayed him he receivesthe false report of her death, that Antony realizes that without her his life is not worthliving:62Antony: Dead then?Mardian: Dead.Antony: Unarm, Eros, the long day’s task is done,And we must sleep. (4.14.35-36)Furthermore, it is at this point that he at last understands the real nature of theirrelationship. Running on his sword, he says:But I will beA bridegroom in my death, and run into’tAs to a lover’s bed. (4.14.99-101)Now, in Nandy’s words, “The infatuation, the irrational compulsive power of hisattachment to Cleopatra, which” Antony had originally seen and which “is seen byothers as ‘dotage’ and ‘lust’ revealed to him as the very ground of his being. Withouther he is nothing” (183). At the last moment he realizes fully that Cleopatra is thewoman who ought to have been his wife, not merely the source of his “pleasure”. She isthe woman who could have been, as she wanted to be, the true partner of his greatness,both the woman who satisfied his deepest emotional needs and the queen who mighthave shared his rule.Cleopatra’s conduct, however, remains ambiguous. In her conversation withThidias, Octavius’s envoy, she seems to make her submission to Caesar even beforeAntony has been finally defeated, and so to have betrayed him. Yet, when Thidias tellsher that Octavius “knows” that Antony is one she “embrac’d”, not as one loved but asone “fear’d”, her exclamation “0!” (3.13.56-57) sounds like a denial and suggests thatshe is temporizing with Caesar’s messenger. The play has not shown her as a womangreatly fearful of Antony. A fearful woman would not have mocked him to his face asshe has done so frequently. She suggests a political motivation when she says, “Notknow me yet?” in response to Antony’s “To flatter Caesar, would you mingle eyes!With one that ties his points?” (3.13.156-157), a question by which she may be affirmingthe independence of action that her royalty and her sovereignty give her. As Dashargues, she is the ruler of a kingdom whose welfare, Antony’s defence of it having been63defeated, and Caesar now in the ascendancy, she must consider (cf. 240-247). The issue,however, remains unclear, Cleopatra’s words ambiguous, her motives unfathomable.Cleopatra’s character is far more complex than Antony and, for that matter, all theother male characters in the play, including Caesar who thinks he can dupe her, everrealize. Hamlet rebukes Rosencrantz and Guildenstern for trying to “pluck out theheart of [his] mystery”. Few in the play would credit Cleopatra with even having amystery to pluck out. They all judge her by the accepted stereotypes of femininity.Perhaps more than any other of Shakespere’s heroines, Cleopatra, by her mystery andambiguity, demonstrates the inadequacy of those stereotypes.Antony also blames Cleopatra for the defection of the Egyptian fleet at the lastbattle, but though Plutarch suggests that she has temporized with Caesar, Shakespearegives no clear indication that she had ordered it. After Antony’s bungled suicideattempt, Diomedes clearly denies that she did (See 4.14.121-124), and when Cleopatrafinally meets Caesar, nothing is said on the subject as, had there been any collusion, onewould expect. After Antony’s death, Cleopatra does indeed appear to attempt somerapprochement with Caesar. Her situation is desperate, and self-preservation may be atleast part of her motivation. Antony, in his loving farewell to Cleopatra, advises her,mistakenly as it turns out, on how to keep herself safe and make some rapprochementwith Caesar. Probably sincerely at the time, Cleopatra denies that she would ever seeksuch safety, but she does appear to temporize. When, however, she finds that there is nosecurity either for her or her kingdom, she carries out her already determined intentionto die. Though her death is not the outwardly heroic one of running on a sword, it is,nevertheless, in “the high Roman fashion” because it asserts and maintains her owiidignity and autonomy.64Though there remains, therefore, something equivocal about Cleopatra’s conductin the final scenes, any treachery in her conduct is outdone by the treachery of OctaviusCaesar to whom Cleopatra may have been willing to extend the benefit of the doubt.Dash is probably right in arguing that Cleopatra “matches dishonesty with dishonesty”(245) to confirm what she already believes is her adversary’s true intent, namely, tocarry her to Rome to enhance his triumph. Assured that “He words me, girls, he wordsme that I should not! Be noble to myself” (5.2.191-192), she resolves to follow Antonyin death.Ultimately, Cleopatra’s love for Antony and her sense of her own integrity andworth triumph. In her heart Antony’s memory remains dominant:I dreamt there was an Emperor Antony.O such another sleep, that I might seeSuch another man. (5.2.76-78)That this Antony of whom she dreams is the idealized Antony of her imagination onlyshows the intensity, the depth, and the sincerity of her love.Cleopatra may be seen to die for the man she loves as the stereotypical bereavedwoman, but she transforms both her own death and Antony’s into a kind of apotheosis.She will die to join him in the Elysian world where he is the ideal man he sought to beand where she too can be her own ideal self, and where they will fulfil each other. Onlyin “a new heaven, a new earth” (1.1.17) can they be that “mutual pair” of which Antonyhad spoken. But Cleopatra will die also for herself and be, like Antony, “conqueror of[heriself” (4.14.16). Antony ran on his sword in order, as he thought, to join Cleopatrain Elysium, but also to avoid being humiliated “with pleach’d arms, bending down! Hiscorrigible neck, his face subdued! To penetrative shame” (4.14.73-75) in Caesar’striumph. So too Cleopatra refuses to watch “some squeaking Cleopatra boy mygreatness! I’ the posture of a whore” (5.2.219-220). Her suicide defeats Caesar’s65final desire, preventing, in Neely’s words, “the debasement of her sexuality” (158) bythwarting his desire to display her as the “ribauded nag of Egypt” (3.10.10) andAntony’s “Egyptian dish”. Thus, her death preserves her royal dignity andsimultaneously deprives Caesar of a vicarious triumph over Antony through the publicdisplay of his captive mistress. Now, having resolved on this course of defiance whichwill make Caesar an “ass unpolicied”, she at last feels worthy to claim the title of wifefor which she had longed: “Husband, I come!! Now to that name my courage prove mytitle!” (5.2.287-288). Meeting death in her crown and royal robes, she, with her ladies inwaiting, does “make death proud to take us” and is “Bravest at the last.”Shakespeare in Cleopatra has created a woman of remarkable complexity andpower. She has unashamedly asserted both her sexuality and her royalty and dared to beboth woman and queen. In a world dominated by stereotypical masculine values andattitudes, she has refused to deny either her womanhood or her status and prerogativesas a monarch and ruler in her own right. As Dash says, “In contrast to the women of the[history plays], she refuses to separate her political from her sexual self’ (212), for,unlike her Roman adversaries, and even Antony, she sees no conflict between the two.The roles of queen and lover, however, as those of lover and triumvir in Antony, are notperfectly integrated, though she comes closer to achieving that integration than he. Aswith Antony, only in death can she envisage that ideal integration. Yet as the morenearly integrated of the two, Cleopatra attempts to make Antony a similarly moreintegrated person, to bring into fusion the man of warmth, passion and generosity withthe soldier and the politician. That she never fully succeeds is largely because ofAntony’s resistance to such an un-Roman course.It has even been argued that Cleopatra endeavors to integrate the feminine withthe masculine aspects of Antony’s nature. Caesar comments that Antony in Egypt66is not more manlikeThan Cleopatra, nor the queen of PtolemyMore womanly than he. (1.4.5-7)Cleopatra has also noted how, “having drunk him to his bed,” she dressed him in her“tires and mantles” while she “wore his sword Philippan” (2.5. 21-23), an actionundertaken as a lark, but perhaps symbolic of the kind of integration she sought bothfor him and for herself.15 Thus, far from being Antony’s destroyer, as frequently hasbeen urged, she is the potential integrator of his divided personality and, as Dash hassaid, the “nurturer of his greatness.”It is primarily because Antony cannot reconcile the tension and the conflict withinhimself between the lover of Cleopatra and the Roman triumvir that he is defeated, andin his defeat he takes Cleopatra down with him. Yet there is one sense in whichAntony’s defeat springs from his relationship with Cleopatra, though not becauseCleopatra has corrupted him and seduced him from his destiny. Rather, it is because hehas associated himself with an un-Roman world, of which Cleopatra is the embodiment,that does not harmonize with the values of the Roman world of Octavius Caesar.Cleopatra, both in herself and as ruler of Egypt, represents a set of values which, bothfor Antony and for Caesar, are an affront to Roman values. Thus, not only by hisambitious rivalry with Caesar, but also by allying himself with Cleopatra and her world,Antony has made conflict with Caesar inevitable. He is defeated because he cannotfully accept either her on an equal footing with himself, or her world as of equal valuewith the world of Rome.Caesar’s Roman world triumphs militarily and politically but Cleopatra’s Egyptianworld triumphs in the imagination. Because Rome has subdued and destroyed Antonyand Cleopatra, it will be a much narrower, more limited world than it was. Caesar’s“time of universal peace” will be a “narrowly political, male and barren” peace, as67Neely says (164). Perhaps looking beyond the political ideals both of the Roman worldand of his own Shakespeare saw in an Antony a potentially integrated lover andtriumvir, and in a Cleopatra a potential for integrating a personal life with the demandsof being a ruler. Such an integration would raise the possibility of a new political order,a kind of order in which the “Roman” values of law, discipline and rationality might betempered and humanized by the “Egyptian” values of nourishment and fertility.Certainly he showed Cleopatra asserting her Egyptian values in a wider world that washostile to such values but diminished without them. Unable to integrate Antony’s twoconflicting natures and to bring his military and political power wholly to her side, she,in the world of the Imperium Romanum, as much as Desdemona in the world ofRenaissance Venice, is doomed to defeat. Yet, as Cohen notes, “The suicide with whichCleopatra caps her career removes her from a new world in which she, like Antony, hasno real place. In this respect the lovers’ deaths constitute a judgment on the process ofhistory” (305). Once again, and for the last time, Cleopatra transforms and transmutesher action into something of transcendent worth.If the portrayals of Desdemona and Cleopatra are any indication of Shakespeare’sunderstanding of women, then they indicate that he saw them as fuller, deeper, larger,and more roundly formed beings than the traditional categories would allow them tobe. He exposed the inadequacy of simplistic categorizations to encompass the self-assurance, the strength, the devotion, the gentleness, and the fidelity of a Desdemonaand the richness, the vitality, and the regenerative energy of a Cleopatra. if Sophocles,“saw life steadily and saw it whole,” then Shakespeare, far more than his society ingeneral, saw women steadily and whole and portrayed them in the fulness of theirhumanity. Shakespeare seems to have agreed fundamentally with Cornelius Agrippa’sview that “by substance of soul...both [men and women] have equal dignity andworthiness.” In addition to strength and individuality Desdemona and Cleopatra68possess a great store of the qualities traditionally prized in women, such as devotion,beauty, gentleness (in the case of Desdemona), nurturing, and docility (when calledfor). Through them Shakespeare suggests the possibility that those qualities, rather thanbeing hostile and opposed to strength of character and independence of mind and evenpolitical power, may be harmonious with them. If, however, as Coppelia Kahn says, hecould see no practical alternative role for women in his society other than that of wifeand mother, he probably cannot be considered an advocate and crusader in the modernsense of feminism. Carole McKewin notes that “Shakespeare realized the full range andpower of feminine identity, but he was also aware that even a brilliant woman had tomodulate her independence to the mores of his own age” (161). He seems, therefore, tohave recognized that women suffered greatly under the restraints and restrictions of hismale-dominated, hierarchical society and, as many modern critics recognize, subjectedthat society, in many subtle ways, to criticism.In portraying women in their full humanity, he challenges the stereotyping and thesubjection which social custom and male vanity and fears had seen as the necessaryqualifiers of that role. By portraying the richness of women’s characters straining, inconflict with social mores, for recognition and fulfilment, he shows the destructivenessoften wrought on women’s lives by their necessity to subject themselves to maleauthority. In these two great tragedies, self-assured women pay a terrible penalty fortheir efforts simply to be themselves. Shakespeare, by exposing the inhumanity of thepaternalistic and hierarchical order of his day, may at least have been making an appealfor it to be more humane and more open and tolerant. Bamber says that woman inShakespeare is the “Other”; Marilyn French says that woman in Shakespearerepresents the “outlaw principle,” that is, a principle or a force different from and insome sense opposed to the dominant and essentially masculine values of society (Cf. 21-31). Shakespeare seems to suggest in these two plays that his civilization must open its69social consciousness to that otherness, integrate it and make it “in-law” rather than“outlaw”, in order to create a much richer and healthier society and civilization.70END NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO1. See, for example, Brian Vickers, “Shakespeare’s Hypocrites”, Daedalus 108.3(1979),45-83, in particular n.63-64, for some discussion of lago’s dominance of theaction of Othello.2. Citations of the texts of Shakespeare’s plays refer to The Arden Shakespeareeditions.3. The editor of the Arden Othello points out in a note (p.32 n194) that the readings inQ1 and F vary. Qi reads:I here do give thee that, with all my heart,I would keep from thee.F interpolates between the two lines of 01 the line:Which, but thou hast already, with all my heart.The interpolation seems to make the first “with all my heart” seem as thoughBrabantio is making a loving bequest. Taken together, however, the lines, as theArden editor states, should be read ironically. In a sense they mean thatBrabantio’s heart goes with Desdemona, that with her gone to the Moor, he has noheart left. Another way, perhaps, of explaining how Othello’s “match” to her “wasmortal to him” (5.2.206).4. See, however, for another view, Robert B. Heilman’s well known article “Wit andWitchcraft: An Approach to Othello” (Sewanee Review 64.1 [Winter 1956] 1-4, 8-10and Arizona Quarterly, Spring 1956, 5-16, repr. Signet Othello with transitionalmaterial supplied by the author, 227-244) where he says::By witchcraft lago [and Brabantio, one assumes] means conjuring andspells to induce desired actions and states of being. But as a whole theplay dramatically develops another meaning of witchcraft and forces uponus an awareness of that meaning: witchcraft is a metaphor for love. The“magic in the web” of the handkerchief, as Othello calls it (III.iv. 69),extends into the fiber of the whole drama (Signet Othello 238).5. Irene G. Dash in Wooing, Wedding and Power argues that Othello had alreadyheard and accepted the ideas of his adopted culture even before he marriedDesdemona, so that he, as much as lago, believes that a woman who has no shamein her sexuality is a wanton and is therefore easily made to believe in Desdemona’sinfidelity. lago, as Coppelia Kahn says:only takes to hand attitudes commonly held in his society anddemonstrates their inner workings. Man’s fear of cuckoldry is his primaryweapon.... lago needs only drop a few hints about the pranks hiscountrywomen dare not show their husbands, only remind Othello thatDesdemona deceived her father, and the ‘monster in his thoughts’awakens the sleeping monster in Othello’s mind, the ‘green-ey’d monster’jealousy (Man’s Estate 143).6. Despite a number of critics’ assertions to the contrary, perhaps following Coleridgein his Table Talk who thought it “monstrous” to think that “this beautiful Venetian71girl” should fall in love with “a veritable negro” (Quoted Arden Othello, ii), therecan be no doubt that Othello is a black man. He refers to himself as black.,Roderigo calls him “the thick lips”, and Brabantio speaks of his “sooty bosom.” Heis a “blackamoor,” a Negro, not a Moroccan, a Moor. Even today the idea persiststhat Othello was not really a black man. The BBC production of the 1970s, forexample, presented an Othello who looked merely as though he had spent his lastleave sun-tanning on the Italian Riviera. Racism is a factor in this tragedy, Othellobeing, as many have noted, in part the tragedy of an alien whose foreignness andignorance of much of the real nature of his adopted culture make him vulnerableand, so, over-anxious to identify with and conform to its mores and expectations.His anxiety, ignorance and desire for acceptance all make him vulnerable to lago’smachinations. There is also something exotic about Othello’s blackness, and thatmay well have been part of his fascination for Desdemona. T. M. Raysor inColeridge’s Shakespearean Criticism (Everyman’s Library, 1960) believes theparagraph from which the Arden editor quotes may have been interpolated by H.N. Coleridge. See Terrence Hawkes (ed.) Coleridge on Shakespeare(Narmondsworth Penguin, 1950) 188 n. 4. The passage is quoted on the same page.7. Kay Stockholder argues in Dream Works that while Othello’s vulnerability “linkshim to the gentleness by which she defines herself...his strange and violent lifecompels her,” and, “unaware of her own attraction to his potential violence...shealso wants to share in his heroic violence” (92). That would suggest thatDesdemona herself is not completely free of cultural stereotypes, identifying bothmasculinity and heroism with violence and suggests something of the insidiouspower and influence of those stereotypes.8. Even the Renaissance writers most supportive of women, including the womendefenders of their own sex against male denigrators, saw no other role for womenthan that of wife. In Ester Sowernam’s address to the London Apprentices, she tellsthem that “the chiefest thing you look for is a good wife,” (Shepherd 89) and heraccount of the reasons for woman’s creation follows the line of argument thatwoman was made to be for “That delight, solace and pleasure, which shall come toman by woman...” (Shepherd 93). The more enlightened humanists and reformerssaid that the husband must not be a tyrant, but must love his wife, and show her dueregard. As Rachel Speght says:The other end for which woman was made was to be a companion andhelper to man: and if she be an helper, and but an helper, then are thosehusbands to be blamed which lay the whole burden of domestic affairsand maintenance on the shoulders of their wives. For as yokefellows theyare to sustain part of each other’s cares, griefs and calamities (Shepherd71. Original emphasis.).Shepherd’s The Woman Sharp Revenge (London: Fourth Estate, 1985) containstexts of Jane Anger, Protection of Women (1589), Constantia Munda, The Wormingof a Mad Dogge (1617), Esther Sowernam, Esther Hath Hang’d Haman (1617), andRachel Speght, A Mousel for Melastomus (1617). Emilia’s defense of women’ssexual misconduct at 4.3.86106, as Henderson and McManus point out, and asnoted in the text, echoes Jane Anger’s argument in which she cites the case ofMenelaus, stating that the men who “follow a smock as Tom Bull will run after atown cow” are often provided with “a pair of tooters”—horns (Shepherd 34).9. Dash calls Desdemona a woman “defeated by marriage” (126) because she hasclung “to conventions, believing that mutual respect can co-exist in a relationship72where a woman owes ‘duty’ to a husband and considers him almost godlike. Slowly,unwillingly, she discovers the contradictions implicit here.” (119).10. “But the art displayed in the character of Cleopatra is profound in this, especially,that the sense of criminality in her passion is lessened by our insight into its depthand energy, at the very moment that we cannot help but perceive that the passionitself springs out of the habitual craving of a licentious nature.” Coleridge, Works,ed. W. G. T. Shedd, quoted by L. T. Fitz (Linda Woodbridge), “Egyptian Queensand Male Reviewers,” 303.11. For example, Dipak Nandy, writing in 1964, says:There is nothing romantic about Shakespeare’s Cleopatra. Against her heconcentrates the full intensity of that loathing and disgust with sexualinfidelity that had bulked so large in Troilus, Hamlet, Lear and Timon.She is the Dark Lady of the Sonnets...But she is more than that, and themerely negative attitude of Troilus and Hamlet is transcended here inShakespeare’s final portrait of the lady. (Kettle, ed. Shakespeare in aChanging World, 187).Such criticism sees Cleopatra as destroyer of Antony in line with the view of womanas vampire and castrator.Bradley quotes from Coleridge’s single page of commentary “Antony andCleopatra’ Feliciter Audax,” found among his manuscript notes. See Hawkes,Coleridge on Shakespeare, 269.12. Reuben A. Brower notes that “She easily commands governmental and legallanguage: ‘powerful mandate’, ‘dismission’, ‘process’, and ‘homager’.” (Hero andSaint: Shakespeare and the Graeco-Roman Tradition, [New York and Oxford: OUP,1971], 321.)13. Neely sees a somewhat different emphasis in these lines:When Cleopatra tries to articulate the magnitude of their love inconventional terms she fails; but she does intimate that both love and itsloss involve reciprocity and fusion.... Forgotten by Antony, Cleopatraforgets simultaneously him, herself, and the means to express their love;but even with the past, present, and future of their love obliterated,Antony fills up the void (140-141).14. Professor Katherine Sirluck of the English Department, University of BritishColumbia, has suggested to me a possible parallel with the “Dark Lady” Sonnet no.143 in which the protagonist speaks of himself as being like a “neglected child”chasing “afar behind” the mother who has left him to “catch! One of her featheredcreatures [who] broke away”. Cleopatra does seem to “play the mother’s part” toAntony and to “kiss [him and] be kind.”15. Bevington in The Cambridge Antony and Cleopatra (25ff) summarizes some of thearguments for this view. He cites among others, Peter Erickson’s View inPatriarchal Structures in Shakespeare’s Drama, 1985, that Antony, at his best, iscapable of participating with Cleopatra in “a gender-role exchange that enlargesbut does not erase the original and primary sexual identity of each” (133).CHAPTER THREE. JOHN WEBSTER: VITTORIA COROMBONA ANDTHE DUCHESS OF MALFILike Shakespeare in Othello and Antony and Cleopatra, Webster in his two greattragedies The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi portrays independent-mindedwomen whose sense of self-worth and autonomy bring them into conflict with thetraditional mores of their societies and with those with a vested interest in maintaininga facade of conformity to those mores. As with Desdemona and Cleopatra, so withVittoria and the Duchess, the attempt to live in accord with the dictates of their ownnatures leads to their destruction by those who cannot understand, appreciate, ortolerate their deviations from the patterns of conduct expected of them. Much inShakespeare’s work seems profoundly and seriously to question the social and politicalorder of his era, and the previous chapter of this study noted in particular the plays’implicit criticism of his society’s treatment of women. Webster appears to carry on thatcriticism and, if anything, to expose in an even more thorough-going way thanShakespeare the shortcomings and the hypocrisies of his world. Dena Goldberg seesWebster as an iconoclast, sceptical of the “old order in church and state” (BetweenWorlds 6) and particularly concerned with the conflict “between the desire of theindividual will to express and fuffil itself and the conflicting demands of the publicworld” (7).It has been a critical commonplace that Shakespeare came to the stage at a timeof optimism, when it was still possible to believe in the validity of the Renaissancesynthesis of Christian faith and classical culture. By the end of his career, however,when Webster came to the stage, the optimism engendered by the new dynasty, thereform of religion, and the humanist program for social renewal through classicallearning enhanced by a renovated Christianity had begun to fade. The forces which7374Hiram Haydn has called the Counter-Renaissance were now more and more in theascendant and cynicism and pessimism began concurrently to replace the formeroptimism.1 More recent scholarship, however, has seen this view as a rather oversimplified understanding of the changes that occurred in the Jacobean era. Elizabeth’sreign, especially in its first half, had been a troubled one, and the troubles of her reignwere not so much solved as submerged and contained, left to fester under the surfacecalm. The moderate Marxist critic Walter Cohen, who writes of the conditions in bothSpain and England, states thatThe age [1600-1640]...reversed the dominant trends of the generationafter 1575. This development may also be viewed, however, less as aradical break with the past than as an elevation to pre-eminence of thosesubversive tendencies that were present all along, beneath the superficialcalm of the absolutist state. The early seventeenth-century monarchswere forced to live out the secretly troubled legacies of their moreillustrious predecessors (155).Nevertheless, there was, in Cohen’s view, an initial element of discontinuity in thepassage from the earlier era to the later one, and that the “drama of the seventeenthcentury represented new departures” (254). The plays of the earlier period, he argues,were dependent on the “fragile synthesis” of the interests of various social classes, thearistocracy and the bourgeoisie in particular, with those of the absolutist monarchy(which in England was never to become as firmly established as in France and mostcontinental states). This synthesis the drama both “scrutinized and, with somemisgivings, reinforced”. The new conditions “not only produced different drama, butalso changed the relations among drama, theater, and society. Although the basicproblems of class remain, they are approached in a fashion that the sixteenth centuryhad scarcely known” (Cohen 254). Cohen lays considerable stress on class conflict as aninfluential force, and it is certainly true that much of the drama of the Jacobean eramakes a major issue of the pride of an aristocracy, whose prerogatives in the social andpolitical world were being threatened by the growing power of the monarchy on the one75hand and of the landed gentry (most of whom were not originally people of the land) onthe other.Shakespeare appears to have been aware of the changed attitudes, but in the lateRomances in some ways he reaffirms the older beliefs. He was as aware as Webster ofthe failures of his society to live up to its professed ideals, but he may not have seen thatfailure as the final reality. Webster, on the other hand, not only lays bare with brutalclarity the corruption beneath the surface brilliance of the Renaissance world order, heappears to see that corruption as endemic to its very nature, and the society, therefore,as unredeemable. For Webster, it seems, the social structures have not only outlivedwhatever usefulness they may have had and become destructive of whatever andwhoever represented newness and vitality, but are by their very nature repressive andinhibitive. These structures merely mask aggressive power exercised for its own sakeand are the excuse and justification for the maintenance of that power.The thought of the foregoing paragraphs, it may be argued, is based on thedangerous assumption that it is possible in the absence of external evidence to obtainsome idea of a writer’s thought from his writings. Though there is a fair degree ofconsensus that Shakespeare was a conservative, many, as the previous chapter hasindicated, are finding more implicit criticism of his society in the texts of his plays thanwas previously recognized. His so-called conservatism is perhaps what Coppelia Kahnsuggests in Man’s Estate, simply a recognition that no alternative was readily availableto the hierarchic and patriarchal social structure his age had inherited. On the otherhand, all do not agree, as will be seen, that Webster is a radical critic of his society.Those, however, who say he is seem, again on the basis of the texts, to have the betterargument.76Cohen sees Webster’s two tragedies as representatives of what he calls intriguetragedy, a sub-genre which he regards as closely related to satiric comedy (cf.357, 364)such as that of Jonson and lVliddleton and of which Webster himself, in The Devil’s Law-Case, written probably after his two tragedies, produced a major example. Satiriccomedy, according to Cohen “may demonstrate the self-destructiveness of vice, [but]unlike the morality [to which it is generically linked], it rarely shows the efficacy ofvirtue, much less the ordering presence of a just and benevolent deity” (283). It is aform, he says, which “structurally excludes a positive moral perspective” (282), “hasmuch to criticize” but offers “no positive alternative to contemporary reality, eitherbecause [the playwright] has none to offer or because he considers reformunattainable” (283). Cohen says that intrigue tragedy, because of its “loss of a nationalperspective” (359), “reveals a narrowing range and a deeper pessimism” (357) togetherwith “a sense of the problematic nature of moral action” (359). In this type of tragedy,“the characters and their deeds acquire a kind of opacity that defers clear judgment andthat consequently has resulted in substantial interpretive controversy over a number ofplays” (358). Cohen’s views, which imply that a kind of subversiveness is inherent in thegenre, may not be completely beyond criticism. The virtue and heroic death of theDuchess of Malfi, for example, have some positive effect on Bosola, though not on thewider society. In general, his understanding reflects much of what occurs not only in thetragedies of Webster, but also those of Middleton. Certainly, critics have been verysharply divided in their interpretations of these plays. Part of the reason for their“opacity” and ambiguity may be, as Greenblatt argues, a kind of deliberate“negotiation” with official censorship, but it may also reflect the moral and spiritualuncertainties felt by many in the period, including very probably the playwrightsthemselves.77Because women throughout the history of western society have been soconsistently victimized and repressed, and because in Webster’s time some at least ofthem were beginning, often in overt defiance of social mores and conventions, todemand recognition as full human beings, Webster appears to have seen in them realtragic potential.2 In his two great tragedies, his protagonists are two women who intheir different ways have chosen to challenge the conventions of their societies in thename of a new, more inclusive humanity. Their persecution, therefore, effectivelyillustrates the repressiveness of traditional society toward all that is new, challenging,and humanizing, and in particular the suffering it often inflicted on women, even when,as in the case of Vittoria Corombona, the woman is clearly morally culpable.Vittoria Corombona and the Duchess of Malfi are women who, in their differentways, attempt to live their lives in accordance with the inner dictates of their ownnatures. As women of strong individuality with a sense of purpose and of their ownworth, they seek fulfilment as women and as human beings. That effort causes each, ofnecessity, to break with the conventions and mores, and in the case of Vittoria, themorality, of her society. As a result their lives come into conflict with those whosepower depends on the maintenance, however hypocritically, of those traditions andconventions. Significantly, in each play the chief wielders of power are a tyrannical dukeand a worldly, vengeful and hypocritical cardinal, representatives of the state whichenforces the rules and the church which gives them moral sanction. Though theserepresentatives of power do not themselves live by the traditional morality, they make itthe buttress for their own authority and admonish and expect the protagonists to live byit. The women themselves, even Vittoria in her antisocial conduct, do not aim tosubvert the social order, but seek only self-fulfilment. Because they are contrary totradition, their actions are regarded as subversive and threatening by therepresentatives of the status quo who, therefore, believe that they must destroy the78women. In fact, the women’s actions are subversive, for they constitute, in effect, adeclaration of female independence from the constraints of the male dominated andmale oriented hierarchical society. If allowed to succeed, the women would indeedundermine the received order.In contrast to the hypocrisy of the agents of the status quo, Vittoria and theDuchess, each in her own way and despite their breaches of social convention, exhibit akind of integrity of person which, particularly in the case of the Duchess, shames heradversaries. Moral integrity can hardly be attributed to Vittoria Corombona, but criticssee in her a sense of wholeness and singleness which constitutes an integrity of sorts.Webster’s women, Forker says, “evince qualities of interior strength that suggest a kindof integrity in the extended ‘heroic’ sense of the term” (282). Although some criticshave tried to make a moral exemplum of the Duchess, seeing her as justly punished forher breaches of social decorum, their case involves a considerable amount of specialpleading. Vittoria, on the other hand is a more complex and ambiguous figure. Byanother kind of special pleading, some more recent critics almost try to exonerate herof all guilt, but Vittoria is clearly guilty of criminal acts. Nevertheless, there is much inthe play that extenuates her evil conduct. Though Webster shows that those who actcontrary to social conventions will suffer the consequences of their acts, the sympathyhe arouses for the Duchess and to some degree for Vittoria undercuts any view thatthese consequences are divinely ordained punishments.3 Dena Goldberg sees thesocieties in which the two women must conduct their lives as “essentially opposed tolife” (33), whereas the two women, despite the great differences in their characters,seek to live to the fulness of their potentials. Certainly in The Duchess of Malfi, thecondemnation falls far more on the society that has forced her to break with conventionthan on the Duchess. With Vittoria, the case is less clear, but it may be argued that hersociety is at least as much condemned as Vittoria herself. Lever perhaps goes too far in79The Tragedy of State in saying that “The White Devil is not Vittoria Corombona butRenaissance Europe” (Holdsworth 200), for Brachiano, Flamineo, and Vittoria herself,are part of Renaissance Europe. It may be his point that Vittoria, Brachiano, andFlamineo are all tainted by the society and culture in which they live. As Forker says, inThe White Devil,All the institutions of a theoretically Christian society—family, palace,church, court of law—are seen to be in an advanced state ofdisintegration, honeycombed by viciousness, corruption, and hypocrisy. Inthis climate, those who seek to order or fulfill their lives through humanbonds reap offly cruelty and disaster (263).Forker’s point is well illustrated in the crucial scene of Vittoria’s trial. AlthoughVittoria shares the guilt for Camillo’s death, she cannot, as she herself indicates, receivea fair trial in a court presided over by a Cardinal hardly disinterested in his prosecutionof her backed by a similarly self-interested Duke. In contrast, what attracts audiences sostrongly to both Vittoria and the Duchess is their vitality, their strong affirmation of lifein contrast to and defiance of the life-denying world order in which they findthemselves.The sub-title of The White Devil is The Tragedy of Paulo Giordano Orsini, Duke ofBrachiano with The Life and Death of Vittoria Corombona the Famous Venetian Curtizan(See, for example, Lucas I.105). Dalby says that it was not until the Restoration thatthe play came to be seen as Vittoria’s. Possibly some in Webster’s audience would haveseen the play as depicting the tragic consequences for Brachiano of his passion forVittoria, but that would have been a very simplistic and conventional understanding ofa play of great complexity. For, as Dalby also notes, “Brachiano’s qualities” are—atleast in many aspects_”very far from heroic” (38), and the play climaxes with thedeaths of Vittoria and her brother Flamineo. Vittoria, Dalby points out, appears in onlyfive scenes, but each of these is “structurally speaking a key scene, and.., she dominatesthree of the most important scenes” (38). Thus, because Vittoria receives as much80dramatic emphasis as Brachiano, the tragedy may be seen to be hers at least as much ashis. Certainly for most modern audiences and readers, regardless of their moraljudgments, the strong and vital personality of Vittoria dominates the action, andconceivably many in the Jacobean audience would have experienced the play in muchthe same way.Roma Gill notes in “Quaintly Done” that Vittoria “is one of the most complexand challenging characters of the drama of this period” and also “one of the ‘newwomen’ on the English stage”, a “creature of suffragette eloquence who suffers theagonies of sexual and social ambition in a way that Shakespeare’s heroines neverknow.... When such a woman comes on stage...strong as her heart”, audience reactiontends to be very complex (Holdsworth 150, 154 155). Though Vittoria’s wickednessrepels, her splendor and vitality attract. Forker, somewhat less sympathetic to Vittoriathan some other critics, says that “The beauty and ugliness that modify each other somysteriously in Webster’s white devil finally evoke a divided response” (282). Ranaldcalls Vittoria “evil” yet “strangely admirable” (John Webster, Intro. xi), and sees her as“criminally guilty” but also “to some extent the feminine victim of an ambitious family”(106). Vittoria, in some ways, is like the roughly contemporary Spaniard Tirso deMolina’s Don Juan in El burlador de Sevilla whom most (the rather prudish Beethoven anotable exception in regard to Mozart’s recreation of him as Don Giovanni) admire, inspite of themselves, for his perverse integrity similar to Vittoria’s. Don Juan, in Cohen’swords, presents through his vitality an “alarmingly attractively anarchic challenge...tohuman and metaphysical order” (368). Cohen makes the comparison that “likeWebster’s malcontents”, of whom Vittoria might be considered one though probably hehas Flamineo and Bosola more in mind, “el burlador’ combines witty insouciance withan at times murderous immorality in such a way as to reveal the sordid reality lurkingjust beneath the surface of society” (365). Part of our admiration of Vittoria lies in the81fact that, through her challenge to her society, immoral though it is, she shows up theperhaps even greater immorality of her enemies who represent the social status quo. J.B. Layman draws also a strong contrast between Vittoria and her cynically malcontentbrother Flamineo, between “mask wearer and mask stripper” (PMLA 74, 342a),between the “healthy and sanguine” and the “diseased and melancholic” (33Th).Vittoria, whose life, he says, “it would be dangerous to any less immoral thanher brother conceives it to be” (343a), nevertheless, by her vital life affirming nature,“would...seem to be some kind of dramatic and also dialectic counter-force to all theblack and despairing elements in the play which achieve their focus in Flamineo”(33Th). For all her wickedness, Vittoria shines as a bright light in a dark world, a lightwhich in many ways shows just how dark the darkness really is.Certainly, Vittoria is motivated by an ambition which takes an evil course to reachits goal. Her husband Camillo, though related to the powerful Cardinal Monticelso, isof little social or political consequence, whereas Brachiano is a Duke. It is important tonote, however, that Brachiano takes the initiative with Vittoria’s own brother Flamineo,whom Layman calls “the dedicated disintegrator of his own family” (338a), acting aspander.6 In the opening scene, Lodovico notes that Brachiano “by close panderismseeks to prostitute! The honour of Vittoria Corombona” (1.1.43-44). Until that timeVittoria had been seen as a woman of honor. When Vittoria first appears, she is quitewilling, however, to receive Brachiano’s advances, and though her account of her“foolish idle dream” suggests that she had received his advances prior to what appearsto be their first meeting, there is no hint that she has enticed Brachiano. Her agreementto accept his adulterous advances makes her by Renaissance standards a whore, but bygiving the initiative to Brachiano, Webster appears to question the historicallyconditioned double standard by which it is the woman’s fault that her beauty overcomesa man’s fortitude.82Vittoria, nevertheless, is motivated by the desire for sexual fulfilment. Herhusband Camillo, his first appearance dramatically juxtaposed against Brachiano’s, ispresented as a possessive, and, from Flamineo’s reference to him as a capon, animpotent old fool.7 Therefore her desire to escape from such an unfulfilling marriage isplaced in a context that generates understanding if not approval. Bokiund says that the“foolish idle dream” she relates to Brachiano may be “open to interpretation and aspoetry...[may tend] to obscure the purpose behind the telling of it”, but it is,nevertheless, a dream of “far-reaching implications” (Sources WD 164). Flamineocertainly thinks that by telling her dream she has “taught” Brachiano “To take away hisduchess and her husband” (1.1.263264).8 The yew tree itself is associated with death,and editors see the word also as a word play on “you”, referring to Brachiano. That “amassy arm” should be torn from that yew tree to strike dead her husband andBrachiano’s wife, who in the dream, have been threatening Vittoria with pick-axe andrusty spade, suggests very strongly that she wishes her lover to murder those who standin the way of their union. Furthermore, the events of the dream occur in a grave yard,the haunt of ghosts and demons, at the witching hour of midnight, so that the wholerelation is invested with connotations of evil. Brachiano’s subsequent actions indicatethat he has interpreted Vittoria’s account of her dream as urging him to remove theimpediments to a relationship between them.Vittoria’s means for escaping her unfulfihling marriage are culpable, but the textminimizes moral condemnation and, instead, emphasizes the frustration the vitalVittoria suffers in her marriage to Camillo. A criticism of enforced marriage as politicaland financial contract is implied by the fact that Vittoria was forced against both herwill and her nature into marriage to Camillo by her family’s economic necessity. In hisbitterly sarcastic retort to their mother Cornelia’s moralizing, Flamineo reveals that hisand Vittoria’s father had “proved himself a gentleman,! Sold all’s land, and like a83fortunate fellow,! Died ere the money was spent” (1.2.323-325). In the “Arraignment”scene, Camillo’s kinsman Monticelso charges Vittoria:You were born in Venice, honorably descendedFrom the Vitelli; ‘twas my cousin’s fate—fll may I name the hour—to marry you.He bought you of your father (3.2.235-238).Such passages suggest that to improve the lot of the family Vittoria was sold to Camillo.Though that circumstance does not justify murder, the play nonetheless makes animplicit criticism of the subservience that society imposes on women.9 Goldberg notes:The ties that bind Vittoria are typical of her time. She is the victim of amarriage arranged by her family in a futile effort to reverse the trend ofeconomic decline initiated by a spendthrift father (22).Vittoria’s family have treated her as a chattel and disposed of her in accord withfamilial prerogative, and, in effect, enslaved her to the play’s most ridiculous characterfor whom no other character has a good word to say.Vittoria’s desire to escape and her ambition to rise socially are, thus, set in thecontext of her dreary marriage. As Roma Gill notes, “Boredom with her husband hasstifled all emotion but ambition, and she does not hesitate to snatch this opportunity[offered by Brachianol to release herself from a frustrating marriage” (Holdsworth152). Vittoria counters her mother’s moralistic remonstration against her conduct withBrachiano:I do protest, if any chaste denial,If anything but blood could have allayedHis long suit to me— (1.2.297-299)And as her life ebbs away, Vittoria again affirms, “Oh, my greatest sin lay in my blood!!Now my blood pays for’t” (5.6.241-242). “Blood” means, as in the final instance, “life”,but in the two earlier instances it means also “passion,” “natural desire,” “the demandsof the natural self,” and the two meanings blend into each other. In her relation toBrachiano Vittoria asserts her worth as a person and her right to sexual fulfilment. Her84passion for living, Goldberg contends, is for Webster the true “natural law,” the “law”of nature itself. She argues that what is called natural law in the philosophy andtheology which justified the traditional morality and the paternalistic, hierarchicalordering of the society of his era, Webster regards as unnatural. Webster, she says,“poses the question whether nature is not, in itself, more benign than the laws thatcorrupt human reason creates, since those laws present restriction and destruction oflife as their only solution to human problems” (32). Vittoria cannot be confined withinthe restrictions placed on her by her society if she is to fulfil herself as a human beingand as a woman. Her corrupt world, paying hypocritical lip service to the traditionalmorality by which it no longer lives, binds her in an unnatural and unhappy marriagethat deprives her nature of legitimate means of fulfilment. In following the antisocialpath of adultery and complicity in murder to obtain release, she acts for personalmotives after the criminal example of those who wield power in this corrupt world.Inevitably she will come into conflict with those wielders of power who see her will topower as a threat to their positions.That Monticelso and Florence had already determined to overthrow the Duke ofBrachiano even prior to the deaths of Camillo and Isabella shows the darkness ofVittoria’s moral world. Admonishing Brachiano to his face on his duty to uphold theaccepted morality, they mask their intentions behind a facade of morality. The Cardinalsays:It is a wonder to your noble friendsThat you, having as ‘twere, entered the worldWith free scepter in your able hand,And to the use of nature well appliedHigh gifts of learning, should in your prime ageNeglect your awful throne for the soft downOf an insatiate bed. (2.1.26-32)After the public separation of Isabella and Brachiano and the Duke’s departure, theyreveal that they had all along been plotting his overthrow:85Francisco. So, ‘twas well fitted: now shall we discernHow his wished absence will give violent wayTo Duke Brachiano’s lust.Monticelso. Why that was it;To what scorned purpose else should we make choiceOf him as sea captain? (2.1.377-381)Thereupon they reveal their intention to use the villainous Lodovico, whom theythemselves had earlier banished, as their agent. As the scene closes, Francisco gloats:“Like mistletoe on sear elms spent by weather,! Let him cleave to her, and both rottogether” (2.1.399-400). As Goldberg says “Francisco and Monticelso at first appear tobe interfering in Brachiano’s affairs for the sake of the people concerned, [but] theysoon reveal their interest in punishment for its own sake” (36-37). Class interest, too, isan issue, for though well born, Vittoria is not of the same class as the Cardinal, theDuke and his sister Isabella. Thus, Vittoria through her liaison with Brachiano becomesthe victim of those who, for personal reasons and in the interests of their class, alreadyplot his destruction. She thus gives them further excuse for their actions, but she was nota factor in their original motivation.Nevertheless, Brachiano and Vittoria by their actions participate with the morallycorrupt forces of a status quo. By playing what Shaw’s Blanco Posnet calls “the rottengame” because it seems to them the only game to play in order to achieve their desirefor the life of personal fulfilment and satisfaction, they submit themselves to the “rules”of those who are determined to maintain their power. Because the established orderconfers their power, the Duke and Cardinal are, therefore, hostile from the outset toVittoria’s and Brachiano’s personal interests, which, if allowed to succeed would callthat order into question.Vittoria, therefore, presents a very ambiguous figure, attractive in many ways, withmuch in her circumstances to arouse sympathy, but also evil, with much in her characterto elicit condemnation. Her deplorable marital circumstances arouse sympathy for her86desire for release. Her vitality and energy arouse admiration and a correspondingcondemnation of its suppression in an unfulfihling relationship. Even her acceptance ofBrachiano’s advances evokes a degree of sympathy even though the liaison itself is notcondoned, but her advocacy of murder to achieve her ambitions evokes condemnation.Webster, however, further destabilizes moral judgment by making Vittoria, and tosome degree Flamineo and Brachiano, “bad guys” though they are, more attractivecharacters than the “good guys” of the play. Cornelia steps forward at the climax of thewooing scene just as Brachiano and Vittoria are about to make love, crying “Woe tolight hearts, they still forerun our fall!” (2.1.275). Some have seen Cornelia, withMarcello and Isabella, as the moral centre of the play. Others show, however, thatWebster constantly undercuts the moralistic stances of these characters. Roma Gillsays:Cornelia ought to be the fixed point that James Smith [John Webster:London, 1951.1 welcomed her as, the character from whom ‘we can takeour moral bearings when, amid the amount and variety of vice, they are indanger of being obscured’ (273).Certainly Cornelia’s is the “voice of decalogue morality; but in Webster’s theatre thisvoice sounds a wrong note” (Holdsworth 157). When Cornelia demands moralistically,“What? because we are poor! Shall we be vicious?” Flamineo upbraids her with theremembrance that his and Vittoria’s father, her husband, had spent the family fortuneand then died, leaving his family to reap the consequences of his proffigacy. Her sonthen demands of her, “Pray, what means have you to keep me from the galleys [and] thegallows?” (1.2.319324).b0 His point is similar to Undershaft’s to Cusins in Shaw’sMajor Barbara that one were better to choose the strength and safety of money andgunpowder over honest poverty and decent squalor and destitution. (Shaw himself,seeing in Webster only “the Tussaud laureate,” seems not to have noticed thesimilarity.) There are, of course, major differences between the views of the87seventeenth-century and the twentieth-century playwrights. Seeing such action asUndershaft’s from the viewpoint of his religion of Creative Evolution and the LifeForce, Shaw gives approval to it. Webster, on the other hand, probably does notapprove of the attitude and conduct of Flamineo and Vittoria. Unlike Shaw, he wouldprobably have answered “no” to Cornelia’s question to Flamineo. Like Shaw, however,he raises the question of how in an immoral and constrictive world one is not only tosurvive but find personal fulifiment.Flamineo also justifies to Cornelia Vittoria’s adultery on natural grounds byalluding to Vittoria’s unnatural marriage to the impotent Camillo:Go, go,Complain to my great lord cardinal;Yet may be he will justify the act.Lycurgus wondered much that men would provideGood stallions for their mares, and yet would sufferTheir wives to be barren (1.2.345-350).Webster here seems to be adopting a view somewhat like our modern one that naturalimpulses, while not always constructive, cannot be repressed and must find some kind ofpositive and creative outlet. He suggests, much as Middleton does in his tragedies, thatthe society of Vittoria, Flamineo and Brachiano, by not providing such outlets,encourages natural impulses to seek socially negative and destructive ones.Cornelia, Lever says, “is soon silenced by Flamineo’s withering scorn”, and heaffirms that she, Isabella and Marcello, though “Innocent and virtuous.., have no vitalityon the stage”, and their virtue, even though permitted to speak out, “has no field ofaction” (Holdsworth 194195).h1 Boklund says that the virtue of Cornelia and Marcellois smug (177) as well as pale and conventional. Theirs is the morality of disapprovalrather than of positive virtue. Ultimately, the virtuous stance of Cornelia and Marcellois undermined by their apparent compromise of their honor by accepting the favor88which Brachiano offers them after his elopement with Vittoria from the House ofConvertites. Layman says that by this ineffectual presentation of traditional virtue,“Webster sunder us from familiar and conventional moral themes andattitudes” (337a).Isabella, nevertheless, is a more sympathetic, pitiable character, her conductmotivated to a degree at least by love, so that she is something of a foil to Vittoria. Yetin contrast to Vittoria’s, albeit unprincipled, determination, she seems far too passiveand submissive. Vittoria’s singlemindedness gives her a kind of perverse integrity whichmakes her seem almost admirable in comparison, and her vitality preferable toIsabella’s passivity. This contrast intensifies the sense of energetic vitality which makesher appear attractive despite her evil and adds to the play’s moral ambiguity.The so-called agents of justice also illustrate the moral ambiguity of this play andof Vittoria herself. Lever says that “In form a revenge tragedy, [The White Devil] rejectsthe clear polarities of vice and virtue, oppression and revolt, which set up the moraltension of this class of drama” (Holdsworth 195). Writing of The Duchess of MaUi butwith relevance to The White Devil, Goldberg notes thattraditional revenge figures such as Hieroriimo, Hamlet, and Vindice...areforced into political opposition in order to carry out a personal vendetta.In The Duchess ofMalfi, the roles of avenger and victim are reversed. Therevengers are supported by the highest authorities, while the victims findthemselves alone and helpless before the forces combined against them(81. Emphasis added).In this revenge play, not the avengers but the protagonists are the victims, and theavengers represent the forces of evil.Francisco, Duke of Florence, the revenger, is himself more evil than those onwhom he takes revenge. Cynically, he uses as his agent Lodovico, a violent and vicious89man with blood already on his hands, established from the outset as thoroughlymalevolent. Lodovico is perhaps the most heinous character of the play, in whosebanishment for murder Francisco had probably been instrumental. The Duke thenleaves his tool villain to take the punishment for what is equally his own crime. Forkerstates thatWebster presents the Florentine Duke as the ultimate horror—the spiritof the carefully nurtured hatred, inhumanly Machiavellian andbloodlessly disengaged, a sort of death’s-head who presides quietly,efficiently and invulnerably over the lives of everyone in the play (264.Emphasis added).Thus, contrary to the usual pattern of revenge tragedy, the Duke goes unpunished. Thusthe play asserts that there is no justice, only power.Many critics see Giovanni, too, ostensibly the agent of the re-establishment of abetter order, as a very ambiguous character. Flamineo says of him that “He hath hisuncle’s villainous looks already”(5.4.30) and that he is like a young eagle whose “longtalents [talons]...will grow out in time” (5.4.1O).12 Giovanni is the son of Brachiano,who has not been the best of parental examples, and he is nephew and protege ofFrancisco, whose influence is also far from exemplary; but his actions suggest that hischaracter is relatively sound. If anything, he takes more after his mother Isabella,presented in the play (as distinct from history) as virtuous, than after either his father oruncle. However, though Giovanni vows revenge on the murderers of his father andVittoria, one wonders whether he is sincere, because Brachiano and Vittoria areimplicated in the murder of his mother Isabella. Also, because the very powerful Dukeof Florence instigates both murders, it is doubtful that Giovanni has the power to bringabout his punishment, though he acts with dispatch against the agents, who are, in anyevent, expendable. Again, the view that power alone rules the society and that virtue isineffective is confirmed.90The brilliant Arraignment scene exposes the hypocrisy of Vittoria’s enemies,undercutting Vittoria’s judges, and to some degree their judgments of her. TheCardinal, in fact, uses the law and his ecclesiastical power to obtain revenge for thedeath of Camillo, but that is a subterfuge, for he had little regard for his nephew. Hesays before the trial begins that he intends to make Vittoria, through “the proofs! Ofher black lust...infamous/ To all our neighboring kingdoms” (3.1.6-7), but heacknowledges that they “have naught but circumstances! To charge her with about herhusband’s death” (3.1.45). He cannot convict her, but he will try to discredit her bybringing against her the customary accusation of whoredom.Vittoria’s conduct in this scene throws an unflattering light on the Cardinal.Layman notes that she takes and retains the offensive and with “poised wit and delicatenarcissistic assurance...she vanquishes moral responsibility simply by transformingherself into a serene force of nature” (340b). Vittoria so turns the tables on theCardinal that, in effect, she puts him on trial. Though we acknowledge with the Frenchambassador that “she hath lived ill”, with the English ambassador we recognize that shealso “hath a brave spirit” which tends to direct audience emotional sympathy towardher.To the charge of whoredom, Vittoria retorts, “Ha! whore! What’s that!” (3.2.77).Layman says that her “query...forces us to take stock of our confused impressions ofVittoria” (339b). The Cardinal responds to it by delivering what amounts to aconventional prose character of the whore (3.2.79-101) which the discerning inWebster’s audience would have recognized as a caricature.14 In her retort to theCardinal_”This character escapes me” (3.2.101.)_Vittoria recognizes theconventional nature of his attack. Certainly she is not sexually pure, but, on the basis ofwhat we have seen of her, the overall application of the description to her by the91Cardinal seems excessive. She rejects the charge of whoredom as having more to dowith culturally conditioned stereotypes than with the way she experiences herself. Indenying the accusation of whoredom Vittoria rejects the equation of her womanhooditself, of which she is unashamed, with wantonness and harlotry.The Cardinal’s accusation is also based on the stereotype that the woman whodresses well and loves pleasure is clearly a whore. Swetnam, for example, says in TheArraignment that “If a woman be ...merry and pleasant, then is she like to be a wanton,”calling her “a common hackney for everyone that will ride; a boat for everyone to row”(Henderson and McManus 205). Vittoria’s life of pleasure seems to the Cardinaljustification for this line of attack, and so he fits her to the stereotype:Who knows not how, several night by nightHer gates were choked with coaches, and her roomsOutbraved the stars with several kind of lights,When she did counterfeit a prince’s courtIn music, banquets, and most riotous surfeit?This whore, forsooth, was holy. (3.2.71-76)What seems prevalent in this description of Vittoria’s conduct is that she has emulatedthe princely life.15 We know that Vittoria is ambitious, and the Cardinal, brother of theDuke of Florence, is motivated more than anything by aristocratic pride. Vittoria is anupstart. Vittoria, however, recognizes the stereotypes_”the paradigmscenarios”—behind the accusations leveled against her. As the trial draws to its closeand the foregone conclusion of her condemnation, she says:Sum up my faults, I pray, and you shall findThat beauty, and gay clothes, and a merry heart,And a good stomach to a feast, are all,All the poor crimes you can charge me with. (3.2.207-210)She is not ingenuous in this defence, yet she forces the audience to recognize that heraccusers are not attacking her on real evidence so much as on the fact that in her joie devivre she does not conform to the culturally established pattern of a good woman, to92what society demands of her, but instead, appears to conform to the pattern of thewanton.Vittoria’s performance at her trial is a tour de force of virtuosity which carries heraudience’s sympathy along with her. David Gunby comments that “The courage, witand resourcefulness which Vittoria displays in facing her accusers is such that it istempting to accept without question her version of events” (Webster, Three Plays, 422).Lucas says that “when in the trial scene she stands at bay against both worlds, againstthe power of State and Church, of Florence and Rome, we cry ‘Not guilty’ despiteourselves and the truth” because Webster has endowed his heroine with “such a powerof beauty and intellect, of pride and passion and indomitable will” (Webster, Works I,94). Gunby adds, however, that “Webster is careful to show that she is that dangerousmixture of attractiveness and criminality which the epithet ‘white devil’ comprehends”(John Webster, Three Plays, 422).Vittoria’s comment that she did not come in mourning to her trial because shewas unaware of Camillo’s death (cf. 3.2.122-123) can hardly be accepted at face value.Nevertheless Webster forcibly directs our sympathies toward Vittoria and against heraccusers by making her, in contrast to them, so vividly alive. Undoubtedly Webstermeans to draw attention to and direct criticism against the corrupt and hypocriticalabuse of moral precepts by Vittoria’s accusers. By drawing such a strong contrastbetween “life” values and moral ones, Webster seems to call upon his society toquestion and examine the narrowness and rigidity of its definitions of morality and tosee that the rigors of law are often displayed in the service of the corrupt social order,represented here by the Cardinal and the Duke.93Lever calls Vittoria’s arraignment “a flagrant travesty of justice, in which theCardinal acts as both prosecutor and judge and condemns her on palpably flimsyevidence” (Holdsworth 194). Vittoria herself protests against the conduct of her trialand questions its justice. She says to the Cardinal:What! is my just defenseBy him that is my judge called impudence?Let me appeal from this Christian courtTo the infidel Tartar. (3.2.126-129)andIf you be my accuser,Pray, cease to be my judge; come from the bench;Give in your evidence ‘gainst me, and let theseBe moderators. (3.2.225-228)All that can be creditably established is that she has become Brachiano’s mistress.Vittoria is sentenced without other warrant than the Cardinal’s hatred and the fact thatshe has defied the conventions of her society in seeking a sexually fulfilling relationship.She is condemned purely on the basis of innuendo which, Goldberg demonstrates, wasacceptable as evidence in Jacobean courts, and sentenced to the House of Convertites.Against this travesty of justice she cries: “A rape! a rape’ [Y]ou have ravishedjustice,! Forced her to your pleasure” (3.2.273-274). The English Ambassador’sobservation that “the cardinal’s too bitter” (3.2.106-107) confirms that Vittoria isarraigned by a court biased against her as a personal vendetta. Goldberg believes thatWebster in this scene questions the whole “social basis of law” (52).16Here more than anywhere else in the play, we see the ambivalence thatcharacterizes the presentation of Vittoria: she is evil, yet strangely attractive; wrong, yetwrong in such a way as to make her enemies appear more wrong and more evil thanshe. Layman says that when Vittoria first appears “nocturnally” in Act I, she appears“as a whore without qualification, lacking all whiteness.” She “invites the lewd double94entendres of her lover and...sets Brachiano on his path of murder” so that we “form afirst impression of [Webster’s] heroine which quite excludes radiance” (339a). It is notuntil the scene of her trial that she appears as “that impossible thing, a white devil”(338b. Original emphasis.) Vittoria affirms vitality, whereas her enemies appear torepresent all that brings about emotional and spiritual, as well as physical, death.The arraignment is, thus, an attempt to silence Vittoria’s disturbingly powerfulfemale voice. Therefore, the Cardinal heaps upon her all the traditional aspersions ofwantonness and lust used to justify woman’s subjection. Despite the advocacy in somecultural circles for a more liberal attitude toward woman’s sexuality, the prevailingattitude had been little affected. This was still an age which regarded a woman ofVittoria’s vibrant sexuality and femininity as wanton, and the Cardinal’s attack on her isbased very largely on cultural stereotypes of the whore. His reference to her as “awoman of most prodigious spirit” (3.2.59), and his accusation that “were there a secondParadise to lose,! This devil would betray it” (3.2.69-79) reflect men’s belief and fearthat woman’s sexuality uncontrolled by male domination is a disruptive forceand_much as many regard homosexuality today_a threat to social cohesion.At the time of the trial Vittoria has become Brachiano’s mistress, but even asmistress Vittoria does not conform to stereotype. Though perhaps not from motives oflove so much as from her own ambition, she has committed herself to him; and inbecoming his mistress, she has exposed herself to the charge of whoredom. Heremotional outburst at the House of Convertites may indeed be a temper tantrumcontrived for the occasion, but the circumstances which give rise to it suggest that it mayalso express the genuine anger and disappointment of a woman who objects to shabbytreatment from the man for whom she has risked all. Brachiano had not onlyabandoned her to her accusers at her arraignment, but now, solely on the basis of95Francisco’s letter, he charges her with infidelity. She wanted to be Brachiano’swife__whether from love or ambition or both is not clear_and even though he hasmurdered both spouses, he seems initially reluctant to make her so. Unlike Antony,who only at the moment of death recognizes his true relationship to Cleopatra,Brachiano does marry Vittoria. In this regard, Vittoria achieves the consummation thateluded Cleopatra. However, Brachiano marries Vittoria only after her anger hasshamed him into doing so. Like Cleopatra, Vittoria objects to being used merely fordalliance.She had become his mistress simply because her society permits no otheralternative to a loveless marriage than an adulterous union. That this should be soimplies criticism of a society that provides women no legitimate outlet from enforcedand loveless marriages such as Vittoria’s to Camillo. If so, Webster was in advance ofhis time, though he may, in fact, have been following some of the more liberalreformers. Though it would be written from the male point of view and to some degreeout of his own bitter experience, Milton’s The Doctrine and Di:ccipline of Divorce whichadvocated mismatch of mind and spirit as better grounds than adultery for dissolutionof marriages was still thirty years in the future.It is difficult, therefore, to see this play of moral ambiguities as a morality play orto draw the simplistic conclusion that Vittoria’s story is meant to be seen as a warningagainst breaking with social convention. Those who, like the Cardinal, act as therepresentatives of justice are more evil than either she or Brachiano and use as theiragent Lodovico, the most vicious character in the play. As Lever notes, “the revengersare more repulsive than those they punish” (Holdsworth 195), and it seems difficult tosee Vittoria, even with her manifest evil, exclusively and most conspicuously as the96“white devil” of the play’s title. One begins to suspect that the title may be intended asin some sense ironic.Vittoria’s heroic death also draws audience sympathy to her. True, her next-to-lastwords are “My soul, like to a ship in a black storm,! Is driven I know not whither”(5.6.249-250). Unlike the Duchess of Malfi, Vittoria, despite her prayers, does not die inthe hope of heaven. Moralizing critics have taken these words as indicative of Webster’snegative judgment on his heroine. However, although Vittoria is guilty of much, herdying words should not be taken as the final or ultimate overall judgment of her madeby the play, especially since, as noted, Vittoria’s executioners are far more evil than she.Furthermore, the black storm in which Vittoria has been driven is the world in whichshe has lived, a world of self-interest hypocritically posing as moral rectitude and justiceand where ultimately might makes right. In many ways, in fact, Vittoria’s dying wordsreflect her experience of her life formed by and carrying the values of the world whichhas bred her. If Vittoria is the white devil of the title, she is so in large measure becauseher world has taught her to be. If her fate may be called punishment, she is punishedbecause in her efforts to fulfil her human potential she had to act, or at least believedshe had to act, in the same manner as those who ruled her society. Even the virtuousDuchess of Malfi found she had to use deceit to live the life she wished in a treacherousand deceitful world.Vittoria’s society punishes her less for what she has done than for what she is. Itpunishes her also because she has failed, and she has failed because she lacked thepower and the final degree of ruthlessness of those who opposed her and who are thereal forces that govern her world. Hence her final words, although they soundplatitudinous, should be taken seriously: “Oh, happy they that never saw the court,! Norever knew great men but by report” (5.6.262-263). Michael Cameron Andrews97comments that “This couplet has been said to contain ‘the only words that fall from herthat she could never have uttered’.”17 Yet as Bliss observes, “Vittoria’s final knowledgemay indeed be to discover by experience the truth of such maxims”—even though “thetrite, simplistic formula inadequately expresses our response to her life or to her death”(131). Vittoria’s words are very similar to Antonio’s final line in The Duchess of Malfi:“And let my son fly the courts of princes” (5.4.71). In the light of the actions of bothplays which expose corruption in high places, both utterances, despite theirplatitudinous nature, must be regarded as significant. Vittoria, as to a lesser degreeAntonio, has tried to play the corrupt courtier’s and great man’s game, the only way shesaw open to her, and lost. Lever’s judgment that the white devil is not Vittoria butRenaissance Europe appears less and less hyperbolic.Vittoria has been induced to try to play the courtiers’ game because, as she says,“I am too true a woman.” She cannot play the role of “Patient Griselda.” The “spirit ofwoman”, even perhaps also “the spirit of greatness”, to use Cariola’s words of theDuchess, if greatness may be taken as a sense of her own worth, motivates Vittoria.Bogard says:This aspect of her nature [her truth to herself as woman] is not presentedas an excuse for her conduct, but as a inevitable, under thecircumstances, as it was anti-social. Yielding to Brachiano is, to Vittoria,a necessity, for she cannot deny the dictates of her own passionate nature(58).It is her unflinching allegiance to her womanhood and her assertion of the worth andvalidity of her femininity and her sexuality that constitute the integrity of character thatmany have ascribed to Vittoria. Goldberg says, “The White Devil is the tragedy of asociety whose most brilliant and attractive people can find no honorable outlet for theircreative energies” (22). Goldberg perhaps goes too far toward exonerating or at leastexcusing Vittoria and Brachiano, but her comment contains a strong element of truthnonetheless. Webster does in this play raise the whole issue of moral conduct in an98immoral world, a world whose attitude to morality is Machiavellian in the pejorativesense that word has acquired, a world which preaches one standard and acts by another,and which encourages those who wish to live fully to take the main chance. A numberof modem studies argue that criminality is not simply the result of a bad socialenvironment. Nevertheless, Vittoria’s society encourages more strongly the darkelements in her personality than any potential she has for virtue. Webster in TheDuchess of Malfi presents another and very different solution to the dilemma ofindividual morality in a corrupt world, although, ultimately, one which leaves theaudience with no less a sense of devastation than that with which one leaves The WhiteDevil.The White Devil is as much the tragedy of those attractive individuals whom thatsociety destroys as of the society. Vittoria’s dying cry that her “greatest sins lay in [her]blood” which now her blood “pays for” acknowledges that she pays the penalty of hersins. In another sense she detaches and separates herself from her blood, her passions.As at her arraignment she rejected the equation of her womanhood with whoredom, sohere she affirms that through the sins of her blood something else had been striving toemerge and assert itself. More than a mere creature of passion, she has striven to befully a woman rather than the restrained, limited being her society has expected of her.That, perhaps, is what she means when she says that she has been “too true a woman.”In her death as in her life she refuses to be stereotyped. The penalty she pays is,therefore, as much, if not more, punishment for trying to be “the new woman” as forher sins. In her quest for fulness of life as woman and human being she has challengedthe social order which has denied and seeks to continue to deny women thatopportunity. For such a woman as Vittoria, society was not yet ready. Because hersociety could neither understand nor accommodate her richness and complexity, itcould see no alternative but to destroy her.99Even though The Duchess of Malfi is based on events which occurred more thanhalf a century earlier than those of The White Devil, the world of the later play is thesame corrupt world of the failed Renaissance as that of the earlier play.18 Here too thecorrupt and destructive society is represented by an unnamed hypocritical Cardinal andFerdinand, a power-mad and, as Forker says, a “criminally deranged” duke (304).Similarly, the natural forces of life are also represented in this play by a woman, theyoung, beautiful and virtuous Duchess of Malfi. Though certainly a more virtuouscharacter than Vittoria Corombona, the Duchess bears many similarities to her. LikeVittoria, the Duchess is an unashamedly sexual being who might, as well as Vittoria, atthe moment of her death have affirmed as explanation of, even justification for, herconduct, “I am too true a woman.” She is also, like Vittoria, strong willed and self-possessed, though she manifests these qualities in much gentler and more morallyacceptable ways. As much as Vittoria she desires self-fulfilment and is as determined toachieve it.19 Also, like Vittoria, because she lives in a world similarly hostile to thefulfilment of her goals, she has to pursue her goals by devious means, though certainlynot those of adultery and murder. As Jacqueline Pearson notes, though the Duchess is agood woman, she “is forced by the threatening society around her into an equivocalsituation, hiding behind ‘masks and curtains’ [3.2.1591 when she would prefer frank andopen demonstration of feeling, expressing herself in ‘riddles and dreams’ [1.1.4501 whenshe would prefer to speak clearly and unambiguously” (84). The Duchess, in fact,believes that “masks and curtains” (3.2.159) are more appropriate to her adversaries.Indeed, at the time of her arrest and during her subsequent torture, Bosola cannotappear before her except masked or otherwise disguised, bearing out, probably bydeliberate authorial intent, the Duchess’s view. Bosola’s masks and disguises indicatehis increasingly uneasy conscience as he becomes more and more aware of theDuchess’s virtue and the heinousness of his actions against her.100Although the Duchess desires just as much as Vittoria to enjoy life and to findsexual fulfilment, a major difference between them is that the Duchess’s sexuality ismore generative and nurturing than Vittoria’s. She bears Antonio three children inaddition to the one she had born to her first husband. The Duchess, in fact, is the onlytragic heroine of the plays discussed who does bear children. Although Vittoria’scircumstances probably preclude child bearing, she gives no indication of any desire formotherhood. Despite having to keep secret her marriage, her pregnancies, and thebirths of her children, the Duchess relishes child-bearing and motherhood.Also, unlike Vittoria, the Duchess is not motivated by ambition and has no need,at the outset, to escape intolerable circumstances. She marries Antonio her steward, hersocial inferior from whom she can gain no advantage other than personal fulfilment,purely for love. The marriage is doubly risky, nevertheless, because her powerfulbrothers have expressed hostility to any marriage she might contract and would be evenmore hostile to such a marriage to a social inferior.The Duchess, thus, combines the new woman and the old. In her independence,her desire to marry for love, her rejection of social convention in marrying outside herclass, she represents the newer thrusts in social thinking; in her desire to be a nurturingwife and mother, she appears to conform to stereotype. Perhaps through the Duchess,Webster, like some twentieth-century feminists, is saying that there is no necessaryconflict between women’s independence and autonomy and those roles which she hasalways performed.Yet no less than Vittoria, the Duchess is a rebel. She rejects the claims ofinstitutions and social structures_family, church, hierarchy_to control and determineher life. Her rebellion is less flamboyant than Vittoria’s but is no less determined.101Furthermore, though she flouts social convention, she violates no moral principle in herrebellion. Nevertheless, she has had her critical detractors. Lucas was the first to noticethe similarity between the Duchess’s case and that of Lady Arabella Stuart, a relative ofKing James and a potential claimant to the throne who died in the Tower as the victimof James’s displeasure at her marriage to a social inferior. From that similarity manyhave constructed a case against the Duchess, making the play a didactic tract in supportof official attitudes. James L. Calderwood, in “The Duchess of Malfi: Styles andCeremonies” (Essays in Criticism, XII [1962]), says that the Duchess’s and Antonio’smarriage is, in Peter B. Murray’s paraphrase in A Study of John Webster, “a perversionof ritual because it is against the norms of their society” (Holdsworth 187, n7). Levernotes that in the same essay Calderwood says “the Duchess is punished for her‘uninhibited passion’, her ‘violation of degree’, and her disrespect for external realities”(Holdsworth 212, n8). Joyce Peterson sees the Duchess herself as the play’s “curs’dexample” because of her violation of degree, contending that the “generic expectations”of what Peterson calls commonweal tragedy “and the action insist inexorably on herculpability as a ruler, her responsibility for her fate, and worse, for the disruption of herduchy” (78), so that the Duchess’s cruel fate becomes just punishment or retribution.Such views are based on a very narrow perception of an age which, as Forker notes, wasone “of considerable social mobility” (298). Lever comments that in Calderwood’s essay“opinion hardens into dogma”, and Murray reminds us that “Webster doesn’t hold up[the play’s] society as a model.” Noting that “commonweal tragedy” is a sub-genre ofPeterson’s own invention,20 Goldberg says that Peterson “makes the mistake ofattributing to the play... rather too much of the moral play qualities she sees as itsinheritance” and adds that “the Duchess’ own violations of order are minusculecompared to those of her powerful brothers, which makes it hard to see her as the‘curs’d example’ of the play” (89, n.15).102Boklund says that, although such marriages as the Duchess’s beneath her rankwere “among the common scandals of Elizabethan and Jacobean England” (DM:Sources 26), “the Duchess’ behavior was far from unparalleled in Elizabethan andJacobean England” (68). Forker notes that “neither Elizabeth nor James showed anycompassion for the suffering couples, particularly if their marriage was dangerous to thestate” (68-69), but that otherwise, as he also shows clearly, marriages of widows, secretmarriages, and marriages between persons of unequal social rank were not universallydisapproved and often were viewed sympathetically.21Some critics have found, too, an element of moral, or at least ethical, ambiguity inthe Duchess’s apparent promise to her brothers not to marry when she had no intentionof keeping such a promise. Webster may here be suggesting that a good woman is notnecessarily a perfect woman who in everything she does conforms to the moral andethical ideal. The Duchess is not to be damned because she bends the truth onoccasion. On the other hand, knowing both the hostility of her brothers and the natureof her world, the Duchess has little choice but to resort to deception. Forker notes thatone of the paradoxes of the play is “that truth to self must not only disguise itself but beforced for defensive purposes to adopt the devious tactics of the enemy” (301). LikeDesdemona, the Duchess marries contrary to the social expectations of her class.Unlike Desdemona, who married the brilliant general on whom Venice’s securitydepended, the Duchess marries one, who though not of mean birth, is a relative nobodywith no power or influence to enable him, like Othello who as a Moor was also, fromthe Venetian point of view, Desdemona’s social inferior, to “carry it off” despite socialdisapproval. Therefore, though the Duchess’s marriage to Antonio is not immoral, forsocial and family reasons, particularly because of the overweening and overbearingaristocratic pride of her brothers, she must, unlike Desdemona, keep her marriagesecret.103The Duchess’s culpability, therefore, exists only in the minds of her brothers, theCardinal and the Duke. Truth to self prompts the Duchess’s actions because, for her,truth to self constitutes the highest value. Like Vittoria, she asserts her right to fulfil hersexuality and her womanhood. Wooing Antonio she says:This is flesh and blood, sir,‘Tis not the figure cut in alabasterKneels at my husband’s tomb. Awake, awake, man,I do here put off all vain ceremony.And only do appear to you, a young widowThat claims you for her husband... (1.1.457-462).Forker, noting the Duchess’s “vitality in the midst of so macabre and deadly a setting”and her “appetite for life”, says that “Webster associates her with nature and naturalprocess” (322). Shaw, once again, had he seen Webster as other than the “Tussaudlaureate,” might have seen in the Duchess’s desire to be a mother as much as a wife thequalities of a “vital genius”, an agent of the Life Force like Ann Whitefield in Man andSuperman, neither would he have had any problem with the woman’s taking theinitiative in courtship, though, in this instance, as Antonio’s social better the Duchessmust take the initiative. As she says, “The misery of us, that are born great,! We areforced to woo because none dare woo us” (1.1.103-104).Irregular though it is, “the marriage of the Duchess and Antonio, foolish by any ofthe standards of their world and explicitly lacking the sanction of the Church,” saysMurray, “is fruitful and spiritually true” (Holdsworth 167). Hence the purely rhetoricalnature of the Duchess’s questions “What can the Church force more?” and “How canthe Church build faster?” She adds that “tis the Church! That must but echo this”(1.1.489, 492-494). When later she calls Ferdinand’s intrusion into her domestic life aviolation of “a sacrament o’ th’ church” (4.1.38), she seems to assert that her secretmarriage Per verba de praesenti, even though it has never received ecclesiasticalsanctification, has the same sacramental nature and validity as if it had. The Duchess104and Antonio have taken at full value the Church’s own basic theology of marriage that aman and a woman marry each other and the Church merely blesses the union alreadyestablished. The Duchess, therefore, seems to accept the protestant tendency to see thesexual act as in and of itself sacramental. Her marriage is valid and sacramentalbecause it is the natural expression and fulfilment of her and Antonio’s human sexuality“for the procreation of children...and for the mutual society, help and comfort that theone ought to have of the other” that the Book of Common Prayer says is the reason “forwhich matrimony was ordained” in the state of humanity’s “innocency.” The Duchessmay even indeed imply that theirs is a marriage like the innocent marriage of theprelapserian Adam and Eve in Eden. Certainly the Duchess’s and Antonio’s marriage,despite its irregularity, fulfils all the standards of Christian marriage with whichWebster’s English audience would be familiar from the Prayer Book marriage service.What, indeed, he encourages them to ask, can the Church force more? Later, fleeingfrom her brothers’ persecution she laments the fact that what is simply natural is not, asit ought to be, free:The birds, that live i’th’ fieldOn the wild benefit of nature, liveHappier than we; for they may choose their matesAnd carol their sweet pleasures to the spring. (3.5.17-20.)The Arragonian brothers, especially Duke Ferdinand with his pathologicalobsession with woman’s supposedly insatiable sexual desire,22 retain, however, thetraditional attitude that woman’s sexuality is mere lust. Therefore, they assume thattheir sister, qua woman will be ruled by lust and that as a widow who has been sexuallyaroused, she will be all the more sexually rapacious. As they part from her, theyadmonish her forcibly:Cardinal: We are to part from you: and your own discretionMust be your director.Ferdinand: You are a widow:You know already what man is; and therefore105Let not your high promotion, eloquence—Cardinal: No, nor anything without the addition, honour,Sway your high blood.Ferdinand: Marry! they are most luxuriousWill wed twice.Cardinal: 0 fie!Ferdinand: Their livers are more spottedThan Laban’s sheep. (1.1.292-299)The Cardinal’s “0 fie!” is not so much a denial of Ferdinand’s contention, thereprobably being a double entendre in “high blood,” an allusion both to her noble birthand to her aroused passion, so much as an assertion that for him that is not the issue.Goldberg states that “To the Cardinal, his sister’s greatest sin lies in her refusal to letconsiderations of status and reputation take precedence over passion” (8384).23 TheCardinal’s obsession with family and class pride and with status perhaps reflects thefears of an aristocracy in crisis, their position of power and influence threatened fromone side by the increasing grasp for total control by absolutist monarchs and, on theother side, by the growing power and wealth of the bourgeoisie and the gentry.24In fact, as a widow, as well as by virtue of her title, the Duchess, unlike theunmarried daughters of noble families, has the legal right of free choice in marriage,and she makes use of that right to follow nature rather than social convention inmarrying Antonio. (Webster leaves her unnamed perhaps for that reason, to emphasizethat in all she does, the Duchess acts legally.) What Cariola calls the “spirit” of her own“greatness” (1.1.506) motivates her, but so too does the spirit of woman. The urgencyand celerity with which she pursues a second marriage suggests that as a young, sexuallyexperienced widow she is more readily aroused and sexually desirous than if she were avirgin, and the whole tenor of the play implies the acceptance of such strong sexualdesire as natural. Particularly because her sexuality manifests itself as healthy,wholesome, and life-affirming love, and in fertility and nurture, her active sexuality isshown, in sharp contrast to the negative, unhealthy, and in the final analysis, deathlyview of the Cardinal and the Duke, to be fundamentally good.106That positive view of human sexuality espoused by the Duchess and Antonio is fartoo revolutionary for the Arragonian brothers, and was no doubt for many in Webster’saudience who held similar views. As the case of the poet John Donne and Ann Moreshows, those who married for love were frequently subjected to persecution, either legalor extra-legal. Webster has incorporated into the play, Forker says, “all the outragedconventionality, rigid class distinction, political expediency [and] family hostility” thatwould oppose such a marriage as the Duchess’s, setting the representatives of thoseattitudes “in unflattering contrast to the life-affirming and courageous decision of theDuchess to be true to her own deepest need for completeness and self-realization”(297). She knows that she must find her way in a world hostile to her desires. She says toCariola:Wish me good speed,For I am going into a wilderness,Where I shall find nor path, nor friendly clueTo be my guide. (1.1.365-368)Her action is one of almost reckless courage, yet she believes that once faced with hermarriage as afait accompli, and over time, her brothers will relent in their hostility andaccept it. When Antonio, who has very accurately sized up her brothers and is probablyeven more aware of the dangers than she, queries her about their attitude, her responseseems naively dismissive:Antonio: But for your brothers?Duchess: Do not think of them.All discord, without this circumference,Is only to be pitied and not feared.Yet, should they know it, time will easilyScatter the tempest. (1.1.471-475)Though aware that she follows a dangerous course and must take precautions, her faithin the goodness of her natural desires blinds her to the depths of evil to which herbrothers will go to undermine and destroy her happiness. Even more than Vittoria, theDuchess underestimates the vicious determination of those whose opposition she hasdefied, and her deviousness is no match for those opponents who are prepared, as107Goldberg says, to use all means, “both legal and illegal to achieve their end”, so that“the victims find themselves alone and helpless before the forces combined againstthem” (81). The Duchess sees her marriage to Antonio as a knot which can never beuntied. Though in her pious expression of hope, she sees the prospect of violentopposition, she yet trusts that their union, blessed by heaven, will be strong enough towithstand and overcome that opposition, that the violence cannot untie it: “Bless,heaven, this sacred Gordian, which let violence! Never untwine.” (1.1.481-482) Lucasreminds us, however, that “the doom of the Gordian knot was no other than to besevered by the sword” (Webster, Works II, 24-25), an indication that the Duchess’sglorious venture is doomed from the start because it conflicts with the wishes of thevested interests of her brothers who represent the power of both church and state.Those who oppose her, as Goldberg says, “are supported both by traditional moralityand established power” (81), where traditional morality has become the justification forestablished power.Nor can the Duchess’s assertion of her natural rights save her even from thecalumny of the ordinary members of a society committed to outward form, who see herdeviation, therefore, as a threat to the social stability which orders their lives. Goldbergnotes thatIt is not only the Duchess’ brothers who find her behavior shocking. Thevoice of the people first proclaims the Duchess a ‘strumpet’ [3.1.261 andthen, when the fact that she and Antonio have been married all along isrevealed, it expresses wonder at her choice of a social inferior ...Thesereactions indicate the social norm, in the world of The Duchess ofMalfi,in attitudes toward sexual love—a norm of cynicism and fear that isconcretely embodied in the mutually opportunistic sexual relationshipbetween the cardinal and Julia (80).It may be simply that the common people do not like to be disturbed in thecomplacency and the acceptance of the status quo which makes bearable their mundaneand often desperate lives. Peterson bases her contention that the Duchess has failed in108her duty as ruler of her duchy in part on the passage from Act 3 to which Goldbergrefers, but Goldberg’s commentary on the passage is adequate refutation of that view.Although the common people may not live their lives in the same manner as their“betters,” they are influenced in their thinking by the prevailing social philosophy.The Duchess by her irregular but valid and legal marriage to Antonio, perhapseven far more than Vittoria in her initially illicit liaison with Brachiano, has challengedthe male-oriented hierarchical society. As Goldberg says, her status as widow of theDuke of Amalfi and therefore Duchess in her own right enables her to liberate herselffrom male dominance, and it is precisely that which so offends her “two powerfulbrothers” who “would rather see her dead than let her go her own way” (80). They fearthat she will do exactly what she does, marry beneath her station, an action which theyfeel will sully their honor as aristocrats. Like Hamlet in the Prayer Scene, and likevillain revengers such as Vindice, the brothers are not content merely with the death oftheir victims; they seek immortal revenge, namely her damnation. By the horrendouspersecution and torture to which the brothers subject the Duchess they attempt toreduce her to committing the unforgivable sin of despair. In that they are unsuccessful.They seem to come close when the Duchess curses the stars, but to curse is not todespair but to resist. She curses also her brothers, calling down “Plagues” to “Consumethem” that they may “like tyrants! Never be remembered but for the ill they havedone” (4.1.103-104). Her curse is, in fact, an act of self-assertion which enables her toretain her integrity and achieve the a calm acceptance of her fate. When Bosola says“Look you, the stars shine still”, the Duchess replies, “Oh, but you must! Remember,my curse hath a great way to go” (4.1.101-102). Forker states thatThe dynamics of the fourth act_what might be called the “passion” ofthe Duchess_are built upon her psychic progression from outwardcontrol through frustration, rage, and near despair to a deeper kind ofserenity rooted in self-recognition, the tragic acceptance of evil, andquickened religious faith (325).25109Ultimately, Forker says, she achieves “a more resilient self-definition” (326) whichenables her at the height of her torment, after the masque of the madmen, to affirm, “Iam Duchess of Malfi still” (4.2.142). It is a statement by which she asserts that in all heractions she has been a free agent, a woman of personal dignity who will not in any wayrepudiate, or repent of anything that she has done, for she has acted honestly and withintegrity out of the essence of her own being and personhood. It is also her affirmationthat she has not been driven to despair, that she has retained the integrity andpossession of her soul, and it fulfils and confirms the affirmation she had made toFerdinand her brother at the time of his intrusion into her bed-chamber: “For know,whether I am doomed to live, or die,! I can do both like a prince” (3.2.70-71).Andrews argues that “Bosola’s purpose is to induce in her a contempius mundirather than the passionate involvement with life that has characterized her throughout”(64). To Bosola’s question “Why do you do this?”, Ferdinand replies “to bring her todespair” (4.1.115-116). Andrews cites Roger Stilling to the effect that Ferdinand’s aim isfor her to denigrate her body and so to denounce her love and her marriage. Ferdinandthinks that by her base marriage she has defiled her own body and also himself becauseof their near kinship:Damn her! That body of hers,While that my blood ran pure in’t, was more worthThan that which thou wouldst comfort, called a soul. (4.1.121-123)He therefore seeks to destroy her, both body and soul, by driving her mad. Ironically, itis himself he drives mad, not his sister.Bosola tells her “Thou art a box of worm seed, but a salvatory of green mummy”,and Asks “What’s this flesh? A little crudded milk, fantastical puff-paste”, and calls thehuman body “contemptable” (4.2.124-128) to try to bring her to denigrate her physicalnature which she has never regarded as anything but wholesome and natural. Stilling110comments that her statement—”I am Duchess of Malfi still”—is “an act of romanticself-assertion. She disowns nothing of her past actions or of her love and marriage, forto do so would be to disown a part of herself” (244). Andrews says that Bosola, and theDuke his master, “cannot subvert what has given her life meaning. All he can do is killher” (64). Whether the Duke’s aim is to bring the Duchess to religious despair or tomake her denounce the validity of her life, and probably he tries to achieve the formergoal by means of the latter means, for the Duchess there is really no distinction. She hasfrom the beginning seen her love for Antonio as a holy thing having divine sanction. Forher, to renounce her love, as much as to renounce her faith, would have been a kind ofblasphemy.The Duchess’s assertion of her identity and status is also an implicit assertion ofindividualism. That individualism is at least nascent in her secret marriage pro verbapraesenti and in her confidence that this marriage has received heaven’s blessing. Therecan be no doubt that the Duchess is genuinely devout, but she is devout in her own way,seeing no need for religious formalities and conventions. She may be compared withShaw’s Saint Joan, who never considered herself anything other than a dutiful daughterof the Church despite her following of what she believed were direct personalrevelations. Like Joan’s, the Duchess’s religion is the protestant spirit taken to itsultimate extreme of the individual soul alone with its God. Also like Joan, she does notsee that as in any way contradicting conventional religious devotion. The Duchess is,however, like Joan and like Barbara Undershaft, “quite original in her religion.” She isas unconventional in religion as in the other aspects of her life. She seems to assumethat if her actions are in accord with her own nature they must also be in accord withthe divine will which has made her that way. Perhaps that is why, unlike Cariola who ishorrified and very apprehensive, the Duchess, has no qualms about disguising herretreat from Amalfi as a religious pilgrimage. Interestingly and perhaps significantly,111the conventionally religious Cariola, unlike the Duchess, is unable to face death withcalm assurance, seeking, as she does, to avoid death by pretending to the pregnancywhich in a court of law would have saved her from the gallows..The natural piety, if it may be called that, of the Duchess also contrasts sharplyand pointedly with the hypocrisy of her brother the Cardinal, the official representativeof institutional religion. The Duchess’s faith, though unorthodox in its manifestations,has sufficient strength to assure her at her death that she is joining the communion ofsaints, whereas the Cardinal can “pray” only to “be laid by, and never thought of”(5.5.90).Perhaps through the Duchess, the only genuinely religious character in the body ofhis work, Webster criticizes religion in the same way as he does marital conventions,asserting that restrictions and regulations poison rather than nurture what they areintended to preserve, and that, as the reformers had proclaimed but as the reformedchurches themselves had failed to practise, true religion is a matter not of law, but ofgrace and faith. Furthermore, by showing the Duchess as religiously independent, yetnonetheless devout, Webster challenges his society’s misuse of religion to buttress andsanctify its repression of women.A further point is that because the Duchess, unlike Vittoria, remains virtuous inan immoral world, her death takes on something of the character of a martyrdom. Heremay be the answer to the question seemingly posed by The White Devil: In an immoralworld, what place does virtue have, what role does it fulfil, what point is there in beingvirtuous? One answer is Bosola’s that in a world where virtue receives little or noreward, there will be little or no virtue. As tool-villain Bosola (whose role Webster hasgreatly expanded from that in the source where he is simply the murderer of Antonio),112like the similarly malcontent Flaniineo in The White Devil, has the stature almost of amajor protagonist. Also like Flamineo, he is a cynical figure who plays the role of“satyr” who “sees through” the characters and comments incisively on and their wordsand actions. Unlike Flamineo, however, Bosola has a repressed conscience which theDuchess’s heroic endurance of her unmerited suffering awakens, though hisdisillusionment with princes because of the Duke’s refusal to reward him for carryingout his wishes is also a factor in his change of heart. Nevertheless, because of theinfluence of the Duchess’s goodness Bosola’s repressed conscience greatly troubles himthrough almost the whole course of his gruesome task. His task is completed, Bosolaattempts both to help Antonio and to avenge the Duchess. Thus, the Duchess’s active,positive virtue, unlike the negative judgmental morality of Cornelia and Marcello inThe White Devil, has positive effect.Bokiund says that “in spite of the title, Webster chose to make [The Duchess ofMaifiI Bosola’s tragedy as well” because the Duchess’s conduct forces him to ask thequestion “is there after all a justifiable alternative to a completely self-centered way oflife?” (DM: Sources 118, 121). Goldberg says that “Before his conversion, Bosola hasbeen trapped by a conviction that he might as well be evil as good, since there is no justauthority to reward and punish.... He passively accepts the society that his betters havecreated for him and only seeks to find something for himself within that framework....”He sees his role of “intelligencer” or spy as “base”, but believes that he acts likeeveryone else who “Prefers but gain and commendation” and that “men who paintweeds, to the life, are praised” (3.2.326-330). “The example of the Duchess teacheshim,” Goldberg continues, “that goodness is desirable for itself, and that his failure tochoose goodness has stemmed from cowardice” (96). So another answer to the questionposed by The White Devil might be that one remains virtuous in spite of the immorality113of one’s world and society, that virtue has nothing to do with personal comfort or gainbut is a value in and of itself.In her quiet confident way the Duchess faces death as courageously as Vittoria.Unlike Vittoria, the Duchess does not die in a spiritual mist. Both, however, when theyknow they cannot escape death, face it courageously, even defiantly, Vittoria baring herbreast to the knives of her assassins, the Duchess telling her executioners to “Pull andpull strongly” (4.2.230) on the garotting cords and that they should “go tell my brothers,when I am laid out,! They then may feed in quiet” (4.2.236-237). In this way eachwoman asserts that her murderers cannot frighten her or destroy her spirit. TheDuchess also implicitly affirms thereby that her life has been one of personal integrityfor which she has no apologies to make. When in her next-to-last thoughts the Duchessexpresses concern for her children, she reaffirms the positive value of her right to self-fulfilment in calling attention to the fundamentally fruitful, healthy and benevolentconsequences of her actions.Nothing in the play suggests that the Duchess’s confidence and faith aremisplaced. That she is the only character in the play who dies in such faith and withsuch hope reflects positively on her purity of motive and essential goodness. On theother hand, the manner of the Duchess’s death, though it does not necessarily denytraditional religion, is not sufficient basis to establish the play as the religious tractaffirming the basic religious tenets of the era that some have made it. If Webster’svision is in any way a religious one, it is, on the whole, a very dark one of a world fallenfar from grace where only a few find salvation. Some have seen Webster’s vision forthat reason as a Calvinist one. Certainly it is not the optimistic Humanist vision of ahumanity virtually perfectible through the use of right reason aided by grace. It may bethat Webster is saying that in a dark, immoral world, genuine faith is not only rare but114also hard come by and maintained only with great courage and perseverance. It is acommitment to the perception of a truth and a value beyond the immediatecircumstances of one’s existence. The Duchess’s undefeated faith, tempered by greattribulation, stands out, therefore, as the final manifestation of her commitment to life,of her heroic stature and of her heroic refusal to yield to the forces of death and hatredthat surround and assail her.Both Vittoria and the Duchess unashamedly follow their passions. Websterchallenges the traditional understanding of female passion as a negative, destructiveforce leading inevitably to immorality by presenting that passionate nature in anessentially positive light as the potential, at least, for love, procreation and nurture.Society, therefore, his plays assert, must accept and value woman’s passionate naturerather than denigrate it. That passionate nature is not itself a destructive and disruptiveforce; rather, as in the case of Vittoria, the attempt to constrain and stifle it leads tofrustration that contributes to antisocial acts with socially disruptive consequences.Those anti-social effects are not, however, fundamental to passion, for on the otherhand, the instance of the Duchess shows woman’s passionate nature as a positive forceof love, procreation, and nurture, a source of warmth, gentleness and compassion.Webster in his two tragedies shows us societies which by their denial of this normal andnatural aspect of human nature traditionally associated with woman and the femininehave become sterile, tyrannical, and concerned more with death than for life. Theconstraint of woman’s passions denies society an important and beneficial quality anddebilitates life itself.In a society, especially one in its death throes but desperately clinging to such lifeas remains to it, which regards woman’s nature and woman’s independence of action asdangerous, the woman who follows her passions in her search for self-realization will115inevitably face opposition and, without the support of powerful agents in that society,her efforts to be her own person will come to naught and very probably lead to herdestruction. Vittoria’s tragedy arises in part from the fact that Brachiano is not aspowerful as the Duke of Florence; the Duchess’s from the fact that she has no supportat all.Vittoria and the Duchess live in a world in which, as Catherine Belsy notes,women’s “liberty is glimpsed but not authorized” (Kastan and Stallybrass 144). Each inher own way represents a new world and a new womanhood struggling to establishthemselves, but as yet, in Matthew Arnold’s phrase, “powerless to be born.” Theyrepresent strongly self-assured womanhood conscious of its worth and no longerprepared to accept subservience, requiring and beginning to demand freedom of action.Goldberg comments that Webster’s decision “to centre his tragedies around [sic]women is one of the most significant manifestations of his rejection of the hierarchicalideology of his time” (104). Webster seems to consider that the contemporarycorruption of the traditional paternal, hierarchical society is too far advanced to beremedied and is, in fact, by its very nature fundamentally inimical to women. In his twotragedies he demonstrates that such a crumbling society, in its desperate struggle toprevent its own demise, becomes all the more vicious in its endeavors to destroy anyonewhose way of life it sees as threatening, all the while hypocritically justifying itself bycalling upon the traditional values by which it no longer lives. With the forces of such asociety, represented by the two Cardinals and the two Dukes who embody thetraditional authority and power of Church and State, Vittoria and the Duchess,choosing to follow the new, more natural way of life, inevitably come into conflict andare doomed to destruction. The real issues in the struggle of these women with theirsocieties are not so much virtue and vice as conformity and non-conformity toconventional requirements and authorities. Both Vittoria and the Duchess are opposed116and finally destroyed because they dared to follow their own life-enhancing interestsrather than the dictates of those who draw their power from the traditional ordering ofsociety.Webster in his two tragedies presents the male power brokers in the socialhierarchy as agents of death, and presents his two major women as the agents ofsociety’s renewal, as the vanguard of a richer and fuller life. That richer fuller lifecannot be realized, he implies, until women are allowed freedom for their full selfdevelopment, and that cannot happen until society, particularly the males whodominate it, see the positive worth of woman’s nature. In presenting VittoriaCorombona and the Duchess of Malfi as complex, richly gifted human beings, heprovides a new paradigm of women and woman’s nature as a potentially revitalizingforce in human life.117END NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE1. This cynicism is often expressed through the many malcontent characters of whomFlamineo in The White Devil and Bosola in The Duchess of Malfi are among themost brilliantly conceived and developed examples. Flamineo is one of the mostprominent and imaginatively developed and in some ways one of the mostinteresting, characters in The White Devil. Webster, as Gunnar Boklund notes, hasgiven him “the standard characteristics of a tool-villain and a pander, as developedby Marston and Tourneur” as well as “the malcontent aspects of Malevole andVendice” (Sources of WD 148). Bosola, similarly developed in The Duchess ofM4f1and given a latent conscience which emerges in response to the nobility with whichthe Duchess bears her undeserved suffering, is perhaps an even more interestingcharacter.2. This was the age of the female transvestite as well as the era when many youngpeople, sometimes with and sometimes without parental sanction, were beginningto act on the view of the more enlightened humanists and reformers that, becausemarriage is meant to be a partnership of mutual love, the prospective partnersought to have free choice to follow their hearts in marriage. See for example theworks of Stone, Rogers, Stenton, Woodbridge, Wright, and Wrightson listed in theBibliography.3. Forker in The Skull Beneath the Skin refers to such criticism as “a tradition of primmoralism” (241). Roma Gill in “Quaintly Done” refers to Clifford Leech’s“grudging admiration” of Vittoria Corombona as one whose “beauty, adroitness”and “brave spirit” should not blind us to the fact that “she is the devil of this play’stitle” (Cited from John Webster 44). Gill comments that Leech “has succumbed tothe ever-present temptation to fit Vittoria into a recognizable pattern” (Holdsworth150). Forker, though he sees the love of Vittoria and Brachiano as a “deeply flawedromance” (263) comments nevertheless that the “hostile moralism” of othercharacters while it “discourages our approval of the romantic values of the play...itcan also reflect negatively upon the detractors themselves, exposing their malice,their frustration, or their emotional and imaginative poverty” (263). A great manycritics, as Lever notes in The Tragedy of State, invoke “a hypothetical Jacobeanopinion” which “unanimously agreed on certain certainties” (Holdsworth 203).Guimar Boklund in The Duchess of Malfi: Sources, Themes, Characters, puts thematter in perspective perhaps as well as any:Very few Elizabethans seemed able to refrain completely fromdiscovering the hand of God in the disasters that overtake sinners(Marcello is made to comment in this vein in The White Devil), butseldom can two such unattractive instruments for the punishment of lustand ambition [the motives, respectively, of the Duchess and Antonio inBelleforest] as the Arragonian brothers have been offered to the Englishtheater public. One of the hack writers for the stage might have fallen forsuch a simpleton’s attitude, but not John Webster, whose treatment of therewards of virtue and the penalties of vice in The White Devil is nothing ifnot sophisticated. The challenge of Beard and Goulart, those twomerciless Christian upholders of social decorum can hardly have givenhim serious pause, although some members of his audience wouldundoubtedly have been ready to accept it as genuine (65).Boklund’s discussion of the morality of The White Devil (Sources 158-180) isthoughtful and thorough, and his final conclusion worthy of respect:118The quest for the theme of The White Devil...has ended in a relativelysimple conclusion. Webster’s cynicism has been identified with thecynicism of facts, his study of virtue found a system of Christian moralitypractically inapplicable in a world where vice reigns, and his study of vicefound amoralism an insufficient philosophy of life in a world where manis troubled with a conscience. [Bokiund has Bosola in mind.] Theimmeasurable gap between the laws of God and the ways of man hasseldom been illustrated with such piercing irony as in The White Devil(181).4. The best study of Webster’s possible sources is Gunnar Bokiund’s The Sources ofThe White Devil. The historical Vittoria Accoramborii was born, not at Venice, butat Gubbio in the Appenines. Lucas suggests that in calling Vittoria the “FamousVenetian Curtizan” he was confusing her with Bianca Capello, the model forBianca in Middleton’s Women Beware Women, who was the mistress and later wifeof the historical Duke of Florence on whom the character in WD is also based, butBokiund disagrees (138). In the Renaissance “the name of a Curtezan of Venice isfamoused over all Christendome” (T. Coryat, Coiyat’s Crudities (Glasgow 1905),1.401, cited Boklund 138), and therefore, Webster—or perhaps his publisher_mayhave been capitalizing on that city’s reputation (cf. Gunby 416)_though, in factneither Vittoria Accoramboni nor Bianca Capello was a courtesan, nor does eitherdramatist so present his heroine. Although the possible sources are many, the mostprobable appears to be a newsletter circulated by the German financial houseFugger which, not long after it had occurred, gave a very detailed account ofVittoria’s murder on December 23, 1585-_something of a cause celebre throughoutWestern Europe at the time. Webster may also have known A Letter Lately Writtenfrom Rome, another document contemporary with some of the events, notably thecoronation of Sixtus V, and probably written by John Florio. The scene ofMonticelso’s coronation as Pope seems to be based on that account (cf Bokiund,Sources 3 1-32). Other details of the story seem to have reached Webster in garbledform, perhaps by hearsay. Boklund notes thatThe general meagreness of the material remains conspicuous. As a resultthe dramatist had to rely more extensively upon dramatic tradition andhis own imagination than has hitherto been realized .... The only part ofVittoria’s career of which Webster had ample information was, accordingto our conclusions, its very last phase, the incidents at Padua atChristmastime 1585. Otherwise his material was sparse, a sparsity which,however, was bound to affect different parts of his tragedy in differentways (140).5. Bokiund says, “The play depicts an existence disordered and without a core, and inorder to do this convincingly the dramatist created a tragedy without a hero”(Sources WD, 184).6. Layman says of Flamineo that “He is, by his own account, drunk ‘with wormwoodwater’ (” and that “he makes about humanity, with an un-Machiavelliannausea, the Machiavellian assumption that all behavior which is not patently lustful,vicious or silly is manipulative; and his driving need is to have his cynicismconfirmed by experience” (338a). Comparing him with Vittoria, Layman says, “Heis diseased and melancholic; she healthy and sanguine; and as he repels, sheattracts” (337b). The “constant need of his imagination” is “to reduce everything toa uniform bestiality” (343a). Therefore, he strives “to reduce [Vittoria] to nothingmore than a particularly disgusting specimen of the only world he is willing to119recognize” (337b). Ironically, in the end he finds himself impelled “to pay her thegreatest tribute” (33Th).7. Historically Vittoria’s first husband was the young, handsome and valiant FrancescoPeretti of whom she seems to have been quite fond. He appears to have beenmurdered by her own brother Marcello who was known to have been a henchmanof Paolo Giordano Orsini, Lord (later Duke) of Bracciano. (Webster has given thecharacter of Marcello to the historical younger brother Flamineo. Bracciano hadmurdered his unfaithftd wife Isabella long before he knew Vittoria.) Nevertheless,despite her apparent affection for Peretti (whom, it seems, she had warned not toventure forth on the night of his murder), Vittoria, much like Gertrude inShakespeare’s Hamlet, very quickly accepted Bracciano, the probable instigator ofher husband’s murder, as her lover and then, very soon afterwards, as her husband(though because of the opposition of the Duke of Florence and Cardinal Montalto,later Pope Sixtus V, they had to undergo three ceremonies of marriage). Webstermay not have known the facts about Vittoria’s first marriage, but for whateverreason, his changing of the character of Vittoria’s first husband is of major dramaticimportance in making Vittoria a sympathetic character.8. All quotations from The White Devil and The Duchess ofMalfi are taken from textsas presented in Drama of the English Renaissance, Volume II: The Stuart Period, ed.Russell A. Fraser and Norman Rabkin, (New York: Macmillan, and London:Collier Macmillan, 1976) unless otherwise noted. The standard edition of Webster’sComplete Works is that of F. L Lucas, four volumes, (London: Chatto and Windus,1927) to which all subsequent editions are greatly indebted.9. Ostensibly that society is Italy, “that country stereotyped by English Renaissanceplaywrights as a sink of iniquity, the epitome of depravity, the home of murder,rape, and corruption both religious and sexual” (Ranald 19). Lever, however,reminds us that the writers of revenge tragedy [in which sub-genre WL) and DM areoften included] should not be judged by standards of historical realism. Their aimwas not to recreate history but to express contemporary anxieties by transposingthem into a period and setting which had become the type and pattern of nakeddespotism (Holdsworth 19). Although the setting is Italy, the issues of the plays arethose of contemporary England. Lever notes further that “in The Duchess of Malfithe affairs of England, and in particular the inner life of the victims of state andtheir persecutors, shape the world of the play beneath its Italian surface...”(Holdsworth 201). Setting plays dealing with English issues in foreign locales is allpart of what Greenblatt calls “negotiation”.10. Commenting on Flamineo’s lines, Dena Goldberg notes the “implications of the‘rogues and vagabonds’ statutes enacted in the latter part of Elizabeth’s and in thereign of King James. The average Jacobean could take little comfort in being poorbut honest, for these laws made poverty and economic dislocation punishableoffenses, subject to imprisonment, whipping and deportation. I have even comeacross an instance where men were sentenced to death for being without means ofsupport. The obvious implication of the laws was that if one had to choose betweenpoverty and dishonesty, there was something to be said for the latter” (48). Thehistorian John Guy in Tudor England (Oxford and New York: OUP, 1988 pbk)notes that throughout a large part of the Tudor age, it was assumed that “peoplewere unemployed because they were idle, and then to deem ‘wilful’ unemploymentcriminal”, a belief which “was modified as the century progressed” for “positive” aswell as “negative” reasons (42).12011. In Tragedy and Tragicomedy in the Plays of John Webster, Jacqueline Pearsoncomments that “In The White Devil, a play whose effect is moulded by distancingand detachment, we view the action through characters who use comedy andcomedy and tragedy become almost indistinguishable” (69), and that “a repeatedpattern in The White Devil is that of a serious action followed by its parody.... Theplay piles up ironic repetitions so that human dignity and seriousness are mockedand deflated” (78). Boklurid says:There is something bordering on smugness in the remarks of Isabella,Cornelia and Marcello. If the irresponsibility of such virtue is not implied,the impracticality of it most certainly is. Both the virtuous Cornelia andthe virtuous Marcello get their sustenance from the bounty of Brachiano,a source of income which Vittoria’s and Flamineo’s much condemnedconduct has made available...[T]he average character in The White Devilis far too involved in the business of the world to make any moral lawapplicable at all (177-178).12. Flamineo performs the role of what Kernan in The Cankered Muse calls the satyr,the cynical malcontent “whose own moral stains do not impair the ultimatecorrectness of his judgment” (148).13. At the first performance of the play in 1612 at the Red Bull Theatre just outside thenorthwestern suburb of Clerkenwell in about 1605, a theatre which seems to havebeen the Jacobean equivalent of the grade B movie house, Webster felt he did nothave such a discerning audience. He complains in his preface “To the Reader” inthe published version “it was acted in so dull a time of winter, presented in so openand black a theatre, that it wanted (that which is the only grace and setting out of atragedy) a full and understanding auditory: and since that time I have noted, mostof the people that come to that playhouse, resemble those ignorant asses (whovisiting stationers’ shops, their use is not to inquire for good books but for newbooks)...” (See, for example, Fraser and Rabkin 432).14. The group of thirty-two characters added to the third edition of Overbury’sCharacters (1615) is attributed to Webster. Critics wishing to establish a caseagainst the Duchess of Malfi often compare her to the Character of “An OrdinaryWidow.” Such a position, however, fails to take into account the stereotypicalnature of these pieces. It is hard to believe that Webster was so naive as to thinkthat the real life of a milkmaid corresponded with his character of her. Forkerrefers to the “ordinary Widow” Character as a “satiric caricature” (297). So too, theCardinal’s character of the whore must be seen for what it is, a caricature and aconventional, stereotyped portrait. Forker adds that though others than those “witha vested interest in her disgrace” call Vittoria whore, “Monticelso’s perfectcharacter of the courtesan [3.2.79ff1, his execration of her ‘black lust’ [3.1.7] is asmuch a comment on the cardinal’s bitterness as on his defendant’s morals” (263).15. Webster may have in mind here the ineffectual efforts of Elizabeth and Jamesthrough the sumptuary laws to restrain members of the middle class from dressingin the finery considered suitable only to the nobility.16. Goldberg says that in The Devil’s Law Case Webster, having rejected the “ideologyof absolute power as a necessary imposition on the chaos of human nature” is“groping toward a more fundamental rationale for an ideology of social order” asthe valid basis for law (114). Tn that play he shows Crispiano, who as a judge“manifests a sense of rule and order unusual for his time”, in sharp contrast to121Monticelso in The White Devil, voluntarily withdrawing from the case “when hediscovers he has been made a party to it by Leonora” (125). Ariosto, who takes hisplace, whose “primary allegiance to conscience is evident throughout the play” is“an equity judge” who “values natural and divine law above the law made byhuman beings” an is “honest and merciful enough to function in a court where agreat deal is left to his own conscience” (123). Thus Webster seems to try to presenta view of law operating on humane principles rather than rigid legalism and “powerover”.17. The quotation is from Frederic Boas, An Introduction to Stuart Drama, (Oxford:OUP, 1946), 198.18. The historical Duchess of Amalfi was Giovanna D’Aragona who was married in1490 at the age of twelve to Alfonso Piccolomini who died in 1498 shortly afterbecoming Duke of Amalfi. Giovanna bore him a posthumous son. Sometimethereafter she secretly married her steward Antonio Bologna, and in 1510 she leftAmalfi for Loretto where Antonio had preceded her. Antonio was murdered inMilan by Daniele de Bozolo, possibly a paid assassin employed by the Duchess’sbrothers, though there is no clear evidence to connect the Arragonian brothers withthe deaths of the Duchess and her family. Giovanna died the same year at hercastle in Amalfi under suspicious circumstances. Webster’s source was probably theversion in William Painter’s Second Tome of the Palace of Pleasure (1567) which isderived from the account in Francois de Belleforest’s Histofres Tragiques whosesource is the twenty-sixth story in the first part of Matteo Bandello’s Novelle of1554. (There are other accounts such as that in The Theatre of God’s Judgements ofThomas Beard, 1597.) Behind Bandello’s story there lies a large body of historicaldocumentation. D. C. Gunby in his Penguin edition, John Webster, Three Plays,speculates that Webster, however, may not have realized he was dealing withhistorical material (433). Again, Gunnar Bokiund, The Duchess of Malfi: Sources,Themes, Character (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard U P, 1962) gives the mostthorough discussion of the sources of the play. The story was also dramatized by theSpaniard Lope de Vega as ElMayordomo de la Duquesa deAmalfi, printed 1618.19. Bogard says:The Duchess of Malfi, superficial differences aside, has much in commonwith Vittoria Corombona. Although she might appear to be adevelopment of Isabella rather than a sister-under-the-skin to Vittoria, itis truer to say that the Duchess is Vittoria, evil purged, passionatetemperament aichemized to gentleness and sympathy. The Duchesswould not have been able to make the sacrifice Isabella makes forBrachiano. To her such a sacrifice would involve loss of dignity andhonor, for she is much more the noblewoman than Brachiano’s wife. Inthis she is closer to Vittoria. Both women maintain their dignity andintegrity above all things. Both, in different ways, possess courage andfaith; neither will swerve from a chosen course, once it is deemed right.But here the resemblance ends and the Duchess emerges as a woman inher own right (Tragic Satire 63).20. It is, of course, true that many of the categories into which Renaissance plays areclassified are the designations of more recent critics. Such categories, however, as“Revenge Play,” “Love Tragedy,” etc., are based on rather obvious characteristicsand are not exclusive. Peterson’s “commonweal tragedy” is the product of rathertoo much ingenuity, and as she develops the concept, leaves little scope for122variation or exception. Only the most rigid of critics would see such categorizationas completely determinative. Webster’s two tragedies exhibit aspects of revengetragedy, love tragedy and political tragedy.21. Though its irregularity has been much harped on by negative, moralistic critics, thevalidity of the Duchess’s and Antonio’s marriage Per verba de praesenti has beenwell established. Though the Council of Trent_historically much later than theevents on which the play is based—forbade it in Roman Catholic countries, it wasaccepted in Protestant jurisdictions and despite the Italian setting of the play, theEnglish situation was in the minds of both playwright and audience. AlthoughHenry VIII had abolished the practice in England, it had been restored underEdward VI with the intent that it must receive ecclesiastical ratification through achurch service. Forker sees the Duchess’s remark that “tis the Church! That mustecho this” as indicating that she intends some time to obtain such ratification, butDena Goldberg believes that she is in fact challenging the Church’s authority tosanctify what she sees as the natural response to the human sexual impulse (91-92).22. Ferdinand’s morbid obsession has been seen as incest. Goldberg, for example, inreference to Ferdinand’s comment about “sin in us”, speaks of “the strange bondFerdinand feels exists between them” (91), and says that “there is every reason toaccept the theory that incest is part of Ferdinand’s complicated motivation. Hispreoccupation with his sister’s body would be hard to explain in any other way”(93). Forker argues forcibly and at length (315-318) in favor of the view, saying thatWebster has ‘anticipated some insights of twentieth century pathology” (318).Boklund rejects the idea (DM: Sources, 99-100), and although Lucas admits that theidea might have crossed Webster’s mind, he sees it as “an inessential one” for anunderstanding of the play (Webster, Works II, 23-24). Lever notes:The appearance of sexual anger in the brother-sister relationship resultsin a pattern of thought and behaviour which modern readers promptlydiagnose as a case of subconscious incest. Yet it is by no means certainthat this was the impression Webster wished to create. Jacobeanplaywrights were not at all reticent in their treatment of incest, and hadhe wished Webster could well have made Ferdinand’s urges quite explicit.Dramatic construction and tragic effect explain his treatment moreconvincingly than a quest for psychological complexity beyond thecapacity of the age, and in any case of little relevance to the main theme.Ferdinand’s rages and remorse make their impact as a perversion ofnatural affection by deep-seated prejudices of rank and blood which, likethe prejudices of race and class in our own society, need only factitiouspretexts to erupt into savage violence (Holdsworth 207).Lucas comments “that [incest] is an ingenious idea, though it seems to me out ofthe question that Webster meant his audience to take that view.... We find itdifficult to imagine the violence of family pride in the sixteenth century Spaniard orItalian” (Webster, Works II, 23-24)_and, very probably, in many an Englisharistocrat. Frank Wigham, in “Incest and Ideology: The Duchess ofMalfi” speaks ofFerdinand as “a threatened aristocrat, frightened of the contamination of hisascriptive social rank, and obsessively preoccupied with its defense.” Thus“Ferdinand’s incestuous [stance] toward his sister is a social posture, of hystericalcompensation__a desperate expression of the desire to evade degrading associationwith inferiors” (Kastan and Stallybrass, 266. Original emphasis). To see the Dukeas motivated by incest may be an over-reading of the text; but it is an over-readingto which the text gives some credence. The Duke is a morbidly self-interested and123self-absorbed character, and to see him as incestuous is in keeping with thatcharacterization and adds to the strong contrast with the openness of the Duchess.23. Goldberg goes on to note that the Cardinal’s “sense of honour is not the deeppassion we find depicted in the plays of the French classicists, but a mere concernfor appearances” (84). Ferdinand, in fact, might be said to be the more passionate,even paranoid, about family honor.24. Cohen writes of the reliance of the English Crown on “Parliament and above all ofthe gentry in the House of Commons” for support (122). He says further that thearistocracy, deprived of “its military function”, was becoming “Increasingly civilian,commercial, and common...the ruling class was losing its stake in an absolutist state.Its interests were converging instead with those of the rapidly growing capitalistclasses in the towns” (123). It was this situation that Stone has called “the crisis ofthe aristocracy.” Stone points out that the aristocracy eventually recovered to a veryconsiderable extent from this crisis, noting that “by the end of the seventeenthcentury the peers, like the Anglican Clergy and the King, were firmly back in thesaddle” (6-7). Laslett shows that the “patriarchal system...succeeded in maintainingpermanence is spite of shortness of life, the fluctuations of prosperity, the falling ofleases, the wayward habits of young folk in service, and the fickleness of theiremployers” (76). As Stone notes, “The forces of inertia ensure an amazing degreeof continuity in human affairs, whatever the strength of the pressures for changethat are brought to bear” (12). (Those forces of inertia were the main enemies ofwomen in the drama under consideration as well as, very probably, in the realworld.) Yet it remains true that the aristocracy did for a time consider its positionand stability threatened, and it is possible to see Ferdinand’s and the Cardinal’sconcern, which borders on paranoia in the case of Ferdinand, over their sister’spossible marriage in the light of this threat.25. Forker notes that the Duchess’s faith had not been “free of conflict andinconsistency” (324). That does not mean, however, that it was not genuine. Asnoted in the text, her religion is unorthodox, though she herself is not, perhaps,totally aware of her heterodoxy.CHAPTER FOUR. BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER: EVADNEIn Evadne in The Maid’s Tragedy Beaumont and Fletcher have created a woman,somewhat like Webster’s Vittoria Corombona, of almost awesome sexual powercombined with an equally powerful ambition and strong will. Evadne is unlike Vittoriain that she repents of her antisocial conduct, but it is a mark of her strong will that herrepentance, though it seems genuine at last, has to be forced from her at sword point.Furthermore, when roused to anger Evadne manifests a ferocity that Vittoria neverdemonstrates; and even after her repentance she remains an awesome and terrifyingfigure, the power of her sexuality and the strength of her will in no way diminished.Renouncing the role of King’s mistress, she does indeed endeavor to find a place insociety by assuming the role of submissive wife to Amintor. He, however, is socommitted to conventional morality that he rejects her. Her power is too disruptive ofand threatening to social peace and stability either for Amintor’s acceptance orsociety’s. Without the former, Evadne has no hope of the latter, and so she is left withno recourse but suicide.The wider issue of the play, as many critics indicate, is that of royal absolutismand the abuse of power that such absolutism almost inevitably entails. That issue wasvery much in the minds of Englishmen during the reign of James I who was an ardentproponent of the doctrine of divine right. The tragic situation in The Maid’s Tragedy,involving Amintor, Aspatia and Evadne and ultimately resulting in their deaths, iscreated by the King’s abuse of his power in ordering Amintor to break his betrothal toAspatia and marry Evadne to make “More honorable” the sinful relationship betweenEvadne and the King.1 Such a circumstance has been seen as far-fetched, but Danbyargues that the “unreality” of their plots enables the playwrights to make “ajudgment...of the habits of mind of...a world of radical self-division and clashing124125absolutes” (161). By placing their characters in radical situations where they are unableto decide between conflicting absolutes, Beaumont and Fletcher call into question awhole ethical structure based on such absolutes. The situation in The Maid’s Tragedymay have been created as a reflection on James’s claim that kings have the right to“make and unmake their subjects” whose “bodies and goods are due for their defenceand maintenance” (Defence of the Right of Kings, quoted Bowers 171). The King forcesAmintor into a position where he must make a choice between the absolutes ofpersonal honor and allegiance to the doctrine of divine right. This dilemma so paralyzeshim that he becomes a totally ineffectual non-hero throughout the rest of the action ofthe play. Amintor’s ineffectuality then becomes an element in the destructive effect ofthe King’s action on the two major women characters Aspatia and Evadne.The maid of the title is ostensibly Aspatia. In fact, however, her role in the play, asmany critics have noted, is somewhat marginal. As Bliss notes, “For Aspatia loss iscertain but wholly arbitrary; she never even discovers the reason for the switch inbrides” (1O1).2 Many find her, as Leech does, “wearisome” (126) for what others havenoted as her self-indulgent and almost perverse pleasure in her grief. In her long speechto her women in the second scene of Act Two, demonstrating “her mastery of the art ofgrieving in some of the most frequently admired passages of the canon” (Finkelpearl194) by comparing herself to the suffering women of classical antiquity and Amintor tothe classic betrayers of women, she urges her maidservants, whom she has warned todistrust “that beast man” (2.2.27), to indulge her by joining in her grief:Come, lets be sad, my girls.That downcast of thine eye, Olimpias,Shows a fine sorrow—mark, Antiphila—Just such another was the nymph Oenone’sWhen Paris brought home Helen. Now a tear,And then thou art a piece expressing fullyThe Carthage queen when from a cold rock,Full with her sorrow, she tied fast her eyesTo the fair Trojan ships; and having lost them,126Just as thine does, down stole a tear. Antiphila,What would this wench do if she were Aspatia?Here she would stand ‘till some pitying godTurn’d her to marble. (2.2.25-39.)Here, in a passage somewhat reminiscent of Richard II’s similarly self-indulgent speechbeginning “For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground! And tell sad stories of the deathof kings” (Rich. II, 3.2.155-156), Aspatia plays to the hilt the role of forsaken woman,directing Antiphila so to weave her tapestry as to give her likeness to the forsakenAriadne as “Sorrow’s monument” (2.2.74). Shullenberger calls her speeches theseductive “rhetoric of self-pity” (153). By a kind of cruel irony, she has been requiredto attend on the wedding night that ought to have been her own. Yet she might haveavoided the situation by feigning illness. Thus she gives a strong impression ofindulgence in grief.Aspatia’s extreme characterization, however, dramatizes the real nature of hertragedy, for her rejection is, for her in her society, not only a personally painfulcircumstance but a major calamity. As Bliss says, “Aspatia’s psychological annihilation,her sense of being lost in a wild desert is true” (105). By overriding her betrothal, theKing shows the arbitrariness, the depersonalization, unfairness and precariousness ofthe woman’s situation and circumstances in that society where the disposition of her lifeis so subject to male social dominance. Parting from Evadne on her wedding night,Aspatia says:Madam, good night. May all the marriage joysThat longing maids imagine in their bedsProve so unto you. (2.1.86-88).Aspatia had been one of those “longing maids” and now feels deeply the denial of “allthe marriage joys”. For all her perverse pleasure in her grief, Aspatia “reveals in anoblique and parodic way the rage against the masculine hierarchy which begins to hauntthe play with the first words of Night in the masque” (Shullenberger 154). InBeaumont’s and Fletcher’s age and society where women were on the one hand127encouraged to become educated and to develop independent minds and on the otherhand were constantly repressed by the weight of tradition, many women very probablyfelt such rage.On the other hand, though the King’s tyrannical act has denied Aspatia the role ofwife which her society has taught her is the chief purpose of her life, her situation is nottotally hopeless. There are other men in the world besides Aniintor. Aspatia’s morbidself-pity is set in sharp contrast to Evadne’s strength and self-reliance. Furthermore, hermorbidity and desire for death are in fact a very subtle and insidious means of obtaininga kind of perverse revenge on Amintor. Believing that by the breach of her betrothalher life is ended, she will make Amintor the instrumental cause of its end. Thus she willachieve revenge by making him feel guilty, first for betraying her, and finally for killingher.Aspatia may be seen as representing the “chaste virgin” of the traditional andstereotypical separation of women into types. Evadne, then, represents the oppositepole of the dichotomy, the “whore”. In the opening act, however, the court sees Evadneas a woman whose virtue matches her surpassing beauty, so that Amintor, who by theKing’s command becomes her husband, is the envy of all. The question arises why“lovely” (5.1.76) Evadne had so closely allied and identified herself with this King andhis corrupt court? There must have been a time when Evadne was the “chastely sweet”woman that, before she stabs him, she tells the King she was. Danby calls the womanwho appears to us on stage Beaumont’s “White Devil” (187). The comparison is moreappropriate than perhaps Danby realizes, for like Webster, Beaumont and Fletcher, intheir treatment of Evadne, call into question the traditional, oversimplistic use of theword “whore”. In this play which pits various social values, such as personal honor,royal absolutism and Courtly-Petrarchan concepts of ideal love against one another to128create insoluble dilemmas for the characters, notably Amintor, who espouse them,Evadne, who has seen through society’s hypocrisies, prefers to take the main chance inorder to liberate herself from enslavement to its strictures. By becoming the King’smistress in order to escape the traditional woman’s subservient role, she makes herself,by the standards of the time, a whore.5 The play, however, forces the audience,particularly in view of what happens to one like Aspatia who so abjectly bends tosociety’s will, to question whether there was any better choice available for a woman ofEvadne’s nature and character.Having, therefore, seen the way her society operates, and being an ambitiouswoman determined to rise to the highest possible level in her society, to be a king’smistress appears better to Evadne than to be the submissive wife of a lesser man; and,she makes that fact perfectly clear to the King himself. With an extraordinary anddevastating honesty, she informs him that it is his position, not his person, that sheloves. If he is overthrown, she will become the mistress of the usurper:I swore indeed that I would never loveA man of lower place, but if your fortuneShould throw you from this height, I bade you trustI would forsake you and would bend to himThat won your throne. I love with my ambition,Not with my eyes. (3.1.178-183)She had shown a similar blunt honesty with Amintor on their wedding night when shedenied him her bed, but by speaking thus with the King she shows herself a woman ofremarkable courage.The cited passage raises the question of who was the seducer and who the seducedin Evadne’s becoming the King’s mistress. Bliss says that Evadne was “willing” to beseduced by the King (89), and that may indeed have been the case, but in the light ofEvadne’s words to the King and of her strong, independent character, it seems possible129that Evadne might have been the seducer, or that at least she signaled a willingness tobe seduced, that, in other words, she herself took the initiative in establishing therelationship. If, on the other hand, as she herself implies, the initiative was the King’s,then he certainly played to her ambition.6 Evadne’s ambition, an aspect and anoutgrowth of her strong personality, would at least have given her added incentive andstimulation to accede to the King’s seduction, for she recognizes that in her society awoman’s role is to be subservient and to endure repression, and that, therefore, awoman is too often likely to suffer Aspatia’s fate, a fate which Evadne rejects. As Blissnotes, “a woman of passion and ambition, Evadne freely embraces the world discoveredbeneath society’s platitudes. A Hobbesian reality of aggression, power, and lust offersher scope, the chance to shape her fortunes in a way denied her by the traditionalorder” (94).Bliss says of The Maid’s Tragedy that “No one of the principals [Aspatia, Amintor,Evadne, and Melantius] dominates the play” (89-90). Yet from the point of view ofaudience and reader response, and in emotional and psychological impact, Evadnedominates the play. In one sense, the central action is that involving Amintor andMelantius and their reactions to the King’s seduction of Evadne and his violation bothof Amintor’s and Aspatia’s betrothal and of Amintor’s honor. Yet, says Shullenberger,“these characters prove too unstable and shifting to provide the psychological and thedramatic momentum and coherence which the conventional Jacobean Revengerprovides. Instead, Amintor and Melantius are almost clinical studies of avoidance”(141). Evadne can be seen as “the sacrificial pawn in Melantius’s strategy”, but if so,Shullenberger asks, “Why, then does she emerge as the most awesome figure in theplay?” It is partly because she has the courage to commit the crime, the murder of theKing, “which the patriarchal warriors of the drama implicitly dread”. Her power, in fact,“has been implicit from her first appearance in the play”: it is the power of her130sexuality. Like, or perhaps even more than Vittoria Corombona, Evadne “radiates asexual authority which she refuses to curb or shame” (Shullenberger 147).Evadne’s power, however, is not merely sexual. She is a strong woman fully incommand of herself. Lysippus, the King’s brother refers to her asA lady,...That bears the light above her, and strikes deadWith flashes of her eye.... (1.1.74-76)Such a description, while to some degree an expression of male reaction to a woman ofEvadne’s great physical beauty, and strongly sexual in its overtones, yet more thanmerely sexuality, it suggests also a forceful character and personality.It is, however, Evadne’s sexual power that most affects Amintor who at the king’scommand has broken his betrothal to Aspatia to marry her. Later he will feel guilty forhis betrayal of Aspatia, but initially he is overjoyed at the prospect of losing his “lustyyouth” with her and of growing “old in her arms” (1.1.141-142). The sight of herprepared for what he thinks will be his marriage bed is able to “blot away the sadremembrance” of his momentary guilt on seeing Aspatia as he proceeds to the bridalchamber:Away, my idle fears!Yonder she is the lustre of whose eyeCan blot away the sad remembranceOf all these things. (2.1.133-136).Even after the disillusionment of that wedding night, he still finds the peacefullysleeping Evadne so attractive and desirable that it is hard to disabuse himself of thePetrarchan view that such beauty could be a sign of anything other than inner virtue.Even when, at the end of the play, she comes to him with her hands red with the King’sblood, she can still exert power over Amintor. As a divine right absolutist he feels that131he must reject her as a regicide, yet he is forced to acknowledge that she awakens“something that troubles me”, and to recognize that “I lov’d thee once” (5.3.166-167).Another aspect of Evadne’s power is her ability to see through the sham of hersociety’s moral pretensions to the hypocrisy beneath. In that, she contrasts sharply withother characters in the play, particularly the obsequious Amintor and the morbidlysubmissive Aspatia. Through that insight into her society and her great sexual influence,Evadne sees a means of escape from the kind of enslavement her society inflicts onwomen to which she will not allow herself to be subdued. She sees a way to avoid theexploitation that renders women, like Aspatia, dispensable and expendable. AlthoughEvadne pities Aspatia, Brodwin says that “this pity is not a sympathetic emotion, rathera detached comment on the pathos that attends such lack of emotional control as sheprides herself upon” (131). It is the somewhat condescending pity for one who is avictim of the social system by one who feels she has escaped its control.Amintor, believing initially that her refusal to go to bed with him is the Petrarchan“coyness of a bride”, or perhaps the fulfilment of an oath to her as yet unmarriedfriends to maintain her virginity for one night after the marriage, is utterly dismayedand horrified by Evadne’s cynically disabusing and, in McLuskie’s words, “showstopping” rejoinder (193), “A maidenhead, Amintor,/ At my years!” (2.1.190-191).Tomlinson says “It has of course been made plain earlier what Evadne’s years amountto” (245). In fact, we are not told Evadne’s years, but Amintor’s reference to her“tender body” (2.1.137) suggests that “She is in fact a young woman” (Tomlinson 245).The normal assumption would be that she is a few years younger than Amintor, butEvadne’s sophisticated understanding of the reality behind her society’s facade ofmorality makes her seem both much older than probably she is and also older thanAmintor who seems like a panting, love-sick adolescent in comparison. Danby, in fact,132speaks of the “adolescent intensities” of the world of James I and Charles I, and Blissapplies the expression to Amintor himself saying, “The ‘adolescent intensities’ aregrounded in an adolescent reluctance to enter the complicated, disappointing, oftenmystifying adult world of compromise, deceit, and rebellious sexuality” (96).The mores of his society and culture give Amintor conjugal rights and theexpectation that his bride will come to him a virgin. It is clear form the outset that,whatever characters may believe in private, the moral realities of Rhodes are those ofits king. He has commanded Melantius home from the wars, forbidden thatcommander’s brother from attending him there, and has done so because he requirestheir attendance at the wedding of Amintor and Evadne which he has ordered indefiance of Amintor’s previous betrothal to Aspatia. Having recognized that reality,Evadne sees society’s mores as mere shibboleths, and therefore, she rejects any “rights”that these shibboleths enjoin. Evadne’s insight into the hypocrisy of her culture’s socialcodes quickly disabuses Amintor of his belief in the efficacy, inviolability and, above all,the sacredness of those codes, and her maturity and sophistication beyond her seemingyears is one more manifestation of the power she wields over him and over the King.The wedding masque staged by the King’s command seems to tell Amintor thathis conjugal expectations will be met. However, that masque, dominated asShullenberger notes by Night and Cynthia’s rejection of “her own regenerative aspects”and from which Hymen is absent (136), is disturbingly ambiguous and anomalous. AsNeill demonstrates, it ends on a note of irresolution and tension that is very likely tomake the audience feel uneasy. Both the ending of the masque and much of its imageryforeshadow the tensions of the wedding night scene and many of the otherdevelopments of the plot.7 Bliss says that Amintor had seen “himself and hisrelationships, as friend and lover, in terms of these bright romantic ideals” of his culture133(93) which the masque purports to demonstrate, but Evadne, by her hard-nosed realism,“explodes the myths by which Amintor has lived” (93), and her “truths threaten thefabric of [his] world” (94). He “becomes lost in the gap between appearance and reality,precept and practice” (95).Once so confident in the orderliness of his world, he now finds that the moralabsolutes of his culture no longer give him guidance or direction. He is tossed back andforth from one discredited absolute to another. Evadne’s beauty tells him she is theideal of womanhood, but her refusal to consummate the marriage and her confessionthat she is the King’s mistress tell him she is a whore. His sense of honor tells him hemust have revenge on the one who has cuckolded him, but because that person is theKing, his commitment to the doctrine of divine right tells him he must not and cannot.Amintor’s adherence to divine right makes him manipulable. He has been manipulatedby the King to renounce his betrothal to Aspatia and marry Evadne who in her turncalls on the doctrine to forbid him his conjugal rights. The King then forces him, againon the authority of divine right, to be an acquiescent cuckold. Finally, Melantiusinvokes the doctrine to prevent Amintor from disrupting his own plans for revenge onthe King. The doctrines of absolutism could hardly be submitted to a more intense andpenetrating scrutiny and criticism.Not only does the doctrine of divine right make Amintor manipulable, it alsoparalyses him morally and effectually. He sees the King as a tyrant and, so, deservingdeath, yet, at the same time he sees him as “the Lord’s anointed”, and so, untouchable.8His inability to face the reality that Evadne exposes to him causes him to cling indesperation to the doctrine of divine right and the inviolability of the King’s person inan attempt to give some order and meaning to his so violently disoriented existence.Bliss comments that Amintor, his belief in all the courtly ideals of romantic love134devastated, “retreats to social meanings but must accept them in the newly devaluedsense Evadne has exposed” (96). Amintor, who has shown himself valiant on thebattlefield, where, in a sense, conduct is a simple matter of obeying orders, is left totallyparalyzed morally, and completely incapable of action in the social world of the court.Not only Amintor, however, but also the King himself suffers diminution throughEvadne. After the bridal night, in a “small conspiracy” which, Leech says, “humanizesEvadne” (123) and indicates that she is not completely heartless, Evadne agrees, for thesake of Amintor’s reputation, to play in public the role of loving wife. Because Amintorplays too well the part of happy bridegroom, the King suspects that Evadne has, in fact,yielded to Amintor’s considerable charms and consummated the marriage. Therefore,he accuses Evadne of infidelity to him. He rebukes Evadne saying, “I see there is nolasting faith in sin: / They that break word with Heaven will break again! With all theworld and so thou dost with me” (3.1.169-171). The implication that he has invokedHeaven to enforce Evadne’s fidelity to his lust makes a mockery of the religion whichon so many occasions he indicates he professes.9 It is at this point that Evadnedisabuses the King of any notion he might have had that she loves him for himself butthat it is only his status makes him different in her eyes from any other man. At thesame time, she indicates that she believes his status depends, not on divine sanction, buton his own ability to maintain it. In saying that she does not love with her eyes, Evadneindicates that her conduct is not determined by ungovernable passion. Brodwin callsEvadne “totally lacking in feminine wiles” (135). She plays no games. With the King, aswith Amintor, she is brutally honest about herself and her attitudes and feelings towardhim. “Evadne’s seduction”, whether his of her or hers of him, Bliss says, “has for herdemythologized the concept of kingship” (95) so that hierarchy no longer holds, if itever had, any mystique for her.135Shullenberger says, it is her sexual power that “is the key to her independence of,and defiance of, the men who imagine they control her” (148). A strong will and theintelligence to control and direct it, however, figure equally with her sexuality in makingEvadne so awesome and overpowering in her dealings with men. There is no doubt,however, of her strong sexuality. She tells Amintor on the wedding night:Alas, Amintor, think’st thou I forbearTo sleep with thee because I have put onA maiden’s strictness? Look upon these cheeks,And thou shalt find the hot and rising bloodUnapt for such a vow. No, in this heartThere dwells as much desire, and as much will,To put that wished act in practice as ever yetWas known to woman; and they have been shownBoth. But it was the folly of thy youthTo think this beauty, to whatsoe’erIt shall be call’d, shall stoop to any second.I enjoy the best, and in that heightHave sworn to stand or die. (2.1.282-294)Here she admits to strong sexual desire, but also informs Amintor that she has it underthe control of her ambition. It is both her desire and her control over her desire, not herstrong sexuality alone, that makes her so powerful a character. She conforms to nostereotype, not to that of the chaste virgin that Amintor expects, nor to that of thewhore that the King expects, and certainly not to that of the proverbial “weaker vessel”.She is determined to use her strength and power to be her own woman, not the slave ofthe male controlled and oriented social system.Although Evadne is determined to free herself from the social constraints placedby her culture on the lives of women, she does not ultimately succeed. She is as much avictim of the system as Aspatia even though she knows the system has no special divinesanction. “She must live within the patriarchal social and political system and preserveits appearances, but she no longer subscribes to its ideals” (Bliss 94). Unwittingly, infact, she has committed herself to it. By becoming the King’s mistress, Evadne rises tothe top of the social pyramid, but she cannot thereby escape from the male-dominated136structures which imprison every woman in the society. Despite her strongly independentspirit and sexual power, she has no real escape from a system which one way or anotherimprisons virtually everyone. “In choosing the king for her lover, and vowing to have noone less than a king” she “implicitly consents to [the system’s] authority, and sets herselfup for its judgment on her sexual audacity” (Shullenberger 148).Her inability to escape is demonstrated by her treatment by her brother Melantiuswhen he knows of her “whoredom” as mistress to the King. He has nothing butcontempt for her, and she becomes his victim. Similarly, after her repentance, Amintorsays he forgives her, but it is a very cold, formal forgiveness which does not, as trueforgiveness is supposed to do, restore her to her true place as his wife which she nowwishes to be in reality and not just in name. Amintor’s attitude is similar to that ofFrarikford in Heywood’s A Woman Killed With Kindness who also says he forgives hiswife for her adultery but banishes her, apparently with the author’s approval, from hispresence and can bring himself to anything like real reconciliation only at the momentof her death. Similarly, Amintor’s kiss of forgiveness, he says, is “The last kiss we shallever take”, and he adds self-righteously:would to HeavenThe holy priest that gave our hands togetherHad given us equal virtues. (4.1.273275)b0Brodwin says that Amintor throughout the play continues to cling “to his formerly smugestimation of his worth” (135), and now, stereotypically and self-righteously, he seesEvadne as “tainted goods.” Amintor, who knows in his heart that he has done wrong inabandoning Aspatia, invokes the double standard. Boys will be boys, but girls may notbe girls. A woman is expected to forgive and accept her wayward husband any numberof transgressions and receive him again to her bed, as, for example, Helena acceptsBertram in the almost cynically titled All’s Well That Ends Well and as Mariana receivesAngelo in Measure for Measure. (Though it may be argued that these gentlemen sinned137in intent rather than in deed, that was only because the women, and in Measure forMeasure to some degree the “Duke of Dark Corners,” were too smart for them.) Awoman, on the other hand, who once transgresses has committed what is seen asvirtually the unforgivable sin. In sacrificing her chastity a woman sacrifices all. Shereceives no forgiveness, despite the promise of the husband, in the words of The Book ofCommon Prayer, to take his wife, as she takes him, “for better, for worse”, a promisewhich implies that he ought, as much as his wife, to restore his erring spouse to fullconjugal rights. Had Aniintor really forgiven Evadne, he ought to have taken herimmediately into his bed. However, Amintor is totally committed to social convention,his conventionality symbolized by his morally paralyzing commitment to the doctrine ofdivine right. In saying “He! Has not my will in his keeping” (2.1.127), Amintorrecognizes that the King’s authority lies in the public, not the private, domain, but byobeying the King, he has compromised his own moral seriousness.Yet despite his avowal that “The gods thus part our bodies”, Evadne believes thatafter she has killed the King, his rival, Amintor will welcome her to the marriage bedwhich she initially denied him. In particular, she believes that her intended murder ofthe King, which she thinks will free her from her oath and Amintor from the constraintsimposed on him by his commitment to the doctrine of divine right, will make him accepther as the wife she had initially refused to be. Amintor, however, judges her merely as aregicide and so, unforgivable. That she has acted in part on his behalf and at theinstigation of his friend and her brother Melantius does not in Aniintor’s mind in anyway mitigate her crime as certainly it is meant to in the mind of the audience. Again,absolutism as a standard of conduct is subjected to critical scrutiny.Evadne’s repentance is problematic. Leech finds it unconvincing (123), and manyother modern readers might also find it so. Yet the scene of her repentance, modeled, it138seems clear, on the Closet Scene in Hamlet, is theatrically one of the most powerful inthe play, and a theatre audience would probably be convinced by it at least whilewatching it in performance. Wallis argues that Beaumont’s and Fletcher’s originalaudience would have seen the powerful effect of rhetoric, would have felt “theinvincible Renaissance conviction of the persuasiveness of eloquence” at work in thisscene (222). It is not necessary to believe, however, that everyone accepted the age’srecorded ideas. Brodwin is probably more to the point: Evadne has felt herselfinvulnerable, but now, as “never before [she has] been brought to her knees” and thisfact tells her “she is not invulnerable to [her brother’s] sword.” It is her recognition ofher vulnerability, not “any ethical agreement with her brother [that] alters her feelings”(137). Thus, Evadne’s repentance “is profound a change as might appear...Sheunderstands that all her emotional control and royal support have not, in fact, renderedher invulnerable and it is precisely this course which is now proving most dangerous forher” (138). Her change, Brodwin says, is a matter of self-preservation.Furthermore, Evadne, for all her seemingly cold, remorseless self-control, iscapable of pity for Aspatia and Amintor. Though Brodwin calls it a “strangely detachedpity”, it is pity nonetheless. Evadne’s humanity is not completely suppressed, and in thatthere is some basis for her belief that her repentance, however it was brought about, isgenuine. It is clear also from Evadne’s initial greeting, “Oh, my dearest brother,! Yourpresence is more joyful than this day! Can be unto me” (1.2.109-111), to her brotherthat she loves Melantius deeply.11 Melantius exploits that love through what, in theupshot, proves to be a hypocritical appeal to family honor. Nevertheless, Evadnerespects that honor and believes, when Melantius urges the point, that her conduct hassullied it. This is one of the few instances in the play where Evadne is shaken and hercoolly controlled stance is undermined. The scene, in fact, shows that the ultimate basisof this society’s control of women is not morality or family honor, but physical force.139When all else fails, it is male bullying and violence which secures woman’sconformity.12Thus, Evadne is the victim of both physical and emotional bullying. Wallis deniesthat Melantius “would have appeared a bully. Under such extreme provocation [asEvadne’s having become the King’s mistress] Jacobean fathers and brothers would beforgiven the use of force and the threat of death. The family honor was at stake. Theaudience would have been in sympathy with Melantius’ behavior” (232). Some perhapswould, but it is unsafe to assume all would. Some in Beaumont’s and Fletcher’saudience might very well have found Melantius’s conduct reprehensible andsympathized with Evadne, knowing as they do that Melantius intends to insure theoverall success of his plan, but also his own safety, by gaining control of the fort. As hehimself says:To take revenge and lose myself withalWere idle, and to ‘scape, impossible,Without I had the fort...I must have it. (3.2.290-293)Melantius determines revenge on the King, but rather than carry it out himself, hemakes Evadne his instrument and agent. Finkelpearl, whose main purpose is to showthe justification of the tyrarinicide, feels unlimited admiration for Melantius for all hisactions. He says thatMelantius’s aim was to avenge the dishonor done to him, his family, andhis friend; then, somehow, the survivors were to live happily. With allthree “maids” dying, his plans went awry, but Melantius cannot beblamed for any of their deaths. At the end of the play the feeling is thatthe tyrannicide has the “better cause” and that thanks to him a temperateking who will not act like a tyrant is on the throne (203).13Certainly, no one is sorry to see the end of the King; and it may be that Lysippuswill reign better than his brother. His final comments, however, are so platitudinous140that his seriousness may be questionable. That aside, it is very difficult to see thatMelantius, having made Evadne the instrument of his revenge and then secured his ownsafety in the action, really cares at all about Evadne’s fate. Either she will kill the King,or he will kill her. On the grounds that she would rather kill than be killed, Melantiusforces Evadne to be his agent of revenge, implying all the while that her act will bepersonally redemptive, while he himself avoids the charge and taint of regicide. By themorally questionable act of forcing his sister to do his “dirty work” for him, Melantiuscasts doubt not only on the reality and the depth of his rejection of the doctrine ofdivine right but also on his courage. In fact, it seems almost that he forces Evadne to killthe King for the very purpose of making her a regicide in order to punish her forsullying the family name by becoming a whore as the King’ mistress.Standing secure on the walls of the fort while his sister goes about her grimbusiness, Melantius never mentions Evadne. At the end he is totally callous about herdeath. Craik records a modern performance of The Maid’s Tragedy in which the actorplaying Melantius kicks Evadne’s corpse when Diphilus draws his attention to it (cf. 32).This seems excessive, but it is an excess for which the text gives some warrant, for fromthe moment of Melantius’s discovery that his sister has been the King’s mistress, he hasnothing but contempt for her and is indifferent to her fate. Hence, it is unlikely that theplaywrights intended their audiences to see Melantius’s attitude toward Evadne as theirown. At the denouement, with Aspatia, Evadne, and Amintor all lying slain or dying,the only one Melantius can think of is Amintor. When Diphilus tries to turn hisbrother’s attention to what he feels should be his greater grief, “your sister slain”,Melantius replies:Why, Diphilus, it isA thing to laugh at in respect to this.Here [in Amintor] was my sister, father, brother, son,All that I had. (5.3.266-269)141This from the one who invoked family honor to bring Evadne to repentance! It isdifficult not to believe with Ornstein (177) and Shullenberger (147) that Melantius hassacrificed Evadne and used her simply as a pawn in his game.What most diminishes Melantius, however, is the fact that by placing friendshipabove family, Melantius, strong, valiant, and, it had seemed, indifferent to the taboossurrounding royalty, now shows himself as much an absolutist as Amintor. For Amintor,divine right had been the absolute of absolutes. Now for Melantius it is friendship. Asan absolute commitment to divine right had made a moral coward out of Amintor, nowan absolute commitment to friendship shows Melantius as callous. There is, of course,great theatrical value in the conflict of absolutes, but the demonstration of that conflictsuggests the inadequacy of absolutism as a moral basis; for where absolutes come intoconflict, one will predominate, and that predominance seems to arise from nothingother than individual preference and bias.Finkelpearl argues that Melantius acts on the older view that, in extremecircumstances where the monarch is a tyrant and where no other course is available, thesubject has the right, even the duty, to assassinate him as Knox urged the English toassassinate the Roman Catholic Queen Mary (Finlcelpearl 197). In fact, however,Melantius acts on the basis of the code of martial honor, a code which also conflictswith the doctrine of divine right, and it is that which is implicit in Melantius’s call toLysippus from the battlements:Thy brother,While he was good, I call’d him king, and serv’d him...But since his hot pride drew him to disgrace me...I have flung him off with my allegiance;And stand here mine own justice, to revengeWhat I have suffered in him.... (5.2. 40-49).142What one detects here is not so much outrage at the King’s tyranny as at the personaldishonor Melantius himself suffers. This is not an inconsequential concern, but being aprivate rather than a public one, lacks the appeal of personal nobility. As Bliss says,Melantius’s acts and his justification of them are marked by a “disturbing egotism”(101) which undercuts any view of him as an exemplary character. His treatment ofEvadne is both inhumane and unbrotherly. In fact, even though the view is not fully inaccord with Melantius’s character portrayal, Melantius’s conduct toward Evadne lendssome weight to Shullenberger’s contention that even for Melantius “the king is taboo”(146). No matter how much he justifies the killing of the King as necessary and right,and that Evadne is the proper agent for it, he himself still seems afraid to take the riskof doing the deed himself. Thus it is hard to dispel the sense that, having used Evadneto do his dirty work, he abandons her to her fate so that he can escape with impunity.The scene in which Evadne kills the King is one of the most dramatically powerfulin the play. Unlike Vittoria Corombona, whom, in the power of her personality, sheresembles, Evadne is a reluctant murderess. “All the gods,” she tells Melantius, “forbidit” (4.1.146). When Melantius, showing that he no more respects the doctrine of divineright than she does, insists that “all the gods require it” (4.1.147), she then says that‘Tis too fearful” (4.1.148), only to have Melantius rejoin that she is “valiant in his bed”(4.1. 149). Once committed to the murder, however, she is ferocious in her execution ofit, more ferocious than Vittoria has ever shown herself to be. Furthermore, also unlikeVittoria, Evadne, even though she does so partly under compulsion in a deed which sheinitially finds repugnant, acts, not through intermediaries, but in her own behalf. Hertaking this action which Melantius avoids on highly questionable grounds, and whichAmintor simply could not have taken because of his complete moral paralysis, showsEvadne as more courageous than either of the leading male characters.143Evadne had demonstrated her capacity for ruthlessness when she rejectedAmintor; now, in an ironic reversal of her wedding night, she turns her ferocity on theKing, whom she murders as an act of revenge both for herself and for Amintor. Whenshe has disabused the King of his first belief that she has bound him as part of a lovegame, somewhat as she disabused Amintor of his idea that she refused his bed out of“the coyness of a bride”, the King asks “How’s this Evadne?” She replies:I am not she, nor bear I in this breastSo much cold spirit to be call’d a woman;I am a tiger; I am anythingThat knows not pity. (5.1.63-67).Despite her repentance, Evadne is not cowed but remains what she always had been, awoman of awesome power. As Shullenberger (149) and Brodwin (137) have noted,Evadne is as formidable after her repentance as before. Andrews says that indisclaiming womanhood, somewhat as Lady Macbeth had done, Evadne “speaks as ifher transformation were more radical than is actually the case” (74). The FirstGentleman, when he discovers the King’s body, finds it hard to “believe! A womancould do this” (5.1.127). Evadne, we remember, has acted as Melantius’s agent in therole of revenger, a traditionally masculine role.The scene, in fact, sees Evadne, a woman, wield a dagger. Though a dagger, asFreud suggests, may not always be a phallic symbol, Evadne’s dagger takes on eroticimplications because she uses it on the man who had violated her lying in the same bedwhere the violation had occurred. This is a kind of bizarre reversal of the murder scenein Othello where the Moor enacts a similarly symbolic murder by strangulation ofDesdemona in a bed covered by their wedding sheets. There, however, the bed hasbeen violated only in Othello’s imagination. Each blow she strikes Evadne calls a “lovetrick”, and the words “die” and “kill”, used here literally, resound with ironic echoes oftheir sexual connotations. Neill says that “On her wedding night a maid ‘dies’ in two144senses: there is the ‘death’ of sexual climax and the consequent ‘death’ of her virgin self:in the morning she is reborn as a wife” (121). Aspatia has been denied the “death” ofvirginity that should have been hers. Evadne had “died” to her virginity in the King’sbed, but only in name had she awakened from Amintor’s as a wife. Perhaps that isEvadne’s reason for calling herself “the most wrong’d of women” (5.1.111.) Thebridegroom also “dies” in the marriage because for a man sexual climax was thought toshorten his life by a day and therefore was a little death, but Aniintor had not died thebridegroom’s “death”. And now the King who had “died” a little death when he“killed” Evadne’s virginity, now dies in reality at her hands. Evadne’s words and deedsin this scene redound with ironic echoes and re-echoes of the bizarre actions whichform the prelude to the final tragedy. Evadne’s oscillation “between the desire to damn[the king’s] soul and the desire to save it” (75) which Andrews notes reflects herinternal struggle between the fiercely independent nonconformist she is at heart and thewoman who endeavors to bring herself into conformity with society’s dictates. Despitethis oscillation, Evadne here shows herself the tiger she had told the King she is, andher sexual power, initiative and aggressiveness assume a new ferocity and a strange,ironic twist.In casting Evadne in the traditionally male role of avenger, Beaumont andFletcher show that her power and will are qualitatively akin to those normallyassociated with men. That combination of her feminine sexuality with male power makeher a threat to the hierarchical order which rest on traditional male-female stereotypes.Thus Aniintor’s final rejection of her represents the traditional, masculine-orientedsociety’s rejection of the woman who steps out of line by asserting her own authenticity.And, like Vittoria Corombona, a woman of Evadne’s powerful independence is a threatto that traditional order. Neither Amintor nor his society can tolerate or contain awoman like Evadne any more than Vittoria’s society could tolerate her. So not only her145society, but the play itself, says that Evadne must die. Her death is the necessary“negotiation” which enables what Finkelpearl sees as a tragedy “as menacing to theinstitution of kingship as any in Jacobean drama” to pass the censors (199). More thanthe divine right of kings, however, the play challenges the moral and religiousassumptions on which social order rests.Having been convinced by her brother that by murdering the King she willredeem herself, Evadne feels that, thus cleansed, she can give herself to Amintor as thechaste bride he had originally expected, and so win his love. She now not only professesthe genuine love for Amintor which he had once desired, she has redeemed his honorby killing the man who had cuckolded him. Amintor, however, clinging still to his beliefin the sacredness and inviolateness of the King’s person, sees her act as furtherblackening her character. A “maidenhead” once lost, cannot be restored; its loss canonly be forgiven. Having already shown that he is not capable of forgiveness, Amintorrefuses her appeal to be received into his bed, angrily dismissing and rejecting her asboth whore and now regicide. Yet, his anger and his rejection are in part defencemechanisms against the strong emotional and sexual appeal Evadne still has for him asone whom he recognizes he had once loved. By saying “There is no end to woman’sreasoning”, he invokes the old cliche of the voluptuous woman’s wiles which canovercome the strongest man’s reason and seduce him to sin.Mary Beth Rose’s argument that Jacobean tragedy examines the conflicts,contradictions and tensions raised by the Protestant exaltation of marriage to equalstatus with public duty is relevant to The Maid’s Tragedy as well as to plays such asOthello and The Duchess ofMalfi. No matter what her crimes may be, Evadne remainsAmintor’s wife whom he had promised “to have and to hold...for better, for worse...tolove and to cherish.” As her husband, it is his duty to stand by her in what is bound to146be her time of trial. Again, Amintor judges her by a questionable absolutism, and theplaywrights appear to raise the question of where a man’s first duty lies. For Amintor ithas always been to his sovereign, but the play over all, and this scene in particular, castsserious doubt on the validity of such exclusive and absolutist commitments. EarlierAmintor had acknowledged that he betrayed Aspatia in marrying Evadne at the King’scommand, recognizing, as noted, that the King “[had] not [his] will in keeping”(2.1.127). Now, once again, he permits his public commitments to interfere improperlywith his personal ones. After belatedly trying to prevent Evadne’s suicide, he discoversthat the “youth” he has slain is in fact Aspatia, his former betrothed, and he now turnsto her in love and remorse. The play thus powerfully implies that a man’s first duty isnot to the state but to the woman to whom he has committed his love. In accepting atthe end the woman he ought to have married, Amintor demonstrates how he shouldhave behaved toward the woman he did many.Though Amintor becomes aware of Aspatia’s identity only after Evadne’s death,and neither woman is ever aware of the other’s presence, the bringing together in thefinal scene of the two women whom Amintor has loved highlights the complication inhis relationships. Not having been allowed to forget his betrayal of Aspatia in takingEvadne as his wife, Amintor is unsettled by the memory of that betrayal throughout thecourse of the drama. The presence of the two women whom he has loved also makesclear why, ultimately, Amintor, no matter what morally he ought to have done, couldnever accept Evadne. Her powerful personality is simply too much for him to handle, asshe would have been for any man brought up with traditional expectations of a “chaste,silent, and obedient” wife. The passive Aspatia fulfilled those requirements; Evadnerejected and overthrew them. Amintor cannot accept a woman who so magnificentlyflouts the fundamental conventions of social order. Though at the end Evadne seeks tobecome Amintor’s wife in fact as well as name, her change of heart in regard to her147relationship to the King in no way changes the kind of woman she is. It is as unlikelythat this “tiger” who killed the King could ever become a traditional obedient,subservient wife as it is that Amintor could ever have accepted her. Though Melantiuscoerces her by his sword, the only one who could subdue Evadne’s spirit is Evadneherself, and that she does when she realizes that there is no place for her in traditionalsociety. A woman who challenges not only the accepted mores of her society but also itsfundamental organizing principle, can win the forgiveness of such a society only by herdeath. Even then, she receives no forgiveness and, except briefly from Amintor, littlecompassion or understanding.Evadne says that she strikes her last mortal blow against the King “For the mostwrong’d of women!” (5.1.11O-111)-_herself. She had chosen to become the King’smistress to fulfil her ambition. How then is she “the most wrong’d of women”? Inmaking Evadne his mistress, the King tried to possess her sexual power, to make it hisown, and found that, in fact, she was using him as much as he was using her. Melantius,on the other hand, by the primal method of force and the threat of death, subduesEvadne’s power to his will. However, as noted, she is quite as formidable after herrepentance as she was before. The attempt to control and possess the power of hersexuality is one way in which she is “the most wrong’d of women.” As such sherepresents all women in a society which fears women’s sexuality and which thereforemust deny them legitimate scope. On the one hand, woman is reduced to a reproductivemechanism to provide men with heirs and as Byron could still say nearly two centurieslater, “to breed a nation” (Don Juan 14.24.7-8.) On the other hand she is trivialized andmade a plaything.14 The King has tried to make Evadne the latter, but finds thatEvadne knows what happens to mistresses and determines to prevent its happening toher. In telling him that she will reject him for the one who usurps his throne, she tells148the King that she has assumed the male prerogative of casting off a lover who no longerpleases.However, even as the King’s mistress, Evadne is subjected to the social structuresof her society. William Archer criticized the play because, as the King’s mistress,Evadne appears to have no influence on the King. Archer would seem to have wantedBeaumont and Fletcher to have written a different kind of play which portrayed Evadneas the power behind the throne, a power which one imagines she might have been ableto exert. However, through the bizarre triangular relationship of Evadne, Amintor andthe King, the playwrights appear to have intended to challenge the doctrine of divineright by showing the tyranny of a king justifying on the authority of that doctrine hisassumption of the right to own his subjects and to control their private lives. In this way,they question also the structures of a society that encourages such a doctrine and showthat in such a society, women, no matter how personally strong they are, have no realpower or influence.Ultimately, however, it is in her submission to the expected social role of obedientfemale that Evadne is “most wrong’d”. In this submission, she acts somewhat asDesdemona does when, at the end of Othello, in a final attempt to regain Othello’s love,she becomes against her nature the submissive woman society demands. VittoriaCorombona and the Duchess of Malfi, on the other hand, although their fates are nodifferent from Evadne’s, retain their integrity of person to the end. Cleopatra at the endof a life in which she has refused to allow herself to be dominated even by the man sheloves, rather than submit to force, here the force of imperial Rome, commits suicideand so retains her integrity of person. Evadne’s suicide is the suicide of despair anddefeat. Her submission is the archetypal submission of all women to male physicalpower, as Agrippa had seen when he said that “women being subdued as it were by149force of arms, are constrained to give place to men and obey their subduers” (TreatiseSig G verso). Evadne initially submits under a threat to her life. As Bliss says,“Melantius destroys his sister by bringing her back within the fold of the system inwhich her actions as a free agent condemn her as a whore” (98). Once she has madethat submission, she attempts to compromise and submit to woman’s traditionalsubordinate role. For all that she does so, like Desdemona, as an act of desperation,Evadne in fact, betrays herself.Cohen says that The Maid’s Tragedy “both founds and perfectly represents theform” of the pathetic tragedy, a form which he says “aims to elicit a pitying responsefrom its audience” (370). At first glance, one would suspect that Cohen bases his claimon the fate of Aspatia, but, though initially one might not think such a powerful womanpitiful, there is something pitiable in the fate of Evadne too in that she feels she mustcompromise herself to try to find love and acceptance. Just as Desdemona, after herindependence of mind has got her into trouble, tries to conform to the pattern of thesubmissive wife, so also, for the love of Amintor Evadne too attempts to play that role.It is a role totally inconsistent with her character, probably even more so than it is withDesdemona’s. Her endeavor to submit herself to that role is in itself pitiable, and herinevitable rejection all the more so. Nevertheless, as the only major character who hasdared to act and to risk all on the basis of her character, Evadne remains a genuinelytragic figure.Ultimately, the proud independent Evadne is subdued, suppressed, and rejectedlike the passive Aspatia. Aspatia and Evadne together represent the circumstances ofwomen in a male ordered and dominated society. Both Aspatia in her conformity andEvadne in her rebellion are destroyed by that society. Evadne violates social order, butthere seems no other choice available to her, and she is some respects admirable for150her refusal of woman’s conventional role. Though their cases are extreme and theircharacters completely opposed to one another, Aspatia and Evadne nonethelessdemonstrate that woman, whatever her nature, is a chattel, a possession, and as such,disposable in whatever way the men who own her may choose. Shullenberger calls TheMaid’s Tragedya tragedy of maids in the generic sense, for both the central womencharacters are destroyed by masculine court intrigues. Aspatia andEvadne are inverse images of each other. Aspatia is the passivelysuffering abandoned woman who dresses like a man as if male clothingbrings with it aggressive behavior. Evadne is the sexually aggressivewoman who determines the fate of men, until she is brain-washed into adocile yet murderous femininity. If the idea of monarchy is the secretmotive which determines the action or inaction of Melantius andAmintor, the idea of maidenhood or maidenhead is the tragic crux anddriving obsession of Aspatia and Evadne (154).The idea of maidenhead obsessed all women in Renaissance society and was the causeof much emotional and psychological suffering.In Evadne, Beaumont and Fletcher have created a woman who is the embodimentand representation of woman’s sexual power and her desire for independence frommale domination. She uses her sexual power and strength of mind to attempt to escapethe male-imposed restrictions and constrictions her society places on women. As withVittoria Corombona, her sexuality is her only means to obtain the freedom she craves;and also, as with Vittoria, the only avenue open to her is an illicit one. In becoming theKing’s mistress she believes she has made that escape, but in fact, she has made anincongruous alliance with the bearer of the ultimate power in the society whosehypocrisy she so clearly perceives and repudiates. That there is for her no escape fromthe structures of society is a major cause of her tragedy. Furthermore, when Melantiusdiscovers her liaison with the King, he destroys her illusion that her position wasinvulnerable. When the claims of family honor are enforced at sword point, shesurrenders to social convention, and that surrender is her undoing and her death.151Within the play, men judge Evadne, as they do all the other women in all theother plays examined in this study, by the conventional standards. She herself in the endis divided between her “sexual audacity” and acceptance of the conventional role ofwomen. By those conventional standards she has been judged a whore, and once havingacquired that label, she cannot escape it. In fact, her efforts to clear herself onlycompound her guilt in the eyes of the ultra-conventional Amintor, the “ToryBridegroom” (Finkelpearl 189). The play as a totality, however, does not submit her tothat simplistic judgment. She is portrayed as motivated by far more than simply sexualpassion or lust. She is motivated primarily by ambition, and her sexuality is the onlymeans available to her of achieving that ambition in a society and culture that has noplace for a strong and ambitious woman such as she. Nor can that society see hersexuality as anything other than a threat to male identity and authority that must becontrolled by reducing her to a possession. Evadne, therefore, should not be judged byany simplistic appeal to the conventional standards of her era. There is some evidencethat she was not so judged at the time when the play first appeared. The poet RobertHerrick, who was to become a priest of the Established Church, praised “her ardentvitality when she ‘swells with brave rage’ “ which, he said, “makes her comelyeverywhere” (Finkelpearl 205).Far from writing, as traditional criticism would have it, a decadent, sensationalistplay for the amusement of a decadent court, Beaumont and Fletcher in The Maid’sTragedy have created what was, for its time, the very kind of social drama which Archeradvocated and championed, a compelling play which boldly challenges many of thefundamental assumptions of its society, not only the doctrine of divine right, but thewhole concept of absolutism whether in politics or in morality. Rather than making amoral society, such absolutism creates irreconcilable moral conflicts such as Amintorfaces, or it blinds people to other values and perverts basic human sensitivities, as with152Melantius’s callous indifference to his sister Evadne’s death. Even more, the playquestions at the most fundamental level the society’s attitudes toward and treatment ofwomen, undermining its claim of divine sanction for women’s subservience by showinginstead that the prescription of their docility and chastity is, in fact, the suppression oftheir natures by nothing short of brute force. Beaumont and Fletcher have exposedthrough both Aspatia and Evadne that woman in European society is that society’svictim.153END NOTES TO CHAPTER FOUR1. Amintor, of course, does not discover this fact until the wedding night when Evadnerefuses to consummate the marriage. This use of surprise has been a basis for thecharge of decadence against Beaumont and Fletcher. However, as in good detectivestories, the playwrights usually provide clues which anticipate their surpriserevelations. In The Maid’s Tragedy, the irony of Evadne’s greeting ofMelantius_”Oh, dearest brother,! Your presence is more joyful than this day! Canbe unto me” (1.2.109-111)—may not be immediately apparent, yet her words maybe perceived as somewhat unsettling; her attitude of indifference, even annoyanceas she is being prepared for her wedding night is even more unsettling, suggestingvery strongly that something is amiss.2. Bliss notes earlier that “To the action’s progress Aspatia is largely irrelevant, exceptas another casualty, for it revolves around the discovery of and response to thissituation [the marriage set up to cloak the illicit liaison of the King with Evadne] byAmintor, by his best friend Melantius, and finally by Evadne herself when,converted at sword point, on Melantius’s orders she murders the king who whoredher” (89). Though Aspatia is a little more than just “another casualty”, Bliss isessentially correct.3. Quotations from The Maid’s Tragedy are taken from the Regents RenaissanceDrama edition edited by Howard B. Norland.4. Beaumont and Fletcher have often been charged with decadence because of theirfascination with the extremes of feeling, on their creation of highly contrived andartificial situations and improbable and unreal worlds, and, particularly on the factthat their careers began at the time of the transition from the open-air publictheatres to the indoor, so-called private theatres, which it is often said catered to anupper-class, “coterie” audience that is supposed to have attended these theatreswith their effete, decadent tastes and base sexual instincts. More recently, however,Clifford Leech, John F. Danby, Lee Bliss, and Philip J. Finkelpearl and others haveshown that the transition from the public to the private theatres and the split in theaudience and in the types of plays written for each theatre was a gradual one.Initially, the audience of the Blackfriars, though not as broad in its representationof the London public as that of the Globe in its heyday, was quite diverse. It alsoseems probable that, at least at the beginning, plays were crafted for performanceat both types of theatre. Though there is no evidence of its ever having beenperformed there, The Maid’s Tragedy could have been performed as successfully atthe Globe as at the Blackfriars. In fact, some of its crowded scenes seem almost tocall for the larger stage of the Globe.Perhaps because of Fletcher’s association with the development of the romance,Beaumont and Fletcher have been charged with responsibility for what has beenseen as the over-all decadence of the English Renaissance drama in its final yearsbefore the closing of the theatres in 1642. What is true of Fletcherian tragicomedymay also be said of The Maid’s Tragedy, namely that the dismissal of these works asdecadent results in an overlooking of “the fresh impulses in the plays” and amisconstruing of “their content” and a dismissal of “the curious fact of their lastinginfluence” (Rose 181-2). Rose notes that much Jacobean drama, such as Troilusand Two Noble Kinsmen, deflates both chivalry and courtly love.5. According to the standards of her age, of course, Evadne is a whore, but she doesnot conform to stereotype in that she is not motivated to become the King’s154mistress by sexual indulgence. A number of commentators have argued thatEvadne’s name is a composite of Eve and Adam, suggesting an association with theGarden of Eden story. In The John Fletcher Plays: Min-ors of Morality (Lewisburg:Bucknell U P, 1973), Pearse notes, in fact, thatThere is perhaps a literary joke in this choice of names. Aspatia was themistress of Pericles, and Evadne was the widow of Capaneus, one of theSeven Against Thebes, who threw herself on her husband’s funeral pyre.Beaumont and Fletcher reverse these familiar names to make Evadne theroyal mistress and Aspatia the faithful wife who chooses self-immolation(176 n26).6. Leech notes in connection with Evadne’s accusing the King of having corrupted herthat “[Wie had not [prior to Evadne’s repentance and her agreeing to murder theKing] thought of the King as Evadne’s seducer” (123). That is, perhaps, a subjectivereaction, but given the play’s portrayal of Evadne as a woman of strong will andindividuality, Leech’s reservation is understandable. It would seem a reaction whichthe portrayal of Evadne invites.7. Even prior to Neill’s essay, Leech had noted in his 1962 study that “the reportedescape of Boreas in the masque [is] to be taken not merely as a sexual joke but asan ill omen for the marriage that is being celebrated” (122). Shullenberger alsoprovides an excellent discussion of the relation of the masque to the rest of theaction (cf 134-140).8. Though in the play it is almost always the pagan “gods” who are invoked ratherthan the Christian “God”, the implicit morality is the morality of Christendom. Theplay was produced “apparently in 1610 or 1611” (Norland, Regents ed., xi) and theAct “to Restrain Abuses of Players” preventing players from “jestingly orprophanely” speaking or using “the hol7 name of God or of Christ Jesus, or of theHoly Ghost” appeared in 1606. “This,’ says Gurr, “is one reason why the pagangods begin to be called on with more frequency in the drama after this date’ (TheShakespearean Stage 74. Quotations from the Act are cited from Gurr.)On the doctrine of the inviolability of the monarch’s person, James I an others hadwritten that the king was subject only to divine justice and the subject bound in dutyto obey even a wicked ruler (cf. Bowers 171-172). In The Trew Law of FreeMonarchies (1598) James had written that the people’s only resistance to a rulerwas prayer “for his amendment, if he be wicked; following and obeying lawfullcommands, eschewing and flying his fury in his unlawfull, without resistance, but bysobbes and tears to God” (Quoted Finkelpearl 196-197).9. In saying that the words of Evadne’s oath were “So great, that methought they didmisbecome! A woman’s mouth” (3.1.174-175), the King shows his own culturalconditioning. Her oath of “fidelity in sin”, a kind of mockery of the marriage oath,he seems to feel is unwomanly, almost as though he is horrified that a woman ofEvadne’s upbringing and social status is willing to renounce her maidenly chastityto become his mistress. Yet that is the oath he desires from her. He wants her to behis whore but seems to have been shocked that she should so readily prostituteherself to accept the role. Like many another man, the King regards as a slut thewoman who bends to his wish that she sleep with him. Even in this, by showinghimself no different from other men, he in fact demythologizes the concept ofkingship and diminishes himself not only in Evadne’s eyes but also in the eyes ofthe audience.15510. Finkelpearl says, “It would be difficult to imagine a more ungenerous,sanctimonious response than that which [Amintorj utters under the inhibitions ofhis code of conduct” (193).11. These lines have ironic overtones in the respect that they are a response toMelantius’s congratulations to her on her marriage to Amintor which, to her, is notjoyful, only necessary.12. It may be, also, that, as Professor A. B. Dawson of the Department of English,University of British Columbia, has suggested to me, that twentieth century readersand audiences expect more consistency in a fictional character than the Elizabethanand Jacobean playwrights recognized. Many character changes in the Elizabethan-Jacobean drama, in fact, are not explained. There is no clear explanation of thechange that Hamlet undergoes while at sea. Nor do we ever really fully understandwhy Othello believes lago rather than trust Desdemona. Perhaps Evadne’srepentance falls somewhat into the same category of the inexplicable.13. The three maids, in Finkelpearl’s view are Aspatia, the real maid, Evadne, thesupposed maid, and, metaphorically, Amintor who, like Aspatia, also dies a virgin.14. There is also the third alternative, as discussed in the Introduction of this study, ofthe pedestal, the idealization of woman to such a degree that, in effect, she ceasesto be real, another form of trivialization. That it is said of Evadne that she “bearsthe light above her” (1.1.75) and is “accompanied with graces about her” (1.1.140)and her own statement that “I was once fair,/Once I was lovely, not a blowing rose!More chastely sweet” (5.1.76-78) suggests the possibility that she too was seen inthis way. Her confrontation with her brother Melantius after his discovery of herliaison with the King shows that she has been raised in accordance with theplatitudes of her society. She accepts, albeit under threat of death, his accusation ofhaving sullied the family honor. It is conceivable that her conduct in the body of theplay is a deliberate rejection not only of social restriction but also of courtlyidolatry.CHAPTER FIVE: THOMAS MIDDLETON: BIANCA CAPELLO,ISABELLA, AND BEATRICE-JOANNAThomas Middleton, after experimenting briefly as a satirist in prose and verse,entered the theatre as a writer of satiric comedy. By portraying his society with anunflattering realism, he exposed the hypocrisy underlying its pretensions to morality,and adopts a similar procedure in his two tragedies. Much early Middleton criticismappears to have arisen in response to T. S. Eliot’s contention in his essay “ThomasMiddleton” that the playwright “has no point of message” but “is merely agreat recorder” (Selected Essays 141, 148). More recent critics have seen thatMiddleton’s realistic and essentially non-judgmental recording of his society as he foundit, in fact, is his message. Dorothy M. Farr, for example, noting that “Dogmatism is rarein his plays,” calls Middleton a “natural demonstrator” who “demonstrated from life inthe raw” (6).Such moral judgment as one can draw from Middleton’s tragedies is complex andoften equivocal. Also, as in Webster’s tragedies, judgment falls no more on theprotagonists than on the society that has produced them, and on those who represent itsvalues. Margot Heinemann, for example, says that “The social pressures [on suchcharacters as Beatrice-Joanna in The Changeling and Bianca and Isabella in WomenBeware Women] help to explain and motivate their actions without in the least excusingthem” (174). The latter part of her statement seems out of keeping with her recognitionthat Bianca and Isabella live in a world in whichfathers or guardians assume the right to dispose of daughters and wardsin arranged, mercenary marriages, with tragic results. The girls, treated aschattels, lack the resources or the courage to win in open resistance, buttry to satisfy their own desires by deceit or crime (191).It is far more evident from the plays that Middleton extenuates the conduct of thesewomen than that he blames them for their actions. Somewhat as Webster presents156157Vittoria in The White Devil, Middleton shows his women protagonists as the products ofa set of social conditions and upbringings which encourage their anti-social conductrather than dissuade them from it. Characters representative of traditional values andinstitutions in the plays do indeed pronounce judgments on the women, but the moralstances of such characters are so undercut by their own conduct as to render theirjudgments hypocritical at worst, equivocal at best. Thus Middleton seems moreconcerned to show what society has made of the women than to judge them, and also toshow that their conduct is not to be viewed in the light of traditional and stereotypicalunderstandings of the nature of women, but as products of a social upbringing whichclaims to nurture and protect them but in fact oppresses them.Recent critics often assert that Bianca, Isabella and Beatrice-Joanna aremotivated by lust. The argument is probably based on the suddenness with which theyare attracted to various men who are inappropriate according to accepted social norms.These attractions frequently cross class barriers, like the marriage of Leantio andBianca, and later of the Duke and Bianca, or they contravene accepted morality bybeing either incestuous, like Hippolito’s for Isabella, or adulterous, like the Duke’s forBianca. This criticism also identifies lust with sexual desire, but Middleton’s purpose isto affirm that sexual desire is a major element in the love between a man and a womanand that it is ridiculous to try to deny the fact.His affirmation of sexual desire is probably the basis for the essentially valid claimthat Middleton’s view of love between the sexes is an antiromantic one. These playssuggest that Middleton sees no separation between sexual love, often called the“grosser” love, and the so-called higher and purer love based on virtue and personalworth. Alsemero in The Changeling, for example, believes he is attracted to BeatriceJoanna because she represents the ideal woman of the courtly tradition and cannot158recognize the strong physical element in their mutual attraction. Sara Eaton notes thatAlsemero’s “exalted perception” involves also “an obsessive possession” which includesthe “underside of the Courtly Love tradition: the woman-as-monster” (Kastan andStallybrass 278). Beatrice’s sexnality is defined by his culture as dangerous. Thatdangerous element subconsciously fascinates him in spite of himself and his exaltedviews which cannot encompass sexual passion. Mary Beth Rose argues that in hiscomedies Middleton is interested in “the unruliness of sexual desire” (50). In thetragedies that unruliness comes into conflict with the traditional social mores and withcourtly ideals, and that conflict is a fundamental cause of the final catastrophes.Middleton in his tragedies develops further the antiromantic view of the comedies thatthe force which draws men and women together is primarily sexual desire in order toshow that society’s efforts to suppress that elemental force are not only futile butultimately destructive.Stilling, in Love and Death in Renaissance Tragedy, is right in saying thatMiddleton is a critic of Elizabethan romanticism (261), but he is too prone to attributeto Middleton the views of his characters on the nature of woman and to regard him asone who accepted the cultural stereotype of woman’s “frail moral character” (260).Middleton shows quite clearly that men as much as women are motivated by powerfuland unruly sexual drive. In fact, in Women Beware Women, the initiative for illicit sexualrelationships is always male. Though Middleton portrays his women as motivated bysexual desire, he does not thereby endorse the traditional stereotype of woman aswanton. His sympathetic characters in the comedies, as Holmes notes (94), are almostalways women such as Mistress Low-Water in No Wit Nor Help Like a Woman’s, LadyAgar in A Fair Quarrel, and Moll Cutpurse in The Roaring Girl. This fact undercuts anysuggestion drawn from the tragedies that Middleton viewed women stereotypically as bynature prone to evil and wantonness. Holmes says that although “the scrupulous159honesty of Middleton’s scrutiny of a sinful world was not compromised or obscured byconsiderations of chivalry”, neverthelessNo writer held women in higher regard than did the author of The GhostofLucrece [an early poem in rhyme royal modeled on Shakespeare’s TheRape ofLucrece], and his ideal of womanhood lost nothing by beingdefined in the same terms as his ideal of manhood.... He credited womenwith having equal moral responsibility with men, and he did not subscribeto the vain distinction implied in the male-invented myth of female‘frailty’(49-51).Middleton’s tragic women are certainly strongly and actively sexual, but their sexualityis not seen as evil in itself. The women are led into evil not by their sexual desire itself,but by its frustration and repression by the rules of a society which fears sexuality anddenigrates women.Middleton as a social critic, therefore, pursues many of the same issues as hiscontemporaries and forerunners in showing that his society and culture constrains andrepresses women’s freedom to develop. Perhaps more subtly expressed than Webster’s,Middleton’s is a more far-reaching, overarching criticism, not just of his society’shypocrisy and duplicity, but of its basic and central attitudes toward, and dealings withwomen. Middleton’s women do not produce the grand defiant gesture in their sin butare covert in their rebellion against convention. They are not as socially ambitious asEvadne, or as grand as Cleopatra whose freedom of action they do not possess. Nor arethey boldly defiant like Webster’s Vittoria Corombona, who is “a splendid creature,though fallen, her dignity greatest when she stands at bay” (Heinemann 174). Tn TheMultiple Plot, Richard Levin says that although Beatrice-Joanna, for example, is a kindof villain-heroine in a somewhat typical retribution plot, she is not a Machiavel whoseeks evil for its own sake, but one “driven to it by the ‘push’ of circumstances” (38).Though Bianca after her seduction by the Duke appears quite openly as the hismistress, from the moment of her seduction she sees, or believes at least, that, havinglost what is called her honor, she has no other course than to behave in keeping with160her loss. Middleton’s approach to tragedy, as to comedy, is more realistic than that ofhis predecessors; both his heroines and the situations in which they find themselves aresomewhat closer to ordinary reality than those in other plays that this study hasexamined. Farr notes that in Women Beware Women, “tragic issues are made to stemdirectly from the complexities of character on an ordinary level in the context ofordinary everyday life” (81). Despite the relatively high social position of his characters,their feelings, their frustrations, and their failings seem in many ways like those of moreordinary people. The relative commonness of his protagonists and their problems mayaccount for the uniquely subtle power of Middleton’s social criticism in that he thusbrings it closer to the situation and circumstances of his audience.Nonetheless, like Webster with whom he is probably most in tune, Middletonshows his protagonists as products of a society whose values are hollow and corrupt.Farr says that his “intention is evidently the exposure of a general lowering of moraltemperature” (76). It is a society which teaches one set of values, lives by another, butexpects its members to maintain the appearance of the former. It is a society which atthe level of the aristocracy lives comfortably with its own duplicity and double standard,giving thereby a very mixed message to its younger members. By overprotecting andsheltering young women from the realities of the world and restricting their activities,by its preaching of the morality of strict chastity, while its adult members simplymaintain appearances, this society inadequately prepares its young people for therealities of life in the world. In particular, it gives women no firm moral and practicalbases for understanding and dealing with their own sexual appetites and desires, norwith the often violent and ruthless sexual demands of the males with whom they willinevitably come in contact.161The social context of both plays is the traditional one of arranged marriages inwhich the husband expects to be the dominant partner. Heinemann and others havenoted the pronounced commercial and mercenary element, which is very closely linkedto the even more pronounced issue of social status, in the marriage arrangements madeby fathers and guardians in these two tragedies. This practice is more overt and blatantin Women Beware Women than in The Changeling, but even in the latter Vermanderodeclares his determination to have his will in the very advantageous marriage he hasarranged for Beatrice with Alonso de Piracquo:I tell you, the gentleman’s complete,A courtier and a gallant, enrichedWith many fair and noble ornaments;I would not change him for a son-in-lawFor any he in Spain, the proudest he,And we have great ones, that you know.Alsemero. He’s muchBound to you, sir.Vermandero. And will be bound to me,As fast as tie can hold him; I’ll wantMy will else. (1.1.211220.)1Beatrice-Joanna’s aside “I shall want mine if you do it” (1.1.220), however, suggests thathe has bred up a daughter as willful as he is, and the conflict in the play arises from thisopposition of wills. Though Bianca in Women Beware Women, whose elopement haddefied the will of her parents, and Isabella in Women Beware Women may not be asstrong willed as Beatrice, the conflicts in their lives also arise from the clash betweenthe will of parents and guardians and the desires of the young women under theirtutelage.It is against this background of commercially motivated marriage that the processof character deterioration is played out. Thus Middleton implicitly criticizes his societyby showing that its mercenary attitude toward marriage encourages deceit. Thiscriticism is particularly clear in the subplot of Women Beware Women where Isabella’senforced marriage to the foolish Ward mitigates whatever moral judgment may be162aroused by her adulterous relationship with Hippolito. Middleton also exposes thehypocrisy of a society and culture outwardly deeply distressed by the dangers of lust inits young women, but allowing those women to be led into illicit relationships bytolerating male sexual self-indulgence.The corruption of the world of Women Beware Women is manifested in manyways, perhaps most conspicuously in Livia, the charming, agreeable, genuinelyaffectionate bawd who engineers Bianca’s seduction by the Duke and deceives herniece Isabella about her relationship to Hippolito, thereby facilitating their incestuousliaison. Critics see her as a virtuoso who greatly enjoys her bawdry. Heinemann speaksof her “good natured immorality” and calls her, significantly, “the natural product of asituation where women have no choice, yet are tied to life-long obedience to their man”(195). Brooke says that in procuring Isabella through lies for her brother Hippolito andBianca by subtle treachery for the Duke, she acts “with a delightful mixture of wit andbawdy delight, backed by an explicit female resistance to the prevailing maledomination” (Horrid Laughter 101). She is a widow with both freedom and time on herhands and a woman of considerable wit, and she uses her freedom and her wit “to trapother women into sexual relationships” (Leggatt 149). She sees herself however, ashelping the young women she “traps”; she holds out to women, she says, theopportunity to “lick a finger then, sometimes” (1.2. 44), that is, find a little relief froman unwanted marriage and so gain woman’s traditional revenge on men. Her efforts inthe end, however, lead to the total discomfiture of the women. Moreover, it should benoted, she arranges these affairs largely for the benefit of men, her brother Hippolitoand the Duke. “But while she takes pride in her ‘craft t’undo a maidenhead’ [2.1.1781,she becomes a helpless victim of her own desires” (Leggatt 149), ironically becomingoverwhelmed by lust for Leantio whose marriage she has been so instrumental inruining. And as she pandered women to men so that the latter may use them for their163purposes, so Livia is herself used by Leantio for his purposes (cf. Wigler 19). Havingbought into the corruption of her society, she is, like her own victims, finally destroyedby that corruption.Yet to see Livia merely as the villain of the piece is to oversimplify her complexcharacter. Her figure is given substance by her many choric comments on the conditionand situation of women in her society. Her bawdry itself is a comment on and a reactionto that society and its treatment of women. Since women are so frequently preventedfrom entering the relationships to which their desire draws them, the services of a bawdsometimes are the only means of realizing that desire. Her bawdry on behalf of herbrother in fact makes possible the relationship that Isabella herself really desires, andprovides her with some relief from a grotesquely inappropriate marriage. Even her rolein facilitating the Duke’s seduction of Bianca ultimately introduces that young womanto what is at least a more materially rewarding relationship than her marriage toLeantio. Her comment on Bianca’s isolation, “I heard you were alone, and ‘t hadappeared! An ill condition to me” (2.2.247-248), while undoubtedly part of herendeavor to pander Bianca to the Duke, nonetheless accords with Bianca’s ownfeelings, for she herself was finding her isolation irksome. Thus Livia’s bawdry is a kindof ironic comment on the marital practices of Renaissance society: pandering at leastsometimes results in relationships preferable to some marriages.The Duke of Florence2 as head of Florentine society exemplifies its corruption.Heinemann’s view that this is a domestic tragedy, rather than a tragedy of state is valid,for the Duke is not “shown primarily as ruler of a state, but merely as using his power tosatisfy his personal lusts and pleasures__a grandee with a city mistress rather thanGod’s deputy on earth” (180), simply, as Gill says, “the conventional royal lecher ofItalianate tragedy” (xxi). Yet, as Heinemann acknowledges, the play takes on a public164dimension when the Cardinal reminds the Duke that “a great man who sins in publiccarries the additional guilt of setting a bad example to ordinary people” (181):But ‘tis example proves the great man’s bane.The sins of mean men lie like scattered parcelsOf an unperfect bill; but when such fall,Then comes example, and that sums up all. (4.1.215-219)This Cardinal is often seen as a kind of morality play figure pronouncing divinejudgment on the characters and their actions. However, as Holmes points out in afootnote, he is an equivocal character himself:Although the Cardinal points out the speciousness of the [Duke’s] plan[to make his relationship to Bianca marrying her], he has aweakness of character that renders him incompetent to deal with theDuke’s hardened corruption:...he displays...a tractable shallowness, bymaking ‘peace’ and expressing content with the debauchees [5.2.14]; andhe continues to call the Duke ‘noble’ brother (171 n28).Yet, though the Cardinal is himself somewhat less than exemplary, his comments arevalid in themselves, like the teaching of the Pharisees who sit in Moses’ seat (Matthew23.2.). Thus the Cardinal’s comments are part of a complex judgment. They are ajudgment on the Duke, but they also tend to recoil on or have repercussions against theCardinal himself. Thus, they do not indicate the play’s affirmation of conventionalmorality.The Duke’s corruption sets the tone for the society over which he rules. R. BParker affirms that in such a corrupt society, presided over by a Duke who abuses hispower for his own self-gratification, Bianca’s and Isabella’s “weaknesses leave [them] atthe mercy of their degenerate environment” (192). Further, the “weaknesses” of thewomen are themselves products of their environment_though this is probablysomething of a chicken-and-egg situation: weakness causes corruption; corruptioncauses further weakness. In seducing Bianca the Duke abuses his power, for, unlike165other members of his society, he need not act in secret. Thus, he can freely flaunt hisrelationship with Bianca and use his aristocratic privilege to override ordinary morality.There is no duchess in evidence, and so it may be that the Duke himself, infollowing his own passion rather than the expectations and demands of his own class, is,like Bianca, in rebellion against the sexual mores of his culture. Rather than arranging amarriage designed merely to establish a political alliance to increase his power andwealth he follows his desire and his will. So, just as Livia is not a conventional bawd, theDuke may not be simply a conventional royal lecher in his motivation, but he certainlyis one in his actions.Sexual desire, Middleton demonstrates, will draw men and women together willynilly. The sexual element in romantic love had always been recognized, but thetendency was to reject such sexual attraction as a basis for marriage. Critics havedismissed Leantio’s feelings for Bianca at the beginning of the play as mere lust, butMiddleton shows Leantio’s love for Bianca as a complex blend of motives. Both a desirefor status and sexual desire for the beautiful Bianca motivate Leantio to elope with awoman of higher social class than himself, but that is not to say that Leantio is not inlove with her. That he expresses his love in commercial imagery does not indicate thathe sees Bianca merely as a possession, as many have argued. It cannot be denied that hedoes, if for no other reason than that his society taught him to think of wives aspossessions, but as a member of the commercial class, such imagery is natural to him.He rejoices in Bianca’s “beauty able to content a conqueror,! Whom earth could scarcecontent, keeps me in compass,” which he says will keep him from being “bent sinfully!To this man’s sister, or to that man’s wife” (1.1.26-29). Love for and marriage to Bianca,he says, will control his lust—sexual desire misdirected—in accord with the affirmation166of Book of Common Prayer that marriage was ordained as “a remedy for sin.” Thetribute to Bianca is rather backhanded, but a tribute nonetheless.When shortly after his bringing Bianca to his mother’s home, he must reluctantlypart from her to earn the living necessary to support her in something of the style towhich she has been used, the pleasures of the marriage bed tempt him to remainbehind: “Tis even second hell to part from pleasure! When man has got a smack ofthem” (1.3.5-6). The lines suggest that at this stage at least in their relationship,Leantio’s pleasure in Bianca is primarily an appetitive one for her body rather than anappreciation of her as a person. However, Middleton may be showing that love betweenman and woman, whatever else it may be will always be physical and that overlyspiritualized concepts of love will founder on that fact. On his return a week later, hisgreatest anticipation is what he expects will be Bianca’s abstention-heightened sexualdesire:After five days’ fastShe’ll be greedy now, and cling about me,I take care how I shall be rid of her (3.1.106-108)His words reflect the view that woman is primarily a creature of insatiable appetite, buthe revels in rather than condemns it.The Mother admonishes Leantio on his arrival in Florence with his new bride thatas a daughter of the merchant patriciate, Bianca will not in the long run be happy withthe rather meager life he can provide her Leantio appears to recognize the danger andsays he will work hard to provide for her the life to which she has been accustomed. Hecan have only a forlorn hope of that, but his emphasis on her sexual appetite suggeststhat he believes that, given woman’s “nature”, to keep Bianca sexually satisfied will beenough to compensate for the lowering of her economic circumstances. Seeing wives aspossessions, Leantio believes Bianca will be happy to be possessed.167Yet in his way, he loves her. When in the Banquet Scene he realizes he has losther forever, he expresses his grief in words whose simplicity indicate that they aregenuine: “Oh, hast thou left me then, Bianca, utterly” (3.2.243). His later rage at her inscene 1 of Act 4 when they confront each other for the last time, the threat he issuesthat costs him his life is the rage of a man who feels his love betrayed. His acceptance,crass though it may be, of Livia’s offer of wealth in exchange for sexual favors is anatural kind of response to such betrayal. His hatred of Bianca as “that glisteringwhore” (4.2.20) is the obverse of his love.In the beginning Bianca is also in love with Leantio, and for her, too, sexual desirehas been her primary motive for renouncing her social position to many him. She showsthe primacy of sexuality in love when she demands Leantio’s kisses and eagerly returnsthem. She believes that she will be happy and that Leantio will satisfy her desires:Heaven send a quiet peace with this man’s love,And I am as rich, as virtue can be poor—Which were enough, after the rate of mind,To erect temples for content placed here. (1.1.127-130.)At this point she does not seem to realize that she will miss the almost princely life towhich she had been accustomed as the daughter of a Venetian merchant prince.That loss of status and wealth helps to explain, though only in part, Bianca’salmost immediate volte face after her seduction by the Duke. This sudden change hastroubled critics, several of whom have suggested that Bianca simply seized the Duke’sproffered opportunity to gain a life even better than she had known before herelopement. Ribner, for example, says that “The virtue that [the Mother] has beencharged to guard has been as non-existent as her ability to protect it” (141), and thatwhen Bianca is “faced with her choice between poverty as a faithful wife and luxury asthe Duke’s mistress, it is the Duke she chooses” (144). Bianca indeed has reason to be168discontent with her life “as a faithful wife”. Leantio, in spite of his adventurousness ineloping with Bianca, or in some ways, because of it, acts as a typical jealous husband. Hewishes to lock away his beautiful young wife not only from lustful male eyes but alsofrom ideas that might teach her the rebelliousness, shrewishness and unreasonabledemands to which the traditional lore of his culture says that women are prone. Whenhis mother admonishes him that he will find it difficult to provide Bianca with the“maintenance befitting her birth and virtues,! Which every woman of necessity looksfor,! And most to go above it” (1.1.66-68), Leantio’s response reflects the accusationsagainst women in the pamphlet literature of the querelle des dames familiar to many inMiddleton’s audience:Speak low sweet mother; you are able to spoil as manyAs come within the hearing; if it be notYour fortune to mar all, I have much marvel.I pray do not teach her to rebel,When she’s a good way to obedience;To rise with other women in commotionAgainst their husbands, for six gowns a yearAnd so maintain her cause, when they are once upIn all things else that require cost enough. (1.1.71-79)His remark later in the same speech that “A woman’s belly is got up in a trice” (1.1.82),reflects the stereotypical belief in woman’s natural wantonness which must berestrained. Leantio thus shows that, despite his defiance of convention in eloping withBianca, he still holds much of the conventional niindset regarding women.Bianca, however, appears sincere in asserting that she will be happy and contentwith the humble life as Leantio’s wife, believing that with him she “does enjoy all herdesires,” and that her mind can “erect temples for content” in the “quiet peace” shebelieves Heaven will send “with this man’s love” (1.1.125-130). However, her commentprobably reflects an over-confidence in her ability to adapt to the deprivations of hernew life, her inexperience in society and the world, and her ignorance of the kinds ofassault that could be made both on her fidelity to Leantio and on her chastity. Perhaps,169in fact, even though she is sincere, she “doth protest too much”; she would inevitablyhave become discontent, and her good intentions would tend to make her discontent allthe more pronounced. Thus, after her seduction and the glimpse of the life the Dukecan offer her, Leantio’s home becomes “the strangest house! For all defects, as evergentlewoman! made shift withal, to pass her love in!” (3.1.16-18). Suddenly she seemsvery conscious that she is a gentlewoman who is not living a gentlewoman’s life.Unacknowledged class expectations, play subtly and subconsciously their part inBianca’s change. Though her primary and conscious motives are not mercenary, it islikely she realizes others will judge them so. When her plan to kill the Cardinalbackfires, killing the Duke instead, part of Bianca’s reason for suicide may well be thatshe knows the “strangers” among whom she finds herself will judge her as anopportunist.That her inexperience is a major factor in her seduction is suggested by herheavily ironic comment afterwards to the Mother: “Faith, I have seen that I littlethought to see! I’th morning when I rose” (2.2.457-458). Holmes comments that “it isnot through ‘lack of Sence’ that Bianca becomes a victim of the Duke, but through lackof knowledge of the world” (162). Farr speaks of the outwitting of her “innocence andsimplicity” (90).It is not, therefore, as Ribner and others have argued, that she yields to the Dukeprimarily or essentially for the promise of a restoration of her old life of luxury. In herinnocence Bianca believed that Leantio, with his ardent love for her, would treat hermuch better than he did, or at least that he would spend more time with her. As a youngwoman newly aroused sexually, she is naturally disappointed when, under pressure ofeconomic necessity, Leantio parts from her so very soon after their arrival at his home.Unused to such considerations, she is dismayed that such mundane concerns as earning170a living could take precedence to her desire for Leantio’s love. As Leantio departs fromher, she calls to him from above:I perceive, sir,Y’are not gone yet; I have good hope you’ll stay now.Leantio. Farewell, I must not.Bianca. Come, come; pray return.Tomorrow, adding but a little care more,Will dispatch all as well—believe me sir, ‘twill. (1.3.35-39)Given the newness of their love and considering what she has given up to be his wife,Bianca’s feelings are understandable. Leantio himself would like to do as she wishes,but he is far more aware than she of the need to earn a living:I could well wish myself where you would have me;But love that’s wanton must be ruled awhileBy that that’s careful, or all goes to ruin.As fitting is a government in loveAs in a kingdom; where ‘tis all mere lust‘Tis like an insurrection in the peopleThat, raised in self-will, wars against all reason. (1.3.40-44)When she pleads for “But this one night”, he replies:Alas, I’m in for twenty if I stay,And then for forty, I have such luck to flesh:I never bought a horse, but he bore double.If I stay any longer, I shall turnAn everlasting spendthrift.... (1.3.50-54)His responses contain an element of almost adolescent boasting in his sexual prowess aswell as some of the stereotypical attitudes of his time about sexuality. They also reflectthe social pressures to which his unorthodox marriage will be subjected. The effect is tomake Bianca feel neglected so that her hopes of a full and happy sexual relationshipbegin to founder under the pressure of economic necessity.Feeling neglected, Bianca understandably desires diversion in watching the ducalcortege pass by, and she is pleased by the possibility that the Duke might have looked ather. Nevertheless, she does not then entertain ideas of rebellion, and she resistsvaliantly the Duke’s seduction of her, which, because of his threat of force, is in effect, a171rape, as Heinemann argues (183). The Duke indeed intersperses his threats with apretended respect for her:Prithee tremble not.I feel thy breast shake like a turtle pantingUnder a loving hand that makes much on’t.Why art so fearful? as I’m friend to brightness,There’s nothing but respect and honour near thee. (2.2.321-325)However, by stressing his ability to use force, he shows that he is not to be dissuaded.He says “I am not here in vain”, and “I should be sorry the least force should lay! Anunkind touch upon thee” (2.2.336, 345-346). It would please him were she to yieldvoluntarily, but he will not refrain from forces if she will not:I affectA passionate pleading above an easy yielding—But never pitied any: they deserve noneThat will not pity me. I can command:Think upon that. (2.2.360-364)He promises wealth and comfort, but as Heinemarin notes, only after his threats (183).Bianca’s so-called “willingness” in yielding that some critics find is really a collapse ofher resistance before a force to which her strength is unequal. As Farr says, the Duketakes advantage of her “helplessness” (80). Her helplessness, rather than “the essentialfalseness of Bianca’s protestation of chastity” as Ribner affirms, is the significanceBianca’s identification with the pawn in the chess game played in the foreground on themain stage while Bianca’s seduction occurs in the simultaneous action on the balcony.As a result of her seduction, Bianca’s feelings are mixed. She returns from theDuke a bitter, angry, disillusioned woman. Recognizing his motives as simple lechery,she naturally feels anger against her seducer: “Infectious mists and mildews hang at’seyes,! The weather of doomsday dwells upon him” (2.2.423-424). She is angry also asmuch with those who have tricked her. Livia she denounces as a “damned bawd” forher “smooth-browed treachery”, and the “courteous gentleman” Guardiano as “basevillain” and “slave” (3.2.466, 453, 443, 445).172At the same time, having betrayed Leantio, albeit under threat of violent rape, shefeels contaminated: “sin and I’m acquainted,! No couple greater” (2.2.441-442). Herupbringing tells her that there are but two kinds of woman: the chaste virgin-faithfulwife, and the whore. By her seduction and betrayal, she is now in the eyes of her societyand culture a whore. That even the court society henceforth regards her as a whore isattested by her recognition, on the death of the Duke, that she is among strangers.It is that sense of being irreversibly contaminated that explains her sudden changeof character from the demure innocent to the woman of the world. She sees that it ispointless to pretend to a virtue which her society will deny her: “Yet since minehonour’s leprous, why should I! Preserve that fair that caused the leprosy?” (2.2.425-426). Farr calls Bianca’s “hardening” and her “coarsening of speech” “the expression ofher plight, which in turn leads her to the cynical conclusion that she may as wellconsider herself lost: ‘Come poison all at once.’ [2.2.4271” (80). Ornstein says that “Heroverwhelming agony of shame on the gallery has bred an indifference to futuredefilement” (194). “Since Bianca’s honor is leprous (since it is known she has submittedto the Duke)”, he says, “then there is no longer any point in fidelity to Leantio” (195).Her words “that fair” probably have the double meaning of her physicalbeauty_which no doubt she will preserve__but also the appearance of honor that suchbeauty is supposed to represent. To Leantio’s bitter accusation “Y’are a whore” afterher public appearance as the Duke’s mistress, she replies “Fear nothing, sir” (4.1.60-61), as though recognizing that she will be seen so and that denials will gain hernothing. Believing herself lost, she accepts the consolations of material comfort and thesocial prestige of being the Duke’s mistress. As J. R. Mulryue says “She falls to theDuke, and then adapts to his way of thinking, not so much because of moralshallowness, but because of the pressure exercised upon her by social circumstances and173personalities stronger_not necessarily by nature but certainly by position andexperience__than her own” (Revels Plays edition, Introduction hoc).Bianca’s change is no doubt facilitated by the fact that, once he has achieved hisdesire, the Duke treats her well. Bianca, therefore, quickly and easily transfers the loveshe had initially given Leantio to her seducer. Here again, Middleton challengesstereotypes by making the Duke the only person in the play who shows any regard forBianca. No one else befriends her or cares about her comfort, and the Duke’s brotherthe Cardinal can only pronounce a traditionally moralistic judgment on them both.Bianca’s isolation also explains her change after her seduction. She nowrecognizes the nature of the society in which she lives and realizes that her only choiceis to brazen it out in a world which, despite the protection and love of a powerful duke,will continue to be hostile to her. Her worldly-wise sophistication throughout theremainder of the play is, therefore, a condition of survival if she is to live the public lifeof a ducal mistress.Rather than showing her a simple wanton, Bianca’s conduct shows her as awoman of intelligence by which she quickly understands her circumstances and how tosurvive in them. Livia, as Ricks notes (243), had recognized when Bianca accuses her ofbawdry that “tis but want of use” (2.2.471) that makes Bianca initially so bitter, and shecorrectly predicts that she will soon adapt. Mulryne says “She has been initiated intothis devious society and quickly shows her command of its practices” (lxx). She showshow well she has adapted when Leantio, unplacated by Livia’s favor for his loss ofBianca, and now simply an annoying inconvenience to her, threatens revenge. Havingreported his threat and his affair with Livia to the Duke in full knowledge that he willact, she shows by saying “I love peace, sir” (4.1.124) that she knows what action he will174take. She realizes that in a cut-throat world, one must become a cutthroat to survive.The murder also serves the Duke’s own ends, for it enables him to marry her and so, bymaking her an “honest woman” and himself an “honest man”, to placate the Cardinal.Bianca’s decision to murder the Cardinal is complexly motivated. She resents hisattack on the Duke whom she now loves, and though he kisses her at their marriage as asign of reconciliation, Bianca does not really trust him to remain placated:...this shall not blind me.He that begins so early to reprove,Quickly rid him, or look for little love. (5.2.17-19)Bianca depends so completely on the Duke’s protection that a threat to him is a threatto herself. Because she is isolated in a hostile environment, when the Duke accidentallydrinks the poisoned cup she prepared for the Cardinal, she knows that she must diewith him. Not only does she die for love, but also from the knowledge that without theDuke’s support she is an outcast and a pariah:What make I here? these are all straners to me,Not known but by their malice now th art gone,Nor do I seek their pities. (5.2.204-206)As well, she probably knows that as the discovered murderess of a person of royal bloodshe would likely be publicly burned alive.4 The Duke has given her the security sheneeded as a stranger to Florentine society (Mulryne lxx) whereas in Leantio’s home shehad never been made to feel completely welcome. Now that security has evaporated.Bianca also dies with some recognition of her guilt: “Leantio, now I feel thebreach of marriage! At my heart breaking” (5.2.208-209). Though able at the lastminute to pity her former husband, Bianca has done more than simply make a virtue ofnecessity; she has given her love to the Duke who had seduced her away from herhusband and given her, if not the affection she had craved, at least a life of materialcomfort and physical security and some appreciation: “Yet this my gladness is, that I175remove,! Tasting the same death in a cup of love” (5.2.218-219). Once again, traditionalviews are called into question, for such relationships as that of Bianca and the Dukewere usually regarded as merely the indulgence of lust without love.Bianca shows insight not only into herself, but also into the folly of her society intrying to make women moral through restraint. Her soliloquy following her first publicappearance as the Duke’s mistress and just before her encounter with Leantio, newlyexalted as Livia’s lover, is worth quoting in its entirety, for in it she reflects on herfortune and what she sees as its social implications:How strangely woman’s fortune turns about!This was the farthest way to come to me,All would have judged, that knew me born in VeniceAnd there with many jealous eyes brought up,That never thought they had me sure enoughBut when they were upon me; yet my hapTo meet it here, so far from my birthplace,My friends or kindred. ‘Tis not good, in sadness,To keep a maid so strict in her young days.Restraint breeds wand’ring thoughts, as many fasting daysA great desire to see flesh stirring again.I’ll never use any girl of mine so strictly;Howev’r they’re kept, their fortunes find ‘emout—I see’t in me. If they be got in courtI’ll never forbid ‘em the country; not the courtThough they be born i’th’country. They will come to’t,And fetch their falls a thousand miles about,Where one would little think on’t. (4.2.23-40)The importance of this speech appears in its length, its careful thought, its position inthe play, and its relevance to so much of the dramatic action. Though some dismiss it asof little significance, it clearly is meant as a serious reflection on the play’s events.5Bianca here reflects on the folly of thinking that restrictions on women will control andrestrain their natural sexual desires, but are more likely to intensify them. She impliesthat it is inevitable that woman’s “nature will out” in immoral behavior whether or notit is confined and constrained as traditionally it has been by Medieval and Renaissance176society, and that she, therefore, would not raise a daughter under such ineffectual anddestructive strictures.Though Bianca speaks in the bitterness of experience, Middleton through thisspeech challenges his society’s long held notion that sexual morality can be guaranteedby external restraints and constraints. Intended to control and repress lust, suchconstraints tend only to intensify sexual desire, the pleasure of circumventing therestraints and the resulting illicit satisfaction lead in turn to other, often more serious,moral perversions. Holmes, writing of the Duchess in More Dissemblers Besides Women,and the “passive young innocents” of Michaelmas Term, indicates that throughoutlVliddleton’s work runs the idea “that virtue can only be real and effective when it hasbeen tempered by experience” (76). In fact, Middleton seems to say that the kind ofsexual morality demanded by his society is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve at all.Women’s ability to reflect on their circumstances, as Heinemann states (194-196),is a notable feature of this play. Like Bianca, Isabella too demonstrates this ability. Sheis well aware that her father treats her as a commodity to be traded:Oh the heartbreakingsOf miserable maids where love’s enforced!The best condition is but bad enough:When women have their choices, commonlyThey do but buy their thraldoms, and bring great portionsTo men to keep ‘em in subjection:As if a fearful prisoner should bribeThe keeper to be good to him, yet lies in still,And glad for a good usage, a good lookSometimes. By’r Lady, no misery surmounts a woman’s!Men buy their slaves, but women buy their masters. (1.2.168178)6Isabella’s initial situation is quite pitiable, and Middleton presents her in a sympatheticlight.7 Faced with the unpleasant prospect of marriage to the idiotic Ward, shecomplains bitterly to Livia:177How can I, being born with that obedienceThat must submit unto a father’s will?If he command, I must of force obey. (2.1.86-88)She is desperate, but knows that she can be forced into a marriage she does not wantand that the social conditions of her life give her no legitimate release or relief. At thesame time, Isabella’s remarks are conditioned by the fact of her as yet unrecognizedlove for her uncle, Hippolito. That unrecognized illicit love, however, is itself indicativeof the futility of trying to control sexual passion by external curbs.Isabella’s entrance is preceded by Fabritio’s, Guardiano’s and Livia’s fairly lengthydiscussion which reflects the Renaissance debate over whether marriage ought to be byparental arrangement or by the free choice of the partners. Fabritio takes thetraditional view. His response to Guardiano’s question whether or not Isabella has yetseen the Ward is “No matter__she shall love him” (1.2.2). He says to Isabella on herappearance, “See what you mean to like_nay, and I charge you,! Like what you see”(1.2.76-77). Guardiano, on the other hand, appears to hold the moderate position thatthe children should have some say but not marry contrary to their parents’ (orguardian’s) wishes. Nonetheless, he seeks to arrange an advantageous match for hisward. In the light of his later pandering Bianca to the Duke, with Livia’s help, for“much worth in wealth and favour”, his scruples with regard to Isabella sound hollow.Livia, whose pandering functions as a counterpart to the marital customs of her cultureand gives her a choric authority, argues for the more liberal view of marriage. However,Isabella’s comments that women who have their choices frequently buy their thraldomsshows that she recognizes marriage, under any circumstances, as an institution offundamental inequality, and it this inequality that Middleton suggests is the realproblem with which his society must deal.178Isabella’s circumstances make her ripe for rebellion, as Fart notes (88), but she isno Vittoria Corombona who can rebel openly and defiantly. Livia’s false informationthat she is the illegitimate daughter of the Marquess of Coria and, so, not reallyHippolito’s niece, opens to her the opportunity to follow what she quickly realizes is herown desire. Hippolito’s protestation of love for her “dearlier than an uncle can”, andthat “as a man loves his wife, so love I thee” (1.3.213, 219) had shocked and horrifiedher. At that point she did not realize she loves Hippolito dearlier than a niece can andthat as a woman loves her husband, so does she love him. Holmes says she has a“defective understanding of herself” (164), but in almost any society and certainly notIsabella’s, few would want to admit to an incestuous love.The play prepares us well for Isabella’s apparent volte face when she receivesLivia’s “information”. It is, in fact, no volte face at all. Her father Fabritio notes, withoutapparently any perception of the real situation:Look out her uncle, and y’are sure of her,Those two are never asunder; they’ve been heardIn argument at midnight, moonshine nightsAre noondays with them; they walk out their sleeps—Or rather at those hours appear like thoseThat walk in ‘em, for so they did to me. (1.2.62-67)Isabella’s world provides women only very limited opportunity to meet men, and so it isvery likely that almost the only men she knows are her father, the Ward, and her uncle.Hippolito treats her with kindness, deference and consideration, so that between himand the Ward there is no contest. Brooke says that “Hippolito and the Ward are in totalcontrast, and Isabella has no rational choice to make. The idea that she should marrythis clod is absurd, as Livia tells Fabritio; he sees [that this is so], but still commands themarriage” (94). In showing kindness and affection toward his niece, Hippolito hasaroused not only his own sexual desire for her, but Isabella’s initially unrecognizedanswering desire. Livia’s lies allow her to make the admission that, because her179relationship to Hippolito is within the forbidden degrees, she initially cannot make toherself. As Norman A. Brittin notes, “Once the dread of incest is removed, the girl’spassion for Hippolito springs forth; and she sees the marriage as a convenient concealment for an affair.” Livia’s comment “I told you I should start your blood” (2.1. 134) hasthe double meaning of “give a tremendous surprise” and “rouse the passions” (121).Probably because it is defined as incestuous, critics argue that Isabella’s feeling forHippolito is primarily lust. Ricks, following M. C. Bradbrook, says that her lust is shownby her imagery of feeding and of service (with its courtly and sexual overtones) indescribing to Hippolito what their relationship will be like (244):She that comes once to be a housekeeperMust not look every day to fare well, sir,Like a young waiting woman in service,For she feeds commonly as her lady does,No good bit passes her but she gets a taste of it. (2.1.217-221)However, given the circumstances in which she must carry on her relationship withHippolito, her words reflect the realities of an all too common social situation wherethe sexual desire that Middleton sees as fundamental to the growth of affectionbetween men and women is not accepted as a basis on which to contract marriages. Asthe worldly wise Livia, says, using similar imagery, women are not to be blamed if, like“your best cooks” they “lick a finger” in the “many sundry dishes” men taste all thetime (1.2.40-45). Men are free to follow their sexual desires; women are not. Bianca’slater sympathetic comment at Isabella’s betrothal reflects what is simply commonpractice in a society in which women are commodities and marriages commercialtransactions to gain or maintain social status. In consequence, a double standard is ineffect. Bianca says:‘Las, poor gentlewoman,She’s ill bestead, unless sh’as dealt the wiselierAnd laid in some provision for her youth:Fools will not keep in summer. (3.2.118-121)180That this “provision” should be her uncle is, as noted above, a condition of the limitedopportunities women have for meaningful social contacts—the very condition Biancacriticizes in her soliloquy.Given the initial sympathy generated for Isabella, her sudden hardening, likeBianca’s, seems at first glance difficult to understand. It is, however, the hardening of awoman who has chosen to live a life of duplicity in the immoral but hypocritical climateof the society in which her illicit love is both condemned and encouraged to find itsoutlet. In her unhappy circumstances, she easily lapses into the immorality of her world.As with Bianca, this hardening and adaptation to the ways of the world are conditionsof survival, for Isabella knows that her world will judge her adversely for following itsways. Raised in a society whose values are becoming increasingly commercialized by afather who regards her primarily as property to be sold at the best price, it is notsurprising that she sacrifices her integrity to the pleasures of an adulterous bed.Middleton shows his society that its hypocritical practice encourages actions likeIsabella’s.Through Isabella Middleton points out the inadequacies of women’s moraleducation and preparation for life. Placing his daughter on display for her prospectivehusband and father-in-law, Isabella’s father comments:She has the full qualities of a gentlewoman;I have brought her up to music, dancing, what not,That may commend her sex and stir her husband. (3.2.111-113)He says nothing about moral instruction and guidance. As Holmes notes, she has but asuperficial refinement (165), having acquired only those accomplishments that makeher attractive in the marriage market, a salable commodity. Her education is merely thepackaging of the product for the market. Ironically, the Ward cannot appreciate eventhe packaging. As well as the strength of her desire, her desperation at her upcoming181marriage to the stupid Ward and her need for some kind of freedom and some measureof control over her own life impel her to enter the liaison with Hippolito to which,although she does not explicitly direct Isabella to enter it, Livia opens the door. Isabellaherself proposes the relationship to Hippolito who is her only real friend. Incest isabhorrent to her, but secret adultery, her society tells her, is quite acceptable. Holmessays that Isabella’s “irate outburst” when Livia, in her anguish over the murder of herlover Leantio, reveals that she has lied to her niece about her consanguinity withHippolito shows her moral “dimsightedness” and her “defective concept of ‘honor’ and‘shame’ “(164). In the light, however, of Middleton’s unflattering portrait of Isabella’ssociety, her “irate outburst” becomes more a protest against that society for the way ithas failed and misled her. Moral “dimsightedness” and defectiveness are moreappropriate descriptions of the culture of which Isabella is the child. In that culture,deception and duplicity are acceptable and the only sin is to be caught at them, as Liviatells her:Oh, my wench,Nothing overthrows our sex but indiscretion!We might do well else of a brittle peopleAs any under a great canopy. (2.1.163-166)R. B. Parker says, “The standards which society sets up to guide its members...areshown to be completely inadequate and easily perverted to serve the very vices they aredesigned to combat” (193). Isabella’s conduct, therefore, is shown to have beeninfluenced by a combination of factors: her lack of self-awareness, her lack of a deeplyimplanted and developed moral sense, and the corruption endemic to the aristocraticsociety in which she lives, a society which demands exemplary conduct of women butprovides them neither with adequate preparation for life nor wholesome examples ofconduct.182Isabella’s circumstances in Women Beware Women speak to the Jacobeanaudience about the “tyranny of enforced marriage,” but the circumstances of allMiddleton’s women tragic protagonists speak, as well, of the dangers involved inmarriage by free choice. The dilemma of Bianca and Isabella in Women Beware Womenand Beatrice-Joanna in The Changeling is that they are products of the “Janus-headed”world of the early seventeenth century, hearing its conflicting voices, one saying womenmust be obedient to the will of their fathers, others telling them they should be free tomake their own choices of marriage partners, and still others telling them, ratherillogically, that they should do both.Bianca chooses to elope with a man of a lower social class because he infatuatesher, and she thinks she loves him deeply enough to be able to accept the economic andsocial deprivation her elopement will involve. She finds that her free choice has madeher “stolen goods,” and so must lead a life of confinement and restriction which in partmakes her willing to accept the role of mistress after her seduction by the Duke.Isabella, understandably unhappy at the prospect of marriage to the idiot her father’smercenary motives select for her, once she believes the impediment of consanguinity isremoved between Hippolito and herself, is only too eager to enter into an adulterousrelationship with him because he is the man that she loves. In The Changeling BeatriceJoanna, indulged and isolated in her father’s fortress, rejects her father’s choice ofhusband for the more gallant Alsemero and commits murder to gain her will, only tofind that she becomes enslaved to the strong, inflexible will of her accomplice. Throughthese women Middleton seems to show that freedom of choice of itself is no remedy tothe plight in which women often find themselves. He proposes no solutions but takes ashis task the exposure of his society’s inadequacies and hypocrisies.183Like Women Beware Women, The Changeling examines the same issues of thefrustration of sexual desire by arranged marriage and the often disastrous effects ofwomen’s sheltered upbringing.10 The conflict here, as Heinemann notes, centres on thecontrasting views of marriage as “business and property transactions arranged byparents” and of “marriage as a freely chosen partnership based primarily on affection”(189). Middleton shows here that, as Bianca argues in Women Beware Women, arestrictive environment does not restrain the natural passions of the flesh or adequatelyprepare women for the problems those passions will raise for them in the world andsociety in which they must live.Beatrice-Joanna in The Changeling, as Farr says, is a woman who seeks freedomfrom her father’s choice of husband for her, but chooses means which result in herenslavement (53). Vermandero is determined to have his will in the matter of hisdaughter’s marriage. Critics argue that Beatrice’s rebellion, unlike that of Isabella inWomen Beware Women, is indefensible. Farr, for example, says that Beatrice’sattraction to Alsemero and her consequent desertion of Alonso de Piracquo for her newattraction ,is neither romantic nor justffiable (52). But there is little, if any, indicationthat Beatrice felt anything for Piracquo, despite Brooke’s assertion that her aside “Sure,mine eyes were mistaken,! This was the man meant for me!” (1.1. 84-85) indicates thatshe had initially found Piracquo appealing. Although Heinemann says Piracquo is a“brilliant match” (175) for her, and socially no doubt he is a perfectly worthy husband,he seems otherwise rather stodgy, mundane and commonplace. She was probablywilling enough to accept Piracquo until she met the more gallant Alsemero who stirredin her passions she had never before experienced. By portraying her as the wilfuldaughter of a self-willed father and as determined as he to follow her own wishes anddesires, Middleton makes her actions understandable in terms of the conditions in andthe attitudes with which she has been reared.184Beatrice-Joanna’s feelings for Alsemero are real and powerful; and Middletonraises the question of what, in a society where marriages are parentally arranged withlittle regard for the daughter’s consent, a woman should do if she loves a man otherthan the one chosen for her. Most, no doubt, endured their circumstances. Others, asIsabella does in Women Beware Women, took a lover and carried on a secret liaison. Afew resorted to murder as Beatrice-Joanna does here and as Vittoria Corombona doesin The White Devil. Beatrice-Joanna, however, at this point is not yet married, and itmay be asked why she does not confront her father about her new choice. The playgives no clear answer. Her aside, “I’ll want mine [ie., ‘my will’] if you do it”, suggests sheacts simply out of her own wilfulness, rebellion virtually for its own sake. Young peoplealso tend to anticipate dire consequences where perhaps none will follow_”Daddy willkill me!” On the other hand, Vermandero shows himself a wilful man, and Beatrice maythink it pointless to oppose him. Even though Juliet had “just cause and impediment,”she probably feared to tell her father that she was married to a Montague. Also, as oldCapulet’s response to her refusal to marry Paris indicates, it was an era when fathershad the right and the power to disown a recalcitrant daughter who then had littlerecourse but to turn to prostitution.Critics affirm that a major theme of the play is that of superficial judgment basedon appearance. They accuse Beatrice of judging Alsemero too much on the basis ofoutward appearance. Similarly, they take Alsemero and Piracquo to task for beingoverly impressed by Beatrice-Joanna’s outward attractiveness. They condemn Beatricefor believing that she is acting with mature judgment in transferring her allegiance fromPiracquo to Alsemero when she finds him more sexually desirable: “Methinks I lovehim now with eyes of judgment” (2.1.13). Engelberg says, “The main action of TheChangeling ensues from Beatrice’s defective sight, her impulsive responses to the worldwhich she can see but never visualize” (“Tragic Blindness”, 21-22). Levin says that185Beatrice’s own values are essentially “aesthetic” and that therefore she substitutesaesthetic sense for moraLity (40). Brooke argues that Beatrice-Joanna “sees each manas he appears as more lovely than the last” (72). In fact, however, she has seen only twowhom she might conceivably marry, and falling in love, moreover, is an irrational act ofwhich sight is a major element. Outward appearance is a major stimulant of the sexualdesire which is such a powerful element in the attraction between men and women.Furthermore, sexual desire, as Rose notes, is unruly and does not respect human socialconventions. Again Middleton calls into question the effectiveness of social constraintsintended to govern the passions.These constraints and the restrictive and secluded upbringing of young women issymbolized in The Changeling by Vermandero’s Castle or Fortress which is Beatrice’shome, and indeed, her whole world. Though much coming and going happens withinthe Castle, it is, nevertheless, isolated, secluded, and insulated. Critics have noted thecourtly and Petrarchan significance of the Castle. Berger says that in courtly poetry thecastle or fortress is often a metaphor or conceit for the mistress herself and for herchastity which the lover must besiege until she yields her heart (37). Of Beatrice’sassertion to her father that Alsemero is “much desirous! To see your castle” (1.1.159-160), Berger asks, “Whose castle does Alsemero really want to see, Vermandero’s orBeatrice-Joanna’s?” (38-39). Beatrice, he affirms, has become the Castle. Certainly thecastle of her chastity is under siege, first by Piracquo, and then by Alsemero, but mostcontinuously and most urgently by De Flores. The Castle, however, is also symbolic ofthe restriction, confinement and seclusion of Beatrice-Joanna’s life. The outside worldtouches her only as it comes into the castle, and such contacts tend to be perfunctoryand superficial.186As the effective chatelaine, Beatrice-Joanna is at the centre of the Castle’s life,and, in the apparent absence of a wife, she is at the centre of her father’s affection, his“best love” as “He was wont! To call [her]” (1.1.171-172). She has come to feel,therefore, that she is the centre of the universe, that she can have whatever she wants,and that others exist primarily to do her bidding. She understands almost nothing ofhuman nature, and she has been imbued with her father’s code of honor whereinchastity is the woman’s honor and her highest virtue. The preservation of her virginity,or when it is lost, the preservation of the appearance of virginity, takes precedence overeverything else. The exaltation of chastity above all else has the effect of blindingBeatrice to almost every other aspect of morality, so that murder becomes in her eyes aless serious sin than loss of virginity. “‘Honour’,” says Heinemann, “in the sense of herworldly reputation for chastity, she understands and will kill for” (178). In this way,Middleton holds before the aristocratic world the inadequacies of its values, particularlyits exaltation of the preservation of virginity as the summum bonum of femalemorality.11Alsemero loves Beatrice-Joanna after seeing her once in the Temple. He thinkslocation sanctifies his desire for her, but the sequel shows this another example of theunruliness of sexual desire. Because of the sacredness of the place of his first seeing her,Alsemero sees Beatrice almost as the prelapsarian Eve and his love like the holy love ofAdam and Eve in the Garden, or in Sara Eaton’s view, Alsemero sees Beatrice “as theideal lady in a Courtly Love scheme in which he wants to believe” (Kastan andStallybrass 277-278):I love her beauties to the holy purpose,And that, me thinks, admits comparisonWith man’s first creation, the place blest,And is his right home back, if he achieve it. (1.1.6-9)187In fact, he loves with his eyes, and, through them, the irrational force of sexual passionhas entered. Because she is betrothed to Piracquo, Beatrice herself warns Alsemeroagainst the too quick and easy judgment of the eyes:Be better advised, sir:Our eyes are sentinels unto our judgments,And should give certain judgment what they see;But they are rash sometimes, and tell us wondersOf common things, which when our judgments find,They can then check the eyes, and call them blind. (1.1.71-76)Beatrice probably speaks this conventional wisdom with sincerity. Ironically, however,before the scene is over, she feels within herself a “giddy turning” and fears she “shallchange [her] saint” (1.1.155-156), and that solely on the judgment of her eyes. Thequestion is whether or not, apart from platitudes and shibboleths, Beatrice has beengiven anything else on which to make judgments. Middleton appears to imply here thatmoral precepts are incapable of overcoming the powerful effect of desire which is inlarge part nurtured by sight, and do not provide a sufficient defence against the passionsand the will.Blinded by an upbringing which has made her believe she is the centre of theuniverse and given her an inadequate perception of the real nature either of morality,human nature, herself, or the world, Beatrice does not understand her own humanity orthat of others. The long process of coming to understand her own passionate naturebegins with her employment of De Flores to murder Alonso de Piracquo so thatAlsemero will not risk his life and their relationship by challenging Piracquo to a duel.In dissuading him from that dangerous course, Beatrice says that “Bloodguiltinessbecomes a fouler visage” (2.2.40), and thinks immediately of De Flores. She had judgedDe Flores as “unwholesome” and a very “basilisk” (1.1.113, 115) as she had judgedAlsemero worthy on the judgment of her eyes.188Beatrice hates De Flores’s physical appearance, his ugliness. Yet she admits toAlsemero that her dislike is an “infirmity” for which she can no “other reason render”(1.1.109-110). Alsemero, tells her that her feelings for De Flores are of the same natureas his dislike for cherries, implying that taste in people, like taste in fruit, is not withinthe control of one’s will. A number of commentators argue that she hates De Floresbecause he is the image of the darkness in her own nature, her passionate sexual desire.De Flores, like Beatrice, possesses a powerful sexual appetite which Beatrice awakensin him and which he feels only she can assuage, but Middleton sees that appetite asnatural and, therefore, not in itself “dark” or evil. Apart from its irrationality, Beatrice’shatred of De Flores is complex. As Farr notes, she in her way is as obsessed with DeFlores as he is with her, and “De quick to exploit” her obsession to his ownadvantage (56).In two scenes, Act 2, scene 2, and Act 3, scene 4, among the most brilliantlywritten in the whole corpus of Jacobean drama, which have been so well analysed thatto do so at length here seems superfluous, De Flores destroys Beatrice’s aristocraticbelief that she can rid herself of both the unwanted Piracquo and the perhaps evenmore unwanted De Flores himself by employing the latter to murder the former andthen pay him handsomely to leave the country. Though she is shocked at the price DeFlores demands for ridding her of Piracquo, she cannot have been totally without somesense of his erotic interest. The intensity of her loathing for him suggests as much, asdoes her effort to play upon his feelings, using such seemingly endearing expressions as“Oh my De Flores” (2.2.98) in her interview with him. Also, though De Flores is not ofthe lower orders but a gentleman fallen on hard times, like Flamineo in The WhiteDevil, he is still socially beneath her, and Beatrice tries to exploit his social inferiority.2By example, certainly, and likely also by precept, she has been taught to think, asPatricia Thomas notes, “that it is her privilege to manipulate others like puppets” (xiv)189and to ignore the humanity of those she sees as her social inferiors or the possibilitythat their human feelings and desires might be as deep and intense as her own. Farrnotes that Beatrice “in disgust at his physical appearance” has ignored De Flores’s“human needs”, his “physical and emotional neediness, his lust, his elation, his pain, hisdetermination to have satisfaction at all costs” (57). Beatrice is horrified that he shouldbelieve that he should have taken seriously her seductive flattery and that he shoulddemand the reward and payment which he thinks she has promised and has come toexpect.Through Beatrice-Joanna’s struggles to satisfy her desire while at the same timepreserving her reputation for honor, Middleton shows the shallowness and totalinadequacy of a morality which places a woman’s physical chastity above all else. Themere preservation of physical virginity is not, for Middleton, of itself a sign ofunimpeachable morality, nor its loss necessarily a sign of evil. In his comedies he doesnot condemn premarital sexual relations, though, on the other hand, he appears torespect a woman like Mistress Low-Water who uses great ingenuity to preserve hermarriage and her virtue. Nevertheless, in contrast to the general attitude of his culture,he did not regard women who yielded up their virginity before marriage as havingcommitted the unforgivable sin. As Holmes notes, he “lays more stress on [the] worth”of Jane, pregnant by the man she loves and hopes to marry, in A Fair Quarrel andWitgood’s mistress in A Trick to Catch the Old One, who is otherwise not promiscuous,than on their deviations from the social norm. Beatrice-Joanna’s desire, then, shouldnot of itself be seen as the cause of her crimes.As a child of her social class, Beatrice has been led to believe that one can simply“dispose” of those who oppose one’s interests. Kirsch says that Beatrice is like the Dukein Women Beware Women in believing that “murder is no dishonor, though fornication190is” (84). Murder seems to her merely “a commodity like anything else one buys”(Heinemann 174), just as she herself is a commodity. Schoenbaum says, “There is...noindication that Beatrice regards herself as having embarked on a criminal career; itnever seems to occur to her that murder is immoral, or even that it is sociallyunacceptable” (141). It is, at most, as Levin says, “distasteful” (40). When De Floresshows her Piracquo’s severed finger, she is horrified, not by the immorality, but by “thephysical ugliness of murder” (Fan 54), not having “anticipated that murder mightinvolve the shedding of blood” (Schoenbaum 143). She, therefore, feels horror that DeFlores would be “so wicked,! Or shelter such a cunning cruelty,! To make [Piracquo’s]death the murderer of [her] honour!” (3. 4.120-122). Despite De Flores’s trenchantrejoinder, “Push, you forget yourself!! A woman dipp’d in blood, and talk of modesty?”(3.4.125-126), she still sees no incongruity in pleading with him, “Let me go into my[marriage] bed with honour,! And I am rich in all things” (3.4.158-159). De Flores,however, will not listen to her pleas, but incisively exposes to her the superficiality ofher vaunted honor. Because she “chang’d from [her] first love”, she is “a whore in [her]affection” (3.4.142-143). Appeals to her honor and to her superior social rank carry noweight with De Flores once she has stooped to criminality. She is a “fair murd’ress”(4.3.141) and, if she were to “Look but in her conscience,” she will “find [him] there[her] equal” (3.4.132-133). De Flores’s “blunt grammar” (Morrison 232) deflates hersense of social superiority by demonstrating to her that her desires are no different fromthose common to all humanity, and that by instigating the murder of Piracquo she is noless guilty of the crime than he, De Flores, who has carried it out. He puncturesBeatrice’s aristocratic indifference, showing her that the mere possession of virginitydoes not make a woman virtuous.Several critics have noted that of all the characters in the play, De Flores is themost honest about himself and the only one who shows any sign of conscience which191appears in his confrontations with Tomaso de Piracquo. Stilling says, “Beside DeFlores, Alsemero—with his faulty chemical tests, and masochistic fantasies—comes offmuch the second best, despite his being the injured party and the man with conventionon his side” (256). In fact, Alsemero’s tests seem to work, but they do make him seemrepulsively self-righteous. De Flores’s honesty and complete lack of self-righteousnessmay even, subconsciously, appeal to Beatrice, brought up to hypocrisy but striving toescape its consequences. To some degree her perhaps subconscious recognition of thesequalities in De Flores put Beatrice’s love for him in a better light than is usually grantedit.Though Beatrice-Joanna’s concept of honor is, as Levin notes, superficial (41), inpractice merely external conformity to a code, that external conformity is veryimportant to her. As Tomlinson says, “honour is not merely a word to Beatrice and toothers in this context”, and when De Flores demands that she yield her honor to him asthe payment for his service”13 to her, “her protests are, in fact, perfectly sincere”.Beatrice’s protests, more than just for “a fair name”, embody her “deeply felt concernfor the virtues rather stupidly espoused by her father” (201-202). Beatrice, therefore,still takes the outward appearance of honor for the thing itself. Therefore whenDiaphanta her maidservant, whom she makes her surrogate in the marriage bed toavoid Alsemero’s discovering her loss of virginity, enjoys herself too much and stays toolong, Beatrice makes the same mistake as she made with De Flores. She fails torecognize human nature, never thinking that Diaphanta might enjoy too much her“work”. Diaphanta having thereby almost jeopardized Beatrice’s now perjured “honor”,Beatrice once again turns to murder. As before, Beatrice is the instigator, De Flores theagent.192At this moment Beatrice realizes that she loves De Flores. She says she loves himfor his care for her, and we should not doubt her word, but the basis for her love liesdeeper, a basis which Beatrice at this moment does not understand or recognize,namely that sexually she is more like De Flores than Alsemero. Fart notes the “sexualaffinity...underlying the growing kinship between the two conspirators” (56). Somecritics argue that this affinity is oneness in an immorality signified by De Flores’sugliness. Although his ugliness initially makes him repulsive to Beatrice, De Floreshimself knows that ugly men have been loved. It is his lower social status that makes itimpossible, in the normal course of events, for him ever to win her. Both his uglinessand his social station as a fallen gentleman intensify the anguish De Flores endures overBeatrice. Therefore, when chance opens an opportunity for him, he seizes it eagerly andvehemently. The vehemence of his desire is little different from the vehemence ofBeatrice’s original desire for Alsemero. It is in this intensity of desire that Beatrice andDe Flores are akin. This affinity lies partly in their natures, but it develops as they aredrawn closer together both by their shared experience and because by that experiencethey together become outlaws from their society and its norms.Beatrice seems to recognize her affinity with De Flores when, as she is dying, shesays,Beneath the stars, upon yon meteorHung my fate, ‘mongst things corruptible;I ne’er could pluck it from him: my loathingWas prophet to the rest, but ne’er believ’d... (5.3.154-157).That recognition becomes explicit only after she suffers the final shock of Alsemero’srejection when he discovers her adultery with De Flores. Anxious still to maintain theappearance of chastity and honor, Beatrice denies the charge. Denounced as a whore,she responds “What a horrid sound it hath!” (5.3.31). In her mind whoredom is still themost serious offence a woman can commit. Horrified to hear her adultery named,193Beatrice confesses, not to adultery and fornication, but to murder, believing thatbecause she has committed it for love of Alsemero, he will excuse it. Calling De Flores“That thing of hate” (5.3.67), she names him as her accomplice. This, perhaps, indicateshow shallow is her love for him, a love which, after all, she said was based on hisserviceability to her. However, she is also motivated by the desire for self-preservation,and a man of De Flores’s social class is easily sacrificed. When she is again inAlsemero’s presence, she recognizes that she is still a member of the aristocracy andthat socially, if not sexually, her place is with him and not with De Flores. Indeed, shestill tries to cling to her status and reputation as a lady. Dame Helen Gardner says thatBeatrice-Joanna “sins against her nature, when she accepts the thing [de Flores] hernature most loathes as the instrument of her will...” (57). If by Beatrice-Joanna’s“nature” Dame Helen means her modesty, her chastity, her honor, and hersophistication and cultivation as a lady, then her contention is correct, for certainly thepassionate element in her nature is inimical to all that. Peter Morrison says that “Forsexually charged Beatrice, De Flores is truly the ‘ultimate other,’ an ambiguous,monstrous manifestation of her secret self her social world has at once engendered andthen forbidden her to explore” (232). The implication here is that De Flores whom hesees as the changeling_the “cangoun”14_represents the irrational and oftendisorderly forces which lurk below the surface of our civilized veneer, the id alwaysurging the ego to rebel against the cultural super-ego.On hearing of her accusation against him, De Flores names her a whore,confirming Alsemero’s suspicion, and Beatrice’s vehement denial now falls on deaf ears.Thrown with her into Alsemero’s closet, De Flores, as Heinemann says, “takes nochances that he will be left to torture and execution while she, as a great lady, gets offwith lighter punishment; he stabs her and then himself” (178).15 Heinemann adds that“it is De Flores, not the law, that puts her to death in the end” (179), and that194completes the identification of Beatrice with her tool villain and accomplice. DeFlores’s murder of Beatrice-Joanna is, in fact, a kind of bizarre re-enactment of theoriginal consummation of his desire for her, his stabbing her to death being replete withsexual implications. Gardner notes that “In the end she recognizes her link with himand what she has become and sees herself as defiled and defiling” (58). To her fathershe says0 come not near me, sir, I shall defile you:I am that of your blood was taken from youFor your better health; look no more upon’t,But cast it to the ground regardlessly:Let the common sewer take it from distinction. (5.3.149-153)Beatrice knows that in following her own heart and trying to find the kind of sexual andemotional fulfilment her heart demands, she has broken the conventions and mores ofher society and culture. She blames herself, unable to recognize either that she is thechild of her father’s wilfulness as much as the child of his blood, or that she is the childof her culture which failed to educate her in understanding either of herself or humannature. As a female in a culture that tries to deal with its fear of female sexuality byrepression, she has received no adequate basis either to understand or to acknowledgeher own sexual desire or to recognize and appreciate the existence of the same desire inothers. Her wrongs are the wrongs of a society that has taught her to think that those oflower orders than herself do not share in the same human nature as herself and existprimarily to serve her in any capacity, no matter how demeaning to themselves. Herblind struggle for personal fulfilment in this arid world having failed, she submits indefeat to its judgment of her, unable to perceive that her conduct has been a kind ofjudgment on the society.Alsemero is often held up as an exemplary character. Gardner, for example, sayshe is “absolutely innocent of any complicity” (58) and, strictly speaking that is true. Farrsees him as projecting “an absolute standard of morals and rationality which grows in195impressiveness as the action develops” (59). Thus to some, he is, in Gardner’s words, “astandard by which we see what has happened to Beatrice-Joanna” (58). These views arecontradicted by several aspects of Alsemero’s character. First, he challenges Piracquoon insufficient grounds. Noblemen considered it their privilege “greatly to find quarrelin a straw! When honor is at the stake” (Hamlet 4.4.55-56). Philip Sidney, for example,challenged a lord for calling him “puppy” on the tennis court but was refused the rightof duel because of inequality of rank. Elizabeth sought to curb the practice, and Jamesto suppress it altogether. Some who would allow the duel limited it to severelycircumscribed situations. Vincentio Saviolo’s much read and highly influential OfHonorand Honorable Quarrels maintained that the duel must always be a last resort and takenup only in cases where death would be the normal punishment for a crime, and that itspurpose was not revenge. He writes:I judge it not meet that a man should hazard himself in the peril of deathbut for such a cause as deserveth it, so as if a man be accused of such adefect as deserve [sic] to be punished with death, in this case combatmight be granted.... [Ulpon such a quarrel my pinion is that he is not tobe denied to justify himself by weapons, provided always that he be notable by law to clear himself. (Sig. a2 2v—a2 3r. Spelling and punctuationmodernized.)The cause, therefore, must be just and the duel taken up only where all other means ofredress have failed. “Leaving the civil proof and taking the arms,” Saviolo indicates is,in ordinary circumstances, leaving “that which is convenient for men to have recourse tothat which is belonging to beasts” (Sig. xlr). Though the Englishman Sir William Segarin The Booke ofHonor and Arines (1580) allows some exceptions which Saviolo did notcountenance, his basic view was similar: “The cause of all quarrel is injury, but thematter of content is justice and honor” (Sig a2r. Spelling modernized). Alsemero,motivated as he is by selfish desire, would in the views of Saviolo and Segar, beengaging in a duel for an unjust cause, and not even a cause of honor or injury, but,rather like those who combat “not in respect to justice and equity, but either for hatred,or for desire for revenge, or for some other particular affection” (Saviolo Sig y4r), to rid196himself of a rival in love. The Fair Quarrel suggests very strongly that Middleton wasaware of these issues, and many in his audience would also have been. It is possible thatMiddleton implies that had Alsemero killed Piracquo in a duel, that would have beenno less a murder than De Flores’s act, except that his would have been committedunder the guise of a so-called honorable quarrel.16Alsemero is, in fact, moralistic rather than moral. Holmes calls him “pharisaical”(182) and finds him morally blind and superficial in his judgments (179-180). Ornsteinspeaks of “his colorless platitudes” (182). Morrison says that his Chaldean virginity testsymbolizes his “pathological preoccupation with purity” (229). His possession and useof these love filtres also suggests that, though Beatrice’s beauty temporarilyoverpowered him, Alsemero is basically distrustful of women. His attitudes, in fact, arestereotypical.Before seeing Beatrice, he had been a stoic, rejecting the “snares of beauty”(1.1.38) set before him, the strong implication of Jasperino’s comments in the openingscene being that he had regarded women as distractions from his course of learning. Heseems at the beginning to be a young scholar recently embarked on the Grand Tour.Initially, he had justified his infatuation as blessed and propitious because he had seenand fallen in love with Beatrice in the temple and had easily and quickly dismissed the“omen” (1.1.2.) that had immediately followed upon his infatuation. Now, her crimeexposed, he admits that he had always had misgivings:Oh, the place itself e’er sinceHas been crying for vengeance, the templeWhere blood and beauty first unlawfullyFir’d their devotion, and quenched the right one;‘Twas in my fears at first, ‘twill have it now.... (5.3.72-76.)Beatrice’s virtue seems now a “black mask” and a “visor”, not just appearance of avirtue she did not possess, but a disguise for lechery. Beatrice’s virtue and sense of197honor may indeed be shallow, but nothing indicates that she had initially tried to enticehim in the temple. At that time, in fact, she had been innocent even of the intention ofenticing him. He had taken the initiative with his kiss and dismissed her warning againstthe judgment of the eyes, thereby encouraging her to act on her own infatuation, just ashis intention to challenge Piracquo later suggests to her the idea of murder. That he ismorally shallow is further suggested by the ease with which he renounces the duel andleaves matters to Beatrice without inquiring what it was she intended, and by hissingular lack of curiosity about the convenient disappearance of his rival. Thus, he hasset up the circumstances which lead to the tragedy.Only perhaps at the very end does Alsemero show any sign of growth when herecognizes that he, Vermandero and Tomaso Piracquo are bonded together insuffering. Otherwise, for most of the play, Alsemero seems to be little more than a self-righteous prig who imposes absolute moral standards on others. McAlindon says that“Alsemero’s development in the last two acts into a model of judgment and justice isunexpected” and his last-scene “attitude of unsullied justice and righteous indignationseems unwarranted” and “much less attractive than the dying candor of Beatrice andeven the unrepentant pride of De Flores” (English Renaissance Tragedy, 207). The auraof self-righteous hypocrisy that clings to Alsemero is hard to dispel. McAlindon addsthat Beatrice “asks forgiveness from all, perceives the relationship between past,present and future, and sees the fitness of her untimely death: “Tis time to die, when ‘tisshame to live’ [5.3.179]” (205). Though this is not a religious play, its implied moralcontext is Christian and, as McAlindon notes further, no one, including Alsemero towhom it is addressed, heeds her plea for forgiveness. Even her father appearsindifferent to her fate and far more concerned for his own reputation: “Oh, my name isenter’d now in that record! Where till this fatal hour ‘twas never read” (5.3.180-181).198A number of critics, taking their cue from Alsemero, have damned Beatrice, butMcAlindon says that “it hardly seems Christian to damn someone who has confessedher sin and asked forgiveness” (205). A Christian is taught to forgive others theirtrespasses as he or she would have his or her own forgiven, and in this regard Beatriceacts far more like a Christian than Alsemero who has been as guilty of “a giddy turning”as she and was prepared to issue a challenge to Piracquo on morally flimsy grounds toachieve his desire for her. One need not, however, be a Christian to see the sharpcontradiction between Alsemero’s harsh judgment on Beatrice and his inability torecognize his own share in the responsibility for the whole course of events that haveled to it. In this regard Beatrice-Joanna shows herself Alsemero’s moral superior.Middleton’s presentation of this unheeding and unforgiving attitude of the malecharacters comments critically on the legalistic rigidity and hypocrisy of a male-dominated culture which claimed to be Christian, and on its double standard,symbolized in Alsemero, regarding the conduct of men and women.Middleton is less interested in judgment, however, than that his audience seeBeatrice-Joanna in the light of her upbringing which has failed to prepare her either tounderstand her own nature and the nature of others, or to understand and resist thetemptations of her own flesh and those from outside her. Certainly, he shows that herconduct is conditioned by her world. As is the case with Bianca and Isabella in WomenBeware Women, her immorality is the immorality of her society. Because she is awoman, however, she is punished for it, whereas Alsemero, who shares in her guilt,because he is a high-born male, remains unpunished. Though as guilty as Beatrice ofletting his sexual desires get the better of him, the society blames Beatrice becausewoman in such circumstance is always regarded as the enticer, and fails to see that sheis simply a human being engaged in humanity’s constant struggle to achieve an only199dimly perceived and often obscured vision of civilization. Morrison is fundamentallyright in saying:Beatrice must struggle with her beauty, her status, her sex, each of whichis a powerful enemy that strongly interferes with any desire oropportunity she may have for genuine growth or self-realization. Becauseshe is young, and the daughter of a lord, Beatrice is vain, chaste, coy,arrogant, inconsistent, and wholly insecure and unhappy. Emotionallypowerful, Beatrice is effectively powerless; arid it is her lack of power thatconsigns her to her unhappy destiny. She is a member of a society whoseelaborate fictions can account neither for her feelings nor her being.(226).Middleton seems very modern in his recognition that social conditioning and pressuresfrom within and without exert a powerful influence on conduct. His two tragedies implya fundamental criticism of his society. He understands the pressures his charactersexperience and which motivate their conduct, and though his final judgment seems tobe that such pressures must be resisted, at the same time he warns his society that theconstraints it places on the expression and satisfaction of women’s natural emotionalneeds make such resistance beyond the capacities of most humans.A seeming illustration of human ability to resist sexual temptation is, in the viewof some critics, to be found in Isabella, the young, beautiful wife of the old and jealousasylum-keeper Alibius, whom Rowley, working it is generally acknowledged very closelywith Middleton,17 presents in the comic subplot of The Changeling. Although thissubplot is in many ways unsatisfactory, Isabella rises above its silliness to emerge as acharacter of strength. Many critics, therefore, see her as a “self-possessed andcompetent woman” who exemplifies “the woman who, knowing the world and herself, isproof against ‘a giddy turning’ and capable of keeping faith with ‘him she makes ahusband’ “ (Holmes 181-182), and so a foil to the “unstable and erratic” BeatriceJoanna of the main plot. On the other hand, it may also be true that this subplot,showing “virtue triumphant” involves what Stephen Greenblatt calls “negotiation” withthe prevailing orthodoxies in order to sugar-coat the bitter pill the main plot asks its200audience to swallow, or more precisely, to make palatable a play which presents atelling and for many, very probably, a discomforting challenge to accepted moralstandards. That Isabella is the heroine of a comic subplot where events are expected toturn out favorably for the protagonist does not necessarily undercut her portrayal as astrong virtuous woman, but that fact may imply that her struggle is not to be comparedtoo closely with the far more “real-life” struggle of Beatrice-Joanna.Because hers is a “January-May” marriage with an unworthy husband, Isabellamight be said to have reason, if not excuse, for betrayal. Alibius, keeper of the asylum,keeps her locked away and guarded somewhat as Leantio tries to do with Bianca inWomen Beware Women. “She resents this treatment, and one might expect her toretaliate upon her husband by having her ‘will’ and cuckolding him” (Brittin 141).Alibius, in fact, treats Isabella almost as one of the inmates of his asylum.Lollio makes the point that madness is not confined to the asylum, but is endemicin the world and that not even the supposedly sane keepers of the asylum can escapethe disease:Isabella. Why, here’s none but fools and madmen.Lollio. Very well: and where will you find any other, if you should goabroad? There’s my master and I to boot, too. (3.3.14-16)Even Isabella herself, Lollio says, is “half mad” (3.3.19). That it is ‘A Mad World MyMasters” seems to be a major emphasis of the subplot and its commentary on the mainplot.Madness is not necessarily a clinical condition. The term may also be applied tothe conduct of the apparently sane when it is based on a one-sided view of reality or onone aspect of personality to the exclusion of all others, the “humorous” behavior whichJonson made the subject of his satiric comedy and which Middleton emulated. That201may be the point of Isabella’s masquerade as a madwoman and then her self-disclosurebefore Antonio, a kind of reverse psychology to show that his behavior, his feignedmadness, is all too much like the real thing. So too, the emphasis in the real world onwoman’s chastity as the essence of her virtue and on seclusion and restriction as themeans of maintaining chastity and engendering virtue is shown to be madness.Berger says that Alibius is as concerned to preserve the fortress of Isabella’schastity as Vermandero in the main plot is to protect the security of his real fortress(44). His point is that the weakness of Beatrice’s honor is an inner one just as theweakness of the outwardly impregnable fortress is the willfulness, the moral weakness,of its denizens. Isabella herself says:Here the restrained current might make breach,Spite of the watchful bankers; would a woman stray,She need not gad abroad to seek her sin,It would be brought home one way or other:The needle’s point will to the fixed north;Such drawing arctics women’s beauties are. (3.3.213-217)She makes a double point here: women’s own potential for sin remains, and theirseclusion is an inadequate protection against the outside world which will seek themout, as Antonio and Franciscus have sought her out by entering the asylum disguised asa fool and a madman, and as, in the main plot, Alsemero finds out Beatrice-Joanna andbecomes a stimulus for her sexual desire. There is perhaps a hint here of Angelo’sinsight in Measure for Measure that women’s fashion of wearing masks in public, often atthe demand of jealous husbands, is as much an enticement as a protection. DespiteAlibius’s elaborate attempts to keep sin from Isabella and Isabella from sin, sin findsher out. Isabella’s ability to resist temptation appears to arise from a knowledge of bothherself and of human nature generally, If she remains sane in the midst of a mad world,it is because she knows something of the nature and the source of its madness, thoughhow she gained that knowledge is not made clear. In Act 4 scene 1, she appears in the202dumb show presentation of Beatrice’s wedding, so that she would seem to be agentlewoman, but her marriage to Alibius seems out of keeping with that status. LikeVittoria Corombona, she may be a bought wife who having been sold to the elderlyAlibius has learned, like Bianca, to adapt to a hard situation.Isabella appears to believe that the marriage bond is unbreakable even if herhusband is jealous, suspicious, distrustful and inattentive. His name Alibius, whichmeans always somewhere else, is significant. There seems, however, an element ofambiguity in Isabella’s conduct, as well as an element of irony in the play’s overalltreatment of her. She tells Lollio that, should she yield, if he were not “silent, mute,!Mute as a statue”, Antonio’s “injunction! For me enjoying, shall be to cut your throat”(3.3.240-242). Later, however, she appears to promise him that “The first place is thine,believe it Lollio;! If I do fall...” (4.3.3738).18 Tomlinson believes that Isabella is willingto grant Lollio his “share” in her, and even that she had approached Antonio (in theguise of a madwoman) half-intending to yield to him. It may be that she is attracted toone or both of her two admirers. In her circumstances, it seems at least possible that shewould be. Levin, however, comments that Isabella here “seems to recognize that if shesuccumbed to [Antonio’s] temptations she would be vulnerable to the chaotic impulseof subrational nature” (46). In that case, her comment indicates a knowledge of thestrong force of physical desire in her own nature. Isabella recognizes that herparticipation in human nature makes her vulnerable to temptation. She may, in fact,simply be prudent. Lollio knows she has received letters from and been paid court byAntonio and Franciscus and could turn such information against her. Her earlier threatto Lollio shows that she is worldly-wise enough to know that such a threat, which couldvery well be carried out, is more effective with the likes of Lollio than appeals such asBeatrice’s in the main plot to De Flores to respect her honor.203Isabella, then, appears to possess knowledge of herself, the world, and humannature which enable her to resist temptation and preserve her honor and integrity. Yetone is left to ask if such honor and integrity are not wasted on the likes of Alibius.Alibius promises to reform, but Isabella seems nevertheless to be locked in a “lovelessmarriage” to a “jealous coxcomb” (Thomson xxvii). Sara Eaton notes that, in fact,Alibius “interprets Isabella’s actions as a reason ‘never to keep! Scholars wiser thanmyself’ [5.3. 214-2151, not as reason enough to free her from the madhouse” (Kastanand Stallybrass 285). Middleton’s and Rowley’s point may be, in part, that manyhusbands do not deserve the wives they have and that the fidelity they expect of theirwives is often given at great cost and with little return, as some of the women speakingin their own defence affirmed in the pamphlet literature and as Emilia suggests inOthello. The authors’ presentation of Isabella’s circumstances thus throws an ironic lighton the conventional marriage doctrine. The resolution of the comic conflict is quiteequivocal, for Isabella’s loyalty to the jealous, suspicious and foolish Alibius, if notmaintained in a waste of shame, does seem a rather meaningless and futile expense ofspirit. What keeps Isabella faithful may be no more than her realization that in hersociety and culture, marriage is very often a matter of making the best of a bad job andthat to try to find relief through an extra-marital liaison is to invite an even worse fate.If she is a foil to Beatrice-Joanna, as many maintain, she is so, not as the “good girl” incontrast to the “bad girl,” but in the somewhat ironic sense of showing comically whatthe main plot presents tragically, that marriage as the current society arranges andorders it is more conducive to unhappiness and frustration than to happiness andfulfilment. The equivocal, ambiguous conclusion of the comic subplot undercuts anykind of one-on-one direct contrast between Isabella and Beatrice-Joanna. There isnothing romantic in Isabella’s fidelity. Perhaps, as Lollio says, she is a bit mad to staywith Alibius, but in a mad world, anything else would likely be greater madness. The204resolution of the comic plot is rather bleak and not much more reassuring than that ofthe tragic plot.In Middleton’s comedies, romantic relationships tend to receive rather shortshrift, and many of the concluding marriages are very ambiguous and equivocal affairs.The young protagonist ofA Trick to Catch the Old One, for example, who, having gulledhis uncle, gulls himself by marrying his uncle’s whore, whom, ironically, he had earlierimpersonated, in the firm belief that she is a gentlewoman of virtue. The romantic plotof A Chaste Maid in Cheapside is sidelined in favor of the various intrigues of the mainplot, and the chaste maid of the title appears hardly at all. Middleton, and presumablyRowley, seem to have recognized that marriage in the circumstances of the age waslikely, in most instances, to be at best a kind of pragmatic compromise. Isabella’ssituation in The Changeling, like that of her namesake in Women Beware Women, wasnot, in her time, an uncommon one. Like most of her real-life sisters, Isabella in TheChangeling chooses simply to endure her circumstances. Thus, while the orthodox, andperhaps the authorities of church and state might see Isabella in The Changeling as afoil to Beatrice-Joanna, as a triumphantly virtuous woman who maintains order,decorum and degree and who serves, therefore, as a reproach to the wicked woman whobreaches them, the triumph of her virtue is presented so equivocally as also possibly tohave caused unease among the thoughtful and sensitive.Holmes states that “Middleton did not set himself against the system, but againstthe false values and sham within the system; and when he took exception to a religiousgroup or social class or profession, it was because of some hypocrisy or notorious abuseattributable to it” (48). However, the plays discussed here suggest that in fact hiscriticism was often quite fundamental. In portraying the adulteries of Bianca andIsabella in Women Beware Women and of Beatrice-Joanna in The Changeling,205IVliddleton represents the pressures placed upon them by their hypocritical andastringent societies. There is no splendor in the rebellion of Middleton’s heroinesagainst their circumstances. If, as critics maintain, their rebellions are seen as ultimatelysordid and unhealthy, that sordidness and unhealthiness reflect the sordidness andunhealthiness in their society and culture. Because society frustrates the naturalexpression of woman’s sexual desire, that desire often manifests itself in antisocial anddestructive conduct. Through characters like Bianca and Isabella in Women BewareWomen and Beatrice-Joanna in The Changeling, Middleton shows the dangers of suchfrustration, and that female sexual desire must be recognized as a powerful, but alsonormal and natural, force in their relationships with men who are also creatures ofpowerful sexual desire which often manifests itself in ruthlessness and violence. Anyeffective moral education must not hide the facts of human sexual desire, but take theminto account.Unlike some of his predecessors, Middleton creates no tragic heroines ofexemplary virtue, like Desdemona and the Duchess of Malfi, who are martyred eitherfor their virtue or their natural desire. Nor does he create heroines like VittoriaCorombona and Evadne who rebel against the conditions of their society with a kind ofmagnificent defiance, nor a Cleopatra, who as a queen escapes traditional roles and sopossesses a wonderful self-acceptance and confidence and sees no conflict between loveand affairs of state. His tragic heroines, Bianca perhaps excepted, act secretly incontravention of social dictates to gain the fulfilment of their sexual desires. Inemphasizing that sexual desire is a natural and arational component in the attractionbetween men and women, he deidealizes and deromanticizes the relations betweenmen and women. The kind of ideal love implied in the Courtly-Petrarchan traditionwould seem to him to be not only impossible but false and destructive. Furthermore, heproposes no remedy for this condition: sexual desire is simply part of human nature. It206is senseless to deny it and futile to try to repress it, especially in women, by socialconstraints. In that regard, he implies that women are neither more nor less sexuallymotivated than men, and so the attempt to restrain women but not men is not onlytyrannical but totally unrealistic. He seems to imply that women ought to have the sameright as men to make their own mistakes. With the exception of Shakespeare’s portraitof Cleopatra, all the women discussed in this study suggest that their creators may nothave been able to see any other role for woman than the traditional one of wife andmother. Middleton is no exception, but by showing what is wrong rather than by hintingat what is right, he implies, like Shakespeare, that women, as complex rather thansimple beings who must be seen in their complexity as having personal needs whichmust be satisfied, are repressed, constricted and victimized by the structures and moresof the contemporary society.207END NOTES TO CHAPTER FIVE1. Citations of The Changeling are from N. W. Bawcutt’s edition in The Revels Playsseries, 1958: Manchester: Manchester U P, 1978. Those from Women BewareWomen are from Roma Gill’s edition in The New Mermaid series, London: ErnestBenn, 1968.2. This Duke and his brother the Cardinal, as many critics have noted, are the samehistorically as the Duke of Florence and his Cardinal brother in Webster’s TheWhite Devil. Bianca Capello (1584-1587) is thus a slightly older contemporary ofVittoria Accoramboni (1557-1585), Webster’s Vittoria Corombona. Bianca’scomment on the fifty-five year old Duke, “That’s no great age in a man; he’s at hisbest! For wisdom and judgment” (1.3. 93-94), has been seen by some asMiddleton’s compliment to James I who was fifty-five at the probable time of thewriting and first performance of the play and who liked to think himself a man ofgreat sagacity. Given the ambiguity of the Duke’s portrayal in the play, however, itmay be questioned that such a compliment was intended. The Duke presides over acorrupt court, and James’s court was notorious for its moral laxity. The play’ssetting is Italy, but as is frequently the case, a comment on the English, rather thanthe moral corruption widely believed to be true of Italian courts, is implied.3. I am grateful to Professor Anthony B. Dawson of the University of BritishColumbia for reminding me of this Scriptural reference which ought to haveoccurred to me unbidden.4. I am grateful to Professor Katherine Sirluck, Department of English, University ofBritish Columbia for directing my attention to this fact. On this matter, it is worthnoting that Alice Arden was publicly burned in 1551 for her instigation of themurder of her husband, a gentleman only. Such a crime was seen as one againstdivinely established order, since marriage was seen as a paradigm of the state, thehusband’s position being analogous to that of the monarch. The murder of ahusband becomes almost a form of blasphemy. As Catherine Belsy notes in “AliceArden’s Crime”, the murder of Arden of Faversham became a cause celebre andwas written up by Holinshed and the other chroniclers. Belsey adds, “This‘horribleness,’ which identifies Alice Arden’s domestic crime as belonging to thepublic arena of history, is not...a matter of the physical details of the murder, oreven the degree of premeditation involved. On the contrary, the scandal lies inAlice Arden’s challenge to the institution of marriage, itself publicly in crisis in theperiod” (Kastan and Stallybrass 133). Belsey notes further that “Alice Arden, heldin the chain of bondage which is marriage, in a period when liberty is glimpsed butnot authorized, is caught up in a struggle larger than her chroniclers recognize”(144). That struggle is part of the background of the drama considered here. Theplay Arden of Faversham, Belsey says, “is one of the documents in that struggle,perhaps a relatively complex analysis, but by no means an isolated instance of theattempt to make sense of insurrection” (147). Alice’s crime was in fact only one ofseveral similar crimes over the next several years, all of which became celebrated inliterature of one form or another__some of it quite sympathetic to the women. Theplay, as Belsey notes, takes a somewhat ambivalent position, showing Ardenhimself as less than admirable so that there is some sympathy for Alice.5. Christopher McCullough’s view of soliloquies is worth quoting. McCullough, nowLecturer at Exeter University, played Hamlet in the 1982 University CollegeSwansea production of the Qi text of Hamlet and says, inter alia that208“To be, or not to be, I there’s the point” actually only made sense if I saidit to the audience. In fact I was using the soliloquy as a way of putting anargument to the audience as to what was going on in the narrative; and Ithink in that sense the First Quarto is giving clues about the much moreopen-ended nature of Elizabethan theater. It is interesting that...theprocess of turning the play into a literary object, and refining the poetry,has been one of removing it from that open-ended theater practice inwhich it must have had dangerous potentialities_the danger of genuinelyputting ideas to an audience, rather than showing them a man playingwith ideas. (Bryan Loughry. “01 in Recent Performance: An Interview”in Thomas Clayton, ed., The Hamlet First Published (Qi, 1603): Origin,Form, Intertextualities. Newark: U of Delaware P; London and Toronto:Associated University Presses, 1992, 126. Original emphasis.)Bianca may also be “putting ideas to the audience” in her soliloquy.6. Christopher Ricks’s much praised article “Word-Play in Women Beware Women”(Review of English Studies n.s XII (1961), 238-250) provides an excellent analysis ofthe use of commercial imagery in Women Beware Women, showing how it is relatedto the theme of the corruption of morality by commercialism.7. Schoenbaum, in Middleton’s Tragedies: A Critical Study, overstates the case when hesays of Middleton that “never does he regard his personages with anything butpitiless detachment and irony” (102).8. One might ask why Hippolito and Isabella do not think of marrying. Conceivablybecause Hippolito, an apparently suitable husband, if there were no consanguinity,might still not be acceptable to Fabritio. Livia does not reveal the “truth”, ofcourse, to protect her sister’s, Isabella’s mother’s, reputation. She perhaps alsorecognizes the possibility that she would not be believed.9. In this regard, Hippolito’s murder of Leantio is paradigmatic. His objection is notthat his sister is having an affair, or even greatly that her affair is with a man oflower social class, but that Leantio publicly boasts about his relationship with Livia:Put case one must be vicious_as I know myselfMonstrously guilty_there’s a blind time made for’t;He might use only that, t’were conscionable;Art, silence, closeness, subtlety and darknessAre fit for such business: but there’s no pityTo be bestowed on an apparent sinner,An impudent daylight lecher! (4.2.4-10)Middleton presents in this play an aristocratic society riddled with such hypocrisyand corruption.10. Though a few, like Omstein (190), think Women Beware Women an immature playand place it much earlier than The Changeling, most contemporary critics considerWomen Bewa