The Duchess of Malfi Act III Scene 1
With or without the consent of their family, usually without, and with or without actual physical love, or at least with or without sex. To a great degree it is the most cherished and foundational examples of dramatic courtly love which do not include sex at all but are simply tests of eternal devotion, with withdrawn and repeated hints of future physical gratification. Glories, like glow-worms, afar off shine bright, / But look'd too near have neither heat nor light. The White Devil. Act iv. Sc. 4.
In Webster's Duchess of Malfi there is this same sort of statement about the trap of convention, and the challenge of the reader using the extremes of grief and pity to challenge the right and the wrong of the Duchess' position as a subject to her family, her husband and her cultural position. The Duchess becomes the victim of her love because she as a person of her status has no real personal control over her own life. When she takes control of her life it leads to her demise. (Mulryne 202) The Duchess is repeatedly warned that her free-will will lead to her death or her captivity. Even her own words tell of her trap as a woman and as a noblewomen, "We are forced to woo, because none dare woo us." The Duchess of Malfi Act I Scene II
Women in her position, with any kindling of passion for love and life are forced by the trap of their rank to go outside the proper to risk themselves because men are fearful of coming near them, due to social taboo and the seriousness of personal involvement with any one of rank.
Hansen 30) Yet, this same sentiment is expressed within The White Devil "T is just like a summer bird-cage in a garden, -- the birds that are without despair to get in, and the birds that are within despair and are in a consumption for fear they shall never get out." The White Devil. Act i. Sc. 2.
Yet, clearly those who are charged with the enforcement of the social restrictions associated with class are those who some would argue are most at risk for downfalls associated with them.
It is often the case in dramatic representation that one of the main if not only roles of high ranking men is the assurance of social control and the enforcement of love and honor taboos, as a trick of dramatic intrigue that drives the audience to interest or through a realistic representation of life is not always clear.
Webster and his contemporaries were known and are accepted as the very type to challenge convention and shock for effect. "The rage for pungent satire, a taste for disenchantment, parody, and the flouting of convention, and the desire to shock were symptoms of a mind-set among Inns-of-Court wits"
Forker 47) Yet, convention could not have been avoided and you must have convention to acknowledge something as a challenge to it.
Abrams, M.H. Ed. Norton Anthology of English Literature, Fifth Edition. New York:
Carnegie, David. "Webster's the White Devil, 4.2.170-71." Explicator 52.1 (1993): 18-19.
Forker, Charles R. Skull beneath the Skin: The Achievement of John Webster. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1986.
Hansen, Carol. Woman as Individual in English Renaissance Drama: A Defiance of the Masculine Code. New York: Peter Lang, 1993.
Mulryne J.R. "The White Deviol' and 'The Duchess of Malfi.'" Jacobean Theatre, I.
Stratford-Upon-Avon Studies. London: Arnold, 1960.
Webster, John Russell Brown, ed., The Duchess…