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    hi there, I have an exam on Monday in which i have to write about the context of the Duchess of Malfi etc.
    I understand the points about corruption, position of women, but i feel so underprepared can anyone help
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    to be honest, i'm not so sure about the way in which women are portrayed in jacobean times to be that true to the situation in society. it seems more of a preoccupation in the writers of the time rather than something which was a major issue in society at the time. perhaps after a few writers had been portraying women as such in their plays, it almost then because a dramatic convention for the genre itself. maybe i can run through some summaries or talk about certain (sub)plots of plays from the period, in which women and their behaviour/status are relatively important themes. i won't bother with shakespeare, but here's a few examples..


    The Revenger's Tragedy - Middleton Vindice is the main character in the play. his wife was poisoned by the duke, thus he is the revenger. he puts on a disguise and gets a job for this duke, the first of which is to get his very own sister to fall for the duke's son, Lussurioso. Her name is Castiza, which is italian for 'chaste' (NB many names in the renaissance dramas have significant meanings with regards to the character). and with this name, as you'd guess, she doesn't want anything to do with it and wants to remain a chaste virgin. still dressed up, Vindice goes to his (and his sister's) mum, and offers to give her a load of gold if she can persuade her daughter to elope with the dukes son. she eventually agrees, which disgusts vindice. when he confronts her, she is later repentant. this is a nice example of the two extremes of women being shown; a) the chaste ideal woman and b) the morally wrong, weak and i suppose "slutty" woman lol.

    'Tis Pity She's A ***** - John Ford i guess the title says it all really, but this play also extends to areas of essentially bad character not just found in women. the main plot is about a brother and sister who love each other; Giovanni and Anabella. Anabella has a maid/teacher called Putana (once again a name with great meaning, which quite literally means 'slut' in italian), who supports and encourages their affair (if it even be called that!). this is the opposite to the type of advice Giovanni receives fro m those close to him; a priest (and i think maybe tutor as well) gives him fiery speeches about how it's completely morally wrong and outrageous to even think about loving his sister.

    The Changeling - Middleton/Rowley Beatrice is ordered by her father (some random Italian governor) to marry this man Alonso. She loves another man called Alsemero, and is desperate to get out of this arranged marriage some how. So she desperately calls upon her father's rather ugly servant called De Flores (literally meaning 'he who deflowers') to get Alonso killed. He agrees, but only if he can take her virginity (thus her name), so she agrees to it but on her wedding night tries to trick him by sending in her maid instead (whom he actually kills). i suppose this actually shows the woman to be quite cunning and loyal to her husband, but there are moments throughout the play where she does seem like she might have to resort to giving away her virginity; her final plan is someone of an opportunistic last resort.

    A Woman Killed With Kindness - Heywood this is actually a play set in england, which i found very unusual when reading it (in comparison to all the contemporary stuff around), but it shows a great blend of certain renaissance conventions with a truly english feel to it. John and Anne Frankford are man and wife, but he has a friend called Wendoll who actually fancies his wife. after hearing things about this from his servants, he pretends to set out on a journey one evening, after inviting Wendoll round for dinner. but he soon walks in (as planned) on his friend and wife in bed, catching them by surprise. Wendoll flees, but John sends his wife away to one of his houses somewhere in the country, and strips his own house of every single item which ever belonged to her. after a long while, he hears that his wife has been so regretful ever since and is now even starving herself. he comes to find her, and they make up, just before she dies.


    these plays above came between a 1607 and 1630(ish); up to twenty something years after shakespeare's tragedies. but i guess i have to mention shakespeare: it seems that "othello" is such a masterpiece because it transfers the attitudes, thoughts and fears from so many playwrites of the era into a single character. i don't know if i've covered this in the wrong way, so before waffling on, i'll wait for a response or further specific questions.
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    i can't believe they sensored that lol, the word's meant to be 'w h o r e'
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    You have to be able to namedrop -- Elizabeth I's a good one in relation to women -- described as the king, i think she was, and the Duchess is referred to as a Prince.
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    (Original post by silence)
    i can't believe they sensored that lol, the word's meant to be 'w h o r e'
    I know lol, thanks that was really helpful Ive read that play at school so maybe I could comment on how Webster's themes of incest and horror were evident in other plays such as john's fords play "pity she's a w.h.o.r.e."

    (Original post by Catty)
    You have to be able to namedrop -- Elizabeth I's a good one in relation to women -- described as the king, i think she was, and the Duchess is referred to as a Prince
    Thank you, so would I just say how the Duchess' character crosses social coventions because she is strong-willed (like Elzabeth), but also follows her own desires instead of fulfilling her public role?
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    the duchess of malfi was first performed in 1614, so elizabeth would have been long gone (at least 10 years) by then. nevertheless, she might have still been in influential figure in terms of literature then. she was a major figure of influence in works like spenser's faerie queene published between 1590-96 (ok; poetry there, not drama), and i think the very first 'english political tragedy' called gorbuduc in around 1569 (i think?), which was something allegorical to do with the succession of the throne.
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    Hi, I'm also doing the WJEC Duchess of Malfi exam tomorrow. Our teacher has said that its important to understand the different tragedic and satirical points of the text, and how they fit into the overall genre of Jacobean revenge tragedy. Also, it's essential to have some understanding of the plot of other dramas of the period, though there is no need to know more than a couple. I've learnt the basic plots of Hamlet and The Revengers Tragedy and which features of these are similar to those of The Duchess of Malfi. It's also important to know which features of the Duchess of Malfi are different to other plays of the period, basically what makes the Duchess of Malfi stand out. I don't think knowledege of quotes is as important as knowledge of the context of the play, I'd suggest just learning a couple for each of the key themes, ie. dignity, corruption, madness etc... Hope that's helped a bit!
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    thanks for that! I know how it is similar to John fords pity shes a wh.o.r.e. play, and is it different because it breaks away from Aristotelian dramatic unities? or did lots of other tragedies around that time that did that as well?
    God I hope i make sure im ok on the context
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    yeh, i very much believe that the most contextal element of the play is in fact other plays and contemporary dramatic convention.

    plays, unlike novels or poems, were acted out to people of all sorts (in london i think) in that time so expectations of the kind of things you might see on a trip down to the globe, or any theatre (out of interest the word 'theatre' came into english in 1576 when the first permenant public one was built in shoreditch, london, with the name "the theatre", from french probably [previously from latin]. but by the 1600s, i'd imagine that the theatre had really picked itself up and formed the various dramatic conventions which would follow for another 30 odd years. although people probably expected to see women portrayed in such a way, it doesn't mean all plays might have been the same, or similar (and they weren't). it's just like knowing that if you pick up a dickens book, there's be some element of a child suffering hardship, unfairness, lack of parental love etc, but each book is a compeltely different spectacle.
 
 
 
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