his theatrical audience to hold the same views concerning the Duchess' actions. In order to clarify this argument, a further step must be taken. Ay, and give the devil suck (1.1.310-13 both Ferdinand and the Cardinal continue to warn the Duchess that any actions she takes under the cloak of night will also be brought to the light, insinuating that she is about to perform some sinister deed that. In order to confirm such suspicions, the malevolent malcontent, Bosola, tricks the pregnant Duchess into eating apricots, which cause her to go into labour. Widowed women potentially achieved autonomy from men upon the death of their husbands, and thus were in theory free to remain single or choose another spouse to their own liking.
Her story has the reputation of being the best poetic tragedy written after William Shakespeares, and the work reveals Websters powers to present themes of great moral seriousness in magnificent language while also creating flesh-and-blood characters. Second to the duchess in importance is Bosola, a symbol of Websters disgust with an era that admired ambition but provided little opportunity for its honest realization. Despite the obvious occurrences in the play which can be used to tag The Duchess of Malfi as a classic Jacobean tragedy, it stands at a sharp contrast to other tragic plays of the era which depict the fall of a tragic hero. Some scholars argue that she causes, even deserves, her degradation and death; others maintain that she transgresses none of the rules of decorum for a widow of the time.
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The Duchess of Malfi is an unusual central figure for a 17th-century tragedy not only because she is a woman, but also because, as a woman, she combines virtue with powerful sexual desire. Coddon claims that in Websters tragedy melancholy is chiefly emblematic and instrumental, bound to visible strategies of corrupt political practices. Specifically that of the aristocratic female - as the symbol and point of access to legitimate authority, thus as the potential substitute for blood and a basis for counterfeit power.' Under these circumstances, female sexuality threatens the integrity of the body politic" (80). There, the Ordinary Widow remarries because she never loved her dead husband in the first place, and she seeks sexual and material pleasure. Many critics chastised Stuart for her actions. Such assumptions about female inferiority had faltered in Europe when there had been a veritable rash of female rulers: Mary of Guise had ruled as regent in Scotland, and her daughter was Mary Queen of Scots; Catherine de Medici was regent of France; and not. Sara Jayne Steen's essay "The Crime of Marriage: Arabella Stuart and The Duchess of Malfi" asserts that "responses to Stuart suggest a more complex historical interpretation is in order" (Steen 62). In light of Renaissance social standards, the Duchess flouted patriarchal authority by marrying without the approval of male members of her family, she violated decorum by remarrying and by choosing a mate below her in station, and she revealed an overt and dangerous female sexuality. Many of the dramas are set in Italy, the epitome of evil locales to Renaissance English. Dympna Callaghan places Webster's character in the context of contemporary drama, politics and discourses about widows and female sexuality.