John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi and Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock each feature females as the dominate characters, but represent them in very different ways. In Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi it is made clear and significantly expresses how being vigorous, prideful and independent are not solely male characteristics, but assist in empowering women. In Pope’s The Rape of the Lock he presents women of circumstance and their over the top reactions to events that are superficially inconsequential, ruled over by a culture of consumerism and materialistic and vain necessities.
In The Duchess of Malfi the Duchess is a powerful and independent widow who defies her male kinsmen by ignoring their warning against her remarrying, a steward beneath her station, as they view this second marriage as an act of dishonor against the family. The Duchess, a character that is in control of her actions, displays a strength and sense of pride that successfully personifies the contradictory traits of “manly” behavior while maintaining the feminine appearance needed to uphold the balance in-between the barricades of social confines. Webster contrasts the weaknesses of the male character to reveal the superiority of the Duchess over the male characters, the Cardinal, Bosola, Ferdianand, and Antonio are all juxtaposed to the qualities of the Duchess showing her true rule over them.
The Cardinal is painted as a detached, manipulative, important official in the Roman Catholic church who is contrasted by the Duchess' fervent personality which illuminates the power of the female presence in the play. Through his relationship with his mistress, Julia, the Cardinal shows his lack in emotion. In opposition to the Cardinal's relationship with Julia, the Duchess shows passion in her relationship with Antonio. She follows her heart by disregarding the warnings of her brothers and takes initiative to purse Antonio. In spite of any possible consequences, she allows passion to dictate over reason and lives by her emotions. She lives her days in deep passion and "such noble virtue", (I ii 109) she is a direct contrast to the callous Cardinal, who treats everyone around him with a lack of sympathy. Before he dies, he shows he is completely indifferent about his reputation and legacy by stating "let me Be laid by and never thought of." (V v 86) The Cardinal's mindset when facing death is completely opposite of the passionate and strong declaration of the Duchess when death her own death approaches, "I am Duchess of Malfi still" (IV ii 125). While impending death brings out the the wish the Cardinal has to be forgotten it also shows the cry of a valued human existence and a memorable legacy from the Duchess.
Bosola also contrast the qualities of the Duchess whose main fault is his incapability of escaping corruption. He is initially introduced by Antonio, described as "very valiant". (I i 69) Antonio suspect that Bosola will succumb to this corruption to the point where...