A Streetcar Named Desire

The Theme of Entrapment in The Duchess of Malfi and A Streetcar Named Desire. 11th Grade

Both Webster in ‘The Duchess of Malfi,’ a Jacobean revenge tragedy, and Williams in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire,’ a 20th century modern-domestic tragedy, use entrapment as a pivotal focus for chief dramatic moments. The playwrights especially focus on the physical and psychological entrapment of females as a result of the respective society’s patriarchal attitudes. However, the harm men suffer due to the patriarchy is also explored, although, interestingly, more apparently in ‘Malfi' than ‘Streetcar.’

Both plays use the speech of men to convey that female characters are threatened by the dangerous patriarchal ideology that will essentially trap and destroy them. In Act 1, Webster uses the verbal exchange between the Duchess and her brothers to immediately highlight the relentless battle concerning the Duchess’ right to marriage and social status: ‘You are a widow’. This patronising register assumes that the Duchess’ identity is not bound to her good virtues, but to her social category and the men around her- thus she should act accordingly. Depicted through Ferdinand, this attitude entraps the Duchess- restraining her from exploring ideas of her own, such as remarriage. One can imagine the bitter spitting of these monosyllables...

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