The Duchess of Malfi

Chastity and Reputation in The Duchess of Malfi and A Streetcar Named Desire 12th Grade

In Webster’s Jacobean revenge tragedy The Duchess of Malfi, and Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, written in 1947, both men consider the themes of chastity and the effect chastity has on the main female characters’ reputation within society. Both are widows, but Blanche is desperate to remarry after fleeing her reputation of promiscuity, while the Duchess is unashamed of her sexuality and marries a man below her social status secretly, against the wishes of her brothers. Blanche is greatly concerned with appearing pure, while the Duchess is more concerned with her own happiness and power.

Both plays were written at times of a Patriarchal society, so a woman’s chastity was key in determining society’s outlook on her, which Williams and Webster investigate. Webster explores the value of chastity through the brothers’ control of the Duchess, for example their attempt to arrange a marriage between her and Malateste. ‘Malateste’ means ‘bad testes’, which, combined with the mocking of his masculinity in Act 3, Scene 3, for example ‘He has worn gunpowder in’s hollow tooth, // For the tooth-ache.’ It can be believed that Ferdinand wants the Duchess to marry a relatively weak man who couldn’t control her, so that position would be...

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