The Duchess of Malfi

Explore and analyse Webster's treatment of women and their status in society as presented in The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi

Webster's decision to cast strong female characters as the protagonists in his two most popular plays could have been considered highly controversial and unexpected by the audiences of his time. This unintended effect immediately seems to prompt a critical questioning of his rationale. The initial reaction of the modern theatre-goer prompted by the contentious discussion surrounding the strong central female characters in The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi may be to question whether Webster's presentation of women in his plays is an accurate one, and if so, what the theatrical and social implications of this might amount to. However, perhaps a more relevant debate - and one that might have been more interesting to the contemporary theatre-goer - might take into account the playwright's presentation of the Duchess and Vittoria, but ultimately focus on whether Webster objectively had a social and moral purpose in furthering the rights of women at all (as it has been suggested). Alternatively, the argument that Webster was in fact merely a flamboyant showman wallowing in spectacular gore and death as part of an exciting plotline is another issue that should be considered when analysing the contentions of those...

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