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Forum Home > Shakespeare > Sticky: Women in Renaissance Tragedy

Posts: 26

*Not sure where to put this as there's no 'Early Modern Drama' section...

BOD NOTES Women in Renaissance Tragedy


Hallet, Charles A. The Psychological Drama of ‘Women Beware Women’. "Studies in English Literature 1500-1900." Studies in English Literature 1500-1900. 12. Spring (1972): 375-89. Print.

Livia- already an accomplished cynic and prefigures what Bianca will become. Livia holds values of human kindness and virtue being a sham so she likes having the challenge of exposing other people to be false as well

Bianca is naïve and innocent- she believes the world will shower happiness upon her and the rape shatters this dream. However, she seeks no replacement for the dream but instead tries to return to it, and the luxuries of her former life- blaming Leantio for keeping her frustrated and returning to the Duke.

She has learnt from Livia to point out her own vices by displaying the vices in others- i.e. her speech to the Cardinal- insisting that her life has been predetermined by fate

The story is not denigration into sin but instead a set of rationalisations that make the sin plausible. Bianca reinterprets everything to support her world-view that human virtue is impossible.

Hallet proposes that Middleton’s large contribution to the dramatic field is the admission of the cynic. Proposes that through Livia, Bianca becomes exposed to the true horrors of the world -> coming of age

In ‘normal’ Jacobean tragedy the heroine would be forced to review her personal actions to assess where she could have changed them, or where she went wrong, yet instead she accommodates the situation and moves onward, bringing her expectations downward. Therefore she has discarded her social moorings and therefore has no spiritual commitment to anchor her, and thus spirals downward easily

Is it possible for the cynic to ever achieve tragic vision if they constantly refuse responsibility for their actions? Therefore Middleton (with his last plays especially) is not so much entertained with Aristotelian tragedy as with the psychology of the common man

Livia is constantly involved in stories of men having lust for women that they are not allowed. She doesn’t work for her own gain in either the case of Bianca or Isabella- indeed, the story of Isabella is incestuous therefore she would have more to lose than gain. Livia sees nothing beyond the world

Livia can be compared to Bosola: “both obviously have a need to destroy anyone who appears to possess some kind of virtue” p378. However, Bosola has a kind of dimension which is key in Jacobean villains- for example, “Webster’s Cardinal, we find that dimension. His actions go beyond comprehension; he is evil but evil to mysterious depths. There is a doom about what he does. He senses it, and yet he wills to continue… even in Goneril and Regan there is a strident quality, a disproportion in the viciousness of their hate, which points to mystery. The very control they exercise over their hatred- and the knowledge they possess of themselves while they are themselves possessed- goes beyond the natural.”






Johanna Harrison

February 7, 2013 at 7:42 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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