How is gender represented in The Duchess of Malfi?

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Gender is one of the most prominent themes that both provides the basic premise and structures the action of The Duchess of Malfi. First, the protagonist is female, which was unusual in Jacobean plays. Second, she takes an active role in affecting the circumstances of her life and those of her children. She defies her family, as represented by her two brothers, to chart her own path. The male protagonist, her husband Antonio, is of a lower class and has a far less forceful personality.

In addition, the overall scenario presented about women’s inheritance of property drew on but did not reflect contemporary English practices. The basic premise of the play is that the Duchess has inherited her husband’s lands, but because she is childless, on her death they will pass to her brothers. Webster capitalized on his audience’s interest in gender and inheritance. England had been rocked by the secret marriage of Arbella Stuart, a cousin of King James and member of his court, to William...

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