The principal interest in The Changeling lies in the two central characters, Beatrice and De Flores. De Flores is a study in sexual obsession. He is a ruthless character who is also efficient and knowledgeable about the ways of the world. He was born a gentleman but fell on hard times. Other than his reference to his “hard fate,” the details of his past life are never specified, but he surely resents his situation as a servant to Vermandero. The ugliness of his appearance is emphasized, but like another famous villain—Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello—he is perceived by others as “honest.” He allows his inner life and motivations to be seen by the outside world, which gives him an advantage, since no one suspects him of wrongdoing. Once he has conceived a sexual desire for Beatrice, a woman who, as the daughter of his employer, he can never in the normal course of events expect to have, he allows his lust to completely dominate his thoughts and actions. De Flores is a slave to his obsessive desire, seeking out any moment he can to be in Beatrice’s presence, even though she expresses her loathing for him to his face. Masochistically, De Flores will endure any humiliation as long as it allows him to gaze on the object of his obsession. He continues to act in this way, in spite of an awareness that he is making a fool of himself (“Why, am I not an ass to devise ways / Thus to be railed at?”). It seems that with every rejection, his desire grows stronger. Like a stalker, he observes his prey and bides his time.
De Flores holds a great advantage over Beatrice because he is more experienced in the world than she is. When he realizes that she wants to get rid of Alonzo, his mind works fast. He knows this gives him an opportunity to possess her, and he acts with single-minded daring. He is utterly confident of the success of his plan. Unlike Beatrice, he knows who he is dealing with. Her inexperience and naïveté are no match for his cunning and foresight. It is not an equal contest.
One way that De Flores reveals himself is through his language. His speech is awash with sexual puns (he is not the only character in the play to exhibit this quality). For example, when he picks up the glove Beatrice has dropped, his words have an obscene double meaning:
Now I know
She had rather wear my pelt tanned in a pair
Of dancing pumps than I should thrust my fingers
Into her sockets here.
The last line has the connotation of sexual penetration by the man of the woman.
When Beatrice flatters De Flores because she is about to employ him to commit murder, and says his hard face shows “service, resolution, manhood, / If cause were of employment,” De Flores responds with words that are full of sexual innuendo, although these double meanings are not recognized by Beatrice.
’Twould be soon seen,
If e’er your ladyship had cause to use it.
I would but wish the honour of a service
So happy that it mounts to.
“Use,” “service,” and “mounts” all have sexual connotations in De Flores’s mind, as Christopher Ricks has pointed out in his essay, “The Moral and Poetic Structure of The Changeling,” which appears in Essays in Criticism. Ricks also points out that in this scene, Beatrice misses De Flores’s meaning every time; she simply does not understand how his mind works. This cross-talking is also apparent in act 4, scene 3, the powerful scene in which De Flores brings the severed finger, the evidence of the murder, to Beatrice. This is his “service” to her, which must in his mind be rewarded with “service,” that is, sexual intercourse.
Like anyone in the grip of a deep obsession, De Flores cares for nothing except the...
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