The Changeling Themes
Reason and Passion
This tragedy is propelled by a conflict between reason and passion, in which passion rules. In dealing with sexual desire, the central characters fail to use proper judgment. Lust overwhelms all other considerations. In the case of Beatrice, there is considerable irony in the explanations she offers herself for her changing emotions. She falls in love with Alsemero immediately, but convinces herself that she is making a reasoned choice. She justifies her desertion of Alonzo by telling herself that when she fell for him, she was being led astray by appearances and she lacked judgment. She even warns Alsemero of the need to test an emotion such as love, by the use of reason. But she gives a clue to her state of mind when she admits in act 1 to a “giddy turning” in her affections as she turns from Alonzo to Alsemero. This does not sound like the state of mind that accompanies reasoned judgment. In fact, Beatrice is deceiving herself, justifying her fickleness by claiming it is something else. She even convinces herself that Alsemero is a man of sound judgment, because she approves of his choice of Jasperino as a friend: “It is a sign he makes his choice with judgement,” she says. She extrapolates from that she too, in choosing a man of judgment, is exercising a similar virtue: “Methinks I love now with the eyes of judgement, / And see the way to merit.” The truth, however, is that Beatrice is living in a state of self-delusion, which she never questions. When it comes to her dealings with De Flores, for example, it never occurs to her that De Flores wants from her something other than money. She fails to assess his character correctly.
Alonzo is another character who blinds himself to reality, owing to romantic or sexual desire. In act 2, scene 1, he fails to notice that Beatrice does not greet him with any warmth and shows no interest in him at all. He rejects Tomazo’s warning simply because he cannot bear to hear any ill spoken of Beatrice, even though the evidence of her coolness toward him is obvious to his brother. Tomazo is one of the few characters in the play who retains his good judgment (since he is not affected by love or passion), and he speaks a truth that the play will ultimately reveal: “Why, here is love’s tame madness: thus a man / Quickly steals into his vexation.” He means that it is madness to fail to perceive an ugly truth due to feelings of love, because it will quickly lead to distress. In Alonzo’s case, it leads to more than that—it leads directly to his death.
Diaphanta also suffers the fatal consequences of letting passion override judgment. On Beatrice’s wedding night, she enjoys Alsemero’s embraces too much and fails to return at the appointed hour. She dies in a fire as a result.
De Flores is yet another character in whom lust annihilates judgment. Unlike Beatrice, he does not fool himself into believing something other than the truth. He knows that Beatrice loathes him, and yet he keeps going back to see her, whenever the opportunity presents itself, and he endures her abuse. He knows that from a rational point of view, his actions make no sense. But he also knows that he lusts after Beatrice with such passion that nothing else is of any significance. He admits that he “cannot choose but love her,” and that “I can as well be hanged as refrain from seeing her.” De Flores has gone beyond the point where he can exercise judgment; he is in the grip of lust and it will not let him go.
Once the characters have fallen under the spell of love or passion or lust, the crimes that follow seem inevitable.
Appearance versus Reality
There is a contrast between appearance and reality. Beatrice looks outwardly fine, but her beautiful appearance masks a selfish,...
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