“As If a Man Should Spit against the Wind”
Bosola’s cry just before his death at the conclusion of The Duchess of Malfi, “In what a shadow, or deep pit of darkness, / Doth womanish and fearful mankind live!” (5.5.101–2), may postulate, within misogynist and patriarchal parameters, a “mankind” not only afraid but rendered effeminate by epistemological and ontological opacity. However it simultaneously at least admits, perhaps unusually so in the context of conventional use of the generic term, the glimpse of two genders rather than one. The coordinating conjunction “and” implicitly prompts the adjectival “womanish” toward the substantive “woman” so that the phrase “womanish and fearful mankind” seems informed also with the admission that if “mankind” is “womanish” it is also born of woman. Concomitantly the “womanish” section of [hu]mankind, too, is subject to existential uncertainty/suffering. That such a potential dismantling of the masculinist containment evident in the more overt meaning of the line is present may well be partly an effect of the murdered Duchess’s persisting influence in act 5, but the accompanying semantic torsion suggests, too, Webster’s attempt to think beyond the patriarchal paradigm in his endeavor, as the titles of both his major plays hint, to present female heroes.
KeywordsMale Body Male Violence Family Honor Male Authority Male Hero
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