Assingment; Compare and Contrast John Webster “The Duchess of Malfi” and Alphra Behn’s “The Rover” as a Jacobean Revenge Tragedy and a Restoration Comedy.’

By Onwuteaka Ayomide Chinonyem


conclusively, we realize a kind of similarity in the two plays, there is deceit, pretence, greed and order restored at the end. There is fight and quarrel without bloodshed in “The Rovers”, while there is bloodshed in the “Duchess of Malfi”
Assingment; Compare and Contrast John Webster “The Duchess of Malfi” and Alphra Behn’s “The Rover” as a Jacobean Revenge Tragedy and a Restoration Comedy.’
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The Jacobean era refers to the period in English and Scottish history that coincides with the reign of James VI of Scotland (1567–1625), who also inherited the crown of England in 1603 as James I. The Jacobean era succeeds the Elizabethan era and precedes the Caroline era, and specifically denotes a style of architecture, visual arts, decorative arts, and literature. The word "Jacobean" is derived from Jacobus, the latin of James.

Jacobean drama is, simply, the drama that was written and performed during the reign of Elizabeth’s successor, James I. But, as with Elizabethan drama, it is more than just the plays written during the reign of a particular monarch: like Elizabethan drama, Jacobean drama has its particular characteristics. It is characterized by sensationalism, contrived plots and over-use of dramatic techniques at the expense of integrity and realism.

Restoration Comedy is the name given to English comedies written and performed in the Restoration period from 1660 to 1700. After public stage performances had been banned for 18 years by the Puritan regime, the re-opening of the theaters in 1660 signaled a rebirth of English drama. What would emerge from this period would be one of the greatest epochs in the history of the English theater, though it would be completely unlike the Jacobean and Elizabethan dramas which had preceded it. The revival of drama in England after the restoration of the monarchy (1660) led to the reopening of the theatres (after the Puritan interregnum), the formation of new acting companies, and the first appearance of women on the English stage. The dominant genres of the era were the comedy of manners and the heroic drama , both of which show a strong French influence. The era of Restoration Comedy is seen as the high point for literary freedom of expression in monarchial England. Censorship, under Charles II's reign, was loosened. By the mid-seventeenth century, the opinions and moral climate of the English public were, like those on the rest of the European continent, beginning to change. Playwrights in the Restoration period were able to write about romance, courtship, marriage, and sex in ways that had previously been inconceivable, and the result was one of the more libertine periods in English literary history. While decidedly ribald at times, the Restoration was nonetheless a major turning point in the history not only of the English stage, but also of European comedy in general. its  features is that action always takes place in London There is always a contrast between the rural and the urban. The presence of atleast one pair of very intelligent young lovers.Witty dialogue is perhaps the most important feature of the Comedy of Manners. All the other aspects of the play are usually sacrificed for the sake of contriving a situation which would give rise to 'witty' dialogue. The appeal of the Comedy of Manners is to the intelligence of the audience/reader and not to the emotions.

 The 'witty' dialogue was usually obscene, for the theatres had just reopened after the Restoration.The women in these plays were very emancipated and bold and independent, unlike the heroines of the Sentimental dramas.The institution of marriage was always held to ridicule. Both husbands and wives openly expressed their dissatisfaction of their spouses.

 These plays were mainly intended for the elegant and sophisticated audiences of London city. Hence the characters were almost always from the upper class society of London. These plays portrayed the lifestyle of the idle rich of London city very realistically. The plays were mildly satirical-the playwright could not afford to hurt his upper class audience. Narrowing down to our discourse"The Duchess of Malfi" by John Webster holds the typical stereotype of a Jacobean Revenge Tragedy. A 'typical' Jacobean Revenge Tragedy contains conventions: - the play should be set into five acts as laid down by Seneca in his original rules of tragedy. There should obviously be a desire for revenge hence the term "revenge tragedy." There should be murders within a Jacobean revenge tragedy. The narrative should involve complex plotting. The story should centre on characters of noble birth. There should be Italianate or Southern European settings. The narrative should incorporate ghosts, skulls and madness. Lust should be a strong motivation. The plot should involve physical horrors, such as poisoning and torture. Order should be restored at the end of the play. All of the conventions set out by Seneca are relevant to the Duchess of Malfi. The "Duchess of Malfi" is set out into five acts.

Ferdinand tries to mentally torture the Duchess. She is forced to view a tableau that displays the seemingly dead bodies of Antonio and her eldest son. The bodies are wax images. The poisoning convention if fulfilled when the Cardinal poisons the bible so when Julia kisses it she dies. The fact that the Cardinal poisons the bible it could symbolise that he has lost his religious beliefs and has become secular again. At the time this play was written it was not uncommon to use mad people as entertainment. This is a Jacobean tragedy convention. England was a superstitious society. Many people believed in omens and portents. Witches and witchcraft were the object of morbid and fevered fascination throughout the rein of Queen Elizabeth. Most people believed that witches existed, and persecution of those accused of witchcraft. The dominant mood of the period was melancholic and sombre. Out of the melancholic mood came the malcontent. .

The heroic figure in this play is undoubtedly the Duchess. She stoically accepts her fate and constantly takes the lead in her relationship with Antonio. Her strong character is typical of Jacobean tragedies. The tragedies of Shakespeare, Webster, Middleton and others reflected characters, emotions, actions and issues that were familiar to the London audiences. In "The Duchess of Malfi", Bosola, when he is about to have the Duchess murdered, speaks words which refer to the custom of a bell being toiled at Newgate prison just before the execution of a condemned criminal. "I am common Bellman That usually is sent to condemn'd persons, The night before they suffer" Contemporary audiences witnessed scenes of violence, revenge and forgiveness. They heard all kinds of direct and indirect comments on affairs of state, law and belief.

On the other hand, the Rover is a restoration comedy because it portrays all the characteristics of of that age. “The Rover” on the other hand characterize a typical  restoration comedy, restoration comedy deals with comedy of manner and they uses satire a lot. The play shows a society that is morally debased and corrupt. The characters are witty. Willmore tries to prove his this, Angelica uses her body to attract  men to herself and to get money out from them. Florinda refuses to marry the man who was choosen for her because she loves Belvile. Hellena wants to enjoy  love before she is being sent to the convent. We see pretence, deceit, materialism and quarrels but at the end, order was restored.

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Onwuteaka Ayomide Chinonyem

Onwuteaka Ayomide Chinonyem


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