Shakespeare’s Hamlet revolves around revenge tragedy, where a character who has been wronged and their quest is revenge. The motivation for revenge is a need to defend their honour and their family honour. Whereas Webster’s Duchess of Malfi is Jacobean tragedy “also referred as ‘the theatre of blood’) where the plays are violent and revolve around many problems such as corruption. Both these plays show situations which led to the birth of a malcontent character. A malcontent is a typical character in a tragic story, who critically comments on society he’s living in and the character’s attitude. The play of John Marston; The Malcontent, showed a character named Malvole who exposed the corruption of the court. The malcontent is also referred as the agent of revenge because they often plot revenge against someone.
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One aspect that both plays have in common is the malcontent character, where Shakespeare presents young prince Hamlet as a malcontent and Webster presents the character of Bosola as a malcontent. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the young prince’s attitude about his father’s death is very serious and he mourns “Tis not alone my inky cloak,” suggests Hamlet is grieving and the dark coloured cloth reflects his malcontent character. In the same way in Webster’s Duchess of Malfi, Bosola’s character description is presented to us by Antonio “Here comes Bosola, The only court-gall” suggests that he’s not part of the society and gall is someone who causes distress; this is the first glimpse into Bosola’s malcontent state. His presence creates awkwardness “Miserable age, where only the reward of doing well is the doing of it” this is Bosola’s first criticism of society and he says that there’s no reward for doing anything.
However, Hamlet’s presence doesn’t create awkwardness and irritates others as much as Bosola’s. Hamlets’ father’s death leads to his malcontent state and his soliloquies enable us to get an insight to his mind “O that this too too sullied flesh would melt” this soliloquy shows Hamlet’s abhorrence about the society and his disgust at nature “Things rank and gross in nature”. Hamlet’s melancholy attitude is perturbing for others “How does my good Lord Hamlet?” yet Hamlet carries on with his role of malcontent by criticising the world “Ay,sir. To be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand”. Likewise, the character of Bosola in Duchess of Malfi is also disturbing for other characters, when Delio and Antonio are having conversation about Bosola “This foul melancholy will poison all his goodness, for,I’ll tell you,” suggests that he criticizes and is jealous of the court; he doesn’t socialize with anyone. Also, Antonio is concerned that his melancholic state may lead him to something foul and it will simply waste his energy.
Shakespeare presents Hamlet as a tragic hero, who has a flaw and this actually leads to the tragedy; they suffer in the play. The whole idea of a tragic hero is they preserve the honour of family name or family. Back in the Elizabethan times, when the play was written, family honour was really important and it was vital that the man of the house should protect this honour. Whereas, today it is not important maybe because time has changed and people are more concerned about their self-honour. From my point of view, I think society is more independent and there’s more freedom compared to 16th century. Going back to the point, it was crucial that family honour was protected whether it made someone to take revenge, which is the case in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. There’s a point in the play where Hamlet realizes his flaw known as Anagnorisis, which is a moment of self knowledge, his soliloquy “To be, or not to be- that is the question;” this is soliloquy was crucial to the play because it’s the time when Hamlet tries to find the answer to his question and this drives him mad; Hamlet reflects on his flaw. Hamlet is anxious about the afterlife and not taking his responsibility; taking revenge “Or to take arms against a sea of troubles”. Shakespeare brings in the conflict of religion with revenge, which contradicts with Hamlet’s honour of his father. Hamlet thinks that killing someone is wrong, against God’s will yet it is immoral for the criminal to live without being punished. Hamlet is apprehensive about the time of purgatory, a time of after-life when souls suffer for their sins before they go to Haven.
In contrast to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Webster presents Bosola as the agent of revenge, who himself is nothing but a middle person who takes vengeance for someone else and get’s nothing; no reward. Bosola however, continues to take revenge for the brothers “Whose throat must I cut?”Even though he mentions earlier to Antonio that both brothers are corrupt and don’t give reward for any service. The character’s do recognise Bosola’s melancholy “Keep your old garb of melancholy,” Ferdinand tells Bosola to be himself and this way he will have access to private rooms . At this point Webster presents Bosola with no conscious of whether he’s doing right or wrong unlike Hamlet who is conscious about the afterlife. However, towards the end Webster gives Bosola’s character a conscious when he decides to help Antonio “Oh she’s gone again: there the cords of life broke” and he’s going to take revenge against the brothers. Once again Bosola is taking revenge for someone else, and because he’s a low rank person, he can easily be intimidated by the brothers.
Shakespeare and Webster bring in the idea of misogyny in their plays through Bosola and Hamlet. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the young prince clearly shows misogynistic emotions which alluded from his mother’s actions. Hamlet’s fury at his mother began when he found that she married his Uncle “O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason would have mourned longer-married with my uncle” suggest that didn’t his mother loved his father, he’s furious at Gertrude and saying that she’s worse than a beast; comparing women to animal. The phrase “Frailty thy name women” suggest that a women are dependent on men because they are weak and the word “frailty” means weakness and this may also suggest mental weakness or Gertrude may have been deceived. Another female character in play that Hamlet hates is Ophelia, the young innocent girl. We obtain Hamlet’s misogynist emotions towards Ophelia in the nunnery scene. Ophelia accepts that she was misled by his love “I was the more deceived” which suggests that women are weak and they depend on men. However, Hamlet is outraged at her because he thinks that she has betrayed him “Get thee to a nunnery. Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?”This suggests that a nunnery is a place where women can’t be married and they have no contact with men or any influence of men. Also, the phrase “breeder of sinners” this emphasis that she won’t have children and won’t face men like his uncle; nunnery will keep her away from marriage. I think that this Hamlet also refers this to his mother because was unfaithful to his father, as she married his uncle, so he’s saying this in general to all women that they should be sent to the nunnery. Hamlet’s fury gets extreme “I have heard of your paintings too, well enough. God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another.” This connotes that no matter how beautiful you make yourself look, at the end of the day you are going to go in the ground when you die, he refers to the skull “Now get you to my lady’s table and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come” connotes by painting on the make-up , you can lie about your age. Also, suggest that he Hamlet values truth and hates duplicity or two-faced people; he sees Ophelia as a two-faced girl.
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Webster similarly, presents Bosola as a misogynist; we find this out when the old lady enters the scene “You come from painting now?” Bosola makes this offensive remark which connote that her face is not real, there’s some sort of make-up. He suggests that women put make-up on themselves to make their faces look beautiful and levelled. Back in the days, having a painted face was considered putting makeup. Similarly, Shakespeare also presents this idea of “‘I have heard of your paintings too, well enough.” This signifies two-faced people and duplicity because you are covering your real face for something that you are not. Also, Bosola compares women with animal like Hamlet “resembled an abortive hedgehog” and Hamlet compares his mother with a beast, suggests that they both are insulting towards women. Bosola’s bitter comments are irritating “I will hear no more of the glass-house, you are still abusing women” and he’s constantly abusing women. However, Bosola suggests that he’s just mentioning women’s weaknesses “mention your frailties” similar to Hamlet, who thinks that women are dependent on men and are weak; Bosola thinks that women just give love for money “but more, for more precious reward.” Both the malcontent’s views about women are similar in many ways and they both consider women as unfaithful.
I think that one characteristic of a malcontent is hating anyone, whether the society, women, or everyone. Shakespeare presents Hamlet as a misogynist similar to Bosola. Where Bosola is an outsider in the society “court-gall”, Hamlet is critical about the society he’s living in “Denmark’s a prison” and he separates himself mentally rather than social position, where as Bosola, the agent of revenge fells unrewarded by his society. Another difference between them is, Hamlet questions the nature and the capability of men “What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel” in contrast Bosola finds men corrupted, disgusting “Man stands amaz’d to see his deformity in any other creature but himself.” because he doesn’t get any rewards and yet he still take revenges for others. Webster has shown Bosola more cold and bitter then Hamlet because he’s a murderer “I knew this fellow seven years in the galleys for a notorious murder”. The malcontent is different from the 16th century and the 21st century. In the 16th century people thought negatively about the malcontents and thought they are dangerous, whereas in the 21st century they are considered more as outsiders, anti-heroes and we empathize with their imperfections.
After doing a close analysis of both texts, I think that both Webster and Shakespeare have used the malcontent character type in their play really well. I think back in the 16th century malcontent was a concept which was popular in many plays of Shakespeare. These plays had characters who would comment on the society or nature and their comments were vital to the play because the characters were directly in contact with the audience. Webster presents his malcontent character as the agent of revenge and Shakespeare presents Hamlet as a tragic hero, but both are seeking revenge for someone. Hamlet’s downfall leads to his death, but Bosola’s actions led to his own death which was revenge against the brothers. Both these plays are classic examples of revenge tragedy, where one is a theatre of blood due to the extreme violence and other is full of revenge to preserve honour of a family.
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