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March 25th, 2008

Final drafting stuff:

There are five women in the Revenger's Tragedy. Of this five, one is long-dead, the other is freshly deceased, and thus, silent. The three women with voices are Castiza, the protagonist's sister, Gratia, his mother, and the Duchess, related to the protagonist by an accident of fate and plot-writing. These three women are different from each other in various ways, psychologically and socially.

There are two kinds of status I wish to explore in this paper, in examining these women: one is moral status, which is measured by abstract concepts such as chastity and honesty. The other is material status, measured by physical wealth and prominence in the court in which this play is set in. These three women fall into different measures of status: Castiza, the epitome of chastity, rejects material status for moral status; Gratia tries to gain material status at the expense of moral status; and the Duchess has material status which seems to insulate her from any problems with moral status. I will demonstrate all this by deconstructing their speeches, to see how they negotiate their status within the world against or with other characters. As much as possible, I will focus upon their actions and reactions only. However, these women exist in a patriarchy, where it is difficult (read: downright impossible) to separate the identities of women from the opinions of the men in their lives, so after examining the voices of the women, I will pick out the few lines by the male characters of the play which either dictate or undermine the status of the women.

Castiza's moral status depends on her integrity to her chaste status. She repeatedly refuses to condone unchaste acts, and the reader's first sight of her is when Hippolito announces the rape of Antonio's wife. As her mother sympathizes with Antonio for the loss of a chaste wife, Castiza's reaction is to condemn the rapist, and she is one young lady who minces no words in making her opinion clear: "Royal blood! Monster, he deserves to die, / if Italy had no more hopes but he" (1.1.112-113). Castiza is not impressed by the trappings that material status can bring; Vindice, in disguise as Piato, wishes for her material wealth: "Lady, the best of wishes to your sex: / Fair skins and new gowns." To which she replies, rather coolly, "Oh, [other women] shall thank you, sir" (2.1. 27 - 29) and the reader gets the implication of "but not me." The text implies that she has been angered by Lussurioso's previous messages and is getting more and more annoyed at his insistent attempts to win her into his bed, to the point where she doles out violence of her own: "I swore I'd put anger in my hand / and pass the virgin limits of myself / to him that next appeared in that base office / to be his sin's attorney" (2.1.32-34). In fact, Castiza does not think very highly of Lussurioso's proposition at all, valuing her chastity too much (or perhaps, valuing Lussurioso's offerings too little) to give in. She is, as a result, scornful of his material wealth and political clout: "Tell him my honour shall have a rich name [despite his wealth] / when several harlots shall share his [name] with shame" (2.1.38 - 39). By the end of the scene, it is quite clear that very little can change Castiza's mind, not even her own mother. When Gratia tries to persuade her that chastity is not worth as much as the "advancement, treasure and the Duke's son['s affection]" (line 162), Castiza replies, with much drollery, "I cry you mercy, lady, I mistook you. / Pray, did you see my mother? ... / Pray God I have not lost her" (2.1.163 - 165). Not only is she not intimidated by her mother's authourity and threats, she challenges the older woman, telling her that her procuress-like speech on how risks are necessary for richness "is a pretty saying of a wicked one / but methinks now / it does not show so well out of your mouth; / better in his" (2.1.177-180). Even more, she takes it on herself to test her mother in Act 4, scene 4, pretending to have given into the original proposition in order to see if Gratia would take the bait and give her over to Lussurioso. When Gratia hastily tells her to change her mind (line 134), Castiza throws her words back at her: "No? / Deny advancement? Treasure? The Duke's son?" (line 135). When confident of her mother's regained integrity to chastity, she embraces and reconciles with her, and to the end, declares, "...no tongue has force / to alter me from honest" (4.4.150-151), a statement which is more than words, as her actions have proved it even before she says it. Not everyone appreciates Castiza's opinion of herself, though: at the start of the play, it is clear that Lussurioso's proposition does not just stem from her beauty, but also her lack of political stature at court and the relative poverty in which she and her family live - as such, she becomes a supposedly easy target for Lussurioso to undermine her: "The dowry of her blood and of her fortunes / are both too mean - good enough to be bad withal" (1.3.101-102). Obviously, his opinion did not count for much, and Vindice has the last word on her, saying to Hippolito, "... our sister's true" (5.3.145). Castiza suffers no further fallout with her mother by the end of the play, nor is she approached again by Lussurioso before Antonio takes over the court. Interestingly, there is no indication of any encounter with her brothers Her moral status is continually maintained, even as her material status has no improvement, which to her seems to be a small sacrifice as long as she retains her chastity.

Gratia, on the other hand, feels the sting enough of her poverty and lack of material status that she is willing to trade her moral status for it, even if she has to negotiate for it through Castiza. To further examine Gratia, it is necessary to consider events that happen before the play begins: as a woman, Gratia's position at court depended on her husband's, who was banished from court a few years prior, as shown in her exchange with Vindice where he says: "The Duke did much deject him ... / ... / . and through disgrace, oft smother in his spirit / when it would mount, surely I think he died / of discontent" (1.1.124 - 127). Low in political stature, she is also poor; she mentions that her husband would have been "a worthy gentleman, / had his estate been [a match] to his mind," (1.1.122-123) implying that her husband was intelligent, but did not have the wealth that reflected it. She and her daughter "live not far from court" (1.3.90), as Lussurioso points out to Piato, but even as a widow, her chances for remarrying above her status are low: she is only recently widowed and does not appear to have any suitors to raise her from her poverty, nor is she likely to have any since her fortunes are not likely to attract any. When first presented with Piato's proposition, she reacts with horror: "The riches of the world cannot hire a mother / to such a most unnatural task!" (2.1.87-88). However, her material status (or rather, the lack thereof) is a sensitive spot for her, and she begins to consider Piato's arguments more seriously when he brings up her poverty: "He touched me nearly, made my virtues bate, / when his tongue truck upon my poor estate" (2.1.111-112). From here on in, the reader can glean the more negative aspects of her personality: she is covetous ("Ay, these [coins] are they- / ... / that enchant our sex." (2.1.125)), capable of threatening violence to her own child ("I owe your cheek my hand..." (2.1.171) as well as easily seduced by Piato/Vindice's arguments and talk of material status: "Oh, if I were young / I should be ravished!" (2.1.195-196). Since she is not the one being propositioned, she must negotiate for material status through Castiza. and offers to help Piato: "I'll see how I can move / ... / If she be still chaste, I'll ne'er call her mine" (2.1.136-137). Her desire to gain material advancement is clear when she denigrates the ideals of chastity, saying to Castiza, "[Chastity] has a good report, prettily commended; / But pray, by whom? Mean people, ignorant people. / The better sort (the rich), I'm sure, cannot abide it..." (2.1.151-153). Gratia is aware, however, that her ambitions and methods are unseemly, so when she is first confronted by her sons, she at first denies her participation: "That had been monstrous. I defy that man / for any such intent" (4.4.21-22). When Vindice reveals to her his disguise, she quails, but quickly tries to blame him in a back-handed compliment: "Not tongue but yourself could have bewitched me so" (line 33). Eventually, worn down by her sons, she becomes content with her poverty and reclaims a higher moral status: "I wonder now what fury did transport me? / I feel good thoughts begin to settle in me (as a result of her reformation)" (4.4.94-95). By the end, further tested by her daughter, she regrets pursuing material advancement through prostituting Castiza: "Oh, see, / I spoke those words, and now they poison me. / ... / Advancement, true - as high as shame can pitch!" (lines 136-139). Gratia's moral status is at first not in question: Vindice, as Piato, tempts her only because he has been sworn to by Lussurioso, not because he doubts her; in fact, he states outright his belief in her integrity: "I will lay / hard siege unto my mother, though I know / a siren's tongue could not bewitch her so" 2.1.51-53). Lussurioso undermines her first, more for her being a woman and a mother: "The name [of 'bawd'] / is so in league with age that nowadays / It does eclipse three-quarters of a mother." (1.3.155-157). By the end of the play, again, Vindice has the last word on her: “our mother’s saved,” he says to Hippolito (5.3.145), of her moral status.

The Duchess is markedly different from either Gratia or Castiza. Firstly, she has no proper name and is referred to only by title. Secondly, she is the only living female character to feature prominently in the consciousness of the Court (the other female being Antonio’s dead wife) while the others are confronted and dealt with in private domains. Thirdly, she has great material status, and very little qualms about her lack of moral status throughout the play. In fact, she plays an active role in her dealings that further negate her moral status. The first time the Duchess speaks in the play is an action of manipulation of the Duke, who has to sentence her youngest son for raping Antonio’s wife. Although the crime is heinous, the Duchess shows no hesitation in asking for pity for her son: "My gracious lord, I pray be merciful. / Although his trespass far exceed his years, / Think him to be your own, as I am yours" (1.2.21-23). Aside from being a rape apologist, the Duchess is also sexually aggressive in her adultery, actively pursuing Spurio: "Many a wealthy letter have I sent him, / swelled up with jewels, and the timorous man / Is yet but coldly kind." (1.2.113-115). These words also imply that not only is she courting him, she is also using physical treasures to win him over, hinting at material wealth as well besides status at court, if the reader / director takes these words literally. Her reasons for choosing Spurio are two-fold: she is firstly genuinely attracted to him (“And here comes he whom my heart points unto: / His bastard son, but my love's true-begot” in lines 111-112) and secondly, she is feeling vengeful toward the Duke for his inaction in saving her son from duress: "… therefore wedlock faith shall be forgot" (1.2.108). Although she calls Spurio her “love’s true-begot”, she has no misgivings manipulating him, either. When he shows reservations in embarking on an affair with her, she points out to him that as an illegitimate son, his parentage is uncertain, to which Spurio agrees. She takes it further, saying that “had he cut thee a right diamond, / thou hadst been next set in the dukedom’s ring” (1.2.150-151), goading his desire for vengeance: “who would not be revenged of such a father…?” (line 156). Her own moral status is not measured by violence, though; she is not interested in plotting the Duke’s death, although she is aware that it is a favourite method of dealing with husbands such as hers: "Was't ever known stepduchess was so mild / and calm as I? Some now would plot his death / with easy doctors, those loose-living men, / and make His withered Grace fall to his grace" (1.2.95-98). Neither is she aiming to be moral at all, as she says to Spurio: "Why, there's no pleasure sweet but it is sinful." (3.5.209). Her only semblance of innocence lies in the public eye: when she is confronted by Lussurioso, who intended to catch her in action with Spurio but found the Duke instead, she exclaims indignantly, "He called his father villain, and my strumpet - / a word that I abhor to file my lips with" (2.3.24-25). Despite that, she is still shameless in her dealings with Spurio – when they come across Supervacuo and Ambitioso, Spurio warns the Duchess to drop her arm, but she does not, replying, “May we not deal our favours where we please?” (4.3.4). Interestingly, despite indiscretion and all the suspicion she is under, the Duchess never suffers a public fallout on-stage. When the Duke dies, she is absent, and Lussurioso’s only comment about her is that she is “suspected foully bent; / I'll begin dukedom with her banishment" (5.1.173-174). While obviously deprived of some material status by the end, her moral status never quite comes into question as openly as Castiza’s and Gratia’s do.

Negotiating status, moral and material, within a patriarchy is difficult for a woman to do without some sort of yardstick from the men surrounding her, as men set the standards for behavior or speak for them. It is important to note within this play that anything a female character says is within the context of interacting with a male character, rather than a monologue disclosing her own thoughts to a listening audience. Still, their own words give the audience a great deal of insight into their personalities. Each woman is unique from each other, not one of them a single representative of their gender, which adds more flavour to what would otherwise be a dully bloodthirsty play.