Elizabeth Oakes’ article concerns itself with the answer to the popular question of criticism facing The Duchess of Malfi. This question is whether or not to judge harshly the widow Duchess’ behavior. She describes the scholarly fact that some have analyzed the Duchess as somehow deserving her fate, that her behavior somehow reduces her status and removes any natural sympathy the reader would have for her. However, she continues, there is a school of thought that makes the widow out to be someone who is actually maintaining the status quo of widows of her time.
She is just in keeping with decorum. Eventually, through her article Oakes argues for the second view. The author even goes so far in the ending of her piece as to argue for the widow Duchess’ arrival as a female hero of the genre of tragedy. Oakes’ article is well written. She presents her piece in a balanced fashion, acknowledging the contributions of other scholars before her. She admits their ideas and notions as perhaps being the more standard views. This only serves to strengthen the weight and findings of her arguments by placing them in the context of orthodox literary criticism.
The result is a compelling argument on strength of reason. Writers who seek to understand and then pass on their understandings of large works like Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi would be well served to emulate the style of Oakes’ critiques. The power of Oakes’ writing is her willingness to compare her findings to those of other prominent academicians. The placement of Elizabeth Oakes’ article within the journal Studies in Philology and its acceptance within the literary and academic circles of the University of North Carolina presses gives automatic credence to her work.
It is far removed from popular contemporary treatment, and authorized as a work of academic critical scholarship. Palter, Robert. The Duchess of Malfi’s Apricots, and Other Literary Fruits. Columbia, SC: South Carolina UP, 2002. 270-81. Robert Palter’s entertaining and insightful book offers a refreshing literary criticism to the art of analytical reading. His book explores the literary episodes or incidences of fruits in books and plays. He finds these occurrences in all levels and genres of writing, even in the more classic ones of religious works such as the Bible.
In particular, and more specific to the topic of The Duchess of Malfi, he argues for the passion of apricots in dealing with both love and widowhood – the key topical issues of the work by Webster. Again, it is a counterintuitive argument, perhaps. The book utilizes some two dozen languages and nearly countless, it seems, texts from across the international literary realm; these are all readily translated for the reader by distinguished translators. The writing itself is supported by artful illustrations and is arranged topically by type of fruit.
It is easy to read and cite. The strength of Palter’s book is its compelling engagement of the reader. His take on the critical analysis of literature may seem farfetched at first, but that only serves to invigorate the academic reader who may be seeking to dismiss the notion. Palter’s reliance on reputable sources of literary critique, however, draw the reader further into believing the arguments contained in the chapters. Its thorough documentation and lively and entertaining reading make it an easily digested piece of academic commentary.
After having read The Duchess of Malfi’s Apricots, and Other Literary Fruits, any reader will be more fully informed both on a new aspect of literature, and particularly inspired to study Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi. Robert Palter is a reputable source. He holds a Ph. D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago and is currently serving as the Dana Professor Emeritus at Hartford, Connecticut’s Trinity College. Pearson, Jacqueline. “The Difficulty of the White Devil and the Duchess of Malfi. ” Critical Quarterly.
22. 4 (2007): 43-55. Web. Pearson’s article on the difficulties inherent in studying the two tragedies of Webster is a very thorough one. She concerns herself with attempting to cover all of the various problems that come with approaching the two texts in a critical fashion. As such, the writing moves from traditional rendering to traditional rendering, considering the past opinions of other analysts and comparing the vast divergences of thought found in them. She also offers her personal academic opinions on the topic.
Primarily these dwell upon and deal with encouraging the reader to look at all of the various angles that a critical reader can look at Webster’s works. She provides numerous examples of these: usage of imagery and allusion, the coverage of multiple moral dilemmas within each piece, multiple views including realism and extremism of style that are often included within a single scene, and the often deliberate seeming efforts at obfuscation. These all add up, she argues, to make Webster’s texts, and The Duchess of Malfi in particular, singularly difficult to undertake a concise and proper assessment.
Undoubtedly Pearson’s writing on this topic is valuable. They lend a plan or at least an agenda to reviewing and gleaning potentially hidden messages and angles with Webster’s tragedies. However, on the other hand, she can tend to become just as bogged down and self-conscious as the plays that she is exploring. She maintains an academic tone but is often difficult to follow for the same reason. Sometimes her writing is fairly inaccessible. After some time, and multiple readings, though, her points become clearer, and with patience, the critical reader can take away an intriguing new method of looking at the genre.
Jacqueline Pearson is a difficult, but good source. Her presence within the Critical Quarterly and placement within the Wiley Interscience Database do lend some power to the arguments and academics that she is presenting. She should be used as a secondary source. Roider, Nancy. “Arbella Stuart, Catherine of Valois, and The Duchess of Malfi: An Examination of Women, Marriage, and Widowhood in Jacobean England. ” Trivium Publishing (2009). Web. 11 July 2010. Roider’s lengthy article is aimed at understanding not only the text of Webster’s famous tragedy, but more importantly the social context that the work is found in.
This is her overarching point: that to fully understand a work one must look at the sociological implications of its place in history. This is a good twist on literary criticism. She utilizes multiple scholarly sources to sort out the many facets of the widow Duchess’ time period. The aim of the writing is apparently one of not buying into any single, traditional viewpoint but of borrowing some of the best from each and incorporating it into a fairly unified whole.
Primarily her opinion is that Duchess of Malfi is the story of an independent and unexpected widow that is inspired and motivated by the great transitions of the social and political world of Jacobean England. Roider’s arguments are successful. Especially due to the language that she uses which borders on the colloquial at times, she is able to reach the readers while dealing with a fairly heavy topic. Her method of transition from topic to topic removes burden from attempting to organize one’s thoughts while still reading critically.
Overall, one comes away from Roider with a better understanding of the implications of The Duchess of Malfi, and of the historical time settings in general. Nancy Roider is a strong secondary source. Although the article does not present her credentials on their face, Roider uses strong and accepted academic methodology in presenting her arguments and is not bashful about citing many other accepted academic pieces in writing hers. Her piece is well organized and insightful and offers the academic and literary world a new viewpoint on the interpretation of Webster’s writing.
Webster, John. “The Duchess of Malfi. ” The Duchess of Malfi: Eight Masterpieces of Jacobean Drama. Ed. Frank Kermode. New York: Modern Library, 2005. 463-566 This is an academically authorized version of The Duchess of Malfi and its text. It is the rendering that is most useful and presentable for study of the tragedy. The complete, word for word play is found here in clear and concise format. The Duchess of Malfi is included as one of several (eight to be precise) important piece of the drama written during the Jacobean period of England.
This raises the level of Webster’s writing to that of paramount and vital authors of the era. This book is valuable for the study and analysis of Webster’s writing. Although it would perhaps seem redundant to explore the tragedy in such a lengthy volume as an anthology as this sort, it is actually well worth the time. It can be quite insightful to place a work within the context not only of the period of literature in which it is found, but also in the specific context of comparison to other writers in the time as well.
This helps one to understand the topical issues that were currently in vogue, and also provides a good starting point at which to begin to grasp nuances and divergences within one specific piece that makes it interesting and novel. In addition to this facet, the contributions of the editor Frank Kermode are helpful. His commentary in the introductory material are also well worth the while to read and understand. His thoughts lend to the starting point for analyzing The Duchess of Malfi and encourage the readers to see behind the text.
When informed by this, a more analytical rendering can be made. Editor Frank Kermode’s The Duchess of Malfi: Eight Masterpieces of Jacobean Drama is a great academic source for studying and writing about Webster’s work. He is an acknowledged expert in the field of literary criticism. He has been knighted in his home of England for his numerous contributions to the field. Kermode is also routinely listed as the foremost literary critic of Britain, if not the whole of the Western world.