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Middleton and Rowley’s Jacobean tragedy portrays a world in which the characters are often caught between their reasons and their passions. It is a play of contrasts; between judgement and lust, measure and obsession, appearance and reality, combined with the theme of madness, provided obviously by the sub plot but also evident in the main plot through the ‘love sickness’ of characters such as Alsemero and Beatrice. The play also considers the position of Women in a patriarchal society, their stereotypical expected behaviour and the effects of women on the men around them.
In addition there is also the theme of deception, between characters and perhaps characters deceiving themselves. This is often done, in particular in the sub-plot, to comic effect which heightens the tragedian themes evident else where in the play. There are many parallels and contrasts between the two plots and although seemingly unrelated they share key themes such as madness and appearance vs reality. The theme of irrational passion is evident from the opening lines of Act 1 Scene 1, As Alsemero talks of his feelings for Beatrice and we see the two fall in love almost immediately.
“I love her beauties to the holy purpose, And that methinks admits comparison With man’s first creation” Alsemero’s intent is to marry Beatrice and he cancels he sea voyage to do so. He compares his feelings with her to the Garden of Eden, Beatrice being Eve and Alsemero Adam. Religious allusions are prevalent in the play and the creation story is particularly fitting; the temptation into sinning reflects the position of Beatrice and Deflores, who she refers to as a ‘serpent’.
It is clear that Alsemero’s feelings for Beatrice have affected him as despite the good weather conditions he refuses to leave. Both Alsemero and Jasperino talk of the changes in the wind which reflect the change within Alsemero and show the effects of his passions. When asked why he has suddenly changed his mind, and if there is something wrong with him Alsemero replies: “Yes, Jasperino, Unless there be some hidden malady Within me that I understand not”
The dramatic irony in the statement is evident to an audience who know the play; Alsemero does not consider himself to be ill yet his sudden feelings for a woman he has only just met and does not know have caused him to act irrationally. The importance of the change in Alsemero is underlined by Jasperino’s statements that he has never known him to act in such a way: “I begin to doubt, sir; I never knew Your inclinations to travels at a pause With any cause to hinder it till now. “