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Analyzing The Class System In Twelfth Night Duchess Of Malfi English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2462 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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‘The feast of Twelfth Night’ where the play takes its name, was celebrated in a time when social hierarchies were turned upside down. That same spirit is alive in Illyria, and Shakespeare has created situations that create a comedic yet farcical tone to the play. I am going to compare and contrast the ways in which hierarchy & class are used as plot devices, a means create comedic circumstance and for mistaken identity. Hierarchy is series of ordered groupings of people or things within a system, and in the case of twelfth night the constrains of time have to be taken into consideration, as the views of contemporary audiences would give the play a new interpretation and a loss of satire or comedic value.

Feste as a means of a narrative feature if fairly incohesive in his role along the side of characters such as Sir Toby whose actions dictate the plays outcome (his manipulation of Sebastian) rather we know of his intellect although his career does not suggest that

he is intelligent “”one who professionally Counterfeits folly for the entertainment of others, a jester, Clown” or “one who has little or no reason or intellect” although we see Feste as a sharp and witty jester “Better a witty fool than a foolish wit.” And because of his class no love like Maria is shown for minor roles (although in some adaptations all characters are connected for an orthodox happy ending) “O mistress mine, where are you roaming? O, stay and hear; your true love’s coming.” .he is intelligent “”one who professionally Counterfeits folly for the entertainment of others, a jester, Clown” or “one who has little or no reason or intellect” although we see Feste as a sharp and witty jester “Better a witty fool than a foolish wit.” And because of his class no love like Maria is shown for minor roles (although in some adaptations all characters are connected for an orthodox happy ending) “O mistress mine, where are you roaming? O, stay and hear; your true love’s coming.”

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The almost farcical relationship between Sebastian and Antonio is created by Shakespeare for a hinted comedic effect or just for structure “If you will not murder me for my love, let me be your servant”. Antonio’s language can be seen as simply the expression of a purely platonic passion. However, Antonio’s words can also be seen as carrying an obvious homoerotic charge. It seems safe to say here that if Antonio were a woman, we would read her speech and actions as an unambiguous expression of her love for Sebastian and hope that he would return this love. In a play so concerned with bending gender roles-a play in which Orsino can seem to be attracted to Viola

Malovolio portrays a classic image of a Puritan. As Olivia’s servant, he dreams of power and his status within the inner ring, and wants nothing else than to marry his mistress. This would have seemed absurd and impossible as there are societal normality’s that would prevent such an unfortunate marriage. Although social mobility was beginning to take place, there was still a division among the classes. It would have been quite out of place for a woman of Olivia’s status to marry one so far beneath her. Although for Malovolio, the situation of how it would be between him and Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby Belch, if he had gained the hand of his mistress, he said, “I extend my hand to him thus, quenching my familiar smile with an austere regard of control … You must amend your drunkenness” Malovolio’s presence in this scene adds a new uncertainty to the play and we start to loose the empathy we once had for the idiotic Malovolio rather we see his pretentious pompous way of displaying his false hope and misguided love. We can see why Maria doesn’t feel cathartic about the plot and its unfitting end. The manor in which Malovolio speaks shows that he truly believes he deserves to be above his class and talks’ almost condescending to Sir Toby whose reaction shows his disapproval. Malovolio’s desire to rise above his class sets a course for his own demise though the relationship with Olivia; this shows the audience that Sir Toby and the others find his delusions to preposterous. Malovolio is an unsuitable match for Olivia not only of his unappealing personality but also because he is not of noble blood. He is within his class a lower class citizen and to Sir Toby a commoner, while Olivia is a woman of noble blood with money and a high social status.

The Duchess (within the duchess of malfi) is an independent and defiant woman who has a strong personality and I think was urged on to remarry by her brother’s threats and warnings not to remarry down her social status. I believe that she wanted to defy her brothers, she wanted to rebel, because that’s in her nature. Webster’s primary source for his story (mostly true to history), William Painter’s Palace of Pleasure(1567), shows less sympathy for the Duchess, taking a strict, moralistic tone, condemning her for being too lustful and for breaking the accepted rules of her social status “Hypocrisy is woven of a fine small thread, Subtler than Vulcan’s engine: yet, believe’t,Your darkest actions: nay, your privat’st thoughts,Will come to light.” .

Webster created, in the Duchess what Shakespeare never did, a tragic female protagonist (Juliet doesn’t act on her own, Cleopatra shares the world stage with Antony) who represents a challenge to social hierarchy and “natural” order, violas situation was resolved also. As a woman she refuses to be subservient to men: she ignores her brothers’ commands not to marry, and she takes the initiative to woo Antonio. A rich widow presented a special threat to male-dominated families, as she was now free to marry of her own choosing for love, and to give the family wealth to another man. The problem in a rigid society. Her crime is choosing a husband not from the ruling class but from the upwardly mobile middle class (using the term very slackly). The ruling class, in the shape of Duke Ferdinand and the Cardinal, resist the idea of a woman making a free choice, especially when that choice transgresses class strata. It is necessary for her to be eliminated in order to maintain the status quo. In the case of the Duke an obsession with blood, breeding and pedigree tips over into murkily incestuous desire, a rage to control his sister’s sexuality and eventual madness.

Jane Eyre is critical in the exploration of neo-Victorian England’s social hierarchy. Bronte’s exploration of the complicated social position of governesses is perhaps the novel’s most important treatment of this theme. Like Heathcliff inWuthering Heights, Jane is a figure of ambiguous class standing and, consequently, a source of extreme tension for the characters around her. Paradoxically for Malvolio his treatment creates a comedic effect of his outcome due to his class and personality and similarly to Sebastian’s effect of the propulsion of the play and feste’s catalytical effect to the narrative, In her novel Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë explores the possibility that class relationships have no absolute boundaries that cannot be crossed. Her protagonist Jane is placed in between economic classes and drifts among the lower, middle, and upper classes of Victorian England. Jane’s flexible class status allows her to evaluate other characters on their actions and personalities rather than on their economic status and physical appearance. She forms deep relationships with members of the other classes and holds animosity towards individuals that others might respect based on their achievements in life but who did not act appropriately to Jane. Other characters in the novel judge Jane in much the same way as she judges them; they note her class status and physical appearance at first but then learn to appreciate her for her behaviour and thoughts. Brontë ends the novel on a dramatic turn of events that completely flip Jane’s class status. Yet, Jane still remains the same character that we have seen throughout the entire novel. Charlotte Brontë uses Jane Eyre as an example that class boundaries are not finite and that individuals can transcend them.

Jane tends not to evaluate other people based on their class status. Instead, she evaluates people’s superiority or inferiority based on their behavior and forms either deep friendship or animosity based on it. During her childhood at Gateshead, Jane is more emotionally attached to the servant Bessie than to any of her wealthy family members. She bases her adoration on Bessie’s personal characteristics rather than her economic status. Fraiman tells us that during Christmastime, “instead of yearning toward the genteel company, [Jane] would rather spend a quiet evening with Bessie” (617) because of the motherly characteristics that Bessie displays towards Jane. Jane longs for the affection of a motherly woman rather than the glamorous company of her rich family.

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Jane’s characters disposition manifests, sophistication, education and higher status this would have been expected of an aristocrat, because Victorian governesses, who tutored children in etiquette as well as academics, were expected to possess the “culture” of the aristocracy. Yet, as paid employees, they were more or less treated as servants; thus, Jane remains penniless and powerless while at Thornfield. Jane’s understanding of the double standard crystallizes when she becomes aware of her feelings for Rochester; she is his intellectual, but not his social, equal. Even before the crisis surrounding Bertha Mason, Jane is hesitant to marry Rochester because she senses that she would feel indebted to him for “condescending” to marry her. Jane’s distress. This situation corresponds to that of Malvolio

Jane herself speaks out against class prejudice at certain moments in the book. For example, in Chapter 23 she chastises Rochester: “Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!-I have as much soul as you-and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you.” However, it is also important to note that nowhere in Jane Eyre are society’s boundaries bent. Ultimately, Jane is only able to marry Rochester as his equal because she has almost magically come into her own inheritance from her uncle.

Bronte distils a perfect argument of love and its aforementioned dependency on class distinctions; she has used her characters in a way that there is her own symbolic meaning behind the novel. Bronte’s has created a direct contrast with the two other texts I am studying, within twelfth night Shakespeare’s use of class as a means for separation and forbidden love have been used for comedic effect, not to question or contrive against any social limitations, the duchesses situation was not to question but create dramatic effect using class as a division and boundary. Paradoxically to viola and the duchess jane’s class indifference and ambiguous history created a journey of self discovery and because of her unknown class, a way of finding true uncontrived love was found. The idea of social distinctions setting apart relationships now is considered archaic because of its absurdity and because of the transition within tolerance and rationality, it matters little about wealth and social hierarchy

Love in Jane Eyre is a predominant theme and is projected and differed through the hindrance of the class system and its effect on love. I find a similarity within Jane’s character to Shakespeare’s viola because of their social difficulties leading to a positive conclusion in both cases. Whereas viola’s character’s social misconception is used primarily for comedic and satiric effect Jane’s in used as a reflection of the constrains of the written content at the time and like a Christmas carol it has been written to inform and to create a fictional account of how class hindrance can cause suffering and a struggle to achieve and apprehend what’s achievable. Bronte’s used of a first person narrative also gives the novel connotations of factual accounts and gives the whole novel a theme of realism and not directly implied intolerance.

The duchess similarly to Jane’s character is portrayed trough a struggle, also in the duchess of malfi is through love though the class divide. Because of the time constrains within this novel, a different connotation was meant in the meaning of the theme of love though hierarchy. Webster’s use of class was distinctively a means of a plot device similarly although slightly contrived to twelfth night whereas the plot seems so farcical to his contemporary audience and shocking in the case of the duchess of malfi.

Jane Eyre, The duchess of malfi & twelfth night all share the confidence that all the characters whose social class is effect when looking fro love are all female. This is partly due to some of the constrains within the novels such as Jane Eyre where a woman’s ability to choose a partner was dictated their parents and this meant that a class hindrance (neglect from Mrs. Reed and her children “I am glad you are no relation of mine. I will never call you aunt again as long as I live. I will never come to visit you when I am grown up; and if any one asks me how I liked you, and how you treated me, I will say the very thought of you makes me sick”. Jane asserts her fiery spirit in her tirade, and she displays a keen sense of justice and a recognition of her need for love) made it harder than males to meet “agreeable” men. Whereas the duchess is of noble blood similarly to the situation of viola in that we know of her situation and the other characters are unaware of her noble blood and she falls in love below her class when in disguise as a man and a lower class than she is actually situated. the duchess is in love with a man from below her own class and because of the aforementioned time constrains this relation was seen as inappropriate and would have been contested by her family because of the effect on their families reputation and her future marital prospects.


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