Themes in The White Devil and Paradise Lost (IX)

Themes within book 9 of Paradise Lost and The White Devil for OCR A2 English Literature

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1. dishonest act conducted by those in power 
2. the action of effect of making something or someone morally depraved 
3. the process by which a word of expression is changed from its original state to one regarded as    enourmous of debased 
4. the process of decay; purification 

Corruption in The White Devil: 

  • 1+2- Vittoria's trial (Monticelso's argument and sending her away to the whore house)
  • 4- Vittoria's moral decay 
  • 1- Brachiano- EVERYTHING HE DOES 
  • 4- Brachiano is not given a blessing at his death to allow him to go to heaven 

Corruption in Paradise Lost: 

  • The fall of language- "With the fall of man, language falls too", Milton creates a pre-lapsarian and post lapsarian language
  • Tempation- "the desire to do something, especially something wrong or unwise" - EVE AND ADAM IN THEIR FALL
  • Sin - "An immoral act considered to be a transgrettion against divine law" - Eve leaving Adam, Eve eating the apple, Adam eating the apple etc 
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  • Vittoria and Eve both fight against men, Vittoria in her trial scene, and Eve within her arguments with Adam 
  • Vittoria, Eve and Zanche all act wrongly dueto the emotions that they feel are trueful and right- LOVE
  • Vittoria and Eve are both forced to change through circumstance 
  • All women in the White Devil reflect some aspects of Eve in Paradise Lost
  • Monticelso directly links Vittoria to Eve- "Were there a second paradise to loose, this devil would betray it" 
  • Women are judged on their beauty 
  • Vittoria and Eve are seen as a lesser sex 
  • Vittoria and Eve are seen as curruption of man- downfall 
  • Sexual exploitation to gain control 
  • Status- Vittoria's power comes from Camillo and Brachiano; Eve is made from adams's ribs. 
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QUALATIES OF A HERO: sacrife, determination, loyalty, courage, dedication, selflessness, conviction, focus, perserverence and bravery. 

The theory of Binary Opposition: 

  • The way we understand words is though their opposites 
  • Words merely act as symbols for societys ideas and that the meaning of words is therefore a relationship rather than a fixed thing a relationship between opposing ideas 
  • We understand what a 'hero' is though our knowledge of a 'villian ' 

PROTAGONIST: The main character, leading or princible figure, the character that the audience/ reader emphasises with or follows - EVE / VITORIA / FLAMINEO 

ANTAGONIST: The character who opposes the protagonist, they provide the stories conflict. ADAM / SATAN / FRANCISCO / LODIVICO

Stanley Fish: "the poems center of refernce is its reader who is also it's subject" - THE READER AS THE HERO. 

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The White Devil (1612)

  • People believed in witchcraft 
  • Women weren't in the theatre- men had to play women 
  • Ophelia and Lady Macbeth - draws similarities 
  • Webster married a woman 10 years younger than himself 
  • Based on a true story 

Paradise Lost (1666) 

  • Milton had difficult relationships with women
  • His first wife left him shortly after he was married, he had four children, and she died in the 4th childbirth 
  • His daughters had to look after him and write for him when he went blind 
  • His 3rd wife was used as a housewife 
  • Believed in remarriage DESPITE being a puritan 
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  • Imperfections that sperate them from typically "heroic" characters (selfishness, ignorance) 
  • lack of 'heroic' charcateristics
  • qualities that usually belong to villians 
  • nobel motives pursued by bending or breaking the law through the belief that "the end justifies the means"

Satan is the hero of paradise lost. The romantic poet felt that Miltons characterisation of Satan turned him into the most heroic character of the poem. (He became the prototype of the byranic hero- an arrogent rebellious and self destructive outsider 

HERO'S IN THE WHITE DEVIL: could the itialian catholic ever be presented as a hero? ...based                                                    on English government

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-Brachiano as the hero because he saves Vittoria from the whore house and he helps Flamineo finanically however he kills Isabella and Camillo for his own desire 

-Famineo is the hero because he could stop Brachiano and Francisco starting the war and he tries to do his best for his family. However he brings Brachiano and Vittoria together resulting the death of Isabella and Camillo, and technically whoring his sister out for his own financial gain, and he kills his brother, Marcello. 

-Francisco is the hero because he revenges his sisters death, but he lies to Zanche and lets her fall in love with 'Mulinasar'. 

-Lodovico is the hero because he is in love with Isabella and tries to put her soul at rest by revenging her death. However he is the plays main murderer and is banished at the start of the play for this offence. 

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The elizabethans believed that the body was made up of humours and if you had a excess of humour it would make you unwell and decate your mental state.

Webster uses imagary of babies, illness, diseases, poisons, purging and physic treatment within The White Devil 

  • Francisco "we now like the partidge purge the disease with laud" 
  • "These are two cupping-glasses that shall draw all my infected blood out 
  • "I have a limb corrupted to an ulcar but i have it off" 
  • etc 
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Free will implies that we as humans have the capaitiy to chose our own course of action from the range of options and variable presented to us

If we have free will we are responcible for our actions and the consequences 


"What delievers Eve into Satan's hands is precsely the control issue of the poem, the exercise of free will"


If Webster presents a broadly deterministic universe, why does Milton focus on free will?

It wasn't to do with Milton's religion: puritans accepted Calvin's idea of predestination, though did give some role to free will within that. 

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  • Milton was not just a puritan - he had his own views and some were fairly radical 
  • Areopagitica- we should be free to choose what we read
  • Belief in the republican cause- justified the beheading of Charles I
  • Did not like state religion, we should be free to choose what we worship
  • Advocated secularism and tolleration of all religons 

In some sense we have Milton the philosopher vs Webster the working playwright - and wants the reader to think about or question the world around us and is repressenting accepted thought of time. 

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TRAGIC FLAW: The hero discoves that his downfall is a result of his own actions, not by things happening to him and therefore downfall is inevitable. 

REVENGE TRAGEDY: The tragic hero is spurred on by revenge rather than any personal flaw. The tragedy is that something unjust has happened to them, which they must put right. 



The white devil is a mix of both greek tragic flaw and roman revenge tragedy. Tragic flaw events set a domino effect for revenge tragedy.

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In his book "horrid laughter", Nicholas Brooke pointed out that the sustained serious tore of Shakespearean tragedy is the exception rather than the rule - most of the other tragedies contain humour. 

Webster mixes comedy into his tragic scenes, rather than keeping them seperate - do you laugh to break the horror?

"the most tragic moments are also the most comedic" - Pearson 

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