Bodies at war: the female ruler in John Webster's the Duchess of Malfi and Lope de Vega's El Mayordomo de la Duquesa de Amalfi
This thesis uses the theory of the king's two bodies to interrogate the portrayal of the female ruler in both Webster's The Duchess of Malfi and Lope de Vega's El mayordomo de la duquesa de Amalfi. These two plays are based upon the same source text, and therefore illuminate the differing concerns of both playwrights and both nations. Lope's text portrays the female ruler in a much less positive light because it is more concerned with questioning whether honra (inner virtue) or honor de opinion (bloodline/nobility/reputation) should be prioritized in male rulers. Through its portrayal of Antonio, the male steward and de facto ruler, El mayordomo advocates for a new social order based on merit rather than nobility, although the play does ultimately end with the restoration of the traditional patriarchal order. Like El mayordomo, The Duchess of Malfi also advocates for a new social order based on merit rather than blood, but it does so through its portrayal of the Duchess and the problems of her two bodies. Her brother Ferdinand displays incestuous desire for her body as a result of his conflation of the body natural and the body politic. The Duchess prioritizes the body natural over the body politic despite the traditional prioritization of the body politic. This prioritization extends to the end of the play, when Delio suggests that Antonio and the Duchess's son, rather than the young Duke of Malfi, will inherit the duchy. The Duchess's murder ensures the audience will be on the Duchess's side, and consequently the new social order suggested at the end of the play. More research needs to be done on the effect of Elizabeth I on both plays, as well as the connection of the theory of the king's two bodies to hermaphrodites.