John Webster writes of three Female characters in his play 'The White Devil;' Isabella, Vittoria and Cornelia, only one of which playing a major role. This character weighting may be an initial clue to the under representation of women in the play which is dominated by male characters.
Vittoria Corobona represents a strong lustful character, who uses her sexuality to persuade other characters. She is shown to break the stereotype of a 'mistress' and stands on her own two feet giving an impression of a strong wilful character, which would only have been found in male characters at the time. However it may be questionable as to her strength as a character, as she is manipulated into having an affair which she may not have thought otherwise about.We can gain great insight into the representation of her character through the words and actions of the male characters. Lodovicio's opening speech finds him blaming his definition of evil from 'great enemies' to feminine virtues, 'that right whore' (I 8-9) 'a devouring she wolf' (I, 8-9) In Act 1 scene two, Vittoria shows herself to be excersing her sexual nature, she talks in sexual puns in relation to her husband, 'I carved him at supper-time' (I, ii 125)Lines 202 onwards reveal sexual implications.
The scene furnishings may be seen as provoking a sexual act, as 'Zanche brings out a carpet, spreads it out and lays on it two fair cussions'. This sets up a situation based on a pre-conceived stereotype of Vittoria's character, in thinking that she will comply with the implicated furnishings. In the schene where the affair takes place, women's character roles can be identified in the characters of Vittoria and Cornellia.We can also identify the representation through the character of Brachiano in his treatment of Vittoria. Brachiano immediately manipulates Vittoria through his speech, 'Let me into your bosom darling' through using the noun darling, he puts Vittoria at ease, but also reffers to her in a caring way, which he should not imply in the situation.
Vittoria's comeback is cleverly planned, and strengthen's her female role, she claimes that this asset 'takes away their credit,' implying that there is more to women than their physical apppearence.Vittoria's dream provides a clue to us about Webster's portrayal of Women. Vittoria characterises Isabella (wife of Brachiano) as an evil being, attempting to unearth a tree, causing her great terror in this insight, 'yet and for all this terror..
.' (I, ii 247) Here Vittoria's character may be seen as gullable, pre-conceiving an jealousy of her husband and the wife of Brachiano. Brachiano's interpretation of the dream reveals a male dominance placing himself as the protector, 'you are lodged within his arms who shall protect you..'Cornelia shows characteristics of a more civil, traditional female. She is disheartened by the prospect of Vittoria's affair, 'O tho dost make my brow bend to the earth sooner than nature.
' She is disgraced by what her daughter has done to her reputation, and believes that Women should stay faithful and proppper. Her power of speech is dominating, and she shows control over the situation. Brachiano's reaction to her outburst is that she is mad, but this claim may simply be to defend his case. She calls the affair a 'judas like act' using religious allegory to support her claim, also showing herself to be educated.
Webster presents two very diverse female characters in this scene. Vittoria appears to be niave and lustful, through her dishonourable affair. To the contary Cornelia is a visious yet moral character, who believes in remaining respectable and hourable.The converse between Brachiano and Francisco beging at (I, ii 50) reveals Fransico's misogynistic attitude, he reveals that 'she [Vittoria] is wearing cloth of tissue' indicating she is poorly dressed, and her husband is unable to support her. In his direct speech, he uses the possesive verb 'strumpet' to tarnish her repution, indicating that she is a tart.
The sexist languge continues in Brachiano's utterance, 'were she a whore of mine.' This sexist language portrays Webster's misogynistic portrayal of women in the play.In Act II scene ii Webster writes of a dumb show in which a painting of Brachiano is coated with poison, Isabella, Brachiano's wife proceeds to kiss it three times before she retires to bed, and falls down dead. Brachiano's response to this reveals his feelings towards her, 'excellent, now she's dead' he clearly has no respect for the woman.
The court scene reveals most about Vittoria's character. She appears as a very shameless strong character. She requests the judge to speal in 'his usual toungue' so that the audience may hear the trial fairley. This may be seen as a foolish act on her behalf, as she will be showing herself up, however another interpretation may see her as a brave and fare character.A true reflection of the character of women can be seen in (III, ii 136) 'Must personate masculine virtue to the point' She clearly feels under-represented as female, so believes she must stand as a man to be understood.As a character, Vittoria stands to represent females in the play as a whole.
Although her characteristics change, she is a strong and intellectual character who bears a positive representation. The generic references to females, mainly from Flamanao, provide a negative stereotype of Women, however, the court scene proves this adversely through Vittoria's strength as a character.