Hwa-Seon Kim ----- "The Ocular Impulse and the Politics of Violence in The Duchess of Malfi"
In Webster's The Duchess of Malfi, there is dominant desire to see,
inspect and control the female body. Ferdinand aims to bring to light
what is hidden and "private," so as to reinforce visibility as a
modality of power over the body of the Duchess. It is Bosola who is
charged with the task of inspecting and controlling the young widow.
Bosola's scrutiny of the Duchess's pregnant body seems inseparable from
their culture's understanding of the general female body. This desire
is intimately connected with the "ocular impulse" which emerges within
coeval anatomical and gynaecological discourses. This ocular economy is
a regulatory production of the body, but it also problematizes the
position of the subject of the gaze. In the text, there is a trace of
distrust toward this kind of inspection and Bosola's attempts to create
power through inspecting the Duchess's body and giving information to
Ferdinand. The distrust to his role can be analysed through the
representation of the Duchess's pregnancy, childbearing, and the
representation of the bliss of the conjugal couple in the text.
Moreover, those elements are understood to be the subversive potential
against the attempts of Bosola and Ferdinand to control the irreducible
female body of the Duchess.
The desire to see, inspect and control the female body is intimately
connected with the "ocular impulse" which emerges within coeval
anatomical and gynaecological discourses. Helkiah Crooke's
Microcosmographia, like most sixteenth- and seventeenth- century
anatomical and gynaecological treatises, is marked by anxiety towards
the ambivalent interior fold of the female body, veiled and covered by
nature to register a woman's proper place. In the ending scene,
Ferdinand is represented as a turned-inward version of himself and he
is spurred on to compulsively return to the same place. Ferdinand is
the deformed embodiment of haunting, situated at the point where
absolute "singularity" and absolute "otherness" uncannily coincide with
each other without neutralizing each other. As such a disfigured figure
of haunting, he cannot but haunt that by which he is haunted―the grave.
John Webster, the Duchess of Malfi, ocular impulse, politics of
violence, anatomical and gynaecological discourses, the female body,