To what extent can Bosola be considered a tragic hero?
“Let worthy minds ne’er stagger in distrust/ to suffer death or shame for what is just. / Mine is another voyage.”
Thus the dying Bosola concludes his last speech and, in doing so, ends the life of a character whose very nature is at odds with the others’ – and with himself. For Bosola is a paradox: as a malcontent, he delivers line after line of poisonous verse; insults old women; sneers at the Cardinal and Ferdinand, whom he sees (justifiably so) as having manipulated him; and maintains an almost universal apathy towards the rest of the characters – in the words of Brian Gibbons, a “stance of disgust inclining towards the misanthropic” – and yet, for all his shortcomings,
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While it is a moot point as to whether he undergoes any suffering, we may safely say that his death is not entirely a sacrifice, and thus his role as victim is almost entirely negligible: his motives for killing Ferdinand are not limited to the avenging of the Duchess. As we have seen before, Bosola despises the two brothers – “he and his brother are like plum trees that grow crooked over standing pools” – and so does not kill them entirely out of some affection for the Duchess; like the opportunist he is, he leaps at the chance to wound Ferdinand (“now my revenge is perfect: sink, thou main cause of my undoing!”). Thus, Bosola’s apparently selfless act has a variety of incentives, ranging from the desire to take revenge on the Duchess’ murderers (for, although it is he who actually kills her, it is Ferdinand who instructs him to do so) to the final chance to dispatch of his masters. Although this scene is typically Jacobean in its goriness – three characters die in quick succession – the dramatic impact of Bosola’s death upon the audience is immense. Whether he dies a tragic hero’s death is questionable, but the scene shocks us enough: Webster’s orchestration of the climactic fight allows a form of catharsis to take place, so that the audience is left with