Antonio reveals much about the brothers and the Duchess when he describes them all to Delio. He speaks freely in this dialogue as they are close friends, and so the audience gets an insight into what people truly think of them, although his description of the Duchess is biased as he clearly loves her. He refers to her as ‘the right noble duchess’ showing his feelings toward her. He also reveals that she does ‘talk much’, which would be unusual at the time as women were expected not to speak openly, as it states in St Paul, ‘let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness’ summing up the attitudes of the period.
Antonio is very honest about the Cardinal, and shows he has the potential to be very cruel, ‘Where he is jealous of any man he lays worse plots for them than ever imposed on Hercules’. This should be a forewarning to the audience for the evil yet to come for Antonio and the Duchess. Ferdinand is described as having ‘A most perverse and turbulent nature’, again establishing the cruelness of his character and suggesting to the audience what will come. The forcefulness of the Cardinal and Ferdinand when talking to the Duchess and telling her not to re-marry shows how their power in court is reflected in their family relationships.
The Cardinal is most controlling as he even orders Ferdinand to do things for him, (such as employ Bosola). This could be because he is the oldest, but also because it seems he is less emotionally involved with the Duchess than Ferdinand, who is more ardent in his desire to prevent the Duchess re-marrying. Ferdinand’s enthusiasm could be due to his more than familial feelings for the Duchess, hinted at in the play. For example, he says about her, ‘This was my father’s poniard … I’d loath to see’t look rusty’ suggesting that perhaps procreation between the two of them rather than with an outsider would be purer.
Their threat is a very serious one although the Duchess does not seem to realise it, Ferdinand’s doomful words, ‘Such weddings may more properly be said to be executed than celebrated’, show their graveness and ofer again a preminition to the audience of what is to come. It establishes the brother’s adamant attitudes that she will not disobey them, and shows their power over her. The duchess greatly underestimates her brother’s, ‘let old wives report, I winked and chose a husband’, and marries Antonio.
Within their relationship it is apparent that the duchess is in control, as Antonio is very much in awe of her, he addresses her as ‘your beautious excellence’. It is she who initiates the marriage, ‘she puts the ring on his finger’. She also has to remind him that she is only ‘flesh and blood’ like him, and she is no better than him. The first Act establishes the authority of Ferdinand and the Cardinal and demonstrates the corruption of the court, possibly down to them as they have poisoned the fountain from the top.
It reveals some of the characters as ‘flatt’ring panders’ such as Castruchio, Silvio and Bosola, although he is less fattering and more ambitious and decietful. It also establishes the relationship between the duchess and her siblings and shows their attempt to exert authority over her, which she unwisely ignores. Finally, it shows the nature of the realtionship between Antonio and the Duchess and that he feels very much below her (which he is in nobility).