De Montfort is a romantic tragedy authored by playwright Joanna Bailie. On the surface, the narrative of Joanna Baillie’s De Montfort is carved out of what appears to be a deceptively simple plot. However, beneath the surface, it is evident that the plot is attached to various thematic elements. Baum (2008, p.41) states that among the key themes upon which Joanna Baillie develops the plot for De Montfort is the theme of jealousy. As a matter of fact, jealousy is the over-arching theme of De Montfort. Even more importantly, De Montfort focuses on the representation of men under the theme of jealousy. While there are other themes that spring out of Baillie’s work, it is safe to say that the play relentlessly focuses on portraying the thematic element of jealousy through the male characters in the narrative. With a total of 10 characters, five of whom play only specific supportive functions of plot development. As such, the plot of De Montfort has a significant impact on the presentation of themes in a manner so unprecedented, that it vividly portrays the representation of men under the thematic element of jealousy or envy. The play makes use of only five characters that are primary and central figures of the play. The key characters include Rezenvelt, De Montfort, Count and Countess Freberg and Marquis De Montfort.
De Montfort Plot Summary
The plot of the play follows Marquis De Montfort and Rezenvelt. From his childhood days, De Montfort has had an intense and raging hatred for his schoolmate, Rezenvelt. De Montfort’s raging hatred for Rezenvelt eventually transforms into a duel that De Montfort loses terribly as Rezenvelt spares his De Montfort’s life. Utterly devastated by the loss, De Monfort is left feeling demeaned, weak and inferior to say the least. The passionate dislike grows and morphs into a combination of bile, hatred, and jealousy for Rezenvelt. As fate would have it, circumstances bring them together. De Montfort attempts to follow the saintly advice of his sister of mastering his emotions, but the hatred and jealousy cloud his judgment staining everything he sees. When De Montfort receives news from a spreading rumor that her sister Jane and Rezenvelt are not only attracted to each, but they are also lovers, his hatred and jealousy gets out of hand and becomes uncontrollable. Under cover of night, De Monfort tracks Rezenvelt into the woods and murders him.
The Representation of Men through the Thematic Element of Jealousy in De Montfort
The play De Montfort begins with an opening that emphasizes the theme of jealousy in the narrative as the old landlord explains to his servant, Jerome, the changes he noticed on De Montfort since he last saw him, to which Jerome responds, “ All this is strange – something disturbs his mind”. Jerome’s comments instantly shift our attention to the central theme of the play – jealousy; which is what is disturbing De Montfort’s mind, asserts Behrendt (2009, p.69). Also, in the opening set of the play, appears to feign being in a cheerful and peaceful atmosphere De Montford opening set of the play appears to create a cheerful and peaceful mood and atmosphere, but it is not difficult to notice that De Montford refers to “a sore disease”. De Monford warns the “disease” is caused by the sting of a serpent with a venom that causes a secret guilt in the soul and reflects in the external appearance but yet cannot be understood. The “sore disease” that De Montfort refers to is the jealousy, envy, and hatred that is consuming his mental state and energy. In the same vein, it is also revealed later on in the play that reason behind his change in appearance is a disease of the mind that has left him tormented by hatred, jealousy, and even guilt respectively.
As the play proceeds, once again the representation of men through the thematic element of jealousy is brought to the attention of the audience when the spreading rumor of his sister, Lady Jane, and Rezenvelt’s secret affair reaches De Montfort. As such, De Montfort cannot stand the idea that Rezenvelt, a man who he passionately hates has betrothed her sister. Adding to the fact that De Montfort is secretly attracted to Lady Jane, the idea of her and Rezenvelt being an item, pile drives him to the edge of losing his mind and going insane asserts Bolton (2001, p.80).The gravity and magnitude of De Montfort’s jealousy coupled with his faulty judgments, lead him to comment on his raging hatred and jealousy at the end of the second scene saying “Hell hath no greater torment for the accurs’d than this man’s presence gives – abhorred fiend …it makes me mad”.
As an overarching and recurrent theme in De Montfort, the ultimate representation of men under the thematic element of jealousy is revealed and highlighted by De Monfort following Rezenvelt into the woods, in the cover of the night and murdering him. However, it becomes apparent even to De Montfort himself that his hatred for Rezenvelt is born out of sheer jealousy, Burroughs (2007, p.44), points out. In the same vein, it is evident that De Montfort comes to the realization that his hatred and jealousy for Rezenvelt is born only within the confines of his delusional mind. In other words, De Montfort’s hatred and jealousy toward Rezenvelt is as a result of his own anxieties.
- Baum, Joan Mandell (2008). The Theatrical Compositions of the Major English Romantic Poets. Salzburg Institute for English and American Universities, 28, pp.39-49
- Behrendt, Stephen C (2009). British Women Poets and the Romantic Writing Community. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 23(1), pp. 65–86
- Bolton, Betsy (2001). Women, Nationalism and the Romantic Stage: Theatre and Politics in Britain, 1790 -1800. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.77–100
- Burroughs, Catherine B (2007). Closet Stages: Joanna Baillie and the Theater Theory of British Romantic Women Writers. University of Pennsylvania Press, 8, pp.43-57.