Antonio - Duchess of MalfibyCornishBabe©
Antonio is a weak character vs. Antonio is constrained by society
The character of Antonio is portrayed in changing lights throughout the play. It would usually be expected that a male character would be presented as having a strong will and being able to make decisions that not only affect him but also his wife. This isn't always the case with Antonio however, he is often seen as weak and The Duchess is left to make the decisions and plan to save their lives.
On the other hand though, it must be remembered that Antonio was The Duchess' servant, before his marriage he had a low status and so it would be more socially acceptable for him to follow instructions as opposed to making up his own mind.
When Antonio and The Duchess are discussing marriage Antonio shows he is critical of ambition.
"There is a saucy and ambitious devil/ Is dancing in this circle."
He appears to know his place within society, and that he can not be too ambitious. However, prior to this he has admitted to The Duchess that fatherhood is important to him. Coupled with his much earlier description of The Duchess it is possible to infer that perhaps he does wish to marry The Duchess and father her children.
However, when The Duchess raises Antonio's status
Antonio recognises that perhaps he should not be 'raised' in such a way. Critics have suggested that Antonio is one of the increasing number of men who advanced through education and ability as opposed to money and birthright. Antonio is aware of his status and knows that he is marrying above himself and wisely he recognises that perhaps he is being too ambitious and that this might not be his best move.
When The Duchess declares that the two of them are married Antonio automatically worries about what The Cardinal and Ferdinand will say.
"But for your brothers?"
The Duchess immediately reassures him and tells him not to think of it. Here Antonio realises that he should be the one to reassure her, it is here that the audience is shown Antonio's weakness.
Further to this in Act Two, when Bosola induces The Duchess' pregnancy with unripe apricots Antonio's reaction again shows his weak character. Instead of taking charge, and having a plan he turns to Delio.
"Oh my most trusted Delio, we are lost."
Antonio appears unable to make his own decisions in this instance and instead lets Delio tell him what to do. As The Duchess' husband and he should be able to plan what happens to her. He should have the strength of character to protect his wife and make decisions that would protect her. He can not. Here, Antonio's panicky response compared to Delio's calm resourcefulness is clear evidence of weakness in Antonio.
Antonio refers to "fear" and "danger" frequently and the words danger and dangerous are used thirteen times throughout the play, primarily by Antonio or used when talking about Antonio and The Duchess' relationship. This "fear" and a desire for "safety" become key characteristics of the second half of the play.
Act three scene two however presents a much more confident Antonio and a relationship that seems more equal. The Duchess calls Antonio 'a Lord of misrule' and there have been several interpretations of this. It could be that Antonio is the Lord during the night but during the day, when in the public eye, she rules. Of course, it would have been expected for The Duchess to have taken a subordinate role in a marriage but with Antonio she does not.
This image of a more equal marriage is quickly shattered and we are shown Antonio's weakness when he remains hiding as Ferdinand enters the Duchess' room. Then, when he re-enters and The Duchess shows him the pistol he even suggests that she kill Ferdinand. One would expect him to have offered to do this himself, as he should be the stronger party in the relationship.
In Antonio's defence however, his lack of action could be because he is not known to be The Duchess' husband and so is unsure what role he should play.
Once banished from Ancona Antonio's status is blamed for his weakness and fear. Bosola tells Antonio
"This proclaims your breeding ./ Every small thing draws a base mind to fear"
In this scene it is once again The Duchess who is left to make the decisions and tell Antonio what he should do, once more showing Antonio's weakness.
And so, are we to assume Antonio is a weak or a strong character, I can't help but get the impression that it purely depends on your own personal like of the man.