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The Duchess of Malfi

Act 2 Scene 2

Action is continuous

BOSOLA: So, so, there’s no question but her tetchiness
And most vulturous eating of the apricocks are
Apparent signs of breeding. Now?

Enter an OLD LADY

OLD LADY: I am in haste, sir.

BOSOLA: There was a young waiting-woman had a monstrous desire
To see the glass-house

OLD LADY: Nay, pray let me go.

BOSOLA: And it was only to know what strange instrument it was
Should swell up a glass to the fashion of a woman’s belly.

OLD LADY: I will hear no more of the glass house.
You are still abusing women.

BOSOLA: Who I? No, only, by the way, now and then,
Mention your frailties. The orange-tree
Bears ripe and green fruit and blossoms,
Altogether: and some of you
Give entertainment for pure love, but more
For precious reward. The lusty
Spring smells well, but drooping autumn tastes well. If we
Have the same golden showers that rained in the time of Jupiter
The thunderer, you have the same Danaes still, to hold up
Their laps to receive them. Didst thou never study
The mathematics?

OLD LADY: What’s that, sir?

BOSOLA: Why, to know the trick how to make a many lines meet
In one center. Go, go, give your foster-daughters good counsel:
Tell them, that the devil takes delight to hang at a woman’s girdle,
Like a false rusty watch, that she cannot discern
How the time passes.



ANTONIO: Shut up the court-gates.

RODERIGO: Why, sir? What’s the danger?

ANTONIO: Shut up the posterns presently and call
All the officers o’th’court.

GRISOLAN: I shall instantly.

He exits

ANTONIO: Who keeps the key o’th’ park gate?

RODERIGO: Forobosco.

ANTONIO: Let him bring’t presently.


SERVANT 1: O, gentlemen o’th’ court, the foulest treason!

BOSOLA: [aside] If that these apricocks should be poison’d now,
Without my knowledge!

SERVANT 1:  There was taken even now a Switzer in the duchess’ bed-chamber–

SERVANT 2: A Switzer!

SERVANT 1: With a pistol in his great cod-piece.

BOSOLA: Ha, ha, ha!

SERVANT 1: The cod-piece was the case for’t.

SERVANT 2: There was a cunning traitor; who would
have search’d his cod-piece?

SERVANT 1: True, if he had kept out of the ladies’ chambers
and all the moulds of his buttons were leaden bullets.

SERVANT 2: O, wicked cannibal! A firelock in’s codpiece!

SERVANT 1: ‘Twas a French plot, upon my life.

SERVANT 2: To see what the devil can do!

ANTONIO: Are all the officers here?


ANTONIO: Gentlemen,
We have lost much plate you know, and but this evening
Jewels to the value of four thousand ducats
Are missing in the duchess’ cabinet.
Are the gates shut?


ANTONIO: ‘Tis the duchess’ pleasure
Each officer be lock’d into his chamber
Till the sun-rising, and to send the keys
Of all their chests, and of their outward doors
Into her bed-chamber. She is very sick.

RODERIGO: At her pleasure.

ANTONIO: She entreats you tak’t not ill. The innocent
Shall be the more approv’d by it.

BOSOLA: Gentlemen o’th’ wood-yard, where’s your Switzer now?

SERVANT 1: By this hand ’twas credibly reported by one o’th’ blackguard.

Exit Gentlemen

DELIO: How fares it with the duchess?

ANTONIO: She’s expos’d
Unto the worst of torture, pain and fear.

DELIO: Speak to her all happy comfort.

ANTONIO: How I do play the fool with mine own danger!
You are this night, dear friend, to post to Rome.
My life lies in your service.

DELIO: Do not doubt me.

ANTONIO: O, ’tis far from me! And yet fear presents me
Somewhat that looks like danger.

DELIO: Believe it,
‘Tis but the shadow of your fear, no more.
How superstitiously we mind our evils.
The throwing down salt, or crossing of a hare,
Bleeding at nose, the stumbling of a horse,
Or singing of a cricket, are of power
To daunt whole man in us. Sir, fare you well.
I wish you all the joys of a blest father;
And, for my faith, lay this unto your breast,
Old friends, like old swords, still are trusted best.


CARIOLA: Sir, you are the happy father of a son.
Your wife commends him to you.

ANTONIO: Blessed comfort!
For heaven’ sake tend her well. I’ll presently
Go set a figure for’s nativity.

They exit


tetchiness: irritability

breeding: pregnancy

glass house: glass factory; there was a famous one near the Blackfriars theater (Lucas)

instrument: double entendre, referring to the glass blower’s tube and to the male genitals

The orange tree … well: Bosola suggests that women in all seasons of life are lustful, some for pure love, others for pay. In the spring of life young women have sex for love; in their autumn years older women may sell themselves in order to eat.

showers: Zeus impregnated Danae (the mother of Perseus) by falling into her lap as a golden shower.

center: allusion to the lap of a whore, visited by many men (image borrowed from Montaigne’s Essays III.v)

foster-daughters: suggesting that the old lady is a madam in charge of  younger prostitutes

the devil … time passes: the devil tempts old women in their lustfulness to think they are still sexually attractive, not acknowledging the passage of time.

posterns: back gates

presently: immediately

Switzer: Swiss guard, mercenary

cod-piece: baglike flap in the front of men’s breeches, now replaced by the fly.

ladies’ chambers: the ladies would have searched his codpiece if given the chance

cannibal: savage, with wordplay on “cannonball” (bullet) in the previous line

plate: gold or silver tableware

cabinet: private room

wood-yard: Bosola insults these men by referring to them as lowly woodcutters.

blackguard: kitchen servants

post: hasten

daunt whole man in us: to rob us of our bravery

set a figure: work out his baby’s horoscope, based on when he was born.

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