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The Duchess of Malfi

Act 2, Scene 3

Later that night
Enter BOSOLA with a dark lantern

BOSOLA: Sure I did hear a woman shriek: list, ha!
And the sound came, if I receiv’d it right,
From the duchess’ lodgings. There’s some stratagem
In the confining all our courtiers
To their several wards. I must have part of it;
My intelligence will freeze else. List, again!
It may be ’twas the melancholy bird,
Best friend of silence and of solitariness,
The owl, that scream’d so. Ha! Antonio!


ANTONIO: I heard some noise. Who’s there? What art thou? Speak.

BOSOLA: Antonio? Put not your face nor body
To such a forc’d expression of fear.
I am Bosola, your friend.

ANTONIO: Bosola!
[aside] This mole does undermine me — Heard you not
A noise even now?

BOSOLA: From whence?

ANTONIO: From the duchess’ lodging.

BOSOLA: Not I. Did you?

ANTONIO: I did, or else I dream’d.

BOSOLA: Let’s walk towards it.

ANTONIO: No, it may be ’twas
But the rising of the wind.

BOSOLA: Very likely.
Methinks ’tis very cold, and yet you sweat.
You look wildly.

ANTONIO: I have been setting a figure
For the duchess’ jewels.

BOSOLA: Ah, and how falls your question?
Do you find it radical?

ANTONIO: What’s that to you?
‘Tis rather to be question’d what design,
When all men were commanded to their lodgings,
Makes you a night-walker.

BOSOLA: In sooth I’ll tell you.
Now all the court’s asleep, I thought the devil
Had least to do here; I came to say my prayers,
And if it do offend you I do so,
You are a fine courtier.

ANTONIO: [aside] This fellow will undo me —
You gave the duchess apricocks today;
Pray heaven they were not poison’d.

BOSOLA: Poison’d! A Spanish fig
For the imputation.

ANTONIO: Traitors are ever confident
Till they are discover’d. There were jewels stol’n too.
In my conceit, none are to be suspected
More than yourself.

BOSOLA: You are a false steward.

ANTONIO: Saucy slave, I’ll pull thee up by the roots.

BOSOLA: Maybe the ruin will crush you to pieces.

ANTONIO: You are an impudent snake indeed, sir.
Are you scarce warm, and do you show your sting?
You libel well, sir.

BOSOLA: No, sir. Copy it out,
And I will set my hand to’t.

ANTONIO: [aside] My nose bleeds.
One that were superstitious would count
This ominous, when it merely comes by chance.
Two letters, that are wrote here for my name,
Are drown’d in blood!
Mere accident. — For you, sir, I’ll take order
I’th’ morn you shall be safe — ’tis that must colour
Her lying in — Sir, this door you pass not.
I do not hold it fit that you come near
The duchess’ lodgings, till you have quit yourself. —
The great are like the base, nay, they are the same,
When they seek shameful ways to avoid shame.


BOSOLA: Antonio hereabout did drop a paper.
Some of your help, false friend. O, here it is.
What’s here? A child’s nativity calculated!
The Duchess was delivered of a son, ‘tween the hours
twelve and one in the night, Anno Dom. 1504, (that’s this
year) decimo nono Decembris (that’s this night) taken
according to the Meridian of Malfi (that’s our Duchess–
happy discovery!) The lord of the first house being combust
in the ascendant, signifies short life; and Mars being in a
human sign, joined to the tail of the Dragon, in the eighth
house, doth threaten a violent death. Caetera non scrutantur.
Why, now ’tis most apparent: this precise fellow
Is the duchess’ bawd. I have it to my wish!
This is a parcel of intelligency
Our courtiers were cas’d up for. It needs must follow
That I must be committed, on pretence
Of poisoning her, which I’ll endure and laugh at.
If one could find the father now! But that
Time will discover. Old Castruchio
I’th’ morning posts to Rome. By him I’ll send
A letter, that shall make her brothers’ galls
O’erflow their livers. This was a thrifty way.
Though lust do mask in ne’er so strange disguise,
She’s oft found witty but is never wise.



dark lantern: lantern which could be shuttered to hide the light

list: listen, hark

stratagem: deceptive plan

several wards: separate rooms

part: I must find out about it

intelligence: information

freeze: stop coming in

mole: someone who digs or mines underneath

setting a figure: In the previous scene Antonio says he will work out the horoscope for his son. Now to excuse his actions he says he is using astrology to determine where the jewels are hidden (or how much they are worth)..

radical: can their whereabouts (value?) be determined by astrology?

sooth: truth

Spanish fig: an obscene gesture, with thumb between the first two fingers

imputation: accusation

conceit: opinion

ruin: if Antonio pulls this “tree” (Bosola) up by the roots, it may fall on him and crush him instead

scarce warm: a snake barely out of hibernation would be too weak to strike

set my hand to’t: I’ll swear to what I’ve said in writing

letters: either two letters that he was carrying, or a handkerchief with his initials embroidered on it.

safe: I’ll make sure you are under arrest

colour: disguise; a cover story for the duchess’ keeping to her room

quit: acquitted yourself of any wrongdoing

base: lowly

false friend: referring to his dark lantern, used in underhanded dealings at night

Anno Dom[ini].: “in the year of our Lord” (A. D.)

decimo nono Decembris: December 19

lord of the first house: the planet that controls the boy’s destiny

combust: burned up, being too close to the sun

short life: ironically, this oldest son is the only family member who survives at the end of the play

human sign: the human zodiac signs are Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Aquarius

Caetera non scrutantur: the rest is obscure.

precise: particular

bawd: pimp, procurer of her lovers; Bosola does not yet suspect that Antonio is actually her husband, probably assuming that she would not stoop to a relationship with someone lower than herself in social status.

cas’d: locked up; this is the reason why everyone was confined to their rooms.

posts: hastens

galls: bitterness will overcome their feelings (emotions were thought to reside in the liver–much like we think of the heart)

wise: lust tries to disguise itself in many ways, but seldom succeeds

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