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The Duchess of Malfi

Act 2 Scene 4

The Cardinal’s apartments in Rome

CARDINAL: Sit; thou art my best of wishesPrithee tell me,
What trick didst thou invent to come to Rome
Without thy husband?

JULIA: Why, my lord, I told him
I came to visit an old anchorite
Here, for devotion.

CARDINAL: Thou art a witty false one;
I mean, to him.

JULIA: You have prevail’d with me
Beyond my strongest thoughts. I would not now
Find you inconstant.

CARDINAL: Do not put thyself
To such a voluntary torture, which proceeds
Out of your own guilt.

JULIA: How, my lord?

CARDINAL: You fear
My constancy, because you have approv’d
Those giddy and wild turnings in yourself.

JULIA: Did you e’er find them?

CARDINAL: Soothgenerally for women;
A man might strive to make glass malleable
Ere he should make them fixed.

JULIA: So, my lord.

CARDINAL: We had need go borrow that fantastic glass,
Invented by Galileo the Florentine,
To view another spacious world i’th’ moon,
And look to find a constant woman there.

JULIA: This is very well, my lord.

CARDINAL: Why do you weep?
Are tears your justification? The self-same tears
Will fall into your husband’s bosom, lady,
With a loud protestation that you love him
Above the world. Come, I’ll love you wisely,
That’s jealously, since I am very certain
You cannot make me cuckold.

JULIA: I’ll go home to my husband.

CARDINAL: You may thank me, lady.
I have taken you off your melancholy perch,
Bore you upon my fist, and show’d you game,
And let you fly at it. I pray thee kiss me.
When thou was’t with thy husband, thou wast watch’d
Like a tame elephant; still you are to thank me.
Thou hadst only kisses from him, and high feeding,
But what delight was that? ‘Twas just like one
That hath a little fing’ring on the lute,
Yet cannot tune it; still you are to thank me.

JULIA: You told me of a piteous wound i’th’ heart,
And a sick liver, when you woo’d me first,
And spake like one in physic.

CARDINAL: Who’s that?


Rest firm, for my affection to thee,
Lightning moves slow to’t.

SERVANT: Madam, a gentleman,
That’s come post from Malfi, desires to see you.

CARDINAL: Let him enter, I’ll withdraw.

He exits

SERVANT: He says,
Your husband, old Castruchio, is come to Rome,
Most pitifully tired with riding post.

He exits


JULIA: Signior Delio! [aside] ‘Tis one of my old suitors.

DELIO: I was bold to come and see you.

JULIA: Sir, you are welcome.

DELIO: Do you lie here?

JULIA: Sure, your own experience
Will satisfy you, no. Our Roman prelates
Do not keep lodging for ladies.

DELIO: Very well.
I have brought you no commendations from your husband,
For I know none by him.

JULIA: I hear he’s come to Rome.

DELIO: I never knew man and beast, of a horse and a knight,
So weary of each other/ If he had had a good back,
He would have undertook to have borne his horse,
His breech was so pitifully sore.

JULIA: Your laughter is my pity.

DELIO: Lady, I know not whether
You want money, but I have bought you some.

JULIA: From my husband?

DELIO: No, from mine own allowance.

JULIA: I must hear the condition, ere I be bound to take it.

DELIO: Look on’t, ’tis gold; hath it not a fine colour?

JULIA: I have a bird more beautiful.

DELIO: Try the sound on’t.

JULIA: A lute-string far exceeds it:
It hath no smell, like cassia, or civet,
Nor is it physical, though some fond doctors
Persuade us seeth’t in cullises. I’ll tell you,
This is a creature bred by–


SERVANT: Your husband’s come,
Hath deliver’d a letter to the Duke of Calabria,
That to my thinking, hath put him out of his wits.

He exits

JULIA: Sir, you hear:
Pray let me know your business, and your suit,
As briefly as can be.

DELIO: With good speed, I would wish you,
At such time as you are non-resident
With your husband, my mistress.

JULIA: Sir, I’ll go ask my husband if I shall,
And straight return your answer.

She exits

DELIO: Very fine.
Is this her wit or honesty that speaks thus?
I heard one say the Duke was highly mov’d
With a letter sent from Malfi. I do fear
Antonio is betray’d. How fearfully
Shows his ambition now; unfortunate fortune!
They pass through whirlpools, and deep woes do shun,
Who the event weigh ere the action’s done.

He exits


best of wishes: just what I wished for

Prithee: I pray thee (I ask you)

anchorite: religious hermit

inconstant: unfaithful

approv’d: given in to those feelings

Sooth: in truth, indeed

generally: I find this tendency of unfaithfulness in all women in general

malleable: bendable; that is, it would be easier to bend glass than to find a faithful woman

fixed: constant, faithful

glass: telescope (an anachronism at the time of the play’s action, 1504: Galileo didn’t develop the telescope until 1609); the Cardinal thinks that one would have to look to another world to find a faithful woman, as there are none on earth.

cuckold: a husband whose wife cheats on him; husbands who do not love their wives wisely will become cuckolds. Julia cannot make the Cardinal a cuckold since she is not married to him.

perch … fly at it: he compares her to a tame falcon

tame elephant: elephants were tamed by being kept awake for so long that they would do anything to sleep.

only kisses: he implies that Castruchio is impotent, as his name suggests

lute: a stringed instrument

tune: play a tune on it; marriage without sex is like having a musical instrument which you cannot play

liver: the liver was thought to be the source of emotions; as we refer to the heart today.

in physic: under a physician’s care, that is, he was love-sick

to’t: compared to it

post: in haste

lie: keep lodging

prelates: churchmen

breech: backside

pity: you laugh at my pitiful situation, being married to such a pathetic man.

want: lack, need

cassia: spice

civet: perfume

physical: medicinal

fond: foolish

seeth’t in cullises: boil it in a broth

Duke of Calabria: Ferdinand

honesty: chastity

They pass … done: those who consider the consequences before they act avoid trouble

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