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The Duchess of Malfi

 Act 3 Scene 2

The Duchess’ chambers, later that night

DUCHESS: Bring me the casket hither and the glass.
You get no lodging here tonight, my lord.

ANTONIO: Indeed, I must persuade one.

DUCHESS: Very good;
I hope in time ’twill grow into a custom
That noblemen shall come with cap and knee
To purchase a night’s lodging of their wives.

ANTONIO: I must lie here.

DUCHESS: Must? You are a lord of misrule.

ANTONIO: Indeed, my rule is only in the night.

DUCHESS: To what use will you put me?

ANTONIO: We’ll sleep together.

DUCHESS: Alas, what pleasure can two lovers find in sleep?

CARIOLA: My lord, I lie with her often; and I know
She’ll much disquiet you.

ANTONIO: See, you are complain’d of.

CARIOLA: For she’s the sprawlingest bedfellow.

ANTONIO: I shall like her the better for that.

CARIOLA: Sir, shall I ask you a question?

ANTONIO: Ay, pray thee, Cariola.

CARIOLA: Wherefore still, when you lie with my lady,
Do you rise so early?

ANTONIO: Laboring men
Count the clock oftenest, Cariola,
Are glad when their task’s ended.

DUCHESS: I’ll stop your mouth. [kisses him]

ANTONIO: Nay, that’s but one. Venus had two soft doves
To draw her chariot; I must have another. [kisses her]
When wilt thou marry, Cariola?

CARIOLA: Never, my lord.

ANTONIO: O, fie upon this single life; forego it.
We read how Daphne, for her peevish flight,
Became a fruitless bay-tree. Syrinx turn’d
To the pale empty reed. Anaxarete
Was frozen into marble; whereas those
Which married, or prov’d kind unto their friends,
Were by a gracious influence transhap’d
Into the olive, pomegranate, mulberry,
Became flowers, precious stones, or eminent stars.

CARIOLA: This is vain poetry; but I pray you tell me,
If there were propos’d me wisdom, riches, and beauty
In three several young men, which should I choose?

ANTONIO: ‘Tis a hard question. This was Paris‘ case,
And he was blind in’t, and there was great cause;
For how was’t possible he could judge right,
Having three amorous goddesses in view,
And they stark naked? ‘Twas a motion
Were able to benight the apprehension
Of the severest counselor of Europe.
Now I look on both your faces so well form’d,
It puts me in mind of a question I would ask.

CARIOLA: What is’t?

ANTONIO: I do wonder why hard-favour’d ladies,
For the most part, keep worse-favour’d waiting women
To attend them, and cannot endure fair ones.

DUCHESS: O, that’s soon answer’d.
Did you ever in your life know an ill painter
Desire to have his dwelling next door to the shop
Of an excellent picture-maker? ‘Twould disgrace
His face-making and undo him. I prithee,
When were we so merry? My hair tangles.

ANTONIO: [aside to Cariola]  Pray thee, Cariola, let’s steal forth the room,
And let her talk to herself. I have divers times
Serv’d her the like, when she hath chaf’d extremely.
I love to see her angry. Softly. Cariola.

They exit

DUCHESS: Doth not the colour of my hair ‘gin to change?
When I wax gray, I shall have all the court
Powder their hair with arras, to be like me.
You have cause to love me; I enter’d you into my heart
Before you would vouchsafe to call for the keys.

Enter FERDINAND unseen

We shall one day have my brothers take you napping.
Methinks his presence, being now in court,
Should make you keep your own bed; but you’ll say
Love mix’d with fear is sweetest. I’ll assure you,
You shall get no more children till my brothers
Consent to be your gossips. Have you lost your tongue?

She sees FERDINAND holding a dagger

‘Tis welcome;
For know, whether I am doom’d to live or die,
I can do both like a prince.

FERDINAND: Die then quickly.
Virtue, where art thou hid? What hideous thing
Is it that doth eclipse thee?

DUCHESS: Pray, sir, hear me —

FERDINAND: Or is it true thou art but a bare name
And no essential thing?


FERDINAND: Do not speak.

DUCHESS: No, sir;
I will plant my soul in mine ears to hear you.

FERDINAND: O, most imperfect light of human reason,
That mak’st us so unhappy to foresee
What we can least prevent! Pursue thy wishes,
And glory in them; there’s in shame no comfort
But to be past all bounds and sense of shame.

DUCHESS: I pray, sir, hear me: I am married —


DUCHESS: Happily, not to your liking, but for that,
Alas, your shears do come untimely now
To clip the bird’s wings, that’s already flown.
Will you see my husband?

If I could change eyes with a basilisk.

DUCHESS: Sure, you came hither
By his confederacy.

FERDINAND: The howling of a wolf
Is music to thee, screech-owl! Prithee, peace.
Whate’er thou art that hast enjoy’d my sister,
For I am sure thou hear’st me, for thine own sake
Let me not know thee. I came hither prepar’d
To work thy discovery, yet am now persuaded
It would beget such violent effects
As would damn us both. I would not for ten millions
I had beheld thee. Therefore use all means
I never may have knowledge of thy name.
Enjoy thy lust still, and a wretched life,
On that condition. And for thee, vile woman,
If thou do wish thy lecher may grow old
In thy embracements, I would have thee build
Such a room for him as our anchorites
To holier use inhabit. Let not the sun
Shine on him, till he’s dead. Let dogs and monkeys
Only converse with him, and such dumb things
To whom nature denies use to sound his name.
Do not keep a paraquito, lest she learn it;
If thou do love him, cut out thine own tongue
Lest it bewray him.

DUCHESS: Why might not I marry?
I have not gone about in this to create
Any new world or custom.

FERDINAND: Thou art undone;
And thou hast ta’en that massy sheet of lead
That hid thy husband’s bones, and folded it
About my heart.

DUCHESS: Mine bleeds for’t.

FERDINAND: Thine? thy heart?
What should I name’t, unless a hollow bullet
Fill’d with unquenchable wild-fire?

DUCHESS: You are in this
Too strict, and were you not my princely brother,
I would say, too willful. My reputation is safe.

FERDINAND: Dost thou know what reputation is?
I’ll tell thee, to small purpose, since th’ instruction
Comes now too late.
Upon a time Reputation, Love, and Death
Would travel o’er the world, and it was concluded
That they should part and take three several ways.
Death told them they should find him in great battles,
Or cities plagu’d with plagues. Love gives them counsel
To enquire for him ‘mongst unambitious shepherds,
Where dowries were not talk’d of, and sometimes
‘Mongst quiet kindred, that had nothing left
By their dead parents. ‘Stay,’ quoth Reputation,
‘Do not forsake me; for it is my nature
If once I part from any man I meet,
I am never found again.’ And so, for you;
You have shook hands with Reputation
And made him invisible. So fare you well:
I will never see you more.

DUCHESS: Why should only I,
Of all the other princes of the world
Be cas’d up, like a holy relic? I have youth,
And a little beauty.

FERDINAND: So you have some virgins
That are witches. I will never see thee more.

He exits
Enter CARIOLA and ANTONIO with a pistol

DUCHESS: You saw this apparition?

ANTONIO: Yes, we are
Betray’d. How came he hither? I should turn
This to thee, for that. [turns pistol on Cariola]

CARIOLA: Pray, sir, do; and when
That you have cleft my heart, you shall read there
Mine innocence.

DUCHESS: That gallery gave him entrance.

ANTONIO: I would this terrible thing would come again,
That, standing on my guard, I might relate
My warrantable love. Ha! what means this? [seeing the dagger]

DUCHESS: He left this with me.

ANTONIO: And it seems, did wish
You would use it on yourself.

DUCHESS: His action seem’d to intend so much.

ANTONIO: This hath a handle to’t
As well as a point. Turn it towards him,
And so fasten the keen edge in his rank gall.
How now? Who knocks? More earthquakes?

DUCHESS: I stand
As if a mine beneath my feet were ready
To be blown up.

CARIOLA: ‘Tis Bosola.

O misery, methinks unjust actions
Should wear these masks and curtains, and not we.
You must instantly part hence. I have fashion’d it already.


BOSOLA: The duke your brother is ta’en up in a whirlwind,
Hath took horse, and’s rid post to Rome.

DUCHESS: So late?

BOSOLA: He told me, as he mounted into th’ saddle,
You were undone.

DUCHESS: Indeed, I am very near it.

BOSOLA: What’s the matter?

DUCHESS: Antonio, the master of our household,
Hath dealt so falsely with me in’s accounts:
My brother stood engag’d with me for money
Ta’en up of certain Neapolitan Jews,
And Antonio lets the bonds be forfeit.

BOSOLA: Strange: [aside] this is cunning.

DUCHESS: And hereupon
My brother’s bills at Naples are protested
Against. Call up our officers.

BOSOLA:  I shall.


DUCHESS: The place that you must fly to is Ancona.
Hire a house there; I’ll send after you
My treasure and my jewels. Our weak safety
Runs upon enginous wheels; short syllables
Must stand for periods. I must now accuse you
Of such a feigned crime, as Tasso calls
Magnanima mensogna, a noble lie,
‘Cause it must shield our honors. Hark, they are coming.

Enter BOSOLA and Gentlemen

ANTONIO: Will your grace hear me?

DUCHESS: I have got well by you; you have yielded me
A million of loss. I am like to inherit
The people’s curses for your stewardship.
You had the trick in audit-time to be sick,
Till I had sign’d your Quietus, and that cur’d you
Without help of a doctor. Gentlemen,
I would have this man be an example to you all,
So shall you hold my favour. I pray, let him,
For h’as done that, alas! you would not think of,
And because I intend to be rid of him,
I mean not to publish. Use your fortune elsewhere.

ANTONIO: I am strongly arm’d to brook my overthrow,
As commonly men bear with a hard year.
I will not blame the cause on’t but do think
The necessity of my malevolent star
Procures this, not her humour. O, the inconstant
And rotten ground of service, you may see;
‘Tis even like him, that in a winter night,
Takes a long slumber o’er a dying fire,
As loath to part from’t, yet parts thence as cold,
As when he first sat down.

DUCHESS: We do confiscate,
Towards the satisfying of your accounts,
All that you have.

ANTONIO: I am all yours, and ’tis very fit
All mine should be so.

DUCHESS: So, sir, you have your pass.

ANTONIO: You may see, gentlemen, what ’tis to serve
A prince with body and soul.


BOSOLA: Here’s an example for extortion: what moisture
Is drawn out of the sea, when foul weather comes,
Pours down, and runs into the sea again.

DUCHESS: I would know what are your opinions
Of this Antonio.

2 OFFICER: He could not abide to see a pig’s head gaping.

I thought your grace would find him a Jew.

3 OFFICER: I would you had been his officer, for your own sake.

4 OFFICER: He stopped his ears with black wool, and to
those came to him for money, said he was thick of hearing.

2 OFFICER: Some said he was an hermaphrodite, for
he could not abide a woman.

4 OFFICER: How scurvy proud he would look, when the
treasury was full! well, let him go.

1 OFFICER: Yes, and the chippings of the buttery fly
after him, to scour his gold chain.

DUCHESS: Leave us. [they exit]
What do you think of these?

BOSOLA: That these are rogues, that in’s prosperity,
But to have waited on his fortune, could have wish’d
His dirty stirrup riveted through their noses,
And follow’d after’s mule, like a bear in a ring;
Would have prostituted their daughters to his lust;
Made their first-born intelligencers; thought none happy
But such as were born under his blest planet,
And wore his livery: and do these lice drop off now?
Well, never look to have the like again.
He hath left a sort of flattering rogues behind him;
Their doom must follow. Princes pay flatterers
In their own money: flatterers dissemble their vices,
And they dissemble their lies; that’s justice.
Alas, poor gentleman!

DUCHESS: Poor! He hath amply fill’d his coffers.

BOSOLA: Sure he was too honest. Pluto, the god of riches,
When he’s sent by Jupiter to any man,
He goes limping, to signify that wealth
That comes on God’s name, comes slowly; but when he’s sent
On the devil’s errand, he rides post and comes in by scuttles.
Let me show you what a most unvalued jewel
You have in a wanton humour thrown away,
To bless the man shall find him. He was an excellent
Courtier, and most faithful; a soldier, that thought it
As beastly to know his own value too little,
As devilish to acknowledge it too much.
Both his virtue and form deserv’d a far better fortune.
His discourse rather delighted to judge itself than show itself.
His breast was fill’d with all perfection,
And yet it seemed a private whispering-room,
It made so little noise of’t.

DUCHESS: But he was basely descended.

BOSOLA: Will you make yourself a mercenary herald
Rather to examine men’s pedigrees than virtues?
You shall want him;
For know, an honest statesman to a prince
Is like a cedar planted by a spring:
The spring bathes the tree’s root, the grateful tree
Rewards it with his shadow. You have not done so.
I would sooner swim to the Bermoothes on
Two politicians’ rotten bladders, tied
Together with an intelligencer’s heart-string,
Than depend on so changeable a prince’s favour.
Fare thee well, Antonio, since the malice of the world
Would needs down with thee, it cannot be said yet
That any ill happened unto thee,
Considering thy fall was accompanied with virtue.

DUCHESS: O, you render me excellent music!

BOSOLA: Say you?

DUCHESS: This good one that you speak of, is my husband.

BOSOLA: Do I not dream? Can this ambitious age
Have so much goodness in’t as to prefer
A man merely for worth, without these shadows
Of wealth and painted honors? possible?

DUCHESS: I have had three children by him.

BOSOLA: Fortunate lady!
For you have made your private nuptial bed
The humble and fair seminary of peace.
No question but many an unbenefic’d scholar
Shall pray for you for this deed, and rejoice
That some preferment in the world can yet
Arise from merit. The virgins of your land
That have no dowries shall hope your example
Will raise them to rich husbands. Should you want
Soldiers, ‘twould make the very Turks and Moors
Turn Christians, and serve you for this act.
Last, the neglected poets of your time,
In honor of this trophy of a man
Rais’d by that curious engine, your white hand,
Shall thank you in your grave for’t, and make that
More reverend than all the cabinets
Of living princes. For Antonio,
His fame shall likewise flow from many a pen,
When heralds shall want coats to sell to men.

DUCHESS: As I taste comfort in this friendly speech,
So would I find concealment.

BOSOLA: O, the secret of my prince,
Which I will wear on th’ inside of my heart.

DUCHESS: You shall take charge of all my coin and jewels,
And follow him; for he retires himself
To Ancona.


DUCHESS: Whither, within few days,
I mean to follow thee.

BOSOLA: Let me think:
I would wish your grace to feign a pilgrimage
To Our Lady of Loretto, scarce seven leagues
From fair Ancona; so may you depart
Your country with more honor, and your flight
Will seem a princely progress, retaining
Your usual train about you.

DUCHESS: Sir, your direction
Shall lead me by the hand.

CARIOLA: In my opinion,
She were better progress to the baths at Lucca,
Or go visit the Spa
In Germany: for, if you will believe me,
I do not like this jesting with religion,
This feigned pilgrimage.

DUCHESS: Thou art a superstitious fool.
Prepare us instantly for our departure.
Past sorrows, let us moderately lament them,
For those to come, seek wisely to prevent them.


BOSOLA: A politician is the devil’s quilted anvil;
He fashions all sins on him, and the blows
Are never heard. He may work in a lady’s chamber,
As here for proof. What rests but I reveal
All to my lord? O, this base quality
Of intelligencer! Why, every quality i’th’ world
Prefers but gain or commendation.
Now, for this act I am certain to be rais’d,
And men that paint weeds to the life are prais’d.



casket: box with makeup, comb

glass: mirror

cap and knee: with cap in hand and on bended knee; that is, requesting permission to sleep with their wives, rather than assuming it is their right.

lord of misrule: a person of lower rank chosen to be Master of Revels on festival days, reversing the normal social order

sprawlingest: that is, she spreads herself over most of the bed, an idea which Antonio likes

wherefore still: why always

count the clock: Antonio jokingly compares himself in bed to a worker who hates his job and watches the clock

stop: close

Venus: Roman goddess of love

forego: avoid

Daphne: a nymph pursued by Apollo and turned into a tree to escape (see Ovid’s Metamorphoses book 1). In all these myths, Antonio contrasts women who avoided lovers, associated with barrenness, with women who married, associated with fruitfulness and beauty.

peevish: irritable

friends: lovers

mulberry: Antonio tries to convince Cariola to marry based on mythical examples of those who were transformed into productive things like the mulberry, but with tragic foreshadowing he forgets that the mulberry’s fruit turned red from the blood of Pyramus who killed himself when he thought his beloved Thisbe was dead (Ovid, Metamorphoses book 4).

transhap’d: transformed (see Ovid’s Metamorphoses)

vain poetry: meaningless fiction

propos’d: if three men proposed to me, who should I choose: the one with wisdom, riches, or beauty?

several: separate

Paris: Paris was son of the king of Troy, whose task was to choose the most beautiful goddess from among Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. Because all were breathtaking, presenting themselves nude, each offered him a bribe. Aphrodite promised him the loveliest woman in the world, so he chose her, and she helped him seduce Helen, taking her back to Troy, resulting in a ten-year war and disaster for the city.

motion … apprehension: a spectacle able to obscure the judgement

hard-favour’d: unattractive

worse-favour’d: even more unattractive

ill: bad; just as a poor painter doesn’t want to be compared to a good one, no plain woman wants to be seen next to an attractive one.

face-making: portraits

prithee: pray thee

tangles: the Duchess is combing her hair, distracting her from seeing them leave and seeing Ferdinand enter

steal forth: sneak out of

divers: many

chaf’d: become annoyed

‘gin: begin

wax: grow

arras: white powder

vouchsafe: condescend to agree

Enter: this entrance is not marked in the Quarto text, leaving it for producers to decide between the suspense of an early entrance, or the surprise of a late one.

his: Ferdinand’s

keep: keep to your own bed (out of fear of being discovered)

sweetest: the potential danger adds excitement to their relationship

gossips: godfathers (British usage)

sees: in many productions (including ours) the Duchess sees Ferdinand’s reflection in her hand mirror as he approaches her from behind

bare name: just a name, nothing more

I will plant my soul in mine ears: I will give you all my attention

foresee: unhappily our imperfect reason permits us to foresee events but not always to prevent them. Ferdinand predicted his sister would take a lover but failed to stop her.

there’s in shame … : the only good in shamelessness is that you no longer feel any shame about anything

happily: perhaps

basilisk: mythical creature whose glance was fatal

confederacy: her husband’s assistance; the Duchess hopes naively that Antonio has arranged this meeting, not suspecting Bosola of stealing a passkey.

to thee: compared to thee (her voice)

whate’er: whoever

hear’st: Ferdinand assumes correctly that her husband is hiding nearby

lecher: lover

embracements: in your arms

use to sound: ability to speak

paraquito: parrot

bewray: betray

thou hast ta’en … heart: you have taken the lead lining of your husband’s coffin and wrapped it around me: that is, you have put me in your first husband’s tomb/place by replacing him/me with another lover (suggestion of Ferdinand’s incestuous feelings).

hollow bullet: cannonball filled with flammable liquid

too willful: another suggestion that even she recognizes his more than brotherly jealousy

shepherds: one popular genre of plays in the Renaissance were pastorals which depicted love tales of shepherds in the woods

shook hands: bid farewell

invisible: no longer seen

cas’d up: locked up

apparition: Ferdinand appeared suddenly out of nowhere, like a ghost, and just as frightening

cleft: split open

relate: demonstrate

warrantable: justifiable or capable of being proved

gall: gall bladder, associated with bitterness

unjust actions: those who have committed true injustices should have to disguise their actions, not those who are innocent.

fashion’d: worked out a plan

post: in haste

stood engag’d: as her cover story, the Duchess claims that Antonio failed to repay a loan that her brother had guaranteed.

cunning: being used to falsehood and subterfuge, Bosola easily sees through her story.

protested: the creditors are demanding payment, and will claim the deposit that Ferdinand put up.

enginous: pertaining to engines, suggesting speed

periods: complete sentences; we don’t have time to speak long

Tasso: 16th century Italian poet who told the story of a Christian maiden who lied to protect others from persecution

got well: you have treated me well, meant ironically

let him: let him go

publish: publicly announce what he has done

brook: withstand

humour: character; he blames his stars for his misfortune, not her (see commentary on humours, II.v)

parts … sat down: a faithful servant receives no reward, and leaves as poor as he started.

I am all yours: meant with double meaning for the Duchess’ ears

pass: leave to go

moisture … sea again: what goes around comes around; what we reap, that shall we sow

gaping: with an apple in it; orthodox Jews do not eat pork; a typical anti-Semitic insult of the time.

thick: hard of hearing, when someone asked him for a loan

hermaphrodite: a person with both male and female sex organs

chippings: bread crumbs used to polish gold

chain: chain of office, sign of his position as chief steward

rogues: liars, hypocrites

in’s: in his (Antonio’s); when he was prosperous, they would do anything for him, in hopes of reward

intelligencers: made their children his spies, lackeys

livery: The costume or insignia worn by the servants of a feudal lord

lice: these men were nothing but parasites, who abandon their “host” once he is out of favor

the like: one like him

flatterers: flatterers deny that princes have any vices, and princes likewise deny that the flatterers are lying to them.

coffers: lockboxes, he has filled his own pockets

Pluto: actually the god of the underworld; Plutus was the god of wealth, although an easy mistake, as wealth such as gold or diamonds is found underground.

scuttles: quick movements; wealth comes slowly to reward good deeds but quickly to evil.

unvalued: undervalued

to bless: whoever finds Antonio in his service will be blessed by what you have thrown away.

show: being humble, he would rather criticize himself than show off his good qualities

whispering room: confessional booth at a church

basely descended: born of the lower classes

want: miss

Bermoothes: Bermuda islands

bladders: filled with air, like balloons, to help one float in water

favour: ironically, Bosola aptly describes himself here, as a spy who relies falsely on the favor of the duke and the cardinal.

down: bring you down

painted: external, superficial

seminary: bed for sowing seeds

unbenefic’d: unpaid

engine: a lifting crane or hoist

that: your grave

cabinets: rooms

coats: coat of arms, signifying an important family, sometimes these were sold as bribes rather than merited. See Bosola’s earlier comment about mercenary heralds (a few speeches above). Antonio shall be remembered for being rewarded for his merit as a man long after those who have bought their honorary titles.

concealment: I hope you can keep a secret.

Loretto: a religious shrine, where it was believed angels carried the house of Mary from Nazareth.

progress: official journey

train: servants of the household

politician: one who schemes, such as Bosola

quilted anvil: covering the anvil with a quilt softens the blows, so no one hears them

rests: remains

base: lowly; Bosola has few delusions about his own character.

prefers: leads to; every quality of character, whether good or evil, will lead to some type of reward (so he hopes)

paint weeds to the life: even artists who paint lifelike pictures of weeds (a worthless subject) are praised for their skill, so much more Bosola should be praised for his efforts.

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