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The Duchess of Malfi

Act 3 Scene 3

The CARDINAL’S palace in Rome

CARDINAL: Must we turn soldier then?

MALATESTE: The emperor,
Hearing your worth that way, ere you attain’d
This reverend garment, joins you in commission
With the right fortunate soldier, the Marquis of Pescara,
And the famous Lannoy.

CARDINAL: He that had the honor
Of taking the French king prisoner?

MALATESTE: The same.
Here’s a plot drawn for a new fortification
At Naples.

The CARDINAL and MALATESTE turn aside to study the plans

FERDINAND: This great count Malateste, I perceive,
Hath got employment.

DELIO: No employment, my lord;
A marginal note in the muster-book, that he is
A voluntary lord.

FERDINAND: He’s no soldier?

DELIO: He has worn gunpowder in’s hollow tooth, for the tooth-ache.

SILVIO: He comes to the leaguer with a full intent
To eat fresh beef and garlic, means to stay
Till the scent be gone, and straight return to court.

DELIO: He hath read all the late service,
As the City Chronicle relates it,
And keeps two pewterers going, only to express
Battles in model.

SILVIO: Then he’ll fight by the book.

DELIO: By the almanac, I think,
To choose good days, and shun the critical.
That’s his mistress’ scarf.

SILVIO: Yes, he protests
He would do much for that taffata.

DELIO: I think he would run away from a battle,
To save it from taking prisoner.

SILVIO: He is horribly afraid
Gunpowder will spoil the perfume on’t.

DELIO: I saw a Dutchman break his pate once
For calling him pot-gun; he made his head
Have a bore in’t like a musket.

SILVIO: I would he had made a touchhole to’t.
He is indeed a guarded sumpter-cloth,
Only for the remove of the court.


PESCARA: Bosola arriv’d? What should be the business?
Some falling out amongst the cardinals.
These factions amongst great men, they are like
Foxes, when their heads are divided,
They carry fire in their tails, and all the country
About them goes to wrack for’t.

SILVIO: What’s that Bosola?

DELIO: I knew him in Padua; a fantastical scholar,
Like such who study to know how many knots was in
Hercules’ club, of what colour Achilles’ beard was,
Or whether Hector were not troubled
With the tooth-ache.
He hath studied himself half blear-eyed to know
The true symmetry of Caesar’s nose by a shoeing-horn; and this
He did to gain the name of a speculative man.

PESCARA: Mark prince Ferdinand:
A very salamander lives in’s eye,
To mock the eager violence of fire.

SILVIO: That Cardinal hath made more bad faces with his
oppression than ever Michael Angelo made good ones. He
lifts up’s nose, like a foul porpoise before a storm.

PESCARA: The Lord Ferdinand laughs.

DELIO: Like a deadly cannon
That lightens ere it smokes.

PESCARA: These are your true pangs of death,
The pangs of life, that struggle with great statesmen.

DELIO: In such a deformed silence, witches whisper their charms.

[They turn to one side, as focus goes to the brothers and Bosola]

CARDINAL: Doth she make religion her riding hood
To keep her from the sun and tempest?

That damns her. Methinks her fault and beauty,
Blended together, show like leprosy,
The whiter, the fouler. I make it a question
Whether her beggarly brats were ever christen’d.

CARDINAL: I will instantly solicit the state of Ancona
To have them banish’d.

FERDINAND: You are for Loretto?
I shall not be at your ceremony; fare you well.
Write to the Duke of Malfi, my young nephew
She had by her first husband, and acquaint him
With’s mother’s honesty.

BOSOLA: I will.

A slave that only smell’d of ink and counters
And never in’s life look’d like a gentleman,
But in the audit-time. Go, go presently,
Draw me out an hundred and fifty of our horse,
And meet me at the fort-bridge.

They exit


emperor: Charles V, the greatest of the Hapsburgs, ruled 1519-1558, but he would not have been emperor at the time of these events (1511)

ere: before; that is, the emperor heard that the Cardinal was a worthy soldier before he became a churchman

Pescara: historical figure who defeated the French in 1525

Lannoy: viceroy of Naples and a favorite of Charles V

French king: Francis I, another anachronism as the French were not defeated until 1525

Malateste: Webster may be making an obscene pun, as his name means “bad testes.”

employment: an appointed post by the king

muster-book: registry for the army

gunpowder: they ridicule him for using gunpowder only for a toothache, not for fighting

leaguer: army camp

Til the scent be gone: until the food runs out

service: the news about the battles

pewterers: artists who make pewter toy soldiers; that is, he only plays at war (some editions have “painter”)

by the book: his experience with war comes only from reading

almanac: astrological charts

critical: dangerous

taking: being taken

pate: head

pot-gun: a child’s popgun, describing a braggart of no substance

touchhole: where a cannon is lit (I wish he had blown his bragging to bits)

sumpter-cloth: fancy blanket for a horse’s saddle, only for the wealthy and powerful to sit on

foxes … tails: reference to the biblical story of Samson, who tied foxes’ tails together (hence dividing their heads) and lit them on fire to run through the enemies’ fields (Judges 15)

wrack: ruin

fantastical: fanatical, or pursuing foolish fantasies, trivial knowledge about classical myths

shoeing-horn: to know whether Julius Caesar’s nose was as well shaped as a shoe horn (to help slip on shoes)

mark: notice

salamander: thought to live in fire

bad faces: he has made more men suffer

Michael Angelo: the Renaissance artist of the Sistine chapel

foul porpoise: porpoises supposedly would play (lift up their noses) before a coming storm, thus a bad (foul) sign

lightens: flashes from the explosion; his smile signals danger to follow

pangs: statesmen struggle with life and death issues

hood: concealment, protection

That: that she does

christen’d: baptized by the church as legitimate; she appears to make light of religious ceremony

ceremony: to instate him as a soldier (we never see the consequences of this action; Webster inserts it to show that state business continues while this personal tragedy plays out).

Duke of Malfi: the only time this older son is mentioned in the play

honesty: chastity, but spoken sarcastically

audit-time: suggesting that Antonio made enough money to be counted a gentleman, even though not born one

presently: immediately

fort-bridge: drawbridge

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