Act 4 Scene 1
The court at Malfi, now serving as her prison
Enter FERDINAND and BOSOLA
FERDINAND: How doth our sister Duchess bear herself
In her imprisonment?
BOSOLA: Nobly. I’ll describe her.
She’s sad, as one long us’d to’t, and she seems
Rather to welcome the end of misery,
Than shun it — a behaviour so noble,
As gives a majesty to adversity.
You may discern the shape of loveliness
More perfect in her tears than in her smiles.
She will muse for hours together; and her silence,
Methinks, expresseth more than if she spake.
FERDINAND: Her melancholy seems to be fortified
With a strange disdain.
BOSOLA: ‘Tis so, and this restraint,
Like English mastiffs that grow fierce with tying,
Makes her too passionately apprehend
Those pleasure’s she’s kept from.
FERDINAND: Curse upon her!
I will no longer study in the book
Of another’s heart. Inform her what I told you.
Exit FERDINAND, enter DUCHESS
BOSOLA: All comfort to your grace.
DUCHESS: I will have none.
Pray thee, why dost thou wrap thy poison’d pills
In gold and sugar?
BOSOLA: Your elder brother, the Lord Ferdinand,
Is come to visit you and sends you word,
‘Cause once he rashly made a solemn vow
Never to see you more, he comes i’th’ night;
And prays you gently neither torch nor taper
Shine in your chamber. He will kiss your hand
And reconcile himself, but for his vow
He dares not see you.
DUCHESS: At his pleasure.
Take hence the lights; he’s come.
FERDINAND: Where are you?
DUCHESS: Here, sir.
FERDINAND: This darkness suits you well.
DUCHESS: I would ask you pardon.
FERDINAND: You have it;
For I account it the honorabl’st revenge
Where I may kill, to pardon. Where are your cubs?
FERDINAND: Call them your children,
For though our national law distinguish bastards
From true legitimate issue, compassionate nature
Makes them all equal.
FERDINAND: It had been well,
Could you have liv’d thus always; for indeed,
You were too much i’th’ light. But no more;
I come to seal my peace with you. Here’s a hand,
Gives her a dead man’s hand
To which you have vow’d much love; the ring upon’t
DUCHESS: I affectionately kiss it.
FERDINAND: Pray do, and bury the print of it in your heart.
I will leave this ring with you, for a love-token;
And the hand, as sure as the ring; and do not doubt
But you shall have the heart too. When you need a friend,
Send it to him that ow’d it; you shall see
Whether he can aid you.
DUCHESS: You are very cold.
I fear you are not well after your travel.
Ha! lights! O, horrible!
FERDINAND: Let her have lights enough.
DUCHESS: What witchcraft doth he practice, that he hath left
A dead man’s hand here?
Here is discovered, behind a traverse, the artificial
figures of Antonio and his children, appearing as
if they were dead
BOSOLA: Look you, here’s the piece from which ’twas ta’en.
He doth present you this sad spectacle,
That now you know directly they are dead,
Hereafter you may wisely cease to grieve
For that which cannot be recovered.
DUCHESS: There is not between heaven and earth one wish
I stay for after this. It wastes me more
Than were’t my picture, fashion’d out of wax,
Stuck with a magical needle, and then buried
In some foul dunghill; and yond’s an excellent property
For a tyrant which I would account mercy.
BOSOLA: What’s that?
DUCHESS: If they would bind me to that lifeless trunk
And let me freeze to death.
BOSOLA: Come, you must live.
DUCHESS: That’s the greatest torture souls feel in hell;
In hell that they must live, and cannot die.
Portia, I’ll new kindle thy coals again,
And revive the rare and almost dead example
Of a loving wife.
BOSOLA: O fie! despair? remember
You are a Christian.
DUCHESS: The church enjoins fasting:
I’ll starve myself to death.
BOSOLA: Leave this vain sorrow.
Things being at the worst, begin to mend. The bee
When he hath shot his sting into your hand,
May then play with your eyelid.
DUCHESS: Good comfortable fellow,
Persuade a wretch that’s broke upon the wheel
To have all his bones new set; entreat him live
To be executed again. Who must dispatch me?
I account this world a tedious theatre,
For I do play a part in’t ‘gainst my will.
BOSOLA: Come, be of comfort; I will save your life.
DUCHESS: Indeed I have not leisure to tend so small a business.
BOSOLA: Now, by my life, I pity you.
DUCHESS: Thou art a fool then,
To waste thy pity on a thing so wretched
As cannot pity itself. I am full of daggers.
Puff, let me blow those vipers from me.
What are you?
SERVANT: One that wishes you long life.
BOSOLA: O, fie!
DUCHESS: I could curse the stars.
BOSOLA: O, fearful!
BOSOLA: Look you, the stars shine still.
DUCHESS: O, but you must remember,
My curse hath a great way to go.
Plagues that make lanes through largest families
BOSOLA: Fie, lady!
BOSOLA: O, uncharitable!
DUCHESS: Let heaven a little while cease crowning martyrs
To punish them! Go, howl them this and say, I long to bleed.
It is some mercy when men kill with speed.
Exit DUCHESS, enter FERDINAND
FERDINAND: Excellent, as I would wish; she’s plagu’d in art.
These presentations are but fram’d in wax
By the curious master in that quality,
Vincentio Lauriola, and she takes them
For true substantial bodies.
BOSOLA: Why do you do this?
FERDINAND: To bring her to despair.
BOSOLA: ‘Faith, end here,
And go no farther in your cruelty.
Send her a penitential garment to put on
Next to her delicate skin, and furnish her
With beads, and prayer-books.
FERDINAND: Damn her! That body of hers,
While that my blood ran pure in’t, was more worth
Than that which thou wouldst comfort, called a soul.
I will send her masques of common courtesans,
Have her meat serv’d up by bawds and ruffians,
And, ’cause she’ll needs be mad, I am resolv’d
To remove forth the common hospital
All the mad-folk, and place them near her lodging.
There let them practice together, sing and dance,
And set their gambols to the full o’th’ moon.
If she can sleep the better for it, let her.
Your work is almost ended.
BOSOLA: Must I see her again?
FERDINAND: You must.
FERDINAND: Very likely;
Thy pity is nothing of kin to thee. Antonio
Lurks about Milan. Thou shalt shortly thither
To feed a fire as great as my revenge,
Which never will slack till it have spent his fuel.
Intemperate agues make physicians cruel.
ring: actually this is her ring, taken from her by the Cardinal in 3.4. Ferdinand wants her to think that this is Antonio; she doesn’t realize that it’s only a hand until Ferdinand moves away from her, leaving her holding the hand.
stars shine still: Bosola means either that there remains some light (hope) in this dark world, or in contrast, that Heaven is unmoved/ unaffected by the sufferings of people below, “the insignificance of human agony before the impassive universe” (Lucas)