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The Duchess of Malfi

Act 4 Scene 2

Scene: same as before

DUCHESS: What hideous noise was that?

CARIOLA: ‘Tis the wild consort
Of madmen, lady, which your tyrant brother
Hath plac’d about your lodging. This tyranny,
I think, was never practic’d till this hour.

DUCHESS: Indeed, I thank him. Nothing but noise and folly
Can keep me in my right wits, whereas reason
And silence make me stark mad. Sit down;
Discourse to me some dismal tragedy.

CARIOLA: O, ’twill increase your melancholy.

DUCHESS: Thou art deceiv’d.
To hear of greater grief would lessen mine.
This is a prison?

CARIOLA: Yes, but you shall live
To shake this durance off.

DUCHESS: Thou art a fool.
The robin red-breast and the nightingale
Never live long in cages.

CARIOLA: Pray, dry your eyes.
What think you of, madam?

DUCHESS: Of nothing.
When I muse thus, I sleep.

CARIOLA: Like a madman, with your eyes open?

DUCHESS: Dost thou think we shall know one another
In th’other world?

CARIOLA: Yes, out of question.

DUCHESS: O, that it were possible we might
But hold some two days’ conference with the dead!
From them I should learn somewhat, I am sure,
I never shall know here. I’ll tell thee a miracle;
I am not mad yet, to my cause of sorrow.
Th’ heaven o’er my head seems made of molten brass,
The earth of flaming sulphur, yet I am not mad.
I am acquainted with sad misery,
As the tann’d galley-slave is with his oar;
Necessity makes me suffer constantly,
And custom makes it easy. Whom do I look like now?

CARIOLA: Like to your picture in the gallery,
A deal of life in show, but none in practice;
Or rather like some reverend monument
Whose ruins are even pitied.

DUCHESS: Very proper,
And Fortune seems only to have her eyesight
To behold my tragedy.

How now! What noise is that?


SERVANT: I am come to tell you,
Your brother hath intended you some sport.
A great physician, when the pope was sick
Of a deep melancholy, presented him
With several sorts of madmen, which wild object
Being full of change and sport, forc’d him to laugh,
And so th’ imposthume broke. The selfsame cure
The Duke intends on you.

DUCHESS: Let them come in.


SERVANT: There’s a mad lawyer; and a secular priest;
A doctor, that hath forfeited his wits
By jealousy; an astrologian
That in his works said such a day o’th’ month
Should be the day of doom, and failing of’t,
Ran mad; an English tailor, craz’d i’th’ brain
With the study of new fashion; a gentleman usher,
Quite beside himself with care to keep in mind
The number of his lady’s salutations,
Or “How do you,” she employ’d him in each morning;
A farmer too, an excellent knave in grain,
Mad ’cause he was hinder’d transportation;
And let one broker that’s mad loose to these,
You’d think the devil were among them.

DUCHESS: Sit, Cariola. Let them loose when you please,
For I am chain’d to endure all your tyranny.

Here by a madman this song is sung, to a dismal kind of music.

O, let us howl some heavy note,
Some deadly dogged howl,
Sounding, as from the threatening throat
Of beasts and fatal fowl!
As ravens, screech-owls, bulls, and bears,
We’ll bell, and bawl our parts,
Till irksome noise have cloy’d your ears,
And corrosiv’d your hearts.
At last, when as our quire wants breath,
Our bodies being blest,
We’ll sing, like swans, to welcome death,
And die in love and rest.

MAD ASTROLOGER: Doomsday not come yet? I’ll draw it nearer by a
perspective, or make a glass that shall set all the world on fire upon an
instant. I cannot sleep; my pillow is stuffed with a litter of porcupines.

MAD LAWYER: Hell is a mere glass-house, where the devils are
continually blowing up women’s souls on hollow irons, and the fire
never goes out.

MAD PRIEST: I will lie with every woman in my parish the tenth
night; I will tithe them over like haycocks.

MAD DOCTOR: Shall my ‘pothecary outgo me, because I am a
cuckold? I have found out his roguery; he makes alum of his wife’s
urine, and sells it to Puritans that have sore throats with overstraining.

MAD ASTROLOGER: I have skill in heraldry.


MAD ASTROLOGER: You do give for your crest a woodcock’s head, with
the brains picked out on’t; you are a very ancient gentleman.

MAD PRIEST: Greek is turn’d Turk. We are only to be saved by
the Helvetian translation.

MAD ASTROLOGER: Come on, sir, I will lay the law to you.

MAD LAWYER: O, rather lay a corrosive; the law will eat to the

MAD PRIEST: He that drinks but to satisfy nature, is damn’d.

MAD DOCTOR: If I had my glass here, I would show a sight should
make all the women here call me mad doctor.

MAD ASTROLOGER: What’s he, a rope-maker?

MAD LAWYER: No, no, no, a snuffling knave, that while he shows
the tombs, will have his hand in a wench’s placket.

MAD PRIEST: Woe to the caroche, that brought home my wife from
the masque at three a’clock in the morning! It had a large featherbed in it.

MAD DOCTOR: I have pared the devil’s nails forty time, roasted
them in ravens’ eggs, and cur’d agues with them.

MAD PRIEST: Get me three hundred milch bats, to make possets to
procure sleep.

MAD DOCTOR: All the college may throw their caps at me; I have
made a soapboiler costive: it was my masterpiece.

Here the dance, consisting of eight madmen, with music
answerable thereunto; after which, Bosola, like an old
man, enters

DUCHESS: Is he mad too?

SERVANT: Pray question him. I’ll leave you.

Exit all but the DUCHESS and BOSOLA

BOSOLA: I am come to make thy tomb.

DUCHESS: Ha! my tomb?
Thou speak’st, as if I lay upon my death-bed,
Gasping for breath. Dost thou perceive me sick?

BOSOLA: Yes, and the more dangerously, since thy sickness
Is insensible.

DUCHESS: Thou art not mad, sure. Dost thou know me?


DUCHESS: Who am I?

BOSOLA: Thou art a box of worm-seed, at best but a salvatory
Of green mummy. What’s this flesh? A little cruded milk
Fantastical puff-paste. Our bodies are weaker than those
Paper prisons boys use to keep flies in; more contemptible,
Since ours is to preserve earth-worms. Didst thou ever see
A lark in a cage? Such is the soul in the body. This world
Is like her little turf of grass, and the heaven o’er our heads,
Like her looking-glass, only gives us a miserable knowledge
Of the small compass of our prison.

DUCHESS: Am not I thy Duchess?

BOSOLA: Thou art some great woman, sure, for riot
Begins to sit on thy forehead (clad in gray hairs)
Twenty years sooner than on a merry milkmaid’s.
Thou sleepest worse than if a mouse
Should be forced to take up her lodging in a cat’s ear.
A little infant that breeds its teeth, should it lie with thee,
Would cry out, as if thou wert
The more unquiet bedfellow.

DUCHESS: I am Duchess of Malfi still.

BOSOLA: That makes thy sleep so broken.
Glories, like glowworms afar off shine bright,
But look’d to near, have neither heat nor light.

DUCHESS: Thou art very plain.

BOSOLA: My trade is to flatter the dead, not the living.
I am a tomb-maker.

DUCHESS: And thou com’st to make my tomb?


DUCHESS: Let me be a little merry.
Of what stuff wilt thou make it?

BOSOLA: Nay, resolve me first, of what fashion?

DUCHESS: Why, do we grow fantastical in our death-bed?
Do we affect fashion in the grave?

BOSOLA: Most ambitiously. Princes’ images on their tombs
Do not lie, as they were wont, seeming to pray
Up to heaven; but with their hands under their cheeks,
As if they died of the tooth-ache. They are not carved
With their eyes fix’d upon the stars, but
As their minds were wholly bent upon the world,
The selfsame way they seem to turn their faces.

DUCHESS: Let me know fully therefore the effect
Of this thy dismal preparation,
This talk, fit for a charnel.

BOSOLA: Now I shall.

Enter Executioners with a coffin, cords, and a bell

Here is a present from your princely brothers,
And may it arrive welcome, for it brings
Last benefit, last sorrow.

DUCHESS: Let me see it.
I have so much obedience in my blood,
I wish it in their veins to do them good.

BOSOLA: This is your last presence chamber.

CARIOLA: O, my sweet lady!

DUCHESS: Peace; it affrights not me.

BOSOLA: I am the common bellman,
That usually is sent to condemn’d persons
The night before they suffer.

DUCHESS: Even now thou said’st
Thou wast a tomb-maker.

BOSOLA: ‘Twas to bring you
By degrees to mortification. Listen:

Rings the bell

Hark, now everything is still,
The screech-owl, and the whistler shrill,
Call upon our dame aloud,
And bid her quickly don her shroud!
Much you had of land and rent;
Your length in clay’s now competent:
A long war disturb’d your mind;
Here your perfect peace is sign’d.
Of what is’t fools make such vain keeping?
Sin their conception, their birth weeping;
Their life a general mist of error,
Their death a hideous storm of terror.
Strew your hair with powders sweet,
Don clean linen, bathe your feet,
And (the foul fiend more to check)
A crucifix let bless your neck:
‘Tis now full tide ‘tween night and day;
End your groan, and come away.

CARIOLA: Hence, villains, tyrants, murderers! alas!
What will you do with my lady? Call for help.

DUCHESS: To whom, to our next neighbours? They are mad-folks.

BOSOLA: Remove that noise.

DUCHESS: Farewell, Cariola.
In my last will I have not much to give.
A many hungry guests have fed upon me;
Thine will be a poor reversion.

CARIOLA: I will die with her.

DUCHESS: I pray thee, look thou giv’st my little boy
Some syrup for his cold, and let the girl
Say her prayers ere she sleep.

CARIOLA is forced out

Now what you please. What death?

BOSOLA: Strangling. Here are your executioners.

DUCHESS: I forgive them.
The apoplexycatarrh, or cough o’th’ lungs,
Would do as much as they do.

BOSOLA: Doth not death fright you?

DUCHESS: Who would be afraid on’t,
Knowing to meet such excellent company
In th’ other world?

BOSOLA: Yet, methinks,
The manner of your death should much afflict you;
This cord should terrify you?

DUCHESS: Not a whit.
What would it pleasure me to have my throat cut
With diamonds? or to be smothered
With cassia? or to be shot to death with pearls?
I know death hath ten thousand several doors
For men to take their exits, and ’tis found
They go on such strange geometrical hinges,
You may open them both ways. Any way, for heaven sake,
So I were out of your whispering. Tell my brothers,
That I perceive death, now I am well awake,
Best gift is they can give, or I can take.
I would fain put off my last woman’s fault,
I’d not be tedious to you.

EXECUTIONERS: We are ready.

DUCHESS: Dispose my breath how please you, but my body
Bestow upon my women, will you?


DUCHESS: Pull, and pull strongly, for your able strength
Must pull down heaven upon me.
Yet stay, heaven gates are not so highly arch’d
As princes’ palaces; they that enter there
Must go upon their knees. Come, violent death,
Serve for mandragora, to make me sleep.
Go, tell my brothers, when I am laid out,
They then may feed in quiet.

They strangle her

BOSOLA: Where’s the waiting-woman?
Fetch her; some other strangle the children.


Look you, there sleeps your mistress.

CARIOLA: O, you are damn’d
Perpetually for this! My turn is next;
Is’t not so order’d?

BOSOLA: Yes, and I am glad
You are so well prepar’d for’t.

CARIOLA: You are deceiv’d, sir,
I am not prepared for’t; I will not die.
I will first come to my answer, and know
How I have offended.

BOSOLA: Come, dispatch her.
You kept her counsel, now you shall keep ours.

CARIOLA: I will not die, I must not; I am contracted
To a young gentleman.

EXECUTIONERS: Here’s your wedding-ring.

CARIOLA: Let me but speak with the duke; I’ll discover
Treason to his person.

BOSOLA: Delays! Throttle her.

EXECUTIONERS: She bites and scratches.

CARIOLA: If you kill me now,
I am damn’d. I have not been at confession
This two years.


CARIOLA: I am quick with child.

BOSOLA: Why then,
Your credit’s sav’d.

They strangle her

Bear her into the next room;
Let this lie still.


FERDINAND: Is she dead?

BOSOLA: She is what
You’d have her. But here begin your pity.

Shows the children strangled

Alas! How have these offended?

FERDINAND: The death
Of young wolves is never to be pitied.

BOSOLA: Fix your eye here.

FERDINAND: Constantly.

BOSOLA: Do you not weep?
Other sins only speak; murder shrieks out.
The element of water moistens the earth,
But blood flies upwards and bedews the heavens.

FERDINAND: Cover her face. Mine eyes dazzle. She died young.

BOSOLA: I think not so; her infelicity
Seem’d to have years too many.

FERDINAND: She and I were twins,
And should I die this instant, I had liv’d
Her time to a minute.

BOSOLA: It seems she was born first.
You have bloodily approv’d the ancient truth,
That kindred commonly do worse agree
Than remote strangers.

FERDINAND: Let me see her face again.
Why didst not thou pity her? What an excellent
Honest man might’st thou have been
If thou hadst born her to some sanctuary;
Or, bold in a good cause, oppos’d thyself,
With thy advanced sword above thy head,
Between her innocence and my revenge.
bad thee, when I was distracted of my wits,
Go kill my dearest friend, and thou hast done’t.
For let me but examine well the cause:
What was the meanness of her match to me?
Only I must confess I had a hope,
Had she continu’d widow, to have gain’d
An infinite mass of treasure by her death;
And that was the main cause — her marriage!
That drew a stream of gall quite through my heart.
For thee, as we observe in tragedies
That a good actor many times is curs’d
For playing a villain’s part, I hate thee for’t,
And for my sake say thou hast done much ill, well.

BOSOLA: Let me quicken your memory, for I perceive
You are falling into ingratitude. I challenge
The reward due to my service.

FERDINAND: I’ll tell thee
What I’ll give thee.


FERDINAND: I’ll give thee a pardon
For this murder.


FERDINAND: Yes, and ’tis
The largest bounty I can study to do thee.
By what authority didst thou execute
This bloody sentence?

BOSOLA: By yours.

FERDINAND: Mine? Was I her judge?
Did any ceremonial form of law,
Doom her to not being? Did a complete jury
Deliver her conviction up i’th’ court?
Where shalt thou find this judgment register’d,
Unless in hell? See, like a bloody fool,
Th’ hast forfeited thy life, and thou shalt die for’t.

BOSOLA: The office of justice is perverted quite
When one thief hangs another. Who shall dare
To reveal this?

FERDINAND: O, I’ll tell thee;
The wolf shall find her grave, and scrape it up,
Not to devour the corpse, but to discover
The horrid murder.

BOSOLA: You, not I, shall quake for’t.

FERDINAND: Leave me.

BOSOLA: I will first receive my pension.

FERDINAND: You are a villain.

BOSOLA: When your ingratitude
Is judge, I am so.

FERDINAND: O horror!
That not the fear of him, which binds the devils,
Can prescribe man obedience.
Never look upon me more.

BOSOLA: Why, fare thee well.
Your brother and yourself are worthy men;
You have a pair of hearts are hollow graves,
Rotten, and rotting others, and your vengeance,
Like two chain’d bullets, still goes arm in arm.
You may be brothers, for treason like the plague
Doth take much in a blood. I stand like one
That long hath ta’en a sweet and golden dream.
I am angry with myself, now that I wake.

FERDINAND: Get thee into some unknown part o’th’ world,
That I may never see thee.

BOSOLA: Let me know
Wherefore I should be thus neglected? Sir,
I serv’d your tyranny, and rather strove
To satisfy yourself, than all the world;
And though I loath’d the evil, yet I lov’d
You that did counsel it, and rather sought
To appear a true servant than an honest man.

FERDINAND: I’ll go hunt the badger by owl-light.
‘Tis a deed of darkness.


BOSOLA: He’s much distracted. Off, my painted honor!
While with vain hopes our faculties we tire,
We seem to sweat in ice and freeze in fire.
What would I do, were this to do again?
I would not change my peace of conscience
For all the wealth of Europe. She stirs; here’s life.
Return, fair soul, from darkness, and lead mine
Out of this sensible hell: She’s warm, she breathes.
Upon thy pale lips I will melt my heart,
To store them with fresh colour. Who’s there?
Some cordial drink! Alas! I dare not call.
So pity would destroy pity. Her eye opes,
And heaven in it seems to ope, that late was shut,
To take me up to mercy.

DUCHESS: Antonio!

BOSOLA: Yes, madam, he is living.
The dead bodies you saw, were but feign’d statues.
He’s reconcil’d to your brothers; the Pope hath wrought
The atonement.


She dies

BOSOLA: O, she’s gone again! There the cords of life broke.
O, sacred innocence, that sweetly sleeps
On turtles‘ feathers, whilst a guilty conscience
Is a black register, wherein is writ
All our good deeds and bad, a perspective
That shows us hell! That we cannot be suffer’d
To do good when we have a mind to it!
This is manly sorrow;
These tears, I am very certain, never grew
In my mother’s milk. My estate is sunk
Below the degree of fear. Where were
These penitent fountains while she was living?
O, they were frozen up! Here is a sight
As direful to my soul, as is the sword
Unto a wretch hath slain his father. Come,
I’ll bear thee hence,
And execute thy last will, that’s deliver
Thy body to the reverend dispose
Of some good women. That, the cruel tyrant
Shall not deny me. Then I’ll post to Milan
Where somewhat I will speedily enact
Worth my dejection.



durance: hardship

muse: think

out of: without question

molten brass: possibly an allusion to the punishments described in Deuteronomy 28

custom: habit

show: appearance

eyesight: Fortune is often depicted as blind, but in this case she looks on the Duchess’ misery, but does nothing

sport: entertainment

imposthume: ulcer

usher: servant who goes before a person of rank and makes introductions

hinder’d transportation: he couldn’t get his grain to market in time

bell: bellow

cloy’d: filled

corrosiv’d: corroded

quire: choir

perspective: telescope to observe the stars

glass: magnifying glass

haycocks: stacks of hay; the priest plans to tithe (give one tenth) by sleeping with women every tenth night, like the farmer gives a tenth of his hay; also probably an intentional pun on “cocks”

pothecary: druggist

cuckold: a husband whose wife cheats on him

overstraining: preaching too loudly

woodcock: a stupid person

translation: referring to different versions of the Bible, which different groups of Puritans fought over

rope-maker: hangman

placket: pocket, but with a sexual implication

caroche: coach

masque: performance with music and dance

pared: cut

agues: fevers

possets: hot drinks

costive: constipated

insensible: not realized by her

worm-seed: food for worms

salvatory of green mummy: ointment box containing the dust of mummified bodies (used for medicine)

cruded: curdled

puff-paste: light pastry, insubstantial

compass: boundaries

riot: signs of age, wrinkles

breeds: cuts

Glories: Webster also quotes this common proverb in his other tragedy The White Devil

affect fashion: why should we care what our tomb looks like once we’re dead?

images: effigies carved to resemble the person buried in the tomb

wont: accustomed to in the past

charnel: cemetery

in their veins: implying that her brothers are like leeches or vampires

presence: chamber where nobles receive official guests

bellman: bells were rung to drive evil spirits away that lie in wait for the departing soul

mortification: ready for death

competent: sufficient; in contrast to all her property, all she needs now is the space of her grave

vain keeping: why do fools want to hold onto this life full of misery?

reversion: inheritance

apoplexy: stroke

catarrh: cerebral hemorrhage

cassia: perfume

open them both ways: you may wait for death, or choose to go through yourself (suicide); from Seneca

fault: talking too much

knees: she kneels

mandragora: plant used to induce sleep

feed: another image of vampires or carnivores

come to my answer: make my defense

counsel: secrets

contracted: engaged

wedding ring: the noose

discover: reveal information in exchange for her life

When?: an exclamation of impatience

quick: pregnant

credit’s saved: if you die before you have this illegitimate child, your reputation will be safe.

this: the Duchess’ body

murder shrieks out: taken from Genesis 4:10 where God tells Cain, “The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”

infelicity: unhappiness

approv’d: proven

bad: bade, commanded

friend: can also refer to a lover

meanness of her match: marrying a common man beneath her status

gain’d: this is rationalization, as the inheritance would naturally have gone to her son by her first husband; Ferdinand doesn’t want to admit the real reason for his intense jealousy of Antonio.

gall: bitterness

wolf: foreshadowing Ferdinand’s lycanthropia in Act 5.2

pension: payment

him: God

chain’d bullets: cannon balls chained together to cause more destruction

blood: runs in the blood of families

wherefore: why

owl-light: night

painted: false

tire: we attire (dress) ourselves in false hope (that the Duchess may still be alive)

sensible: felt through the senses

store: restore

pity would destroy pity: if he calls out in pity for her life, Ferdinand might hear and return to finish the job.

atonement: reconcilement

turtles‘: turtle doves, associated with love and marriage

suffer’d: allowed

manly sorrow: ironic, why cry now? why didn’t I do something about this before when I had the chance?

estate: situation; I am past fear

fountains: tears

direful: dreadful

post: speed

worth my dejection: I shall do something in keeping with my lowly state of mind

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