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The Duchess of Malfi

Act 5 Scene 2

The CARDINAL’S palace in Rome

PESCARA: Now, doctor, may I visit your patient?

DOCTOR: If’t please your lordship, but he’s instantly
To take the air here in the gallery
By my direction.

PESCARA: Pray thee, what’s his disease?

DOCTOR: A very pestilent disease, my lord,
They call lycanthropia.

PESCARA: What’s that?
I need a dictionary to’t.

DOCTOR: I’ll tell you.
In those that are possess’d with’t there o’erflows
Such melancholy humour, they imagine
Themselves to be transformed into wolves;
Steal forth to churchyards in the dead of night,
And dig dead bodies up, as two nights since
One met the Duke ’bout midnight in a lane
Behind St. Mark’s Church, with the leg of a man
Upon his shoulder, and he howl’d fearfully,
Said he was a wolf, only the difference
Was, a wolf’s skin was hairy on the outside,
His on the inside; bade them take their swords,
Rip up his flesh, and try. Straight, I was sent for,
And having minister’d unto him, found his grace
Very well recover’d.

PESCARA: I am glad on’t.

DOCTOR: Yet not without some fear
Of a relapse. If he grow to his fit again,
I’ll go a nearer way to work with him
Than ever Paracelsus dream’d of. If
They’ll give me leave, I’ll buffet his madness out of him.
Stand aside; he comes.


FERDINAND: Leave me.

MALATESTE: Why doth your lordship love this solitariness?

FERDINAND: Eagles commonly fly alone, They are crows,
Daws, and starlings that flock together. Look,
What’s that follows me?

MALATESTE: Nothing, my lord.


MALATESTE: ‘Tis your shadow.

FERDINAND: Stay it; let it not haunt me.

MALATESTE: Impossible, if you move, and the sun shine.

FERDINAND: I will throttle it.

MALATESTE: O, my lord, you are angry with nothing.

FERDINAND: You are a fool.
How is’t possible I should catch my shadow
Unless I fall upon’t? When I go to hell,
I mean to carry a bribe; for, look you,
Good gifts evermore make way for the worst persons.

PESCARA: Rise, good my lord.

FERDINAND: I am studying the art of patience.

PESCARA: ‘Tis a noble virtue.

FERDINAND: To drive six snails before me from this town
To Moscow; neither use goad nor whip to them,
But let them take their own time (the patient’st man i’th’ world
Match me for an experiment) and I’ll crawl
After like a sheep-biter.

CARDINAL: Force him up.

FERDINAND: Use me well, you were best.
What I have done, I have done: I’ll confess nothing.

DOCTOR: Now let me come to him. Are you mad,
My lord, are you out of your princely wits?

FERDINAND: What’s he?

PESCARA: Your doctor.

FERDINAND: Let me have his beard saw’d off,
And his eyebrows fil’d more civil.

DOCTOR: I must do mad tricks with him, for that’s the only way on’t. —
I have brought your grace a salamander’s skin, to keep you
From sun-burning.

FERDINAND: I have cruel sore eyes.

DOCTOR: The white of a cockatrix’s egg is present remedy.

FERDINAND: Let it be new-laid one, you were best.
Hide me from him. Physicians are like kings,
They brook no contradiction.

DOCTOR: Now he begins to fear me.
Now let me be alone with him.

FERDINAND tries to undress, but they seize him

CARDINAL: How now? Put off your gown?

DOCTOR: Let me have
Some forty urinals filled with rose-water;
He and I’ll go pelt one another with them.
Now he begins to fear me. Can you fetch a frisk, sir?
Let him go, let him go upon my peril.
I find by his eye he stands in awe of me;
I’ll make him as tame as a dormouse.

FERDINAND: Can you fetch your frisks, sir! I will stamp him
Into a cullis, flay off his skin, to cover one of the anatomies
This rogue hath set i’th’ cold yonder in Barber-Chirugeon’s hall.
Hence, hence! you are all of you like beasts for sacrifice;
There’s nothing left of you but tongue and belly,
Flattery and lechery.

FERDINAND runs off

PESCARA: Doctor, he did not fear you throughly.

DOCTOR: True, I was somewhat too forward.

BOSOLA: Mercy upon me, what a fatal judgement
Hath fall’n upon this Ferdinand!

PESCARA: Knows your grace
What accident hath brought unto the prince
This strange distraction?

CARDINAL: [aside] I must feign somewhat — Thus they say it grew:
You have heard it rumour’d for these many years
None of our family dies but there is seen
The shape of an old woman, which is given
By tradition to us to have been murder’d
By her nephews for her riches. Such a figure
One night, as the prince sat up late at’s book,
Appear’d to him. When crying out for help,
The gentleman of’s chamber found his grace
All on a cold sweat, alter’d much in face
And language, since which apparition,
He hath grown worse and worse, and I much fear
He cannot live.

BOSOLA: Sit, I would speak with you.

PESCARA: We’ll leave your grace,
Wishing to the sick prince, our noble lord,
All health of mind and body.

CARDINAL: You are most welcome.

Exit all but CARDINAL and BOSOLA

Are you come? So. [aside] This fellow must not know
By any means I had intelligence
In our duchess’ death; for though I counsel’d it,
The full of all th’ engagement seem’d to grow
From Ferdinand — Now, sir, how fares our sister?
I do not think but sorrow makes her look
Like to an oft-dy’d garment. She shall now
Taste comfort from me. Why do you look so wildly?
O, the fortune of your master here, the prince,
Dejects you; but be you of happy comfort.
If you’ll do one thing for me, I’ll entreat,
Though he had a cold tombstone o’er his bones,
I’d make you what you would be.

BOSOLA: Anything,
Give it me in a breath, and fly to’t.
They that think long, small expedition win,
For musing much o’th’ end, cannot begin.


JULIA: Sir, will you come in to supper?

CARDINAL: I am busy; leave me.

JULIA: [aside] What an excellent shape hath that fellow!


CARDINAL: ‘Tis thus. Antonio lurks here in Milan.
Enquire him out, and kill him. While he lives,
Our sister cannot marry, and I have thought
Of an excellent match for her. Do this, and style me
Thy advancement.

BOSOLA: But by what means shall I find him out?

CARDINAL: There is a gentleman call’d Delio,
Here in the camp, that hath been long approv’d
His loyal friend. Set eye upon that fellow;
Follow him to mass. Maybe Antonio,
Although he do account religion
But a school-name, for fashion of the world
May accompany him; or else go enquire out
Delio’s confessor, and see if you can bribe
Him to reveal it. There are a thousand ways
A man might find to trace him, as to know
What fellows haunt the Jews, for taking up
Great sums of money, for sure he’s in want;
Or else to go to th’ picture-makers, and learn
Who bought her picture lately. Some of these
Happily may take.

BOSOLA: Well, I’ll not freeze i’th’ business.
I would see that wretched thing, Antonio,
Above all sights i’th’ world.

CARDINAL: Do, and be happy.


BOSOLA: This fellow doth breed basilisks in’s eyes,
He’s nothing else but murder; yet he seems
Not to have notice of the duchess’ death.
‘Tis his cunning: I must follow his example.
There cannot be a surer way to trace
Than that of an old fox.

 Enter JULIA with a gun

JULIA: So, sir, you are well met.

BOSOLA: How now?

JULIA: Nay, the doors are fast enough.
Now, sir, I will make you confess your treachery.

BOSOLA: Treachery!

JULIA: Yes, confess to me
Which of my women ’twas you hired to put
Love-powder into my drink?

BOSOLA: Love-powder?

JULIA: Yes, when I was at Malfi.
Why should I fall in love with such a face else?
I have already suffer’d for thee so much pain,
The only remedy to do me good
Is to kill my longing.

BOSOLA: Sure your pistol holds
Nothing but perfumes, or kissing-comforts. Excellent lady!
You have a pretty way on’t to discover
Your longing. Come, come, I’ll disarm you,
And arm you thus. Yet this is wondrous strange.

JULIA: Compare thy form and my eyes together,
You’ll find my love no such great miracle. Now you’ll say
I am wanton. This nice modesty in ladies
Is but a troublesome familiar
That haunts them.

BOSOLA: Know you me, I am a blunt soldier.

JULIA: The better;
Sure, there wants fire, where there are no lively sparks
Of roughness.

BOSOLA: And I want compliment.

JULIA: Why, ignorance in courtship cannot make you do amiss,
If you have a heart to do well.

BOSOLA: You are very fair.

JULIA: Nay, if you lay beauty to my charge,
I must plead unguilty.

BOSOLA: Your bright eyes
Carry a quiver of darts in them, sharper
Than sun-beams.

JULIA: You will mar me with commendation,
Put yourself to the charge of courting me,
Whereas now I woo you.

BOSOLA: [aside] I have it; I will work upon this creature —
Let us grow most amorously familiar.
If the great cardinal should see me thus,
Would he not count me a villain?

JULIA: No, he might count me a wanton,
Not lay a scruple of offence on you;
For if I see, and steal a diamond,
The fault is not i’th’ stone but in me the thief
That purloins it. I am sudden with you.
We that are great women of pleasure, use to cut off
These uncertain wishes and unquiet longings,
And in an instant join the sweet delight
And the pretty excuse together. Had you been i’th’ street,
Under my chamber window, even there
I should have courted you.

BOSOLA: O, you are an excellent lady!

JULIA: Bid me do somewhat for you presently,
To express I love you.

BOSOLA: I will, and if you love me,
Fail not to effect it. The cardinal is grown wondrous melancholy.
Demand the cause, let him not put you off
With feign’d excuse; discover the main ground on’t.

JULIA: Why would you know this?

BOSOLA: I have depended on him,
And I hear that he is fall’n in some disgrace
With the emperor; if he be, like the mice
That forsake falling houses, I would shift
To other dependence.

JULIA: You shall not need follow the wars.
I’ll be your maintenance.

BOSOLA: And I your loyal servant;
But I cannot leave my calling.

JULIA: Not leave
An ungrateful general, for the love of a sweet lady?
You are like some cannot sleep in feather-beds,
But must have blocks for their pillows.

BOSOLA: Will you do this?

JULIA: Cunningly.

BOSOLA: Tomorrow, I’ll expect th’intelligence.

JULIA: Tomorrow? Get you into my cabinet;
You shall have it with you. Do not delay me,
No more than I do you. I am like one
That is condemn’d; I have my pardon promis’d,
But I would see it seal’d. Go, get you in.
You shall see me wind my tongue about his heart
Like a skein of silk.

Exit Bosola

CARDINAL: Where are you?


CARDINAL: Let none, upon your lives
Have conference with the prince Ferdinand,
Unless I know it.

Exit servants

In this distraction, he may reveal the murder.
Yond’s my lingering consumption;
I am weary of her, and by any means
Would be quit of.

JULIA: How now, my lord, what ails you?

CARDINAL: Nothing.

JULIA: O, you are much alter’d!
Come, I must be your secretary, and remove
This lead from off your bosom. What’s the matter?

CARDINAL: I may not tell you.

JULIA: Are you so far in love with sorrow
You cannot part with part of it? Or think you
I cannot love your grace when you are sad
As well as merry? Or do you suspect
I, that have been a secret to your heart
These many winters, cannot be the same
Unto your tongue?

CARDINAL: Satisfy thy longing.
The only way to make thee keep my counsel
Is not to tell thee.

JULIA: Tell your echo this,
Or flatterers, that like echoes still report
What they hear though most imperfect, and not me;
For if that you be true unto yourself,
I’ll know.

CARDINAL: Will you rack me?

JULIA: No, judgement shall
Draw it from you. It is an equal fault
To tell one’s secrets unto all or none.

CARDINAL: The first argues folly.

JULIA: But the last tyranny.

CARDINAL: Very well; why, imagine I have committed
Some secret deed, which I desire the world
May not hear of.

JULIA: Therefore may not I know it?
You have conceal’d for me as great a sin
As adultery. Sir, never was occasion
For perfect trial of my constancy
Till now: sir, I beseech you —

CARDINAL: You’ll repent it.

JULIA: Never.

CARDINAL: It hurries thee to ruin. I’ll not tell thee.
Be well advis’d, and think what danger ’tis
To receive a prince’s secrets. They that do
Had need have their breasts hoop’d with adamant
To contain them. I pray thee yet be satisfied.
Examine thine own frailty; ’tis more easy
To tie knots, than unloose them. ‘Tis a secret
That, like a lingering poison, may chance lie
Spread in thy veins, and kill thee seven year hence.

JULIA: Now you dally with me.

CARDINAL: No more, thou shalt know it.
By my appointment, the great Duchess of Malfi,
And two of her young children, four nights since,
Were strangl’d.

JULIA: O heaven! Sir, what have you done?

CARDINAL: How now! How settles this? Think you
Your bosom will be a grave dark and obscure enough
For such a secret?

JULIA: You have undone yourself, sir.


JULIA: It lies not in me to conceal it.

CARDINAL: No! Come, I will swear you to’t upon this book.

JULIA: Most religiously.

CARDINAL: Kiss it.
Now you shall never utter it; thy curiosity
Hath undone thee. Thou art poison’d with that book.
Because I knew thou couldst not keep my counsel,
I have bound thee to’t by death.


BOSOLA: For pity sake, hold!

CARDINAL: Ha, Bosola!

JULIA: I forgive you
This equal piece of justice you have done;
For I betray’d your counsel to that fellow.
He overheard it; that was the cause I said
It lay not in me to conceal it.

BOSOLA: O, foolish woman,
Couldst not thou have poison’d him?

JULIA: ‘Tis weakness,
Too much to think what should have been done.
I go, I know not whither.


CARDINAL: Wherefore com’st thou hither?

BOSOLA: That I might find a great man, like yourself,
Not out of his wits, as the Lord Ferdinand,
To remember my service.

CARDINAL: I’ll have thee hew’d in pieces!

BOSOLA: Make not yourself such a promise of that life
Which is not yours to dispose of.

CARDINAL: Who plac’d thee here?

BOSOLA: Her lust, as she intended.

CARDINAL: Very well. Now you know me
For your fellow-murderer.

BOSOLA: And wherefore should you lay your fair marble colours
Upon your rotten purposes to me?
Unless you imitate some that do plot great treasons,
And when they have done, go hide themselves i’th’ graves
Of those were actors in’t?

CARDINAL: No more.
There is a fortune attends thee.

BOSOLA: Shall I go sue to fortune any longer?
‘Tis the fool’s pilgrimage.

CARDINAL: I have honors in store for thee.

BOSOLA: There are a many ways that conduct to seeming
Honor, and some of them very dirty ones.

CARDINAL: Throw to the devil
Thy melancholy. The fire burns well;
What need we keep a stirring of’t, and make
A greater smother? Thou wilt kill Antonio?


CARDINAL: Take up that body.

BOSOLA: I think I shall
Shortly grow the common bier for church-yards.

CARDINAL: I will allow thee some dozen of attendants,
To aid thee in the murder.

BOSOLA: O, by no means.
Physicians that apply horseleeches to any rank swelling
Use to cut off their tails that the blood may run through them
The faster. Let me have no train when I go to shed blood,
Lest it make me have a greater when I ride to the gallows.

CARDINAL: Come to me after midnight, to help to remove that body
To her own lodging. I’ll give out she died o’th’ plague;
‘Twill breed the less enquiry after her death.

BOSOLA: Where’s Castruchio, her husband?

CARDINAL: He’s rode to Naples, to take possession
Of Antonio’s citadel.

BOSOLA: Believe me, you have done a very happy turn.

CARDINAL: Fail not to come. There is the master-key
Of our lodgings, and by that you may conceive
What trust I plant in you.

BOSOLA: You shall find me ready.


O, poor, Antonio, though nothing be so needful
To thy estate as pity, yet I find
Nothing so dangerous! I must look to my footing;
In such slippery ice-pavements, men had need
To be frost-nail’d well, they may break their necks else.
The precedent’s here afore me. How this man
Bears up in blood! seems fearless! Why, ’tis well.
Security some men call the suburbs of hell,
Only a dead wall between. Well, good Antonio,
I’ll seek thee out, and all my cares shall be
To put thee into safety from the reach
Of these most cruel biters, that have got
Some of thy blood already. It may be
I’ll join with thee in a most just revenge.
The weakest arm is strong enough that strikes
With the sword of justice. Still methinks the duchess
Haunts me. There, there! ’tis nothing but my melancholy.
O Penitence, let me truly taste thy cup,
That throws men down, only to raise them up!



instantly: shortly

to’t: to understand it

melacholy: one of four bodily fluids called humours, melancholy causing sadness, moodiness; see comments 2.5.

try: see for themselves

Paracelsus: German physician known for his radical cures

eagles: noble birds, in contrast to commoners (daws)

haunt: Ferdinand’s shadow is seen by commentators as a symbol of his guilty conscience; compare the image that the Cardinal sees in the pond (5.5)

sheep-biter: a sheep dog that drives the flock by biting at them

civil: that is, I don’t like your looks

salamander: a lizard which was thought to be able to live in fire

cruel sore eyes: perhaps a guilty reference to the sight of his dead sister (“Mine eyes dazzle”)

cockatrix: a mythical monster similar to the basilisk, whose looks could kill

brook: permit

fetch a frisk: dance a jig

cullis: broth; that is, beat him to a bloody pulp

anatomies: skeletons used by medical colleges, implying that this doctor has supplied many of them by his bad practice

Chirugeon’s: Surgeon’s; barbers also performed some surgical practices such as bleeding

tongue and belly: man is nothing but a deceiver and a creature of appetite

throughly: thoroughly

feign: pretend

intelligence: knowledge

full of all th’ engagement: the entire plan appeared to come from Ferdinand

oft-dy’d garment: pale

in a breath: quickly

think long: people who think about an action too long never get around to performing it, and so accomplish nothing

that fellow: admiring Bosola

style me thy advancement: name your price

mass: church service

school-name: a mere word, not taken seriously

fashion: for appearance’s sake he may go with him to church

taking up: borrowing; Jews were known for lending money

picture-makers: painters of miniature portraits

her: the Duchess

happily: perhaps

freeze: delay

basilisks: mythical creature whose glance was fatal

surer way to trace: better path to follow

fast: locked tight

kissing-comforts: breath mints

discover: uncover, reveal

disarm: he takes her gun from her, then takes her in his arms

wanton: lustful

familiar: spirit in the form of an animal that accompanies witches; modesty just gets in the way of their desires

wants: lacks

want compliment: I lack the ability to compliment, I’m no flatterer

charge: task

cut off: we dispense with merely longing for someone and take our pleasure without hesitating

dependence: means of support

follow the wars: become a mercenary

calling: profession as a hired killer

pillows: that is, someone who always chooses the hard life

cabinet: closet

distraction: insanity

Yond’s: there is (Julia)

consumption: disease

quit of: rid of her

secretary: confidant

satisfy thy longing: “get over it”

rack: torture

adamant: have their hearts encased with the hardest metal

dally: toy

book: Webster loves outlandish murder weapons; in his other tragedy The White Devil, he uses a poisoned mask and a poisoned portrait.

colours: why do you paint me in your colors, which hide your rotten acts?

actors: men cover up their crimes by killing those who helped them accomplish the deed

smother: smoke; that is, why stir up trouble when things are going well?

that body: Julia

grow: become

bier: the stand on which coffins are placed; Bosola also had to carry off the Duchess’ body

horseleeches: applied to swelling to suck the blood off

train: followers

estate: condition; Bosola wants to offer pity to Antonio but knows this is a dangerous path as it sets him against the Cardinal

frost-nail’d: spiked boots for gripping the ice

precedent’s: example; Bosola needs to be as fearless as the Cardinal in his bloody dealings

bears up: is wading in blood

security: with no fear of danger, men do evil deeds which lead to hell

biters: blood suckers. Compare the Duchess’s last comment before they strangle her, “Go, tell my brothers, when I am laid out, They then may feed in quiet” (4.2).

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