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The Duchess of Malfi

Act 5 Scene 4

The CARDINAL’S palace

CARDINAL: You shall not watch tonight by the sick prince.
His grace is very well recover’d.

MALATESTE: Good, my lord, suffer us.

CARDINAL: O, by no means.
The noise and change of object in his eye
Doth more distract him. I pray, all to bed;
And though you hear him in his violent fit,
Do not rise, I entreat you.

PESCARA: So, sir, we shall not.

CARDINAL: Nay, I must have you promise
Upon your honors, for I was enjoin’d to’t
By himself, and he seem’d to urge it sensibly.

PESCARA: Let our honors bind this trifle.

CARDINAL: Nor any of your followers.


CARDINAL: It may be, to make trial of your promise,
When he’s asleep, myself will rise and feign
Some of his mad tricks, and cry out for help,
And feign myself in danger.

MALATESTE: If your throat were cutting,
I’d not come at you, now I have protested against it.

CARDINAL: Why, I thank you. [he withdraws to one side]

GRISOLAN: ‘Twas a foul storm tonight.

RODERIGO: The Lord Ferdinand’s chamber shook like an osier.

MALATESTE: ‘Twas nothing but pure kindness in the devil,
To rock his own child.

Exit all but the CARDINAL

CARDINAL: The reason why I would not suffer these
About my brother, is because at midnight
I may with better privacy convey
Julia’s body to her own lodging. O, my conscience!
I would pray now, but the devil takes away my heart
For having any confidence in prayer.
About this hour I appointed Bosola
To fetch the body. When he hath served my turn,
He dies.


BOSOLA: Ha! ‘Twas the cardinal’s voice; I heard him name
Bosola, and my death. Listen, I hear one’s footing.


FERDINAND: Strangling is a very quiet death.

BOSOLA: [aside] Nay then, I see I must stand upon my guard.

FERDINAND: What say to that? Whisper softly; do you agree to’t?
So, it must be done i’th’ dark. The Cardinal
Would not for a thousand pounds the doctor should see it.


BOSOLA: My death is plotted; here’s the consequence of murder.
We value not desert nor Christian breath,
When we know black deeds must be cur’d with death.


SERVANT: Here stay, sir, and be confident, I pray.
I’ll fetch you a dark lantern.


ANTONIO: Could I take him at his prayers,
There were hope of pardon.

BOSOLA: [stabs him in the dark] Fall right my sword!
I’ll not give thee so much leisure as to pray.

ANTONIO: O, I am gone! Thou hast ended a long suit
In a minute.

BOSOLA: What art thou?

ANTONIO: A most wretched thing,
That only have the benefit in death,
To appear myself.

Enter SERVANT with a light

SERVANT: Where are you, sir?

ANTONIO: Very near my home. Bosola?

SERVANT: O, misfortune!

BOSOLA: Smother thy pity, thou art dead else. Antonio?
The man I would have sav’d ‘bove mine own life!
We are merely the stars’ tennis balls, struck and banded
Which way please them. O good Antonio,
I’ll whisper one thing in thy dying ear,
Shall make thy heart break quickly. Thy fair duchess
And two sweet children —

ANTONIO: Their very names
Kindle a little life in me.

BOSOLA: — are murder’d.

ANTONIO: Some men have wish’d to die
At the hearing of sad tidings; I am glad
That I shall do’t in sadness. I would not now
Wish my wounds balm’d nor heal’d, for I have no use
To put my life to. In all our quest of greatness,
Like wanton boys, whose pastime is their care,
We follow after bubbles blown in th’ air.
Pleasure of life, what is’t? Only the good hours
Of an ague, merely a preparative to rest
To endure vexation. I do not ask
The process of my death; only commend me
To Delio.

BOSOLA: Break, heart!

ANTONIO: And let my son fly the courts of princes.


BOSOLA: Thou seem’st to have lov’d Antonio?

SERVANT: I brought him hither,
To have reconcil’d him to the Cardinal.

BOSOLA: I do not ask thee that.
Take him up, if thou tender thy own life,
And bear him where the lady Julia
Was wont to lodge. O my fate moves swift!
I have this Cardinal in the forge already,
Now I’ll bring him to th’ hammer. O direful misprision!
I will not imitate things glorious,
No more than base; I’ll be mine own example.
On, on, and look thou represent, for silence,
The thing thou bear’st.

They exit with the body


suffer: permit

change of object: anything new disturbs him

sensibly: he seemed to be in his right mind at the time

trifle: business

feign: fake, pretend

cutting: being cut

osier: willow tree

footing: footsteps

strangling: Ferdinand is obsessed with the Duchess’ death

desert: just reward

dark lantern: lantern which could be shuttered to hide the light

suit: quest for justice

benefit in death: you see me now in death as I have truly been in life, a wretched thing

home: heaven

smother: (spoken to the servant) don’t cry out so, or I’ll kill you

banded: bandied, bounced; that is, we are fortune’s playthings

sadness: I am glad to die at the hearing of such sad news

care: idle boys whose only care is how to pass the time

ague: fever, illness; life’s pleasures are as brief as the few restful hours when a fever subsides before the suffering continues

vexation: suffering

process of: reason or explanation for

son: the elder son that Delio is bringing

I do not ask thee that: I don’t want you to attempt a reconciliation, as I have other plans for the Cardinal

tender: value

wont: accustomed to

forge: on the anvil

misprision: mistake

represent: imitate the silence of Antonio now

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