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The Duchess of Malfi

Act 5 Scene 5

The CARDINAL’S apartments
Enter CARDINAL, with a book

CARDINAL: I am puzzled in a question about hell.
He says, in hell there’s one material fire,
And yet it shall not burn all men alike.
Lay him by. How tedious is a guilty conscience!
When I look into the fish-ponds in my garden,
Methinks I see a thing arm’d with a rake,
That seems to strike at me.


Now, art thou come? Thou look’st ghastly.
There sits in thy face some great determination,
Mix’d with some fear.

BOSOLA: Thus it lightens into action.
I am come to kill thee.

CARDINAL: Ha! Help! Our guard!

BOSOLA: Thou art deceiv’d;
They are out of thy howling.

CARDINAL: Hold, and I will faithfully divide
Revenues with thee.

BOSOLA: Thy prayers and proffers
Are both unseasonable.

CARDINAL: Raise the watch. We are betray’d!

BOSOLA: I have confin’d your flight.
I’ll suffer your retreat to Julia’s chamber,
But no further.

CARDINAL: Help! We are betray’d!



CARDINAL: My dukedom for rescue!

RODERIGO: Fie upon his counterfeiting.

MALATESTE: Why, ’tis not the Cardinal.

RODERIGO: Yes, yes, ’tis he,
But I’ll see him hang’d ere I’ll go down to him.

CARDINAL: Here’s a plot upon me; I am assaulted! I am lost
Unless some rescue!

GRISOLAN: He doth this pretty well;
But it will not serve to laugh me out of mine honor.

CARDINAL: The sword’s at my throat!

RODERIGO: You would not bawl so loud then.

MALATESTE: Come, come, let’s go to bed. He told us thus much aforehand.

PESCARA: He wish’d you should not come at him; but believe’t,
The accent of the voice sounds not in jest.
I’ll down to him, howsoever, and with engines
Force ope the doors.


RODERIGO: Let’s follow him aloof,
And note how the Cardinal will laugh at him.

Exit above, Malateste, Roderigo, and Grisolan

BOSOLA: There’s for you first,
‘Cause you shall not unbarricade the door
To let in rescue.

He kills the servant

CARDINAL: What cause hast thou to pursue my life?

BOSOLA: Look there.

CARDINAL: Antonio!

BOSOLA: Slain by my hand unwittingly.
Pray, and be sudden. When thou kill’d’st thy sister,
Thou took’st from Justice her most equal balance,
And left her naught but her sword.

CARDINAL: O mercy!

BOSOLA: Now it seems thy greatness was only outward,
For thou fall’st faster of thyself than calamity
Can drive thee. I’ll not waste longer time; there.

Stabs him

CARDINAL: Thou hast hurt me.

BOSOLA: Again.

CARDINAL: Shall I die like a leveret,
Without any resistance? Help, help, help!
I am slain.


FERDINAND: Th’ alarum! Give me a fresh horse;
Rally the vaunt-guard, or the day is lost.
Yield, yield! I give you the honors of arms,
Shake my sword over you; will you yield?

CARDINAL: Help me, I am your brother!

FERDINAND: The devil! My brother fight upon the adverse party?

He wounds the CARDINAL, and (in the scuffle)
gives BOSOLA his death wound

There flies your ransom.

CARDINAL: O justice!
I suffer now for what hath former been:
Sorrow is held the eldest child of sin.

FERDINAND: Now you’re brave fellows.
Caesar’s fortune was harder than Pompey’s;
Caesar died in the arms of prosperity,
Pompey at the feet of disgrace.
You both died in the field,
The pain’s nothing. Pain many time is taken away with
The apprehension of greater, as the toothache with the sight
Of a barber that comes to pull it out; there’s philosophy for you.

BOSOLA: Now my revenge is perfect. Sink, thou main cause
Of my undoing. The last part of my life
Hath done me best service.

 He stabs Ferdinand

FERDINAND: Give me some wet hay, I am broken-winded.
I do account this world but a dog-kennel.
I will vault credit and affect high pleasures
Beyond death.

BOSOLA: He seems to come to himself, now he’s so near the bottom.

FERDINAND: My sister, O my sister! there’s the cause on’t.
Whether we fall by ambition, blood, or lust,
Like diamonds, we are cut with our own dust.


CARDINAL: Thou hast thy payment too.

BOSOLA: Yes, I hold my weary soul in my teeth;
‘Tis ready to part from me. I do glory
That thou, which stood’st like a huge pyramid
Begun upon a large and ample base,
Shalt end in a little point, a kind of nothing.

    Enter PESCARA and the others

PESCARA: How now, my lord!

MALATESTE: O, sad disaster!

RODERIGO: How comes this?

BOSOLA: Revenge for the Duchess of Malfi, murder’d
By the Arragonian brethren; for Antonio,
Slain by this hand; for lustful Julia,
Poison’d by this man; and lastly for myself,
That was an actor in the main of all
Much ‘gainst mine own good nature, yet i’th’ end

PESCARA: How now, my lord?

CARDINAL: Look to my brother:
He gave us these large wounds, as we were struggling
Here i’th’ rushes. And now, I pray, let me
Be laid by and never thought of.


PESCARA: How fatally, it seems, he did withstand
His own rescue!

MALATESTE: Thou wretched thing of blood,
How came Antonio by his death?

BOSOLA: In a mist; I know not how.
Such a mistake as I have often seen
In a play. O, I am gone!
We are only like dead walls, or vaulted graves,
That ruin’d, yield no echo. Fare you well.
It may be pain, but no harm to me to die
In so good a quarrel. O, this gloomy world!
In what a shadow, or deep pit of darkness,
Doth womanish and fearful mankind live!
Let worthy minds ne’er stagger in distrust
To suffer death or shame for what is just:
Mine is another voyage.


PESCARA: The noble Delio, as I came to th’ palace,
Told me of Antonio’s being here, and show’d me
A pretty gentleman, his son and heir.

    Enter DELIO, and Antonio’s son

MALATESTE: O sir, you come too late!

DELIO: I heard so, and
Was arm’d for’t ere I came. Let us make noble use
Of this great ruin, and join all our force
To establish this young hopeful gentleman
In’s mother’s right. These wretched eminent things
Leave no more fame behind ’em, than should one
Fall in a frost, and leave his print in snow:
As soon as the sun shines, it ever melts,
Both form and matter. I have ever thought
Nature doth nothing so great for great men,
As when she’s pleas’d to make them lords of truth:
Integrity of life is fame’s best friend,
Which nobly, beyond death, shall crown the end.



He: the unnamed author of the book, probably Luis de Granada, Spiritual and Heavenly Exercises, from which these ideas on hell come.

material: actual, real

rake: the devil with a pitchfork; the Cardinal’s hideous vision resembles Ferdinand’s fear of his shadow, both symbols of guilt and self-loathing.

lightens: becomes visible as action

proffers: offers

unseasonable: come too late

suffer: permit

chamber: you are going where Julia is (the grave)

above: in the original production on the Globe stage, these characters would have appeared in the upper balcony (the inner above)

counterfeiting: pretending to need help, as he warned them he might do to test their obedience; ironically his attempt to conceal his guilt has sealed his doom.

laugh: make a fool of me by tricking me to abandon my pledge

engines: tools such as a crowbar

aloof: at a distance

Justice: often depicted with a sword in one hand and scales in the other

outward: you only appeared to be a great man, when actually you were always a coward

fall’st faster … drive thee: you bring about your own ruin faster than the events themselves

leveret: small rabbit, defenseless animal

horse: possibly an allusion to Richard III’s famous line, “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!” a part which Richard Burbage (who played Ferdinand in the first production) also originated

honors of arms: the right to retain arms after a defeat, if a person surrenders

adverse party: Ferdinand thinks his brother is the enemy in battle

ransom: there is no chance of a ransom if the prisoner is dead

Pompey: Julius Caesar defeated his one-time ally Pompey to become the supreme general of Rome, before his own assassination

barber: barbers also served as dentists and surgeons at this time

wet hay: in his madness he thinks of himself as a horse who is out of breath (broke-winded) which he called for a moment ago

vault credit:  by leaping over (surpassing) expectations that I’ll burn in hell, I’ll surprise everyone by enjoying the pleasures of the afterlife (a doubtful prediction)

in my teeth: the soul was thought to pass out of the mouth at death

pyramid: you began large (like the pyramid’s base) but have ended up small (like its pinnacle)

this hand: his own

neglected: in the end I neglected to follow my good nature. It is characteristic of tragic heroes to accept responsibility for their own actions.

rushes: the reeds covering the stage floor

withstand: how ironic that he did not permit us to rescue him

dead walls: walls that lead to a dead end

womanish: implying weakness, powerless

stagger: waver

play: note Webster’s tongue-in-cheek reference to the implausible circumstances which conclude most tragedies, with everyone of importance dead at the end. Also see theatrical self-references in the Duchess’ line, “I account this world a tedious theatre, for I do play a part in’t ‘gainst my will” (4.1) and Ferdinand’s line to Bosola, “We observe in tragedies that a good actor many times is curs’d for playing a villain’s part” (4.2).

another voyage: Although he has avenged the Duchess and dies in a just cause, Bosola seems to think that his death comes not because of this final deed but as payment for his earlier villainy (as the Cardinal says), thus he assumes that his voyage after death will not take him to a hero’s reward.

arm’d: prepared

right: his mother’s inheritance

eminent things: the brothers; combining “eminent” with “things” is telling irony; how the mighty have fallen

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