The Duchess of Malfi

Act IV

Scene 1

The court at Malfi, now serving as her prison


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.



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.

DUCHESS: Do you visit me for this? You violate a sacrament o'th' church Shall make you howl in hell for't.

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 You gave.

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.

DUCHESS: I would thou wert hang'd for the horrible curse Thou hast given me: I shall shortly grow one Of the miracles of pity. I'll go pray, no, I'll go curse.

BOSOLA: O, fie!

DUCHESS: I could curse the stars.

BOSOLA: O, fearful!

DUCHESS: And those three smiling seasons of the year Into a Russian winter: nay the world To its first chaos.

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, Consume them.

BOSOLA: Fie, lady.

DUCHESS: Let them like tyrants Never be remember'd, but for the ill they have done; Let all the zealous prayers of mortified Churchmen forget them.

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.



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?


BOSOLA: Never.

FERDINAND: You must.

BOSOLA: Never in mine own shape; That's forfeited by my intelligence, And this last cruel lie: when you send me next, The business shall be comfort.

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.

They exit

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 bone.

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 apoplexy, catarrh, 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. I 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.