The Duchess of Malfi

Act II

Scene 1

The Court at Malfi, a few months later


BOSOLA: You say you would fain be taken for an eminent courtier?

CASTRUCHIO: 'Tis the very main of my ambition.

BOSOLA: Let me see: you have a reasonable good face for't already, And your night-cap expresses your ears sufficient largely. I would have you learn to twirl the strings of your band With a good grace, and in a set speech, at th'end of every sentence, To hum three or four times, or blow your nose till it smart again, To recover your memory. When you come to be a president In criminal causes, if you smile upon a prisoner, hang him, but if You frown upon him, and threaten him, let him be sure to 'scape The gallows.

CASTRUCHIO: I would be a very merry president.

BOSOLA: Do not sup a' nights; 'twill beget you An admirable wit.

CASTRUCHIO: Rather it would make me have a good stomach to quarrel; For they say, your roaring boys eat meat seldom, And that makes them so valiant. But how shall I know whether the people take me For an eminent fellow?

BOSOLA: I will teach a trick to know it: Give out you lie a-dying, and if you Hear the common people curse you, Be sure you are taken for one of the prime night-caps.

Enter an OLD LADY

You come from painting now?

OLD LADY: From what?

BOSOLA: Why, from your scurvy face-physic. To behold thee not painted inclines somewhat near A miracle. These in thy face here, were deep ruts, And foul sloughs, the last progress. There was a lady in France that, having the small-pox, Flay'd the skin off her face to make it more level; And whereas before she looked like a nutmeg grater, After she resembled an abortive hedgehog.

OLD LADY: Do you call this painting?

BOSOLA: No, no, but you call't careening of an old Morphew'd lady, to make her disembogue again. There's rough-cast phrase to your plastic.

OLD LADY: It seems you are well acquainted with my closet.

BOSOLA: One would suspect it for a shop of witchcraft, To find in it the fat of serpents, spawn of snakes, Jews' spittle, And their young childrens' ordure; and all these for the face. I would sooner eat a dead pigeon, taken from the soles of the feet Of one sick of the plague, than kiss one of you fasting. Here are two of you, whose sin of your youth is the very Patrimony of the physician; makes him renew His foot-cloth with the spring, and change his High-priced courtesan with the fall of the leaf. I do wonder you do not loathe yourselves. Observe my meditation now: What thing is in this outward form of man To be belov'd? We account it ominous, If nature do produce a colt, or lamb, A fawn, or goat, in any limb resembling A man, and fly from't as a prodigy. Man stands amaz'd to see his deformity In any other creature but himself. But in our own flesh, though we bear diseases Which have their true names only ta'en from beasts, As the most ulcerous wolf and swinish measle; Though we are eaten up of lice and worms, And though continually we bear about us A rotten and dead body, we delight To hide it in rich tissue; all our fear, Nay all our terror, is, lest our physician Should put us in the ground, to be made sweet. Your wife's gone to Rome: you two couple, and get you To the wells at Lucca, to recover your aches.


I have other work on foot: I observe our Duchess Is sick a-days, she pukes, her stomach seethes, The fins of her eyelids look most teeming blue, She wanes i'th' cheek, and waxes fat i'th'flank, And, contrary to our Italian fashion, Wears a loose-bodied gown; there's somewhat in't. I have a trick may chance discover it, A pretty one: I have bought some apricocks, The first our spring yields.


DELIO: And so long since married? You amaze me.

ANTONIO: Let me seal your lips for ever, For did I think, that anything but th' air Could carry these words from you, I should wish You had no breath at all. [to BOSOLA] Now, sir, in your contemplation? You are studying to become a great wise fellow?

BOSOLA: O, sir, the opinion of wisdom Is a foul tetter that runs All over a man's body: if simplicity Direct us to have no evil, It directs us to a happy being: for the subtlest folly Proceeds from the subtlest wisdom. Let me be simply honest.

ANTONIO: I do understand your inside.

BOSOLA: Do you so?

ANTONIO: Because you would not seem to appear to th' world Puff'd up with your preferment, you continue This out-of-fashion melancholy: leave it, leave it.

BOSOLA: Give me leave to be honest in any phrase, in any Compliment whatsoever. Shall I confess myself to you? I look no higher than I can reach: They are the gods that must ride on winged horses. A lawyer's mule, of a slow pace, will both suit My disposition and business: for, mark me, When a man's mind rides faster than his horse can gallop, They quickly both tire.

ANTONIO: You would look up to heaven, but I think The devil, that rules i'th'air stands in your light.

BOSOLA: O, sir, you are lord of the ascendant, Chief man with the duchess; a duke was your Cousin-german, removed. Say you were lineally Descended from King Pepin, or he himself, What of this? Search the heads of the greatest rivers In the world, you shall find them But bubbles of water. Some would think The souls of princes were brought forth By some more weighty cause, than those of meaner persons: They are deceived, there's the same hand to them; The like passions sway them; the same reason That makes a vicar to go to law for a tithe-pig, And undo his neighbors, makes them spoil A whole province, and batter down Goodly cities with the cannon.


DUCHESS: Your arm, Antonio: do I not grow fat? I am exceeding short-winded. Bosola, I would have you, sir, provide for me a litter, Such a one as the Duchess of Florence rode in.

BOSOLA: The duchess us'd one when she was great with child.

DUCHESS: I think she did. Come hither, mend my ruff, Here; when? thou art such a tedious lady; and Thy breath smells of lemon peels: would thou hadst done! Shall I sound under thy fingers? I am So troubled with the mother.

BOSOLA: [aside] I fear too much.

DUCHESS: I have heard you say, that the French courtiers Wear their hats on 'fore the king.

ANTONIO: I have seen it.

DUCHESS: In the presence?


DUCHESS: Why should not we bring up that fashion? 'Tis ceremony more than duty, that consists In the removing of a piece of felt: Be you the example to the rest o'th' court, Put on your hat first.

ANTONIO: You must pardon me: I have seen, in colder countries than in France, Nobles stand bare to th' prince; and the distinction Methought show'd reverently.

BOSOLA: I have a present for your grace.

DUCHESS: For me, sir?

BOSOLA: Apricocks, madam.

DUCHESS: O, sir, where are they? I have heard of none to-year.

BOSOLA: [aside] Good, her colour rises.

DUCHESS: Indeed I thank you: they are wondrous fair ones. What an unskillful fellow is our gardener! We shall have none this month.

BOSOLA: Will not your grace pare them?

DUCHESS: No, they taste of musk, methinks; indeed they do.

BOSOLA: I know not: yet I wish your grace had par'd 'em.


BOSOLA: I forgot to tell you, the knave gardener, Only to raise his profit by them the sooner, Did ripen them in horse-dung.

DUCHESS: O, you jest. You shall judge: pray, taste one.

ANTONIO: Indeed, madam, I do not love the fruit.

DUCHESS: Sir, you are loath To rob us of our dainties: 'tis a delicate fruit; They say they are restorative.

BOSOLA: 'Tis a pretty art, This grafting.

DUCHESS: 'Tis so: a bettering of nature.

BOSOLA: To make a pippin grow upon a crab, A damson on a black-thorn. [aside] How greedily she eats them! A whirlwind strike off these bawd farthingales! For, but for that, and the loose-bodied gown, I should have discover'd apparently The young springal cutting a caper in her belly.

DUCHESS: I thank you, Bosola: they were right good ones, If they do not make me sick.

ANTONIO: How now, madam?

DUCHESS: This green fruit and my stomach are not friends: How they swell me!

BOSOLA: [aside] Nay, you are too much swell'd already.

DUCHESS: O, I am in an extreme cold sweat!

BOSOLA: I am very sorry.


DUCHESS: Lights to my chamber. O, good Antonio, I fear I am undone!

DELIO: Lights there, lights.


ANTONIO: O my most trusty Delio, we are lost! I fear she's fallen in labour; and there's left No time for her remove.

DELIO: Have you prepar'd Those ladies to attend her? and procur'd That politic safe conveyance for the midwife, Your duchess plotted?

ANTONIO: I have.

DELIO: Make use then of this forc'd occasion: Give out that Bosola hath poison'd her With these apricocks; that will give some colour For her keeping close.

ANTONIO: Fie, fie, the physicians Will then flock to her.

DELIO: For that you may pretend She'll use some prepar'd antidote of her own, Lest the physicians should re-poison her.

ANTONIO: I am lost in amazement: I know not what to think on't.

They exit

Scene 2

Action is continuous


BOSOLA: So, so, there's no question but her tetchiness And most vulturous eating of the apricocks, are Apparent signs of breeding. Now?

Enter an OLD LADY

OLD LADY: I am in haste, sir.

BOSOLA: There was a young waiting-woman, had a monstrous desire To see the glass-house--

OLD LADY: Nay, pray let me go.

BOSOLA: And it was only to know what strange instrument it was, Should swell up a glass to the fashion of a woman's belly.

OLD LADY: I will hear no more of the glass house. You are still abusing women.

BOSOLA: Who I? no, only, by the way, now and then, Mention your frailties. The orange-tree Bears ripe and green fruit and blossoms, Altogether: and some of you Give entertainment for pure love, but more, For precious reward. The lusty Spring smells well; but drooping autumn tastes well. If we Have the same golden showers, that rained in the time of Jupiter The thunderer, you have the same Danaes still, to hold up Their laps to receive them. Didst thou never study The mathematics?

OLD LADY: What's that, sir?

BOSOLA: Why, to know the trick how to make a many lines meet In one center. Go, go, give your foster-daughters good counsel: Tell them, that the devil takes delight to hang at a woman's girdle, Like a false rusty watch, that she cannot discern How the time passes.



ANTONIO: Shut up the court-gates.

RODERIGO: Why, sir? what's the danger?

ANTONIO: Shut up the posterns presently, and call All the officers o'th'court.

GRISOLAN: I shall instantly.

He exits

ANTONIO: Who keeps the key o'th' park gate?

RODERIGO: Forobosco.

ANTONIO: Let him bring't presently.


SERVANT 1: O, gentlemen o'th' court, the foulest treason!

BOSOLA: [aside] If that these apricocks should be poison'd now, Without my knowledge!

SERVANT 1: There was taken even now a Switzer in the duchess' bed-chamber--

SERVANT 2: A Switzer!

SERVANT 1: With a pistol in his great cod-piece.

BOSOLA: Ha, ha, ha!

SERVANT 1: The cod-piece was the case for't.

SERVANT 2: There was a cunning traitor; who would

have search'd his cod-piece?

SERVANT 1: True, if he had kept out of the ladies' chambers: and all the moulds of his buttons were leaden bullets.

SERVANT 2: O, wicked cannibal! a firelock in's codpiece!

SERVANT 1: 'Twas a French plot, upon my life.

SERVANT 2: To see what the devil can do!

ANTONIO: Are all the officers here?


ANTONIO: Gentlemen, We have lost much plate you know; and but this evening Jewels, to the value of four thousand ducats, Are missing in the duchess' cabinet. Are the gates shut?


ANTONIO: 'Tis the duchess' pleasure Each officer be lock'd into his chamber Till the sun-rising; and to send the keys Of all their chests, and of their outward doors Into her bed-chamber. She is very sick.

RODERIGO: At her pleasure.

ANTONIO: She entreats you tak't not ill: the innocent Shall be the more approv'd by it.

BOSOLA: Gentlemen o'th' wood-yard, where's your Switzer now?

SERVANT 1: By this hand 'twas credibly reported by one o'th' blackguard.

Exit Gentlemen

DELIO: How fares it with the duchess?

ANTONIO: She's expos'd Unto the worst of torture, pain and fear.

DELIO: Speak to her all happy comfort.

ANTONIO: How I do play the fool with mine own danger! You are this night, dear friend, to post to Rome: My life lies in your service.

DELIO: Do not doubt me.

ANTONIO: O, 'tis far from me! and yet fear presents me Somewhat that looks like danger.

DELIO: Believe it, 'Tis but the shadow of your fear, no more: How superstitiously we mind our evils! The throwing down salt, or crossing of a hare, Bleeding at nose, the stumbling of a horse, Or singing of a cricket, are of power To daunt whole man in us. Sir, fare you well: I wish you all the joys of a blest father; And, for my faith, lay this unto your breast, Old friends, like old swords, still are trusted best.


CARIOLA: Sir, you are the happy father of a son: Your wife commends him to you.

ANTONIO: Blessed comfort! For heaven' sake tend her well: I'll presently Go set a figure for's nativity.

They exit

Scene 3

Later that night

Enter BOSOLA with a dark lantern

BOSOLA: Sure I did hear a woman shriek: list, ha! And the sound came, if I receiv'd it right, From the duchess' lodgings. There's some stratagem In the confining all our courtiers To their several wards: I must have part of it; My intelligence will freeze else. List, again! It may be 'twas the melancholy bird, Best friend of silence and of solitariness, The owl, that scream'd so. Ha! Antonio!


ANTONIO: I heard some noise. Who's there? what art thou? speak.

BOSOLA: Antonio? Put not your face nor body To such a forc'd expression of fear: I am Bosola, your friend.

ANTONIO: Bosola! [aside] This mole does undermine me-- Heard you not A noise even now?

BOSOLA: From whence?

ANTONIO: From the duchess' lodging.

BOSOLA: Not I: did you?

ANTONIO: I did, or else I dream'd.

BOSOLA: Let's walk towards it.

ANTONIO: No, it may be 'twas But the rising of the wind.

BOSOLA: Very likely. Methinks 'tis very cold, and yet you sweat. You look wildly.

ANTONIO: I have been setting a figure For the duchess' jewels.

BOSOLA: Ah, and how falls your question? Do you find it radical?

ANTONIO: What's that to you? 'Tis rather to be question'd what design, When all men were commanded to their lodgings, Makes you a night-walker.

BOSOLA: In sooth I'll tell you: Now all the court's asleep, I thought the devil Had least to do here; I came to say my prayers, And if it do offend you I do so, You are a fine courtier.

ANTONIO: [aside] This fellow will undo me.-- You gave the duchess apricocks today: Pray heaven they were not poison'd.

BOSOLA: Poison'd! a Spanish fig For the imputation.

ANTONIO: Traitors are ever confident, Till they are discover'd. There were jewels stol'n too: In my conceit, none are to be suspected More than yourself.

BOSOLA: You are a false steward.

ANTONIO: Saucy slave, I'll pull thee up by the roots.

BOSOLA: Maybe the ruin will crush you to pieces.

ANTONIO: You are an impudent snake indeed, sir. Are you scarce warm, and do you show your sting? You libel well, sir.

BOSOLA: No, sir: copy it out, And I will set my hand to't.

ANTONIO: [aside] My nose bleeds. One that were superstitious would count This ominous, when it merely comes by chance: Two letters, that are wrote here for my name, Are drown'd in blood! Mere accident. -- For you, sir, I'll take order I'th' morn you shall be safe-- 'tis that must colour Her lying in-- sir, this door you pass not: I do not hold it fit that you come near The duchess' lodgings, till you have quit yourself.-- The great are like the base, nay, they are the same, When they seek shameful ways to avoid shame.


BOSOLA: Antonio hereabout did drop a paper. Some of your help, false friend. O, here it is: What's here? a child's nativity calculated! The Duchess was delivered of a son, 'tween the hours twelve and one in the night, Anno Dom. 1504, (that's this year) decimo nono Decembris, (that's this night,) taken according to the Meridian of Malfi (that's our Duchess: happy discovery!) The lord of the first house being combust

in the ascendant, signifies short life; and Mars being in a human sign, joined to the tail of the Dragon, in the eighth house, doth threaten a violent death. Caetera non scrutantur. Why, now 'tis most apparent: this precise fellow Is the duchess' bawd. I have it to my wish! This is a parcel of intelligency Our courtiers were cas'd up for: it needs must follow, That I must be committed, on pretence Of poisoning her; which I'll endure, and laugh at. If one could find the father now! but that Time will discover. Old Castruchio I'th' morning posts to Rome: by him I'll send A letter, that shall make her brothers' galls O'erflow their livers. This was a thrifty way. Though lust do mask in ne'er so strange disguise, She's oft found witty, but is never wise.


Scene 4

The Cardinal's apartments in Rome


CARDINAL: Sit: thou art my best of wishes. Prithee tell me, What trick didst thou invent to come to Rome Without thy husband?

JULIA: Why, my lord, I told him I came to visit an old anchorite Here, for devotion.

CARDINAL: Thou art a witty false one; I mean, to him.

JULIA: You have prevail'd with me Beyond my strongest thoughts: I would not now Find you inconstant.

CARDINAL: Do not put thyself To such a voluntary torture, which proceeds Out of your own guilt.

JULIA: How, my lord?

CARDINAL: You fear My constancy, because you have approv'd Those giddy and wild turnings in yourself.

JULIA: Did you e'er find them?

CARDINAL: Sooth, generally for women; A man might strive to make glass malleable, Ere he should make them fixed.

JULIA: So, my lord.

CARDINAL: We had need go borrow that fantastic glass, Invented by Galileo the Florentine, To view another spacious world i'th' moon, And look to find a constant woman there.

JULIA: This is very well, my lord.

CARDINAL: Why do you weep? Are tears your justification? the self-same tears Will fall into your husband's bosom, lady, With a loud protestation that you love him Above the world. Come, I'll love you wisely, That's jealously, since I am very certain You cannot make me cuckold.

JULIA: I'll go home To my husband.

CARDINAL: You may thank me, lady: I have taken you off your melancholy perch, Bore you upon my fist, and show'd you game, And let you fly at it. I pray thee kiss me. When thou was't with thy husband, thou wast watch'd Like a tame elephant: (still you are to thank me.) Thou hadst only kisses from him, and high feeding, But what delight was that? 'Twas just like one That hath a little fing'ring on the lute, Yet cannot tune it: (still you are to thank me.)

JULIA: You told me of a piteous wound i'th' heart, And a sick liver, when you woo'd me first, And spake like one in physic.

CARDINAL: Who's that?


Rest firm, for my affection to thee, Lightning moves slow to't.

SERVANT: Madam, a gentleman, That's come post from Malfi, desires to see you.

CARDINAL: Let him enter, I'll withdraw.

He exits

SERVANT: He says, Your husband, old Castruchio, is come to Rome, Most pitifully tired with riding post.

He exits


JULIA: Signior Delio! [aside] 'tis one of my old suitors.

DELIO: I was bold to come and see you.

JULIA: Sir, you are welcome.

DELIO: Do you lie here?

JULIA: Sure, your own experience Will satisfy you, no: our Roman prelates Do not keep lodging for ladies.

DELIO: Very well: I have brought you no commendations from your husband, For I know none by him.

JULIA: I hear he's come to Rome.

DELIO: I never knew man and beast, of a horse and a knight, So weary of each other; if he had had a good back, He would have undertook to have borne his horse, His breech was so pitifully sore.

JULIA: Your laughter Is my pity.

DELIO: Lady, I know not whether You want money, but I have bought you some.

JULIA: From my husband?

DELIO: No, from mine own allowance.

JULIA: I must hear the condition, ere I be bound to take it.

DELIO: Look on't, 'tis gold; hath it not a fine colour?

JULIA: I have a bird more beautiful.

DELIO: Try the sound on't.

JULIA: A lute-string far exceeds it: It hath no smell, like cassia, or civet; Nor is it physical, though some fond doctors Persuade us seeth't in cullises. I'll tell you, This is a creature bred by--


SERVANT: Your husband's come, Hath deliver'd a letter to the Duke of Calabria, That to my thinking, hath put him out of his wits.

He exits

JULIA: Sir, you hear: Pray let me know your business, and your suit, As briefly as can be.

DELIO: With good speed, I would wish you, At such time as you are non-resident With your husband, my mistress.

JULIA: Sir, I'll go ask my husband if I shall, And straight return your answer.

She exits

DELIO: Very fine. Is this her wit, or honesty, that speaks thus? I heard one say the Duke was highly mov'd With a letter sent from Malfi. I do fear Antonio is betray'd: how fearfully Shows his ambition now; unfortunate fortune! They pass through whirlpools, and deep woes do shun, Who the event weigh, ere the action's done.

He exits

Scene 5


Enter CARDINAL and FERDINAND with a letter

FERDINAND: I have this night digg'd up a mandrake.

CARDINAL: Say you?

FERDINAND: And I am grown mad with't.

CARDINAL: What's the prodigy?

FERDINAND: Read there, a sister damn'd; she's loose i'th' hilts, Grown a notorious strumpet.

CARDINAL: Speak lower.

FERDINAND: Lower! Rogues do not whisper't now, but seek to publish't, As servants do the bounty of their lords, Aloud; and with a covetous searching eye, To mark who note them. O, confusion seize her! She hath had most cunning bawds to serve her turn, And more secure conveyances for lust, Than towns of garrison for service.

CARDINAL: Is't possible? Can this be certain?

FERDINAND: Rhubarb, O, for rhubarb To purge this choler! here's the cursed day To prompt my memory; and here't shall stick Till of her bleeding heart I make a sponge To wipe it out.

CARDINAL: Why do you make yourself So wild a tempest?

FERDINAND: Would I could be one, That I might toss her palace 'bout her ears, Root up her goodly forests, blast her meads, And lay her general territory as waste, As she hath done her honor's.

CARDINAL: Shall our blood, The royal blood of Arragon and Castile, Be thus attainted?

FERDINAND: Apply desperate physic: We must not now use balsamum, but fire, The smarting cupping-glass, for that's the mean To purge infected blood, such blood as hers. There is a kind of pity in mine eye, I'll give it to my handkerchief; and now 'tis here I'll bequeath this to her bastard.

CARDINAL: What to do?

FERDINAND: Why, to make soft lint for his mother's wounds, When I have hewed her to pieces.

CARDINAL: Curs'd creature! Unequal nature, to place women's hearts So far upon the left side!

FERDINAND: Foolish men, That e'er will trust their honor in a bark Made of so slight weak bulrush as is woman, Apt every minute to sink it!

CARDINAL: Thus ignorance, when it hath purchas'd honor, It cannot wield it.

FERDINAND: Methinks I see her laughing: Excellent hyena! Talk to me somewhat, quickly, Or my imagination will carry me To see her in the shameful act of sin.

CARDINAL: With whom?

FERDINAND: Happily with some strong-thigh'd bargeman, Or one o'th' wood-yard, that can quoit the sledge, Or toss the bar, or else some lovely squire That carries coals up to her privy lodgings.

CARDINAL: You fly beyond your reason.

FERDINAND: Go to, mistress! 'Tis not your whore's milk that shall quench my wild-fire, But your whore's blood.

CARDINAL: How idly shows this rage, which carries you, As men convey'd by witches through the air, On violent whirlwinds. This intemperate noise Fitly resembles deaf men's shrill discourse, Who talk aloud, thinking all other men To have their imperfection.

FERDINAND: Have not you My palsy?

CARDINAL: Yes; I can be angry Without this rupture: there is not in nature A thing that makes man so deform'd, so beastly, As doth intemperate anger. Chide yourself. You have divers men, who never yet express'd Their strong desire of rest but by unrest, By vexing of themselves. Come, put yourself In tune.

FERDINAND: So: I will only study to seem The thing I am not. I could kill her now, In you, or in myself; for I do think It is some sin in us, heaven doth revenge By her.

CARDINAL: Are you stark mad?

FERDINAND: I would have their bodies Burnt in a coal-pit with the ventage stopp'd, That their curs'd smoke might not ascend to heaven; Or dip the sheets they lie in in pitch or sulphur, Wrap them in't, and then light them like a match; Or else to boil their bastard to a cullis And give't his lecherous father, to renew The sin of his back.

CARDINAL: I'll leave you.

FERDINAND: Nay, I have done. I am confident, had I been damn'd in hell, And should have heard of this, it would have put me Into a cold sweat. In, in, I'll go sleep. Till I know who leaps my sister, I'll not stir: That known, I'll find scorpions to string my whips, And fix her in a general eclipse.

They exit