The Duchess of Malfi, by John Webster

Act IV

Scene I. Malfi. An apartment in the palace of the Duchess.

[Enter Ferdinand and Bosola]

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 mastives that grow fierce with tying,
Makes her too passionately apprehend
Those pleasures she is kept from.

Ferdinand. Curse upon her!
I will no longer study in the book
Of another’s heart. Inform her what I told you.

[Enter Duchess and Attendants]

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.
[Exeunt Attendants with lights.]

[Enter Ferdinand]

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?

Duchess. Whom?

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 practise, that he hath left
A dead man’s hand here?

[Here is discovered, behind a traverse,86 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 yon ‘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,87 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 eye-lid.

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 despatch 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 these vipers from me.
[Enter Servant]
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; —
[Exit Servant.]
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 remembered 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.

[Re-enter Ferdinand]

Ferdinand. Excellent, as I would wish; she ‘s plagu’d in art.88
These presentations are but fram’d in wax
By the curious master in that quality,89
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 run pure in ‘t, was more worth
Than that which thou wouldst comfort, call’d a soul.
I will send her masques of common courtezans,
Have her meat serv’d up by bawds and ruffians,
And, ‘cause she ‘ll needs be mad, I am resolv’d
To move forth the common hospital
All the mad-folk, and place them near her lodging;
There let them practise together, sing and dance,
And act 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?

Ferdinand. Yes.

Bosola. Never.

Ferdinand. You must.

Bosola. Never in mine own shape;
That ‘s forfeited by my intelligence90
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 nev’r will slack till it hath spent his fuel:
Intemperate agues make physicians cruel.

Scene II. Another room in the lodging of the Duchess.

[Enter Duchess and Cariola]

Duchess. What hideous noise was that?

Cariola. ’Tis the wild consort91
Of madmen, lady, which your tyrant brother
Hath plac’d about your lodging. This tyranny,
I think, was never practis’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. Who 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 eye-sight
To behold my tragedy. — How now!
What noise is that?

[Enter Servant]

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 sorts92 of madmen, which wild object
Being full of change and sport, forc’d him to laugh,
And so the imposthume93 broke: the self-same 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’ the month
Should be the day of doom, and, failing of ‘t,
Ran mad; an English tailor craz’d i’ the brain
With the study of new fashions; 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,94
Mad ‘cause he was hind’red transportation:95
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.

[Enter Madman]

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, whenas our choir wants breath,
Our bodies being blest,
We ‘ll sing, like swans, to welcome death,
And die in love and rest.

First Madman. Doom’s-day not come yet! I ‘ll draw it nearer by a perspective,96 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.

Second Madman. 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.

First Madman. I have skill in heraldry.

Second Madman. Hast?

First Madman. You do give for your crest a woodcock’s head with the brains picked out on ‘t; you are a very ancient gentleman.

Third Madman. Greek is turned Turk: we are only to be saved by the Helvetian translation.97

First Madman. Come on, sir, I will lay the law to you.

Second Madman. O, rather lay a corrosive: the law will eat to the bone.

Third Madman. He that drinks but to satisfy nature is damn’d.

Fourth Madman. If I had my glass here, I would show a sight should make all the women here call me mad doctor.

First Madman. What ‘s he? a rope-maker?

Second Madman. No, no, no, a snuffling knave that, while he shows the tombs, will have his hand in a wench’s placket.98

Third Madman. Woe to the caroche99 that brought home my wife from the masque at three o’clock in the morning! It had a large feather-bed in it.

Fourth Madman. I have pared the devil’s nails forty times, roasted them in raven’s eggs, and cured agues with them.

Third Madman. Get me three hundred milch-bats, to make possets100 to procure sleep.

Fourth Madman. All the college may throw their caps at me: I have made a soap-boiler 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.
[Exeunt Servant and Madmen.]

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?

Yes, and the more dangerously, since thy sickness is insensible.

Duchess. Thou art not mad, sure: dost know me?

Bosola. Yes.

Duchess. Who am I?

Bosola. Thou art a box of worm-seed, at best but a salvatory101 of green mummy.102 What ‘s this flesh? a little crudded103 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 milk-maid’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 glow-worms, 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 comest to make my tomb?

Bosola. Yes.

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 on our deathbed?
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.

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 by the Executioners.]
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.

First Executioner. We are ready.

Duchess. Dispose my breath how please you; but my body
Bestow upon my women, will you?

First Executioner. Yes.

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 [Kneels]. — 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.
[Enter Cariola]
Look you, there sleeps your mistress.

Cariola. O, you are damn’d
Perpetually for this! My turn is next;
Is ‘t not so ordered?

Bosola. Yes, and I am glad
You are so well prepar’d for ‘t.

Cariola. You are deceiv’d, sir,
I am not prepar’d for ‘t, I will not die;
I will first come to my answer,104 and know
How I have offended.

Bosola. Come, despatch 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.

First Executioner. Here ‘s your wedding-ring.

Cariola. Let me but speak with the duke. I ‘ll discover
Treason to his person.

Bosola. Delays:— throttle her.

First Executioner. She bites and scratches.

Cariola. If you kill me now,
I am damn’d; I have not been at confession
This two years.

Bosola. [To Executioners.] When?105

Cariola. I am quick with child.

Bosola. Why, then,
Your credit ‘s saved.
[Executioners strangle Cariola.]
Bear her into the next room;
Let these lie still.
[Exeunt the Executioners with the body of Cariola.]

[Enter Ferdinand]

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 thou not pity her? What
An excellent honest man mightst thou have been,
If thou hadst borne 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 bade 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.

Bosola. Do.

Ferdinand. I ‘ll give thee a pardon
For this murder.

Bosola. Ha!

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’ the court?
Where shalt thou find this judgment register’d,
Unless in hell? See, like a bloody fool,
Thou ‘st 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’ the 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 honour!
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.

Duchess. Mercy!

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.
[Exit with the body].

86 Curtain.

87 The wife of Brutus, who died by swallowing fire.

88 By artificial means.

89 Profession.

90 Spying.

91 Band.

92 Bands.

93 Boil.

94 Punning on the two senses of “dye” and “corn.”

95 From exporting his grain.

96 Optical glass.

97 The Geneva Bible.

98 Petticoat.

99 Coach.

100 A warm drink containing milk, wine, etc.

101 Receptacle.

102 A drug supposed to ooze from embalmed bodies.

103 Curdled.

104 Trial.

105 An exclamation of impatience.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01