Fiction > Harvard Classics > John Webster > The Duchess of Malfi
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John Webster (1580?–1634).  The Duchess of Malfi.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Act III
 
Scene V
 
 
[Enter] DUCHESS, ANTONIO, Children, CARIOLA, and Servants 1

  DUCH.  Banish’d Ancona!
  ANT.        Yes, you see what power
Lightens in great men’s breath.
  DUCH.        Is all our train        4
Shrunk to this poor remainder?
  ANT.        These poor men,
Which have got little in your service, vow
To take your fortune: but your wiser buntings, 2        8
Now they are fledg’d, are gone.
  DUCH.        They have done wisely.
This puts me in mind of death: physicians thus,
With their hands full of money, use to give o’er        12
Their patients.
  ANT.        Right the fashion of the world:
From decay’d fortunes every flatterer shrinks;
Men cease to build where the foundation sinks.        16
  DUCH.  I had a very strange dream to-night.
  ANT.        What was ’t?
  DUCH.  Methought I wore my coronet of state,
And on a sudden all the diamonds        20
Were chang’d to pearls.
  ANT.        My interpretation
Is, you ’ll weep shortly; for to me the pearls
Do signify your tears.        24
  DUCH.        The birds that live i’ th’ field
On the wild benefit of nature live
Happier than we; for they may choose their mates,
And carol their sweet pleasures to the spring.        28
 
[Enter BOSOLA with a letter]

  BOS.  You are happily o’erta’en.
  DUCH.        From my brother?
  BOS.  Yes, from the Lord Ferdinand your brother
All love and safety.        32
  DUCH.        Thou dost blanch mischief,
Would’st make it white. See, see, like to calm weather
At sea before a tempest, false hearts speak fair
To those they intend most mischief.  [Reads.]        36
‘Send Antonio to me; I want his head in a business.’
A politic equivocation!
He doth not want your counsel, but your head;
That is, he cannot sleep till you be dead.        40
And here ’s another pitfall that ’s strew’d o’er
With roses; mark it, ’tis a cunning one:  [Reads.]
‘I stand engaged for your husband for several debts at Naples: let not that trouble him; I had rather have his heart than his money’:—
And I believe so too.        44
  BOS.        What do you believe?
  DUCH.  That he so much distrusts my husband’s love,
He will by no means believe his heart is with him
Until he see it: the devil is not cunning enough        48
To circumvent us i riddles.
  BOS.  Will you reject that noble and free league
Of amity and love which I present you?
  DUCH.  Their league is like that of some politic kings,        52
Only to make themselves of strength and power
To be our after-ruin; tell them so.
  BOS.  And what from you?
  ANT.        Thus tell him; I will not come.        56
  BOS.  And what of this?
  ANT.        My brothers have dispers’d
Bloodhounds abroad; which till I hear are muzzl’d,
No truce, though hatch’d with ne’er such politic skill,        60
Is safe, that hangs upon our enemies’ will.
I ’ll not come at them.
  BOS.        This proclaims your breeding.
Every small thing draws a base mind to fear,        64
As the adamant draws iron. Fare you well, sir;
You shall shortly hear from ’s.  Exit.
  DUCH.        I suspect some ambush;
Therefore by all my love I do conjure you        68
To take your eldest son, and fly towards Milan.
Let us not venture all this poor remainder
In one unlucky bottom.
  ANT.        You counsel safely.        72
Best of my life, farewell. Since we must part,
Heaven hath a hand in ’t; but no otherwise
Than as some curious artist takes in sunder
A clock or watch, when it is out of frame,        76
To bring ’t it in better order.
  DUCH.  I know not which is best,
To see you dead, or part with you.—Farewell, boy:
Thou art happy that thou hast not understanding        80
To know thy misery; for all our wit
And reading brings us to a truer sense
Of sorrow.—In the eternal church, sir,
I do hope we shall not part thus.        84
  ANT.        O, be of comfort!
Make patience a noble fortitude,
And think not how unkindly we are us’d:
Man, like to cassia, is prov’d best, being bruis’d.        88
  DUCH.  Must I, like to slave-born Russian,
Account it praise to suffer tyranny?
And yet, O heaven, thy heavy hand is in ’t!
I have seen my little boy oft scourge his top,        92
And compar’d myself to ’t: naught made me e’er
Go right but heaven’s scourge-stick.
  ANT.        Do not weep.
Heaven fashion’d us of nothing; and we strive        96
To bring ourselves to nothing.—Farewell, Cariola,
And thy sweet armful.—If I do never see thee more,
Be a good mother to your little ones,
And save them from the tiger: fare you well.        100
  DUCH.  Let me look upon you once more, for that speech
Came from a dying father. Your kiss is colder
Than that I have seen an holy anchorite
Give to a dead man’s skull.        104
  ANT.  My heart is turn’d to a heavy lump of lead,
With which I sound my danger: fare you well.  Exeunt [ANTONIO and his son.]
  DUCH.  My laurel is all withered.
  CARI.  Look, madam, what a troop of armed men        108
Make toward us!
 
Re-enter BOSOLA [visarded,] with a Guard

  DUCH.        O, they are very welcome:
When Fortune’s wheel is over-charg’d with princes,
The weight makes it move swift: I would have my ruin        112
Be sudden.—I am your adventure, am I not?
  BOS.  You are: you must see your husband no more.
  DUCH.  What devil art thou that counterfeit’st heaven’s thunder?
  BOS.  Is that terrible? I would have you tell me whether        116
Is that note worse that frights the silly birds
Out of the corn, or that which doth allure them
To the nets? You have heark’ned to the last too much.
  DUCH.  O misery! like to a rusty o’ercharg’d cannon,        120
Shall I never fly in pieces?—Come, to what prison?
  BOS.  To none.
  DUCH.        Whither, then?
  BOS.        To your palace.        124
  DUCH.        I have heard
That Charon’s boat serves to convey all o’er
The dismal lake, but brings none back again.
  BOS.  Your brothers mean you safety and pity.        128
  DUCH.        Pity!
With such a pity men preserve alive
Pheasants and quails, when they are not fat enough
To be eaten.        132
  BOS.        These are your children?
  DUCH.        Yes.
  BOS.        Can they prattle?
  DUCH.  No.        136
But I intend, since they were born accurs’d,
Curses shall be their first language.
  BOS.        Fie, madam!
Forget this base, low fellow——        140
  DUCH.        Were I a man,
I ’d beat that counterfeit face 3 into thy other.
  BOS.  One of no birth.
  DUCH.        Say that he was born mean,        144
Man is most happy when ’s own actions
Be arguments and examples of his virtue.
  BOS.  A barren, beggarly virtue.
  DUCH.  I prithee, who is greatest? Can you tell?        148
Sad tales befit my woe: I ’ll tell you one.
A salmon, as she swam unto the sea.
Met with a dog-fish, who encounters her
With this rough language; “Why art thou so bold        152
To mix thyself with our high state of floods,
Being no eminent courtier, but one
That for the calmest and fresh time o’ th’ year
Dost live in shallow rivers, rank’st thyself        156
With silly smelts and shrimps? And darest thou
Pass by our dog-ship without reverence?
‘O,’ quoth the salmon, ‘sister, be at peace:
Thank Jupiter we both have pass’d the net!        160
Our value never can be truly known,
Till in the fisher’s basket we be shown:
I’ th’ market then my price may be the higher,
Even when I am nearest to the cook and fire.’        164
So to great men the moral may be stretched;
Men oft are valu’d high, when they’re most wretched.—
But come, whither you please. I am arm’d ’gainst misery;
Bent to all sways of the oppressor’s will:        168
There ’s no deep valley but near some great hill.  Exeunt.
 
Note 1. Near Loretto. [back]
Note 2. Small birds. [back]
Note 3. His vizard. [back]
 

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