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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
From ‘The Duchess of Malfi’
By John Webster (c. 1580–1634)
 
        
(See full text.)
  
  [The Duchess of Malfi, having secretly married her steward Antonio, arouses thereby the wrath of her brother, Duke Ferdinand, the heir of her great fortune had she died childless. She is forced to separate from her husband, and by the order of her brother she and her children and her attendant Cariola are put to death.]

Scene:  Room in the Duchess’s Lodging.  Enter Duchess and Cariola.

DUCHESS—What hideous noise was that?
  Cariola—                            ’Tis the wild consort
Of madmen, lady, which your tyrant brother
Hath placed about your lodging: this tyranny,
I think, was never practiced till this hour.
  Duchess—Indeed, I thank him: nothing but noise and folly        5
Can keep me in my right wits; whereas reason
And silence make me stark mad. Sit down;
Discourse to me some dismal tragedy.
  Cariola—Oh, ’twill increase your melancholy.
  Duchess—                            Thou art deceived:
To hear of greater grief would lessen mine.        10
This is a prison?
  Cariola—                Yes, but you shall live
To shake this durance off.
  Duchess—                    Thou art a fool:
The robin-redbreast and the nightingale
Never live long in cages.
  Cariola—                    Pray, dry your eyes.
What think you of, madam?
  Duchess—                        Of nothing;
        15
When I muse thus I sleep.
  Cariola—Like a madman, with your eyes open?
  Duchess—Dost thou think we shall know one another
In the other world?
  Cariola—                Yes, out of question.
  Duchess—Oh that it were possible we might        20
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;
The heaven o’er my head seems made of molten brass,        25
The earth of flaming sulphur, yet I am not mad.
I am acquainted with sad misery
As the tanned galley-slave is with his oar:
Necessity makes me suffer constantly,
And custom makes it easy. Who do I look like now?        30
  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        35
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        40
With several sorts of madmen, which wild object,
Being full of change and sport, forced him to laugh,
And so the 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;        45
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 o’t,
Ran mad; an English tailor crazed i’ the brain        50
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 employed him in each morning;
A farmer too, an excellent knave in grain,        55
Mad ’cause he was hindered 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 chained to endure all your tyranny.        60
Enter Madmen
[Here this song is sung to a dismal kind of music by a Madman.]

      Oh, let us howl some heavy note,
            Some deadly doggèd howl,
      Sounding as from the threatening throat
            Of beasts and fatal fowl!
      As ravens, screech-owls, bulls, and bears,        65
            We’ll bell, and bawl our parts,
      Till irksome noise have cloyed your ears
            And córrosived your hearts.
      At last, whenas our quire wants breath,
            Our bodies being blest,        70
      We’ll sing, like swans, to welcome death,
            And die in love and rest.
 
  First Madman—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 the 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.        75
  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.
  First Madman—Come on, sir, I will lay the law to you.
  Second Madman—Oh, rather lay a corrosive: the law will eat to the bone.        80
  Third Madman—He that drinks but to satisfy nature is damned.
*        *        *        *        *
  Fourth Madman—I have pared the Devil’s nails forty times, roasted them in ravens’ eggs, and cured agues with them.
  Third Madman—Get me three hundred milch bats, to make possets to procure sleep.
*        *        *        *        *
[Here a dance of Eight Madmen, with music answerable thereto; 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.        85
  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 know me?        90
  Bosola—Yes.
  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 crudded 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 earthworms. 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.        95
  Duchess—I am Duchess of Malfi still.
  Bosola—That makes thy sleeps so broken:
Glories, like glow-worms, afar off shine bright,
But looked to near, have neither heat nor light.
  Duchess—Thou art very plain.        100
  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?        105
  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 toothache: they are not carved with their eyes fixed 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:
        110
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.        115
  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 condemned persons
The night before they suffer.
  Duchess—                        Even now thou said’st
Thou wast a tomb-maker.
  Bosola—                    ’Twas to bring you
        120
      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!        125
      Much you had of land and rent;
      Your length in clay’s now competent:
      A long war disturbed your mind;
      Here your perfect peace is signed.
      Of what is’t fools make such vain keeping?        130
      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,        135
      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!        140
What will you do with my lady?—Call for help.
  Duchess—To whom? to our next neighbors? 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;        145
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.
        150
  Duchess—I forgive them:
The apoplexy, catarrh, or cough o’ the 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        155
In the 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 smotherèd        160
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,        165
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.
        170
  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 arched        175
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.
[The Executioners strangle the Duchess.]
        180
  Bosola—Where’s the waiting-woman?
Fetch her: some other strangle the children.
[Cariola and Children are brought in by the Executioners; who presently strangle the Children.]
Look you, there sleeps your mistress.
  Cariola—                            Oh, you are damned
Perpetually for this! My turn is next—
Is’t not so ordered?
  Bosola—                    Yes, and I am glad
        185
You are so well prepared for’t.
  Cariola—                        You are deceived, 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.        190
  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,
        195
I am damned: I have not been at confession
This two years.
*        *        *        *        *
[The Executioners strangle Cariola.]
  Bosola—                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
        200
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.        205
  Ferdinand—Cover her face: mine eyes dazzle; she dies young.
  Bosola—I think not so: her infelicity
Seems to have years too many.
  Ferdinand—                        She and I were twins;
And should I die this instant, I had lived
Her time to a minute.
  Bosola—                It seems she was born first:
        210
You have bloodily approved 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 mightst thou have been,        215
If thou hadst borne her to some sanctuary!
Or, bold in a good cause, opposed thyself,
With thy advancèd sword above thy head,
Between her innocence and my revenge!
I bade thee, when I was distracted of my wits,        220
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 continued widow, to have gained        225
An infinite mass of treasure by her death:
And what 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 cursed        230
For playing a villain’s part,—I hate thee for ’t;
And for my sake, thou hast done much ill well.
 
 
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