Fiction > Harvard Classics > John Webster > The Duchess of Malfi
John Webster (1580?–1634).  The Duchess of Malfi.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Act I
Scene II

  DELIO.  The presence ’gins to fill: you promis’d me
To make me the partaker of the natures
Of some of your great courtiers.
  ANT.        The lord cardinal’s        4
And other strangers’ that are now in court?
I shall.—Here comes the great Calabrian duke.
[Enter FERDINAND and Attendants]

  FERD.  Who took the ring oftenest? 2
  SIL.  Antonio Bologna, my lord.        8
  FERD.  Our sister duchess’ great-master of her household? Give him the jewel.—When shall we leave this sportive action, and fall to action indeed?
  CAST.  Methinks, my lord, you should not desire to go to war in person.
  FERD.  Now for some gravity.—Why, my lord?
  CAST.  It is fitting a soldier arise to be a prince, but not necessary a prince descend to be a captain.        12
  FERD.  No?
  CAST.  No, my lord; he were far better do it by a deputy.
  FERD.  Why should he not as well sleep or eat by a deputy? This might take idle, offensive, and base office from him, whereas the other deprives him of honour.
  CAST.  Believe my experience, that realm is never long in quiet where the ruler is a soldier.        16
  FERD.  Thou toldest me thy wife could not endure fighting.
  CAST.  True, my lord.
  FERD.  And of a jest she broke of 3 a captain she met full of wounds: I have forgot it.
  CAST.  She told him, my lord, he was a pitiful fellow, to lie, like the children of Ismael, all in tents. 4        20
  FERD.  Why, there’s a wit were able to undo all the chirurgeons 5 o’ the city; for although gallants should quarrel, and had drawn their weapons, and were ready to go to it, yet her persuasions would make them put up.
  CAST.  That she would, my lord.—How do you like my Spanish gennet? 6
  ROD.  He is all fire.
  FERD.  I am of Pliny’s opinion, I think he was begot by the wind; he runs as if he were ballass’d 7 with quicksilver.        24
  SIL.  True, my lord, he reels from the tilt often.
  ROD.  Gris. Ha, ha, ha!
  FERD.  Why do you laugh? Methinks you that are courtiers should be my touch-wood, take fire when I give fire; that is, laugh when I laugh, were the subject never so witty.
  CAST.  True, my lord: I myself have heard a very good jest, and have scorn’d to seem to have so silly a wit as to understand it.        28
  FERD.  But I can laugh at your fool, my lord.
  CAST.  He cannot speak, you know, but he makes faces; my lady cannot abide him.
  FERD.  No?
  CAST.  Nor endure to be in merry company; for she says too much laughing, and too much company, fills her too full of the wrinkle.        32
  FERD.  I would, then, have a mathematical instrument made for her face, that she might not laugh out of compass.—I shall shortly visit you at Milan, Lord Silvio.
  SIL.  Your grace shall arrive most welcome.
  FERD.  You are a good horseman, Antonio; you have excellent riders in France: what do you think of good horsemanship?
  ANT.  Nobly, my lord: as out of the Grecian horse issued many famous princes, so out of brave horsemanship arise the first sparks of growing resolution, that raise the mind to noble action.        36
  FERD.  You have bespoke it worthily.
  SIL.  Your brother, the lord cardinal, and sister duchess.

  CARD.  Are the galleys come about?
  GRIS.      They are, my lord.        40
  FERD.  Here ’s the Lord Silvio is come to take his leave.
  DELIO.  Now, sir, your promise: what ’s that cardinal?
I mean his temper? They say he ’s a brave fellow,
Will play his five thousand crowns at tennis, dance,        44
Court ladies, and one that hath fought single combats.
  ANT.  Some such flashes superficially hang on him for form; but observe his inward character: he is a melancholy churchman. The spring in his face is nothing but the engend’ring of toads; where he is jealous of any man, he lays worse plots for them than ever was impos’d on Hercules, for he strews in his way flatterers, panders, intelligencers, atheists, and a thousand such political monsters. He should have been Pope; but instead of coming to it by the primitive decency of the church, he did bestow bribes so largely and so impudently as if he would have carried it away without heaven’s knowledge. Some good he hath done——
  DELIO.  You have given too much of him. What ’s his brother?
  ANT.  The duke there? A most perverse and turbulent nature.        48
What appears in him mirth is merely outside;
If he laught heartily, it is to laugh
All honesty out of fashion.
  DELIO.        Twins?        52
  ANT.        In quality.
He speaks with others’ tongues, and hears men’s suits
With others’ ears; will seem to sleep o’ the bench
Only to entrap offenders in their answers;        56
Dooms men to death by information;
Rewards by hearsay.
  DELIO.        Then the law to him
Is like a foul, black cobweb to a spider,—        60
He makes it his dwelling and a prison
To entangle those shall feed him.
  ANT.        Most true:
He never pays debts unless they be shrewd turns,        64
And those he will confess that he doth owe.
Last, for this brother there, the cardinal,
They that do flatter him most say oracles
Hang at his lips; and verily I believe them,        68
For the devil speaks in them.
But for their sister, the right noble duchess,
You never fix’d your eye on three fair medals
Cast in one figure, of so different temper.        72
For her discourse, it is so full of rapture,
You only will begin then to be sorry
When she doth end her speech, and wish, in wonder,
She held it less vain-glory to talk much,        76
Than your penance to hear her. Whilst she speaks,
She throws upon a man so sweet a look
That it were able to raise one to a galliard 8
That lay in a dead palsy, and to dote        80
On that sweet countenance; but in that look
There speaketh so divine a continence
As cuts off all lascivious and vain hope.
Her days are practis’d in such noble virtue,        84
That sure her nights, nay, more, her very sleeps,
Are more in heaven than other ladies’ shrifts.
Let all sweet ladies break their flatt’ring glasses,
And dress themselves in her.        88
  DELIO.        Fie, Antonio,
You play the wire-drawer with her commendations.
  ANT.  I ’ll case the picture up: only thus much;
All her particular worth grows to this sum,—        92
She stains 9 the time past, lights the time to come.
  CARI.  You must attend my lady in the gallery,
Some half and hour hence.
  ANT.        I shall.  [Exeunt ANTONIO and DELIO.]        96
  FERD.  Sister, I have a suit to you.
  DUCH.        To me, sir?
  FERD.  A gentleman here, Daniel de Bosola,
One that was in the galleys——        100
  DUCH.        Yes, I know him.
  FERD.  A worthy fellow he is: pray, let me entreat for
The provisorship of your horse.
  DUCH.        Your knowledge of him        104
Commends him and prefers him.
  FERD.        Call him hither.  [Exit Attendant.]
We [are] now upon 10 parting. Good Lord Silvio,
Do us commend to all our noble friends        108
At the leaguer.
  SIL.        Sir, I shall.
  [DUCH.]        You are for Milan?
  SIL.  I am.        112
  DUCH.        Bring the caroches. 11—We ’ll bring you down
  CARD.        Be sure you entertain that Bosola
For your intelligence. 12 I would not be seen in ’t;        116
And therefore many times I have slighted him
When he did court our furtherance, as this morning.
  FERD.  Antonio, the great-master of her household,
Had been far fitter.        120
  CARD.        You are deceiv’d in him.
His nature is too honest for such business.—
He comes: I ’ll leave you.  [Exit.]
[Re-enter BOSOLA]

  BOS.        I was lur’d to you.
  FERD.  My brother, here, the cardinal, could never
Abide you.
  BOS.        Never since he was in my debt.
  FERD.  May be some oblique character in your face        128
Made him suspect you.
  BOS.        Doth he study physiognomy?
There ’s no more credit to be given to the face
Than to a sick man’s urine, which some call        132
The physician’s whore, because she cozens 13 him.
He did suspect me wrongfully.
  FERD.        For that
You must give great men leave to take their times.        136
Distrust doth cause us seldom be deceiv’d.
You see the oft shaking of the cedar-tree
Fastens it more at root.
  BOS.        Yet take heed;        140
For to suspect a friend unworthily
Instructs him the next way to suspect you,
And prompts him to deceive you.
  FERD.        There ’s gold.        144
  BOS.        So:
What follows? [Aside.] Never rain’d such showers at these
Without thunderbolts i’ the tail of them.—Whose throat must I cut?
  FERD.  Your inclination to shed blood rides post        148
Before my occasion to use you. I give you that
To live i’ the court here, and observe the duchess;
To note all the particulars of her behaviour,
What suitors do solicit her for marriage,        152
And whom she best affects. She ’s a young widow:
I would not have her marry again.
  BOS.        No, sir?
  FERD.  Do not you ask the reason; but be satisfied.        156
I say I would not.
  BOS.        It seems you would create me
One of your familiars.
  FERD.        Familiar! What ’s that?        160
  BOS.  Why, a very quaint invisible devil in flesh,—
An intelligencer. 14
  FERD.        Such a kind of thriving thing
I would wish thee; and ere long thou mayst arrive        164
At a higher place by ’t.
  BOS.        Take your devils,
Which hell calls angels! These curs’d gifts would make
You a corrupter, me an impudent traitor;        168
And should I take these, they’d take me [to] hell.
  FERD.  Sir, I ’ll take nothing from you that I have given.
There is a place that I procur’d for you
This morning, the provisorship o’ the horse;        172
Have you heard on ’t?
  BOS.        No.
  FERD.        ’Tis yours: is ’t not worth thanks?
  BOS.  I would have you curse yourself now, that your bounty        176
(Which makes men truly noble) e’er should make me
A villain. O, that to avoid ingratitude
For the good deed you have done me, I must do
All the ill man can invent! Thus the devil        180
Candies all sins o’er; and what heaven terms vile,
That names he complimental.
  FERD.        Be yourself;
Keep your old garb of melancholy; ’twill express        184
You envy those that stand above your reach,
Yet strive not to come near ’em. This will gain
Access to private lodgings, where yourself
May, like a politic dormouse——        188
  BOS.        As I have seen some
Feed in a lord’s dish, half asleep, not seeming
To listen to any talk; and yet these rogues
Have cut his throat in a dream. What ’s my place?        192
The provisorship o’ the horse? Say, then, my corruption
Grew out of horse-dung: I am your creature.
  FERD.        Away!  [Exit.]
  BOS.  Let good men, for good deeds, covet good fame,        196
Since place and riches oft are bribes of shame.
Sometimes the devil doth preach.  Exit.
Note 1. The same [back]
Note 2. The reference is to the knightly sport of riding at the ring. [back]
Note 3. At the expense of [back]
Note 4. Rolls of lint used to dress wounds. [back]
Note 5. Surgeons. [back]
Note 6. A small horse. [back]
Note 7. Ballasted. [back]
Note 8. A lively dance. [back]
Note 9. Throws into the shade. [back]
Note 10. At the point of. [back]
Note 11. Coaches. [back]
Note 12. Spy. [back]
Note 13. Cheats. [back]
Note 14. Spy. [back]


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