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

  FERD.  How doth our sister duchess bear herself
In her imprisonment?
  BOS.        Nobly: I ’ll describe her.
She ’s sad as one long us’d to ’t, and she seems        4
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        8
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.
  FERD.  Her melancholy seems to be fortified        12
With a strange disdain.
  BOS.        ’Tis so; and this restraint,
Like English mastives that grow fierce with tying,
Makes her too passionately apprehend        16
Those pleasures she is kept from.
  FERD.        Curse upon her!
I will no longer study in the book
Of another’s heart. Inform her what I told you.  Exit.        20
[Enter DUCHESS and Attendants]

  BOS.  All comfort to your grace!
  DUCH.        I will have none.
Pray thee, why dost thou wrap thy poison’d pills
In gold and sugar?        24
  BOS.  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;        28
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.        32
  DUCH.        At his pleasure.—
Take hence the lights.—He ’s come.  [Exeunt Attendants with lights.]

  FERD.        Where are you?
  DUCH.        Here, sir.        36
  FERD.  This darkness suits you well.
  DUCH.        I would ask your pardon.
  FERD.  You have it;
For I account it the honorabl’st revenge,        40
Where I may kill, to pardon.—Where are your cubs?
  DUCH.  Whom?
  FERD.        Call them your children;
For though our national law distinguish bastards        44
From true legitimate issue, compassionate nature
Makes them all equal.
  DUCH.        Do you visit me for this?
You violate a sacrament o’ th’ church        48
Shall make you howl in hell for ’t.
  FERD.        It had been well,
Could you have liv’d thus always; for, indeed,
You were too much i’ th’ light:—but no more;        52
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.
  DUCH.        I affectionately kiss it.        56
  FERD.  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,        60
Send it to him that ow’d it; you shall see
Whether he can aid you.
  DUCH.        You are very cold:
I fear you are not well after your travel.—        64
Ha! lights!——O, horrible!
  FERD.        Let her have lights enough.  Exit.
  DUCH.  What witchcraft doth he practise, that he hath left
A dead man’s hand here?  [Here is discovered, behind a traverse, 2 the artificial figures of ANTONIO and his children, appearing as if they were dead.        68
  BOS.  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        72
For that which cannot be recovered.
  DUCH.  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,        76
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.
  BOS.        What ’s that?        80
  DUCH.  If they would bind me to that lifeless trunk,
And let me freeze to death.
  BOS.        Come, you must live.
  DUCH.  That ’s the greatest torture souls feel in hell,        84
In hell, that they must live, and cannot die.
Portia, 3 I ’ll new kindle thy coals again,
And revive the rare and almost dead example
Of a loving wife.        88
  BOS.        O, fie! despair? Remember
You are a Christian.
  DUCH.        The church enjoins fasting:
I ’ll starve myself to death.        92
  BOS.        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.        96
  DUCH.        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?        100
I account this world a tedious theatre,
For I do play a part in ’t ’gainst my will.
  BOS.  Come, be of comfort; I will save your life.
  DUCH.  Indeed, I have not leisure to tend so small a business.        104
  BOS.  Now, by my life, I pity you.
  DUCH.        Thou art a fool, then,
To waste thy pity on a thing so wretched
As cannot pity itself. I am full of daggers.        108
Puff, let me blow these vipers from me.
[Enter Servant]

What are you?
  SERV.        One that wishes you long life.
  DUCH.  I would thou wert hang’d for the horrible curse        112
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.
  BOS.        O, fie!        116
  DUCH.        I could curse the stars.
  BOS.        O, fearful!
  DUCH.  And those three smiling seasons of the year
Into a Russian winter; nay, the world        120
To its first chaos.
  BOS.        Look you, the stars shine still.
  DUCH.  O, but you must
Remember, my curse hath a great way to go.—        124
Plagues, that make lanes through largest families,
Consume them!—
  BOS.        Fie, lady!
  DUCH.        Let them, like tyrants,        128
Never be remembered but for the ill they have done;
Let all the zealous prayers of mortified
Churchmen forget them!—
  BOS.        O, uncharitable!        132
  DUCH.  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.  Exit.        136
[Re-enter FERDINAND]

  FERD.  Excellent, as I would wish; she ’s plagu’d in art. 4
These presentations are but fram’d in wax
By the curious master in that quality, 5
Vincentio Lauriola, and she takes them        140
For true substantial bodies.
  BOS.        Why do you do this?
  FERD.  To bring her to despair.
  BOS.        Faith, end here,        144
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.        148
  FERD.        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,’        152
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;        156
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.        160
  BOS.        Must I see her again?
  FERD.  Yes.
  BOS.        Never.
  FERD.        You must.        164
  BOS.        Never in mine own shape;
That ’s forfeited by my intelligence 6
And this last cruel lie: when you send me next,
The business shall be comfort.        168
  FERD.        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,        172
Which nev’r will slack till it hath spent his fuel:
Intemperate agues make physicians cruel.  Exeunt.
Note 1. Malfi. An apartment in the palace of the Duchess. [back]
Note 2. Curtain. [back]
Note 3. The wife of Brutus, who died by swallowing fire. [back]
Note 4. By artificial means. [back]
Note 5. Profession. [back]
Note 6. Spying. [back]


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