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The Duchess of Malfi

by John Webster

Introductory Note

Of John Webster's life almost nothing is known.  The dates 1580-1625
given for his birth and death are conjectural inferences, about which
the best that can be said is that no known facts contradict them.

The first notice of Webster so far discovered shows that he was
collaborating in the production of plays for the theatrical manager,
Henslowe, in 1602, and of such collaboration he seems to have done
a considerable amount.  Four plays exist which he wrote alone,
"The White Devil," "The Duchess of Malfi," "The Devil's Law-Case,"
and "Appius and Virginia."

"The Duchess of Malfi" was published in 1623, but the date of writing
may have been as early as 1611.  It is based on a story in Painter's
"Palace of Pleasure," translated from the Italian novelist, Bandello;
and it is entirely possible that it has a foundation in fact.  In any
case, it portrays with a terrible vividness one side of the court
life of the Italian Renaissance; and its picture of the fierce quest
of pleasure, the recklessness of crime, and the worldliness of the
great princes of the Church finds only too ready corroboration in
the annals of the time.

Webster's tragedies come toward the close of the great series
of tragedies of blood and revenge, in which "The Spanish Tragedy"
and "Hamlet" are landmarks, but before decadence can fairly be said
to have set in.  He, indeed, loads his scene with horrors almost past
the point which modern taste can bear; but the intensity of his
dramatic situations, and his superb power of flashing in a single
line a light into the recesses of the human heart at the crises
of supreme emotion, redeems him from mere sensationalism, and places
his best things in the first rank of dramatic writing.

The Duchess of Malfi

Dramatis Personae
FERDINAND [Duke of Calabria].
CARDINAL [his brother].
ANTONIO [BOLOGNA, Steward of the Household to the Duchess].
DELIO [his friend].
DANIEL DE BOSOLA [Gentleman of the Horse to the Duchess].
[CASTRUCCIO, an old Lord].
SILVIO,   > [Lords].
The Several Madmen.

CARIOLA [her woman].
[JULIA, Castruccio's wife, and] the Cardinal's mistress.
[Old Lady].

Ladies, Three Young Children, Two Pilgrims, Executioners,
Court Officers, and Attendants.

     Act I

     Scene I<1>

     [Enter] ANTONIO and DELIO

DELIO.  You are welcome to your country, dear Antonio;
You have been long in France, and you return
A very formal Frenchman in your habit:
How do you like the French court?

ANTONIO.                          I admire it:
In seeking to reduce both state and people
To a fix'd order, their judicious king
Begins at home; quits first his royal palace
Of flattering sycophants, of dissolute
And infamous persons,--which he sweetly terms
His master's master-piece, the work of heaven;
Considering duly that a prince's court
Is like a common fountain, whence should flow
Pure silver drops in general, but if 't chance
Some curs'd example poison 't near the head,
Death and diseases through the whole land spread.
And what is 't makes this blessed government
But a most provident council, who dare freely
Inform him the corruption of the times?
Though some o' the court hold it presumption
To instruct princes what they ought to do,
It is a noble duty to inform them
What they ought to foresee.<2>--Here comes Bosola,
The only court-gall; yet I observe his railing
Is not for simple love of piety:
Indeed, he rails at those things which he wants;
Would be as lecherous, covetous, or proud,
Bloody, or envious, as any man,
If he had means to be so.--Here's the cardinal.

     [Enter CARDINAL and BOSOLA]

BOSOLA.  I do haunt you still.


BOSOLA.  I have done you better service than to be slighted thus.
Miserable age, where only the reward of doing well is the doing
of it!

CARDINAL.  You enforce your merit too much.

BOSOLA.  I fell into the galleys in your service:  where, for two
years together, I wore two towels instead of a shirt, with a knot
on the shoulder, after the fashion of a Roman mantle.  Slighted thus!
I will thrive some way.  Black-birds fatten best in hard weather;
why not I in these dog-days?

CARDINAL.  Would you could become honest!

BOSOLA.  With all your divinity do but direct me the way to it.
I have known many travel far for it, and yet return as arrant knaves
as they went forth, because they carried themselves always along with
them.  [Exit CARDINAL.] Are you gone?  Some fellows, they say,
are possessed with the devil, but this great fellow were able
to possess the greatest devil, and make him worse.

ANTONIO.  He hath denied thee some suit?

BOSOLA.  He and his brother are like plum-trees that grow crooked
over standing-pools; they are rich and o'erladen with fruit, but none
but crows, pies, and caterpillars feed on them.  Could I be one
of their flattering panders, I would hang on their ears like a
horseleech, till I were full, and then drop off.  I pray, leave me.
Who would rely upon these miserable dependencies, in expectation
to be advanc'd to-morrow?  What creature ever fed worse than hoping
Tantalus?  Nor ever died any man more fearfully than he that hoped
for a pardon.  There are rewards for hawks and dogs when they have
done us service; but for a soldier that hazards his limbs in a
battle, nothing but a kind of geometry is his last supportation.

DELIO.  Geometry?

BOSOLA.  Ay, to hang in a fair pair of slings, take his latter swing
in the world upon an honourable pair of crutches, from hospital
to hospital.  Fare ye well, sir:  and yet do not you scorn us;
for places in the court are but like beds in the hospital, where
this man's head lies at that man's foot, and so lower and lower.

DELIO.  I knew this fellow seven years in the galleys
For a notorious murder; and 'twas thought
The cardinal suborn'd it:  he was releas'd
By the French general, Gaston de Foix,
When he recover'd Naples.

ANTONIO.                  'Tis great pity
He should be thus neglected:  I have heard
He 's very valiant.  This foul melancholy
Will poison all his goodness; for, I 'll tell you,
If too immoderate sleep be truly said
To be an inward rust unto the soul,
If then doth follow want of action
Breeds all black malcontents; and their close rearing,
Like moths in cloth, do hurt for want of wearing.

     Scene II<3>

     and GRISOLAN]

DELIO.  The presence 'gins to fill:  you promis'd me
To make me the partaker of the natures
Of some of your great courtiers.

ANTONIO.                          The lord cardinal's
And other strangers' that are now in court?
I shall.--Here comes the great Calabrian duke.

     [Enter FERDINAND and Attendants]

FERDINAND.  Who took the ring oftenest?<4>

SILVIO.  Antonio Bologna, my lord.

FERDINAND.  Our sister duchess' great-master of her household?
Give him the jewel.--When shall we leave this sportive action,
and fall to action indeed?

CASTRUCCIO.  Methinks, my lord, you should not desire to go to war
in person.

FERDINAND.  Now for some gravity.--Why, my lord?

CASTRUCCIO.  It is fitting a soldier arise to be a prince, but not
necessary a prince descend to be a captain.


CASTRUCCIO.  No, my lord; he were far better do it by a deputy.

FERDINAND.  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.

CASTRUCCIO.  Believe my experience, that realm is never long in quiet
where the ruler is a soldier.

FERDINAND.  Thou toldest me thy wife could not endure fighting.

CASTRUCCIO.  True, my lord.

FERDINAND.  And of a jest she broke of<5> a captain she met full of
wounds:  I have forgot it.

CASTRUCCIO.  She told him, my lord, he was a pitiful fellow, to lie,
like the children of Ismael, all in tents.<6>

FERDINAND.  Why, there's a wit were able to undo all the
chirurgeons<7> 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.

CASTRUCCIO.  That she would, my lord.--How do you like my Spanish

RODERIGO.  He is all fire.

FERDINAND.  I am of Pliny's opinion, I think he was begot
by the wind; he runs as if he were ballass'd<9> with quicksilver.

SILVIO.  True, my lord, he reels from the tilt often.


FERDINAND.  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.

CASTRUCCIO.  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.

FERDINAND.  But I can laugh at your fool, my lord.

CASTRUCCIO.  He cannot speak, you know, but he makes faces; my lady
cannot abide him.


CASTRUCCIO.  Nor endure to be in merry company; for she says too much
laughing, and too much company, fills her too full of the wrinkle.

FERDINAND.  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.

SILVIO.  Your grace shall arrive most welcome.

FERDINAND.  You are a good horseman, Antonio; you have excellent
riders in France:  what do you think of good horsemanship?

ANTONIO.  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.

FERDINAND.  You have bespoke it worthily.

SILVIO.  Your brother, the lord cardinal, and sister duchess.

     [Enter CARDINAL, with DUCHESS, and CARIOLA]

CARDINAL.  Are the galleys come about?

GRISOLAN.                               They are, my lord.

FERDINAND.  Here 's the Lord Silvio is come to take his leave.

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