List Of Contents | Contents of The Duchess of Malfi, by John Webster
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DUCHESS.  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.

ANTONIO.  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.]

DUCHESS.  My laurel is all withered.

CARIOLA.  Look, madam, what a troop of armed men
Make toward us!

     Re-enter BOSOLA [visarded,] with a Guard

DUCHESS.         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
Be sudden.--I am your adventure, am I not?

BOSOLA.  You are:  you must see your husband no more.

DUCHESS.  What devil art thou that counterfeit'st heaven's thunder?

BOSOLA.  Is that terrible?  I would have you tell me whether
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.

DUCHESS.  O misery! like to a rusty o'ercharg'd cannon,
Shall I never fly in pieces?--Come, to what prison?

BOSOLA.  To none.

DUCHESS.           Whither, then?

BOSOLA.                            To your palace.

DUCHESS.                                            I have heard
That Charon's boat serves to convey all o'er
The dismal lake, but brings none back again.

BOSOLA.  Your brothers mean you safety and pity.

DUCHESS.                                          Pity!
With such a pity men preserve alive
Pheasants and quails, when they are not fat enough
To be eaten.

BOSOLA.  These are your children?

DUCHESS.                           Yes.

BOSOLA.                                  Can they prattle?

But I intend, since they were born accurs'd,
Curses shall be their first language.

BOSOLA.                                Fie, madam!
Forget this base, low fellow----

DUCHESS.                          Were I a man,
I 'd beat that counterfeit face<97> into thy other.

BOSOLA.  One of no birth.

DUCHESS.                   Say that he was born mean,
Man is most happy when 's own actions
Be arguments and examples of his virtue.

BOSOLA.  A barren, beggarly virtue.

DUCHESS.  I prithee, who is greatest?  Can you tell?
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
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
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!
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.'
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:
There 's no deep valley but near some great hill.

     Act IV

     Scene I<98>

     [Enter] FERDINAND and BOSOLA

FERDINAND.  How doth our sister duchess bear herself
In her imprisonment?

BOSOLA.               Nobly:  I 'll describe her.
She 's sad as one long us'd to 't, and she seems
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
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.

FERDINAND.  Her melancholy seems to be fortified
With a strange disdain.

BOSOLA.                  'Tis so; and this restraint,
Like English mastives that grow fierce with tying,
Makes her too passionately apprehend
Those pleasures she is kept from.

FERDINAND.                         Curse upon her!
I will no longer study in the book
Of another's heart.  Inform her what I told you.

     [Enter DUCHESS and Attendants]

BOSOLA.  All comfort to your grace!

DUCHESS.                             I will have none.
Pray thee, why dost thou wrap thy poison'd pills
In gold and sugar?

BOSOLA.  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;
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.

DUCHESS.               At his pleasure.--
Take hence the lights.--He 's come.
     [Exeunt Attendants with lights.]

     [Enter FERDINAND]

FERDINAND.                           Where are you?

DUCHESS.                                             Here, sir.

FERDINAND.  This darkness suits you well.

DUCHESS.                                   I would ask you pardon.

FERDINAND.  You have it;
For I account it the honorabl'st revenge,
Where I may kill, to pardon.--Where are your cubs?


FERDINAND.       Call them your children;
For though our national law distinguish bastards
>From true legitimate issue, compassionate nature
Makes them all equal.

DUCHESS.               Do you visit me for this?
You violate a sacrament o' th' church
Shall make you howl in hell for 't.

FERDINAND.                           It had been well,
Could you have liv'd thus always; for, indeed,
You were too much i' th' light:--but no more;
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.

DUCHESS.  I affectionately kiss it.

FERDINAND.  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,
Send it to him that ow'd it; you shall see
Whether he can aid you.

DUCHESS.                 You are very cold:
I fear you are not well after your travel.--
Ha! lights!----O, horrible!

FERDINAND.                   Let her have lights enough.

DUCHESS.  What witchcraft doth he practise, that he hath left
A dead man's hand here?
     [Here is discovered, behind a traverse,<99> the artificial
     figures of ANTONIO and his children, appearing as if
     they were dead.

BOSOLA.  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
For that which cannot be recovered.

DUCHESS.  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,
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.

BOSOLA.                                     What 's that?

DUCHESS.  If they would bind me to that lifeless trunk,
And let me freeze to death.

BOSOLA.                      Come, you must live.

DUCHESS.  That 's the greatest torture souls feel in hell,
In hell, that they must live, and cannot die.
Portia,<100> I 'll new kindle thy coals again,
And revive the rare and almost dead example
Of a loving wife.

BOSOLA.            O, fie! despair?  Remember
You are a Christian.

DUCHESS.              The church enjoins fasting:
I 'll starve myself to death.

BOSOLA.                        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.

DUCHESS.                          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?
I account this world a tedious theatre,
For I do play a part in 't 'gainst my will.

BOSOLA.  Come, be of comfort; I will save your life.

DUCHESS.  Indeed, I have not leisure to tend so small a business.

BOSOLA.  Now, by my life, I pity you.

DUCHESS.                               Thou art a fool, then,
To waste thy pity on a thing so wretched
As cannot pity itself.  I am full of daggers.
Puff, let me blow these vipers from me.
     [Enter Servant]
What are you?

SERVANT.       One that wishes you long life.

DUCHESS.  I would thou wert hang'd for the horrible curse
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.

BOSOLA.              O, fie!

DUCHESS.                      I could curse the stars.

BOSOLA.                                                 O, fearful!

DUCHESS.  And those three smiling seasons of the year
Into a Russian winter; nay, the world
To its first chaos.

BOSOLA.              Look you, the stars shine still<.>

DUCHESS.  O, but you must
Remember, my curse hath a great way to go.--
Plagues, that make lanes through largest families,
Consume them!--

BOSOLA.          Fie, lady!

DUCHESS.                     Let them, like tyrants,
Never be remembered but for the ill they have done;
Let all the zealous prayers of mortified
Churchmen forget them!--

BOSOLA.                   O, uncharitable!

DUCHESS.  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.

     [Re-enter FERDINAND]

FERDINAND.  Excellent, as I would wish; she 's plagu'd in art.<101>
These presentations are but fram'd in wax
By the curious master in that quality,<102>
Vincentio Lauriola, and she takes them
For true substantial bodies.

BOSOLA.                       Why do you do this?

FERDINAND.  To bring her to despair.

BOSOLA.                               Faith, end here,

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