The Duchess of Malfi/Act I, scene i

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Act I, scene i

The Court at Malfi, Italy
The year: 1504

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 masterpiece, 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'th' 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. 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.


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.


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 dependences, in expectation to

Be advanced tomorrow? 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


DELIO: Geometry?

BOSOLA: Ay, to hang in a fair pair of slings, take his latter swing in the

World upon an honorable 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,

It then doth follow want of action

Breeds all black malcontents, and their close rearing,

Like moths in cloth, do hurt for want of wearing.