The Duchess of Malfi/Act II, scene i

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Act II, scene i
The Court at Malfi, a few months later


BOSOLA: You say you would fain be taken for an eminent courtier?

CASTRUCHIO: 'Tis the very main of my ambition.

BOSOLA: Let me see: you have a reasonable good face for't already,

And your night-cap expresses your ears sufficient largely.

I would have you learn to twirl the strings of your band

With a good grace, and in a set speech, at th'end of every sentence,

To hum three or four times, or blow your nose till it smart again,

To recover your memory. When you come to be a president

In criminal causes, if you smile upon a prisoner, hang him, but if

You frown upon him, and threaten him, let him be sure to 'scape

The gallows.

CASTRUCHIO: I would be a very merry president.

BOSOLA: Do not sup a' nights; 'twill beget you

An admirable wit.

CASTRUCHIO: Rather it would make me have a good stomach to quarrel;

For they say, your roaring boys eat meat seldom,

And that makes them so valiant.

But how shall I know whether the people take me

For an eminent fellow?

BOSOLA: I will teach a trick to know it:

Give out you lie a-dying, and if you

Hear the common people curse you,

Be sure you are taken for one of the prime night-caps.

Enter an OLD LADY

You come from painting now?

OLD LADY: From what?

BOSOLA: Why, from your scurvy face-physic.

To behold thee not painted inclines somewhat near

A miracle. These in thy face here, were deep ruts,

And foul sloughs, the last progress.

There was a lady in France that, having the small-pox,

Flay'd the skin off her face to make it more level;

And whereas before she looked like a nutmeg grater,

After she resembled an abortive hedgehog.

OLD LADY: Do you call this painting?

BOSOLA: No, no, but you call't careening of an old

Morphew'd lady, to make her disembogue again.

There's rough-cast phrase to your plastic.

OLD LADY: It seems you are well acquainted with my closet.

BOSOLA: One would suspect it for a shop of witchcraft,

To find in it the fat of serpents, spawn of snakes, Jews' spittle,

And their young childrens' ordure; and all these for the face.

I would sooner eat a dead pigeon, taken from the soles of the feet

Of one sick of the plague, than kiss one of you fasting.

Here are two of you, whose sin of your youth is the very

Patrimony of the physician; makes him renew

His foot-cloth with the spring, and change his

High-priced courtesan with the fall of the leaf.

I do wonder you do not loathe yourselves.

Observe my meditation now:

What thing is in this outward form of man

To be belov'd? We account it ominous,

If nature do produce a colt, or lamb,

A fawn, or goat, in any limb resembling

A man, and fly from't as a prodigy.

Man stands amaz'd to see his deformity

In any other creature but himself.

But in our own flesh, though we bear diseases

Which have their true names only ta'en from beasts,

As the most ulcerous wolf and swinish measle;

Though we are eaten up of lice and worms,

And though continually we bear about us

A rotten and dead body, we delight

To hide it in rich tissue; all our fear,

Nay all our terror, is, lest our physician

Should put us in the ground, to be made sweet.

Your wife's gone to Rome: you two couple, and get you

To the wells at Lucca, to recover your aches.


I have other work on foot: I observe our Duchess

Is sick a-days, she pukes, her stomach seethes,

The fins of her eyelids look most teeming blue,

She wanes i'th' cheek, and waxes fat i'th'flank,

And, contrary to our Italian fashion,

Wears a loose-bodied gown; there's somewhat in't.

I have a trick may chance discover it,

A pretty one: I have bought some apricocks,

The first our spring yields.


DELIO: And so long since married?

You amaze me.

ANTONIO: Let me seal your lips for ever,

For did I think, that anything but th' air

Could carry these words from you, I should wish

You had no breath at all. [to BOSOLA] Now, sir, in your contemplation?

You are studying to become a great wise fellow?

BOSOLA: O, sir, the opinion of wisdom

Is a foul tetter that runs

All over a man's body: if simplicity

Direct us to have no evil,

It directs us to a happy being: for the subtlest folly

Proceeds from the subtlest wisdom.

Let me be simply honest.

ANTONIO: I do understand your inside.

BOSOLA: Do you so?

ANTONIO: Because you would not seem to appear to th' world

Puff'd up with your preferment, you continue

This out-of-fashion melancholy: leave it, leave it.

BOSOLA: Give me leave to be honest in any phrase, in any

Compliment whatsoever. Shall I confess myself to you?

I look no higher than I can reach:

They are the gods that must ride on winged horses.

A lawyer's mule, of a slow pace, will both suit

My disposition and business: for, mark me,

When a man's mind rides faster than his horse can gallop,

They quickly both tire.

ANTONIO: You would look up to heaven, but I think

The devil, that rules i'th'air stands in your light.

BOSOLA: O, sir, you are lord of the ascendant,

Chief man with the duchess; a duke was your

Cousin-german, removed. Say you were lineally

Descended from King Pepin, or he himself,

What of this? Search the heads of the greatest rivers

In the world, you shall find them

But bubbles of water. Some would think

The souls of princes were brought forth

By some more weighty cause, than those of meaner persons:

They are deceived, there's the same hand to them;

The like passions sway them; the same reason

That makes a vicar to go to law for a tithe-pig,

And undo his neighbors, makes them spoil

A whole province, and batter down

Goodly cities with the cannon.


DUCHESS: Your arm, Antonio: do I not grow fat?

I am exceeding short-winded. Bosola,

I would have you, sir, provide for me a litter,

Such a one as the Duchess of Florence rode in.

BOSOLA: The duchess us'd one when she was great with child.

DUCHESS: I think she did. Come hither, mend my ruff,

Here; when? thou art such a tedious lady; and

Thy breath smells of lemon peels: would thou hadst done!

Shall I sound under thy fingers? I am

So troubled with the mother.

BOSOLA: [aside] I fear too much.

DUCHESS: I have heard you say, that the French courtiers

Wear their hats on 'fore the king.

ANTONIO: I have seen it.

DUCHESS: In the presence?


DUCHESS: Why should not we bring up that fashion?

'Tis ceremony more than duty, that consists

In the removing of a piece of felt:

Be you the example to the rest o'th' court,

Put on your hat first.

ANTONIO: You must pardon me:

I have seen, in colder countries than in France,

Nobles stand bare to th' prince; and the distinction

Methought show'd reverently.

BOSOLA: I have a present for your grace.

DUCHESS: For me, sir?

BOSOLA: Apricocks, madam.

DUCHESS: O, sir, where are they?

I have heard of none to-year.

BOSOLA: [aside] Good, her colour rises.

DUCHESS: Indeed I thank you: they are wondrous fair ones.

What an unskillful fellow is our gardener!

We shall have none this month.

BOSOLA: Will not your grace pare them?

DUCHESS: No, they taste of musk, methinks; indeed they do.

BOSOLA: I know not: yet I wish your grace had par'd 'em.


BOSOLA: I forgot to tell you, the knave gardener,

Only to raise his profit by them the sooner,

Did ripen them in horse-dung.

DUCHESS: O, you jest.

You shall judge: pray, taste one.

ANTONIO: Indeed, madam,

I do not love the fruit.

DUCHESS: Sir, you are loath

To rob us of our dainties: 'tis a delicate fruit;

They say they are restorative.

BOSOLA: 'Tis a pretty art,

This grafting.

DUCHESS: 'Tis so: a bettering of nature.

BOSOLA: To make a pippin grow upon a crab,

A damson on a black-thorn. [aside] How greedily she eats them!

A whirlwind strike off these bawd farthingales!

For, but for that, and the loose-bodied gown,

I should have discover'd apparently

The young springal cutting a caper in her belly.

DUCHESS: I thank you, Bosola: they were right good ones,

If they do not make me sick.

ANTONIO: How now, madam?

DUCHESS: This green fruit and my stomach are not friends:

How they swell me!

BOSOLA: [aside] Nay, you are too much swell'd already.

DUCHESS: O, I am in an extreme cold sweat!

BOSOLA: I am very sorry.


DUCHESS: Lights to my chamber. O, good Antonio,

I fear I am undone!

DELIO: Lights there, lights.


ANTONIO: O my most trusty Delio, we are lost!

I fear she's fallen in labour; and there's left

No time for her remove.

DELIO: Have you prepar'd

Those ladies to attend her? and procur'd

That politic safe conveyance for the midwife,

Your duchess plotted?

ANTONIO: I have.

DELIO: Make use then of this forc'd occasion:

Give out that Bosola hath poison'd her

With these apricocks; that will give some colour

For her keeping close.

ANTONIO: Fie, fie, the physicians

Will then flock to her.

DELIO: For that you may pretend

She'll use some prepar'd antidote of her own,

Lest the physicians should re-poison her.

ANTONIO: I am lost in amazement: I know not what to think on't.

They exit