Fiction > Harvard Classics > John Webster > The Duchess of Malfi
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John Webster (1580?–1634).  The Duchess of Malfi.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Act I
 
Scene I
 
 
[Enter] ANTONIO and DELIO 1

  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?        4
  ANT.        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        8
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        12
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.        16
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        20
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        24
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,        28
If he had means to be so.—Here’s the cardinal.
 
[Enter CARDINAL and BOSOLA]

  BOS.  I do haunt you still.
  CARD.  So.
  BOS.  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!        32
  CARD.  You enforce your merit too much.
  BOS.  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?
  CARD.  Would you could become honest!
  BOS.  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.        36
  ANT.  He hath denied thee some suit?
  BOS.  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?
  BOS.  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.  [Exit.]        40
  DEL. 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,        44
When he recover’d Naples.
  ANT.        ’Tis great pity
He should be thus neglected: I have heard
He ’s very valiant. This foul melancholy        48
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        52
Breeds all black malcontents; and their close rearing,
Like moths in cloth, do hurt for want of wearing.
 
Note 1. Malfi, The presence-chamber in the palace of the Duchess. [back]
Note 2. Prevent. [back]
 

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