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 III
 
 
[Enter FERDINAND, DUCHESS, CARDINAL, and CARIOLA] 1

  CARD.  We are to part from you; and your own discretion
Must now be your director.
  FERD.        You are a widow:
You know already what man is; and therefore        4
Let not youth, high promotion, eloquence——
  CARD.  No,
Nor anything without the addition, honour,
Sway your high blood.        8
  FERD.        Marry! they are most luxurious 2
Will wed twice.
  CARD.        O, fie!
  FERD.        Their livers are more spotted        12
Than Laban’s sheep. 3
  DUCH.        Diamonds are of most value,
They say, that have pass’d through most jewellers’ hands.
  FERD.  Whores by that rule are precious.        16
  DUCH.        Will you hear me?
I ’ll never marry.
  CARD.        So most widows say;
But commonly that motion lasts no longer        20
Than the turning of an hour-glass: the funeral sermon
And it end both together.
  FERD.        Now hear me:
You live in a rank pasture, here, i’ the court;        24
There is a kind of honey-dew that ’s deadly;
’T will poison your fame; look to ’t. Be not cunning;
For they whose faces do belie their hearts
Are witches ere they arrive at twenty years,        28
Ay, and give the devil suck.
  DUCH.  This is terrible good counsel.
  FERD.  Hypocrisy is woven of a fine small thread,
Subtler than Vulcan’s engine. 4 yet, believe ’t,        32
Your darkest actions, nay, your privat’st thoughts,
Will come to light.
  CARD.        You may flatter yourself,
And take your own choice; privately be married        36
Under the eaves of night——
  FERD.        Think ’t the best voyage
That e’er you made; like the irregular crab,
Which, though ’t goes backward, thinks that it goes right        40
Because it goes its own way: but observe,
Such weddings may more properly be said
To be executed than celebrated.
  CARD.        The marriage night        44
Is the entrance into some prison.
  FERD.        And those joys,
Those lustful pleasures, are like heavy sleeps
Which do fore-run man’s mischief.        48
  CARD.        Fare you well.
Wisdom begins at the end: remember it.  [Exit.]
  DUCH.  I think this speech between you both was studied,
It came so roundly off.        52
  FERD.        You are my sister;
This was my father’s poniard, do you see?
I ’d be loth to see ’t look rusty, ’cause ’twas his.
I would have you give o’er these chargeable revels:        56
A visor and a mask are whispering-rooms
That were never built for goodness,—fare ye well—
And women like variety of courtship.
What cannot a neat knave with a smooth tale        60
Make a woman believe? Farewell, lusty widow.  [Exit.]
  DUCH.  Shall this move me? If all my royal kindred
Lay in my way unto this marriage,
I ’d make them my low footsteps. And even now,        64
Even in this hate, as men in some great battles,
By apprehending danger, have achiev’d
Almost impossible actions (I have heard soldiers say so),
So I through frights and threatenings will assay        68
This dangerous venture. Let old wives report
I wink’d and chose a husband.—Cariola,
To thy known secrecy I have given up
More than my life,—my fame.        72
  CARI.        Both shall be safe;
For I ’ll conceal this secret from the world
As warily as those that trade in poison
Keep poison from their children.        76
  DUCH.        Thy protestation
Is ingenious and hearty; I believe it.
Is Antonio come?
  CARI.        He attends you.        80
  DUCH.        Good dear soul,
Leave me; but place thyself behind the arras,
Where thou mayst overhear us. Wish me good speed;
For I am going into a wilderness,        84
Where I shall find nor path nor friendly clue
To be my guide.  [CARIOLA goes behind the arras.]
 
[Enter ANTONIO]

        I sent for you: sit down;
Take pen and ink, and write: are you ready?        88
  ANT.        Yes.
  DUCH.  What did I say?
  ANT.  That I should write somewhat.
  DUCH.        O, I remember.        92
After these triumphs and this large expense
It ’s fit, like thrifty husbands, 5 we inquire
What ’s laid up for to-morrow.
  ANT.  So please your beauteous excellence.        96
  DUCH.        Beauteous!
Indeed, I thank you. I look young for your sake;
You have ta’en my cares upon you.
  ANT.        I ’ll fetch your grace        100
The particulars of your revenue and expense.
  DUCH.  O, you are
An upright treasurer: but you mistook;
For when I said I meant to make inquiry        104
What ’s laid up for to-morrow, I did mean
What ’s laid up yonder for me.
  ANT.        Where?
  DUCH.        In heaven.        108
I am making my will (as ’tis fit princes should,
In perfect memory), and, I pray, sir, tell me,
Were not one better make it smiling, thus,
Than in deep groans and terrible ghastly looks,        112
As if the gifts we parted with procur’d 6
That violent distraction?
  ANT.        O, much better.
  DUCH.  If I had a husband now, this care were quit:        116
But I intend to make you overseer.
What good deed shall we first remember? Say.
  ANT.  Begin with that first good deed began i’ the world
After man’s creation, the sacrament of marriage;        120
I ’d have you first provide for a good husband;
Give him all.
  DUCH.        All!
  ANT.        Yes, your excellent self.        124
  DUCH.  In a winding-sheet?
  ANT.        In a couple.
  DUCH.  Saint Winifred, that were a strange will!
  ANT.  ’T were stranger 7 if there were no will in you        128
To marry again.
  DUCH.        What do you think of marriage?
  ANT.  I take ’t, as those that deny purgatory,
It locally contains or heaven or hell;        132
There ’s no third place in ’t.
  DUCH.        How do you affect it?
  ANT.  My banishment, feeding my melancholy,
Would often reason thus.        136
  DUCH.        Pray, let ’s hear it.
  ANT.  Say a man never marry, nor have children,
What takes that from him? Only the bare name
Of being a father, or the weak delight        140
To see the little wanton ride a-cock-horse
Upon a painted stick, or hear him chatter
Like a taught starling.
  DUCH.        Fie, fie, what ’s all this?        144
One of your eyes is blood-shot; use my ring to ’t.
They say ’tis very sovereign. ’Twas my wedding-ring,
And I did vow never to part with it
But to my second husband.        148
  ANT.  You have parted with it now.
  DUCH.  Yes, to help your eye-sight.
  ANT.  You have made me stark blind.
  DUCH.  How?        152
  ANT.  There is a saucy and ambitious devil
Is dancing in this circle.
  DUCH.        Remove him.
  ANT.        How?        156
  DUCH.  There needs small conjuration, when your finger
May do it: thus. Is it fit?  [She puts the ring upon his finger]: he kneels.
  ANT.        What said you?
  DUCH.        Sir,        160
This goodly roof of yours is too low built;
I cannot stand upright in ’t nor discourse,
Without I raise it higher. Raise yourself;
Or, if you please, my hand to help you: so.  [Raises him.]        164
  ANT.  Ambition, madam, is a great man’s madness,
That is not kept in chains and close-pent rooms,
But in fair lightsome lodgings, and is girt
With the wild noise of prattling visitants,        168
Which makes it lunatic beyond all cure.
Conceive not I am so stupid but I aim 8
Whereto your favours tend: but he ’s a fool
That, being a-cold, would thrust his hands i’ the fire        172
To warm them.
  DUCH.        So, now the ground ’s broke,
You may discover what a wealthy mine
I make your lord of.        176
  ANT.        O my unworthiness!
  DUCH.  You were ill to sell yourself:
This dark’ning of your worth is not like that
Which tradesmen use i’ the city; their false lights        180
Are to rid bad wares off: and I must tell you,
If you will know where breathes a complete man
(I speak it without flattery), turn your eyes,
And progress through yourself.        184
  ANT.  Were there nor heaven nor hell,
I should be honest: I have long serv’d virtue,
And ne’er ta’en wages of her.
  DUCH.        Now she pays it.        188
The misery of us that are born great!
We are forc’d to woo, because none dare woo us;
And as a tyrant doubles with his words,
And fearfully equivocates, so we        192
Are forc’d to express our violent passions
In riddles and in dreams, and leave the path
Of simple virtue, which was never made
To seem the thing it is not. Go, go brag        196
You have left me heartless; mine is on your bosom:
I hope ’twill multiply love there. You do tremble:
Make not your heart so dead a piece of flesh,
To fear more than to love me. Sir, be confident:        200
What is ’t distracts you? This is flesh and blood, sir;
’Tis not the figure cut in alabaster
Kneels at my husband’s tomb. Awake, awake man!
I do here put off all vain ceremony,        204
And only do appear to you a young widow
That claims you for her husband, and, like a widow,
I use but half blush in ’t.
  ANT.        Truth speak for me;        208
I will remain the constant sanctuary
Of your good name.
  DUCH.        I thank you, gentle love:
And ’cause you shall not come to me in debt,        212
Being now my steward, here upon your lips
I sign your Quietus est. 9 This you should have begg’d now.
I have seen children oft eat sweetmeats thus,
As fearful to devour them too soon.        216
  ANT.  But for your brothers?
  DUCH.        Do not think of them:
All discord without this circumference
Is only to be pitied, and not fear’d:        220
Yet, should they know it, time will easily
Scatter the tempest.
  ANT.        These words should be mine,
And all the parts you have spoken, if some part of it        224
Would not have savour’d flattery.
  DUCH.  Kneel.  [CARIOLA comes from behind the arras.]
  ANT.        Ha!
  DUCH.  Be not amaz’d; this woman ’s of my counsel:        228
I have heard lawyers say, a contract in a chamber
Per verba [de] presenti 10 is absolute marriage.  [She and ANTONIO kneel.]
Bless, heaven, this sacred gordian 11 which let violence
Never untwine!        232
  ANT.  And may our sweet affections, like the spheres,
Be still in motion!
  DUCH.        Quickening, and make
The like soft music!        236
  ANT.  That we may imitate the loving palms,
Best emblem of a peaceful marriage,
That never bore fruit, divided!
  DUCH.  What can the church force more?        240
  ANT.  That fortune may not know an accident,
Either of joy or sorrow, to divide
Our fixed wishes!
  DUCH.        How can the church build faster? 12        244
We now are man and wife, and ’tis the church
That must but echo this.—Maid, stand apart:
I now am blind.
  ANT.        What ’s your conceit in this?        248
  DUCH.  I would have you lead your fortune by the hand
Unto your marriage-bed:
(You speak in me this, for we now are one:)
We ’ll only lie and talk together, and plot        252
To appease my humurous 13 kindred; and if you please,
Like the old tale in Alexander and Lodowick,
Lay a naked sword between us, keep us chaste.
O, let me shrowd my blushes in your bosom,        256
Since ’tis the treasury of all my secrets!  [Exeunt DUCHESS and ANTONIO.]
  CARI.  Whether the spirit of greatness or of woman
Reign most in her, I know not; but it shows
A fearful madness. I owe her much of pity.  Exit.        260
 
Note 1. Malfi. Gallery in the Duchess’ palace. [back]
Note 2. Lustful. [back]
Note 3. Genesis xxxi., 31–42. [back]
Note 4. The net in which he caught Venus and Mars. [back]
Note 5. Housekeepers. [back]
Note 6. Produced. [back]
Note 7. Qq. read strange. [back]
Note 8. Guess. [back]
Note 9. The phrase used to indicate that accounts had been examined and found correct. [back]
Note 10. Using words of present time; i. e., “I take, not” “I will take.” [back]
Note 11. Knot. [back]
Note 12. More firmly. [back]
Note 13. Of difficult disposition. [back]
 

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