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 II
 
Scene V
 
 
[Enter] CARDINAL and FERDINAND with a letter 1

  FERD.  I have this night digg’d up a mandrake. 2
  CARD.        Say you?
  FERD.  And I am grown mad with ’t.
  CARD.        What ’s the prodigy?        4
  FERD.  Read there,—a sister damn’d: she ’s loose i’ the hilts; 3
Grown a notorious strumpet.
  CARD.        Speak lower.
  FERD.        Lower!        8
Rogues do not whisper ’t now, but seek to publish ’t
(As servants do the bounty of their lords)
Aloud; and with a covetous searching eye,
To mark who note them. O, confusion seize her!        12
She hath had most cunning bawds to serve her turn,
And more secure conveyances for lust
Than towns of garrison for service.
  CARD.        Is ’t possible?        16
Can this be certain?
  FERD.        Rhubarb, O, for rhubarb
To purge this choler! Here ’s the cursèd day
To prompt my memory; and here ’t shall stick        20
Till of her bleeding heart I make a sponge
To wipe it out.
  CARD.        Why do you make yourself
So wild a tempest?        24
  FERD.        Would I could be one,
That I might toss her palace ’bout her ears,
Root up her goodly forests, blast her meads,
And lay her general territory as waste        28
As she hath done her honours.
  CARD.        Shall our blood,
The royal blood of Arragon and Castile,
Be thus attainted?        32
  FERD.        Apply desperate physic:
We must not now use balsamum, but fire,
The smarting cupping-glass, for that ’s the mean
To purge infected blood, such blood as hers.        36
There is a kind of pity in mine eye,—
I ’ll give it to my handkercher; and now ’tis here,
I ’ll bequeath this to her bastard.
  CARD.        What to do?        40
  FERD.  Why, to make soft lint for his mother’s wounds,
When I have hew’d her to pieces.
  CARD.        Curs’d creature!
Unequal nature, to place women’s hearts        44
So far upon the left side! 4
  FERD.        Foolish men,
That e’er will trust their honour in a bark
Made of so slight weak bulrush as is woman,        48
Apt every minute to sink it!
  CARD.  Thus ignorance, when it hath purchas’d honour,
It cannot wield it.
  FERD.        Methinks I see her laughing,—        52
Excellent hyena! Talk to me somewhat quickly,
Or my imagination will carry me
To see her in the shameful act of sin.
  CARD.  With whom?        56
  FERD.        Happily with some strong-thigh’d bargeman,
Or one o’ th’ wood-yard that can quoit the sledge 5
Or toss the bar, or else some lovely squire
That carries coals up to her privy lodgings.        60
  CARD.  You fly beyond your reason.
  FERD.        Go to, mistress!
’Tis not your whore’s milk that shall quench my wild-fire,
But your whore’s blood.        64
  CARD.  How idly shows this rage, which carries you,
As men convey’d by witches through the air,
On violent whirlwinds! This intemperate noise
Fitly resembles deaf men’s shrill discourse,        68
Who talk aloud, thinking all other men
To have their imperfection.
  FERD.        Have not you
My palsy?        72
  CARD.        Yes, [but] I can be angry
Without this rupture. There is not in nature
A thing that makes man so deform’d, so beastly,
As doth intemperate anger. Chide yourself.        76
You have divers men who never yet express’d
Their strong desire of rest but by unrest,
By vexing of themselves. Come, put yourself
In tune.        80
  FERD.  So I will only study to seem
The thing I am not. I could kill her now,
In you, or in myself; for I do think
It is some sin in us heaven doth revenge        84
By her.
  CARD.  Are you stark mad?
  FERD.        I would have their bodies
Burnt in a coal-pit with the ventage stopp’d,        88
That their curs’d smoke might not ascend to heaven;
Or dip the sheets they lie in in pitch or sulphur,
Wrap them in ’t, and then light them like a match;
Or else to-boil 6 their bastard to a cullis,        92
And give ’t his lecherous father to renew
The sin of his back.
  CARD.        I ’ll leave you.
  FERD.        Nay, I have done.        96
I am confident, had I been damn’d in hell,
And should have heard of this, it would have put me
Into a cold sweat. In, in; I ’ll go sleep.
Till I know who [loves] my sister, I ’ll not stir:        100
That known, I ’ll find scorpions to string my whips,
And fix her in a general eclipse.  Exeunt.
 
Note 1. Another apartment in the same palace. [back]
Note 2. The mandrake was supposed to give forth shrieks when uprooted, which drove the hearer mad. [back]
Note 3. Unchaste. [back]
Note 4. Supposed to be a sign of folly. [back]
Note 5. Throw the hammer. [back]
Note 6. Boil to shreds. (Dyce.) Qq. to boil. [back]
 

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