|Title page for The Duchess of Malfi|
John Webster (1580?–1634). The Duchess of Malfi.
Vol. 47, pp. 821-837* of The Harvard Classics
Latest news abroad in Malfi: The Duchess has run off with her butler. But this happened before the days of newspapers or radio, so Webster made from it an exciting play.
*Correction from the original text which prompted to read pages 721-737 which would have been from the play, Philaster rather than The Duchess of Malfi.
Here by a Madman this song is sung to a dismal kind of music
Here by a Madman this song is sung to a dismal kind of music
O, let us howl some heavy note,
Some deadly dogged howl,
Sounding as from the threatening throat
Of beasts and fatal fowl!
As ravens, screech-owls, bulls, and bears,
We ’ll bell, and bawl our parts,
Till irksome noise have cloy’d your ears
And corrosiv’d your hearts.
At last, whenas our choir wants breath,
Our bodies being blest,
We ’ll sing, like swans, to welcome death,
And die in love and rest.
FIRST MADMAN. Doom’s-day not come yet! I ’ll draw it nearer by a perspective, 1 or make a glass that shall set all the world on fire upon an instant. I cannot sleep; my pillow is stuffed with a litter of porcupines.
SECOND MADMAN. Hell is a mere glass-house, where the devils are continually blowing up women’s souls on hollow irons, and the fire never goes out.
FIRST MADMAN. I have skill in heraldry.
SECOND MADMAN. Hast?
FIRST MADMAN. You do give for your crest a woodcock’s head with the brains picked out on ’t; you are a very ancient gentleman.
FIRST MADMAN. Come on, sir, I will lay the law to you.
SECOND MADMAN. O, rather lay a corrosive: the law will eat to the bone.
THIRD MADMAN. He that drinks but to satisfy nature is damn’d.
FOURTH MADMAN. If I had my glass here, I would show a sight should make all the women here call me mad doctor.
FIRST MADMAN. What ’s he? a rope-maker?
SECOND MADMAN. No, no, no, a snuffling knave that, while he shows the tombs, will have his hand in a wench’s placket. 3
THIRD MADMAN. Woe to the caroche 4 that brought home my wife from the masque at three o’clock in the morning! It had a large feather-bed in it.
FOURTH MADMAN. I have pared the devil’s nails forty times, roasted them in raven’s eggs, and cured agues with them.
FOURTH MADMAN. All the college may throw their caps at me: I have made a soap-boiler costive; it was my masterpiece. Here the dance, consisting of Eight Madmen, with music answerable thereunto; after which, BOSOLA, like an old man, enters.
DUCH. Is he mad too?
SERV. Pray, question him. I ’ll leave you. [Exeunt Servant and Madmen.]
BOS. I am come to make thy tomb.
DUCH. Ha! my tomb!
Thou speak’st as if I lay upon my death-bed,
Gasping for breath. Dost thou perceive me sick?
BOS. Yes, and the more dangerously, since thy sickness is insensible.
DUCH. Thou art not mad, sure: dost know me?
DUCH. Who am I?
BOS. Thou art a box of worm-seed, at best but a salvatory 6 of green mummy. 7What ’s this flesh? a little crudded 8 milk, fantastical puff-paste. Our bodies are weaker than those paper-prisons boys use to keep flies in; more contemptible, since ours is to preserve earth-worms. Didst thou ever see a lark in a cage? Such is the soul in the body: this world is like her little turf of grass, and the heaven o’er our heads like her looking-glass, only gives us a miserable knowledge of the small compass of our prison.
DUCH. Am not I thy duchess?
BOS. Thou art some great woman, sure, for riot begins to sit on thy forehead (clad in gray hairs) twenty years sooner than on a merry milk-maid’s. Thou sleepest worse than if a mouse should be forced to take up her lodging in a cat’s ear: a little infant that breeds its teeth, should it lie with thee, would cry out, as if thou wert the more unquiet bedfellow.
DUCH. I am Duchess of Malfi still.
BOS. That makes thy sleep so broken:
Glories, like glow-worms, afar off shine bright,
But, look’d to near, have neither heat nor light.
DUCH. Thou art very plain.
BOS. My trade is to flatter the dead, not the living; I am a tomb-maker.
DUCH. And thou comest to make my tomb?
DUCH. Let me be a little merry:—of what stuff wilt thou make it?
BOS. Nay, resolve me first, of what fashion?
DUCH. Why, do we grow fantastical on our deathbed? Do we affect fashion in the grave?
BOS. Most ambitiously. Princes’ images on their tombs do not lie, as they were wont, seeming to pray up to heaven; but with their hands under their cheeks, as if they died of the tooth-ache. They are not carved with their eyes fix’d upon the stars, but as their minds were wholly bent upon the world, the selfsame way they seem to turn their faces.
DUCH. Let me know fully therefore the effect
Of this thy dismal preparation,
This talk fit for a charnel.
BOS. Now I shall:—
[Enter Executioners, with] a coffin, cords, and a bell
Here is a present from your princely brothers;
And may it arrive welcome, for it brings
Last benefit, last sorrow.
DUCH. Let me see it:
I have so much obedience in my blood,
I wish it in their veins to do them good.
BOS. This is your last presence-chamber.
CARI. O my sweet lady!
DUCH. Peace; it affrights not me.
BOS. I am the common bellman
That usually is sent to condemn’d persons
The night before they suffer.
DUCH. Even now thou said’st
Thou wast a tomb-maker.
BOS. ’Twas to bring you
By degrees to mortification. Listen.
Hark, now everything is still,
The screech-owl and the whistler shrill
Call upon our dame aloud,
And bid her quickly don her shroud!
Much you had of land and rent;
Your length in clay ’s now competent:
A long war disturb’d your mind;
Here your perfect peace is sign’d.
Of what is ’t fools make such vain keeping?
Sin their conception, their birth weeping,
Their life a general mist of error,
Their death a hideous storm of terror.
Strew your hair with powders sweet,
Don clean linen, bathe your feet,
And (the foul fiend more to check)
A crucifix let bless your neck.
’Tis now full tide ’tween night and day;
End your groan, and come away.
CARI. Hence, villains, tyrants, murderers! Alas!
What will you do with my lady?—Call for help!
DUCH. To whom? To our next neighbours? They are mad-folks.
BOS. Remove that noise.
DUCH. Farewell, Cariola.
In my last will I have not much to give:
A many hungry guests have fed upon me;
Thine will be a poor reversion.
CARI. I will die with her.
DUCH. I pray thee, look thou giv’st my little boy
Some syrup for his cold, and let the girl
Say her prayers ere she sleep. [CARIOLA is forced out by the Executioners.]
Now what you please:
BOS. Strangling; here are your executioners.
DUCH. I forgive them:
The apoplexy, catarrh, or cough o’ th’ lungs,
Would do as much as they do.
BOS. Doth not death fright you?
DUCH. Who would be afraid on ’t,
Knowing to meet such excellent company
In th’ other world?
BOS. Yet, methinks,
The manner of your death should much afflict you:
This cord should terrify you.
DUCH. Not a whit:
What would it pleasure me to have my throat cut
With diamonds? or to be smothered
With cassia? or to be shot to death with pearls?
I know death hath ten thousand several doors
For men to take their exits; and ’tis found
They go on such strange geometrical hinges,
You may open them both ways: any way, for heaven-sake,
So I were out of your whispering. Tell my brothers
That I perceive death, now I am well awake,
Best gift is they can give or I can take.
I would fain put off my last woman’s-fault,
I ’d not be tedious to you.
FIRST EXECUT. We are ready.
DUCH. Dispose my breath how please you; but my body
Bestow upon my women, will you?
FIRST EXECUT. Yes.
DUCH. Pull, and pull strongly, for your able strength
Must pull down heaven upon me:—
Yet stay; heaven-gates are not so highly arch’d
As princes’ palaces; they that enter there
Must go upon their knees [Kneels].—Come, violent death,
Serve for mandragora to make me sleep!—
Go tell my brothers, when I am laid out,
They then may feed in quiet. They strangle her.
BOS. Where ’s the waiting-woman?
Fetch her: some other strangle the children.
Look you, there sleeps your mistress.
CARI. O, you are damn’d
Perpetually for this! My turn is next;
Is ’t not so ordered?
BOS. Yes, and I am glad
You are so well prepar’d for ’t.
CARI. You are deceiv’d, sir,
I am not prepar’d for ’t, I will not die;
How I have offended.
BOS. Come despatch her.—
You kept her counsel; now you shall keep ours.
CARI. I will not die, I must not; I am contracted
To a young gentleman.
FIRST EXECUT. Here ’s your wedding-ring.
CARI. Let me but speak with the duke. I ’ll discover
Treason to his person.
BOS. Delays:—throttle her.
FIRST EXECUT. She bites and scratches.
CARI. If you kill me now,
I am damn’d; I have not been at confession
This two years.
CARI. I am quick with child.
BOS. Why, then,
Your credit ’s saved. [Executioners strangle CARIOLA.]
Bear her into the next room;
Let these lie still. [Exeunt the Executioners with the body of CARIOLA.]
FERD. Is she dead?
BOS. She is what
You’d have her. But here begin your pity: Shows the Children strangled.
Alas, how have these offended?
FERD. The death
Of young wolves is never to be pitied.
BOS. Fix your eye here.
BOS. Do you not weep?
Other sins only speak; murder shrieks out.
The element of water moistens the earth,
But blood flies upwards and bedews the heavens.
FERD. Cover her face; mine eyes dazzle: she died young.
BOS. I think not so; her infelicity
Seem’d to have years too many.
FERD. She and I were twins;
And should I die this instant, I had liv’d
Her time to a minute.
BOS. It seems she was born first:
You have bloodily approv’d the ancient truth,
That kindred commonly do worse agree
Than remote strangers.
FERD. Let me see her face
Again. Why didst thou not pity her? What
An excellent honest man mightst thou have been,
If thou hadst borne her to some sanctuary!
Or, bold in a good cause, oppos’d thyself,
With thy advanced sword above thy head,
Between her innocence and my revenge!
I bade thee, when I was distracted of my wits,
Go kill my dearest friend, and thou hast done ’t.
For let me but examine well the cause:
What was the meanness of her match to me?
Only I must confess I had a hope,
Had she continu’d widow, to have gain’d
An infinite mass of treasure by her death:
And that was the main cause,—her marriage,
That drew a stream of gall quite through my heart.
For thee, as we observe in tragedies
That a good actor many times is curs’d
For playing a villain’s part, I hate thee for ’t,
And, for my sake, say, thou hast done much ill well.
BOS. Let me quicken your memory, for I perceive
You are falling into ingratitude: I challenge
The reward due to my service.
FERD. I ’ll tell thee
What I ’ll give thee.
FERD. I ’ll give thee a pardon
For this murder.
FERD. Yes, and ’tis
The largest bounty I can study to do thee.
By what authority didst thou execute
This bloody sentence?
BOS. By yours.
FERD. Mine! was I her judge?
Did any ceremonial form of law
Doom her to not-being? Did a complete jury
Deliver her conviction up i’ the court?
Where shalt thou find this judgment register’d,
Unless in hell? See, like a bloody fool,
Thou’st forfeited thy life, and thou shalt die for ’t.
BOS. The office of justice is perverted quite
When one thief hangs another. Who shall dare
To reveal this?
FERD. O, I ’ll tell thee;
The wolf shall find her grave, and scrape it up,
Not to devour the corpse, but to discover
The horrid murder.
BOS. You, not I, shall quake for ’t.
FERD. Leave me.
BOS. I will first receive my pension.
FERD. You are a villain.
BOS. When your ingratitude
Is judge, I am so.
FERD. O horror,
That not the fear of him which binds the devils
Can prescribe man obedience!—
Never look upon me more.
BOS. Why, fare thee well.
Your brother and yourself are worthy men!
You have a pair of hearts are hollow graves,
Rotten, and rotting others; and your vengeance,
Like two chain’d-bullets, still goes arm in arm:
You may be brothers; for treason, like the plague,
Doth take much in a blood. I stand like one
That long hath ta’en a sweet and golden dream:
I am angry with myself, now that I wake.
FERD. Get thee into some unknown part o’ the world,
That I may never see thee.
BOS. Let me know
Wherefore I should be thus neglected. Sir,
I serv’d your tyranny, and rather strove
To satisfy yourself than all the world:
And though I loath’d the evil, yet I lov’d
You that did counsel it; and rather sought
To appear a true servant than an honest man.
FERD. I ’ll go hunt the badger by owl-light:
’Tis a deed of darkness. Exit.
BOS. He ’s much distracted. Off, my painted honour!
While with vain hopes our faculties we tire,
We seem to sweat in ice and freeze in fire.
What would I do, were this to do again?
I would not change my peace of conscience
For all the wealth of Europe.—She stirs; here ’s life:—
Return, fair soul, from darkness, and lead mine
Out of this sensible hell:—she ’s warm, she breathes:—
Upon thy pale lips I will melt my heart,
To store them with fresh colour.—Who ’s there?
Some cordial drink!—Alas! I dare not call:
So pity would destroy pity.—Her eye opes,
And heaven in it seems to ope, that late was shut,
To take me up to mercy.
BOS. Yes, madam, he is living;
The dead bodies you saw were but feign’d statues.
He ’s reconcil’d to your brothers; the Pope hath wrought
DUCH. Mercy! Dies.
BOS. O, she ’s gone again! there the cords of life broke.
O sacred innocence, that sweetly sleeps
On turtles’ feathers, whilst a guilty conscience
Is a black register wherein is writ
All our good deeds and bad, a perspective
That shows us hell! That we cannot be suffer’d
To do good when we have a mind to it!
This is manly sorrow;
These tears, I am very certain, never grew
In my mother’s milk. My estate is sunk
Below the degree of fear: where were
These penitent fountains while she was living?
O, they were frozen up! Here is a sight
As direful to my soul as is the sword
Unto a wretch hath slain his father.
Come, I ’ll bear thee hence,
And execute thy last will: that ’s deliver
Thy body to the reverend dispose
Of some good women: that the cruel tyrant
Shall not deny me. Then I ’ll post to Milan,
Where somewhat I will speedily enact
Worth my dejection. Exit [with the body].
Note 1. Optical glass.
Note 10. An exclamation of impatience.
ANT. What think you of my hope of reconcilement
To the Arragonian brethren?
DELIO. I misdoubt it;
For though they have sent their letters of safe-conduct
For your repair to Milan, they appear
But nets to entrap you. The Marquis of Pescara,
Much ’gainst his noble nature hath been mov’d
To seize those lands; and some of his dependants
Are at this instant making it their suit
To be invested in your revenues.
I cannot think they mean well to your life
That do deprive you of your means of life,
To any safety I can shape myself.
DELIO. Here comes the marquis: I will make myself
Petitioner for some part of your land,
To know whither it is flying.
ANT. I pray, do. [Withdraws.]
DELIO. Sir, I have a suit to you.
PES. To me?
DELIO. An easy one:
There is the Citadel of Saint Bennet,
With some demesnes, of late in the possession
Of Antonio Bologna,—please you bestow them on me.
PES. You are my friend; but this is such a suit,
Nor fit for me to give, nor you to take.
DELIO. No, sir?
PES. I will give you ample reason for ’t
Soon in private:—here ’s the cardinal’s mistress.
JULIA. My lord, I am grown your poor petitioner,
And should be an ill beggar, had I not
A great man’s letter here, the cardinal’s,
To court you in my favour. [Gives a letter.]
PES. He entreats for you
The Citadel of Saint Bennet, that belong’d
To the banish’d Bologna.
PES. I could not have thought of a friend I could rather
Pleasure with it: ’tis yours.
JULIA. Sir, I thank you;
And he shall know how doubly I am engag’d
Both in your gift, and speediness of giving
Which makes your grant the greater. Exit.
ANT. How they fortify
Themselves with my ruin!
DELIO. Sir, I am
Little bound to you.
Delio. Because you deni’d this suit to me, and gave ’t
To such a creature.
PES. Do you know what it was?
It was Antonio’s land; not forfeited
By course of law, but ravish’d from his throat
By the cardinal’s entreaty. It were not fit
I should bestow so main a piece of wrong
Upon my friend; ’tis a gratification
Only due to a strumpet, for it is injustice.
Shall I sprinkle the pure blood of innocents
To make those followers I call my friends
Look ruddier upon me? I am glad
This land, ta’en from the owner by such wrong,
Returns again unto so foul an use
As salary for his lust. Learn, good Delio,
To ask noble things of me, and you shall find
I ’ll be a noble giver.
DELIO. You instruct me well.
ANT. Why, here ’s a man now would fright impudence
From sauciest beggars.
PES. Prince Ferdinand ’s come to Milan,
Sick, as they give out, of an apoplexy;
But some say ’tis a frenzy: I am going
To visit him. Exit.
ANT. ’Tis a noble old fellow.
DELIO. What course do you mean to take, Antonio?
ANT. This night I mean to venture all my fortune,
Which is no more than a poor ling’ring life,
To the cardinal’s worst of malice. I have got
Private access to his chamber; and intend
To visit him about the mid of night,
As once his brother did our noble duchess.
It may be that the sudden apprehension
Of danger,—for I ’ll go in mine own shape,—
May draw the poison out of him, and work
A friendly reconcilement. If it fail,
Yet it shall rid me of this infamous calling;
For better fall once than be ever falling.
DELIO. I ’ll second you in all danger; and howe’er,
My life keeps rank with yours.
ANT. You are still my lov’d and best friend. Exeunt.
Note 1. Milan. A public place.
Note 4. Fraught.
PES. Now, doctor, may I visit your patient?
DOC. If ’t please your lordship; but he ’s instantly
To take the air here in the gallery
By my direction.
PES. Pray thee, what ’s his disease?
DOC. A very pestilent disease, my lord,
They call lycanthropia.
PES. What ’s that?
I need a dictionary to ’t.
DOC. I ’ll tell you.
In those that are possess’d with ’t there o’erflows
Such melancholy humour they imagine
Themselves to be transformed into wolves;
Steal forth to church-yards in the dead of night,
And dig dead bodies up: as two nights since
One met the duke ’bout midnight in a lane
Behind Saint Mark’s church, with the leg of a man
Upon his shoulder; and he howl’d fearfully;
Said he was a wolf, only the difference
Was, a wolf’s skin was hairy on the outside,
His on the inside; bade them take their swords,
Rip up his flesh, and try. Straight I was sent for,
And, having minister’d to him, found his grace
Very well recover’d.
PES. I am glad on ’t.
DOC. Yet not without some fear
Of a relapse. If he grow to his fit again,
I ’ll go a nearer way to work with him
Than ever Paracelsus dream’d of; if
They ’ll give me leave, I ’ll buffet his madness out of him.
Stand aside; he comes.
[Enter FERDINAND, CARDINAL, MALATESTI, and BOSOLA]
FERD. Leave me.
MAL. Why doth your lordship love this solitariness?
FERD. Eagles commonly fly alone: they are crows, daws, and starlings that flock together. Look, what ’s that follows me?
MAL. Nothing, my lord.
MAL. ’Tis your shadow.
FERD. Stay it; let it not haunt me.
MAL. Impossible, if you move, and the sun shine.
FERD. I will throttle it. [Throws himself down on his shadow.]
MAL. O, my lord, you are angry with nothing.
FERD. You are a fool: how is ’t possible I should catch my shadow, unless I fall upon ’t? When I go to hell, I mean to carry a bribe; for, look you, good gifts evermore make way for the worst persons.
PES. Rise, good my lord.
FERD. I am studying the art of patience.
PES. ’Tis a noble virtue.
FERD. To drive six snails before me from this town to Moscow; neither use goad nor whip to them, but let them take their own time;—the patient’st man i’ th’ world match me for an experiment:—an I ’ll crawl after like a sheep-biter. 2
CARD. Force him up. [They raise him.]
FERD. Use me well, you were best. What I have done, I have done: I ’ll confess nothing.
DOC. Now let me come to him.—Are you mad, my lord? are you out of your princely wits?
FERD. What ’s he?
PES. Your doctor.
FERD. Let me have his beard saw’d off, and his eye-brows fil’d more civil.
DOC. I must do mad tricks with him, for that ’s the only way on ’t.—I have brought your grace a salamander’s skin to keep you from sun-burning.
FERD. I have cruel sore eyes.
FERD. Let it be a new-laid one, you were best.
Hide me from him: physicians are like kings,—
They brook no contradiction.
DOC. Now he begins to fear me: now let me alone with him.
CARD. How now! put off your gown!
DOC. Let me have some forty urinals filled with rosewater: he and I ’ll go pelt one another with them.—Now he begins to fear me.—Can you fetch a frisk, 4 sir?—Let him go, let him go, upon my peril: I find by his eye he stands in awe of me; I ’ll make him as tame as a dormouse.
FERD. Can you fetch your frisks, sir!—I will stamp him into a cullis, 5 flay off his skin to cover one of the anatomies 6 this rogue hath set i’ th’ cold yonder in Barber-Chirurgeon’s-hall.—Hence, hence! you are all of you like beasts for sacrifice. [Throws the DOCTOR down and beats him.] There ’s nothing left of you but tongue and belly, flattery and lechery. [Exit.]
PES. Doctor, he did not fear you thoroughly.
DOC. True; I was somewhat too forward.
BOS. Mercy upon me, what a fatal judgment
Hath fall’n upon this Ferdinand!
PES. Knows your grace
What accident hath brought unto the prince
This strange distraction?
CARD. [aside.] I must feign somewhat.—Thus they say it grew.
You have heard it rumour’d, for these many years
None of our family dies but there is seen
The shape of an old woman, which is given
By tradition to us to have been murder’d
By her nephews for her riches. Such a figure
One night, as the prince sat up late at ’s book,
Appear’d to him; when crying out for help,
The gentleman of ’s chamber found his grace
All on a cold sweat, alter’d much in face
And language: since which apparition,
He hath grown worse and worse, and I much fear
He cannot live.
BOS. Sir, I would speak with you.
PES. We ’ll leave your grace,
Wishing to the sick prince, our noble lord,
All health of mind and body.
CARD. You are most welcome. [Exeunt PESCARA, MALATESTI, and DOCTOR.]
Are you come? so.—[Aside.] This fellow must not know
By any means I had intelligence
In our duchess’ death; for, though I counsell’d it,
The full of all th’ engagement seem’d to grow
From Ferdinand.—Now, sir, how fares our sister?
I do not think but sorrow makes her look
Like to an oft-dy’d garment: she shall now
Take comfort from me. Why do you look so wildly?
O, the fortune of your master here the prince
Dejects you; but be you of happy comfort:
If you ’ll do one thing for me I ’ll entreat,
Though he had a cold tomb-stone o’er his bones,
I ’d make you what you would be.
BOS. Any thing;
Give it me in a breath, and let me fly to ’t.
They that think long small expedition win,
For musing much o’ th’ end cannot begin.
Note 1. A gallery in the residence of the Cardinal and Ferdinand.
Note 6. Skeletons.