Duchess of Malfi quotes

  • Created by: Fred121
  • Created on: 27-05-18 11:54

Act 1, Scene 1

"A prince's court Is like a common fountain, whence should flow Pure silver drops...Some cursed example poison't near the head, Death and disease through the whole land spread"

  • Comparison of the French court and the Malfi court, contrast between "pure" and "disease"
  • The "poisn't near the head" can cripple the country i.e. the head's closest advisors are corrupt in the Malfi court
  • These lines can be seen as Webster's assessment of ideal and flawed governments .

"Some fellows, they say, are possessed with the devil, but this great fellow were able to possess the greatest devil and make him worse"

  • Bosola hints at the Cardinal's evil nature hidden under the appearance of a holy figure - That the Cardinal can make the devils worse also suggests an unparalleled magnitude of evil

"This foul melancholy Will poison all his goodness... Breeds all black malcontents"

  • Bosola will be poisoned and will generate further bad behaviour - its eating away at him
  • Stylistically unique ends with one of the play's few rhyming couplets
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Act 1, Scene 1

"He and his brother are like plum trees that grow crooked over standing pools: they are rich and o'erladen with fruit"

  • Two of the corrupt men of the Malfi court who poison and prevent the flow of water which is now "standing" i.e. stagnant 
  • they are filled with riches and power but are still "crooked"

"Could i be one of their flattering panders, I would hang on their ears like a horse leech till I were full"

  • Bosola talks of how he would instantly be a sycophant and feed of their greed like a "horse leech"
  • This also exemplifies his self hatred, "Who would rely upon these miserable dependencies"
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Act 1, Scene 2

"Believe my experience: that realm is never long in quiet where the ruler is a soldier"

  • Castruccio says that it's fitting that a soldier might rise to become a prince, but not that a prince should descend to be a soldier 
  • The play is more concerned with the battlefield of love than the field of war
  • Can be read as continuation of Webster's criticism of certain practices in government and his assertion that monarchs should not be soldiers

"he is a melancholy churchman... Where he is jealous of any man he lays worse plots for them than ever was imposed on Hercules, for he strews in his way flatters, panders..."

  • The Cardinal is the opposite of the idealised French court, he is calculating and conceals his inner nature and relies heavily on spies
  • This Italian court is revealed to be corrupt by these lines
  • The outward appearance is very different to the inward not like Ferdinand
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Act 1, Scene 2

"A most perverse and turbulent nature What appears in him mirth is merely outside... All honesty out of fashion"

  • Ferdinand does the same as the Cardinal at the start, by portraying a false exterior - this changes during the play
  • The two main villians of the play, whose evil become more prevalent throughout both corrupt inside

"You live in a rank pasture here, i'th' court There is a kind of honey-dew that's deadly... Are witches ere they arrive at twenty years, Ay, and give the devil ****"

  • Rank here can be seen as high social status or disgusting
  • "Devil ****" can be seen as a sexual image which hints at Ferdinand's incestuous desires or maternal
  • Unknowingly the Duchess is giving sustenance to Ferdinand's 'familiar' - Bosola
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Act 1, Scene 2

"The misery of us that are born great! We are forced to woo because none dare woo us... Make not your heart so dead a piece of flesh... This is flesh and blood, sir"

  • Inversion of the traditional courtship roles - has to express herself in riddles as opposed to direct proclomations of love
  • Reminds him she is 'flesh and blood' not the statue in front of her husband's tomb - she is a human being
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Act 2, Scene 1

"What thing is in this outward form of man... Man stands amazed to see his deformity In any other creature but himself"

  • Bosola's "meditation" - criticism of society and mankind itself
  • Man can see deformities in animals but not themselves - hypocrisy 
  • Goes on to note that human diseases often named for animals, which blurs the lines between human and beast - foreshadowing Ferdinand's belief that he is a werewolf towards the end of the play
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Act 2, Scene 4

"You may thank me, lady... Bore you on my fist, and showed you game, And let you fly at it. I pray thee, kiss me. When thou wast with thy husband, thou wast watched Like a tame elephant - still you are to thank me"

  • Cardinal reinforces courtship positions as opposed to the Duchess
  • plays upon the Renaissance trope in which the male is the tamer and the woman a wild animal - falconer and falcon
  • "tame elephant" suggests she was sexually frustrated
  • Cardinal's adultery, despite the fact that he is a Cardinal exemplifies his duplicitous and despicable nature
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Act 2, Scene 5

"I would have their bodies Burnt in a coal pit, with the ventage stopped, That their curs'd smoke might not ascend to heaven... Or else to boil their ******* to a cullis, And give't his lecherous father to renew The sin of his back"

  • Ferdinand's wants to prevent them from rising to "heaven" - corruption of religion
  • Boiling the illegitamate child is remeniscent of Tereus and Philomela - revenge for Tereus sexually assualting Philomela he was served a meal of his sons own flesh
  • This highlights Ferdinand's incestuous desires and his descent into insantity as his interior begins to "deform" him
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Act 3, Scene 1, Scene 2

"Do you think that herbs or charms Can force the will?... Such as are of force To make the patient mad; and straight the witch Swears by equivocation, they are in love. The witchcraft lies in her rank blood"

  • Ferdinand claimes that the Duchess does not need any other witchcraft other than her "rank blood" - rank can mean social status or disgusting but more likely the latter
  • Validity of superstition comes up throughout the play, Webster does not attempt to resolve the question, bringing up superstition usually foreshadows catastrophe

"Do I not dream? Can this ambitious age Have so much goodness in't as to prefer A man merely for worth, without these shadows Of wealth and painted honours? Possible?"

  • It is unheard of that a Duchess would marry below her status for love and the merit of her husband
  • He wonders if its possible that someone could prefer a man for his internal worth rather than external - suggests that Duchess will be praised for this deed suggesting class structure might become less rigid
  • However Bosola is a spy and can be seen as purely acting rather than actual shock
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Act 3, Scene 5

"Thou dost blanch mischief; Wouldst make it white. See, see, like to calm weather At sea, before a tempest, false hearts speak fair To those they intend most mischief"

  • Duchess knows Bosola is essentially whitewashing the true content of the letters from her brothers
  • Poetry in these lines - "seem see" and "sea" as well as alliteration with "false" and "fair" this elevated poetry help the lines stand out

"Thou art happy that thou hast not understanding To know thy misery; for all our wite And reading brings us to a truer sense Of sorrow"

  • Duchess says that the son is happy as he does not understand - intelligence and reading only lead to better understanding of sadness
  • This sentiment echoes Bosola - wisdom is like a disease
  • Bleak outlook on scholarship - e.g. Bosola described as a "fantastical scholar" but is ultimately the most nihilistic and he succumbs to reality
  • Can be seen as the Duchess's sadness as she believes it's the last time she is going to see her family alive
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Act 4, Scene 1

"That's the greatest torture souls feel in hell: In hell that they must live, and cannot die"

  • Duchess has lost all will to live and it's tortue to her that she must live whilst her family are dead (in her mind)
  • Foreshadows Duchess's acceptance of death in the end - she views it as liberation

"I account this world a tedious theatre, For I do play a part in't 'gainst my will"

  • meta-theatrical (i.e. references the fact that it's a play) line in another expresion of her frustration
  • Webster makes these meta-theatrical references throughout the play especially in situations that the characters seem to recognise as excessively tragic, theatrical or dramatic

"Damn her! That body of hers, While that my blood ran pure in't, was more worth Than that which thou wouldst comfort called a soul"

  • This shows Ferdinand's selfish reasons as he belived remarriage would taint his own noble bloood
  • This is sacrilegious inversion of Christian doctrine which holds the soul above the body whereas Ferdinand puts the body higher up - possiblely due to incestuous desires
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Act 4, Scene 2

"Knowing to meet such excellent company In th'other world... That I percieve death, now I am well awake, Best gift is they can give or I can take"

  • She is not afraid in the face of death - Iconoclastic figure
  • She greets death as a gift as she believes it will lead her to her family - even in dying she denies them the satisfaction of controlling her.

"her marriage - That drew a stream of gall quite through my heart... For playing a villian's part - i hate thee for't, And, for my sake thou hast done much ill well"

  • Bosola described as an "actor" who has been forced to commit murder and done it "well"
  • Ferdinand feels remorse possibly due to incestuous desires he has actually committed it
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Act 5, Scene 4

BOSOLA: "Shall make thy heart break quickly: thy fair Duchess And two sweet children - ANTONIO: Their very names Kindle a little life in me. BOSOLA: - are murdered! ANTONIO: Some men have wished to die... I would not now Wish my wounds balmed nor healed, for I have no use To put my life to"

  • At this point Bosola helps Antonio accept his death - tragic after Bosola has accidentally stabbed him
  • Antonio much like the Duchess loses all will to live
  • Death is a gift to Antonio like it was to the Duchess
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Act 5, Scene 5

"My sister! Oh my sister! There's the cause on't Whether we fall by ambition, blood or lust, Like diamonds we are cut with our own dust"

  • Final lines of Ferdinand - fitting that it's his sister he calls for, as he has been driven insane by guilt over her death - and also his incestuous feelings coming to the forefront of his mind
  • He realises the sentiment of perishing because of our own sins and our own actions - i.e this is a just system through death wheras in life there is no justice for those to do good i.e the Duchess and Antonio - death can bring reward and punishment
  • Ambition - Bosola, Blood (family and passion), Lust - Ferdinand's incestuous lust and Duchess's for Antonio led to their deaths

"In a mist - I know not how. Such a mistake as I have often seen In a play. Oh I am gone! We are only like dead walls, or vaulted graves That, ruined, yields no echo. Fare you well. It may be pain, but no harm to me to die In so good a quarrel."

  • Bosola still avoids blame for murder - i.e claims he did not see how Antonio die
  • Meta-theatrical "in a play" 
  • His words suggest a permanence of death and a lack of any remenants of the dead in the human world - seems to have found redemption as he dies
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