- Italy over the period 1504 to 1510.
- The recently widowed Duchess falls in love with Antonio, a lowly steward, but her brothers, not wishing her to share their inheritance, forbid her from remarrying. She marries Antonio in secret, and bears him several children.
- The Duchess' lunatic and incestuously obsessed brother Ferdinand threatens and disowns her.
- In an attempt to escape, the Duchess and Antonio concoct a story that Antonio has swindled her out of her fortune and has to flee into exile.
- She takes Bosola into her confidence, not knowing that he is Ferdinand's spy, and arranges that he will deliver her jewelry to Antonio at his hiding-place in
- She will join them later, whilst pretending to make a pilgrimage to a town nearby.
- The Cardinal hears of the plan, instructs Bosola to banish the two lovers,…