John Webster – “The Duchess of Malfi” Act I scene 3 (beginning)

Cardinal and Fernando are about to leave Malfi, but before they go, they warn their sister against re-marriage. They start as warning against choosing an unworthy candidate, but soon they make it pretty clear no candidate would be ever satisfactory for them. People who marry for the second time are lecherous, says Ferdinand. Duchess answers wittily that those diamonds which have passed through many jewellers’ hands are the most valuable ones, but Fernando responds that by that logic whore would be most precious. Do not be cunning and do not even think about marrying somebody in secret, they say, because the secret will always out and you’re gonna regret it. Cardinal leaves. “Whoa”, says Duchess, “you must have rehearsed it, it came out so pat”. Ferdinand shows her his father’s dagger with some menacing allusions about how he would hate to see it go rusty. “Women like best this part of the body which, like the lamprey, has no bone in it”, says Ferdinand, and when his sister objects to such explicitness, he innocently explains he meant the tongue… but not in the sexual sense, but rather because of the compliments it can utter. He leaves. “Funny these two should object so vehemently to my marriage”, says Duchess, “because that’s exactly what I am going to do, no matter what”. She calls her trusted servant Cariola, who swears to keep the secret, asks her if Antonio has arrived and tells her for some reason to go and hide behind an arras when he is there. Be careful Cariola, have you seen Hamlet by any chance?


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