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

Antonio comes in and he and Duchess have a delightful conversation, full of unintentional or maybe quite intentional double-entendres. Duchess asks Antonio to take a pen and paper, as she is going to dictate to him, because after the period of entertaining guests she is going to make some plans for the future. Antonio thinks she is going to make an inventory and offers to bring her his accounts, but Duchess explains she thinks about writing her will. She thinks it is much better to do it when you are healthy and having full mental capacities than when you are on your deathbed. “So what good deed should I remember first?”, asks she, meaning whom she should mention first in her will, but Antonio twists her meaning, saying the first good deed after the creation of the universe was the creation of the first married couple, and so she should give everything to her husband, starting with her body. “In a winding sheet, like a corpse?” asks Duchess. “In a couple”, answers Antonio, punning on “coupling”. “Saint Winfred, that were a strange will!”, says Duchess, while Webster perhaps overrates the popularity of this Welsh regional saint. So what does Antonio think of marriage? He prevaricates a bit, saying that it can be either heaven or hell, no thing in between, and as a single man he doesn’t think he loses that much apart from some weak amusement watching your children play can give. But Duchess interrupts him, noticing that he has a stye and offering her ring to heal it. Then she mentions off-handedly that it’s her wedding ring and she vowed never to part with it except to give it to her second husband. Antonio can’t help but observe she has just parted with it. “Yes, to help your eyesight”, says Duchess. “You made me stark blind”, says Antonio. “How?” Antonio says there is a saucy and ambitious devil dancing inside this ring. Duchess says he can easily be removed and puts the ring on his finger. Antonio kneels, but she asks him to rise. Antonio is still doubtful and afraid, saying that he might be like a man who, feeling cold, pur his hands straight into the fire.

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