John Webster – “The Duchess of Malfi” Act III scene 2 (ctd.)

Bosola enters with the news that Fernando left the palace in great anger and told him Duchess is undone. Duchess, with an admirable presence of mind, tells him it’s all about Antonio’s financial misdealings. She borrowed money from some “Neapolitan Jews”, Fernando stood security for them, but Antonio neglected to pay them back and now Fernando’s checks bounce back, since he’s compromised as an endorser (my business English is not too strong, but I hope you know what I mean). Bosola does not believe her but does not express this openly; secretly he rather admires her quick thinking. Duchess sends him to bring other officers, and while Bosola is out, Antonio comes back. She tells him that there is no time for explanations, but she must lie to save herself and him, and he must run away to Ancona, where she is going to send her treasury and jewels. When Bosola enters with other officers, she makes a big show of “You are fired!” variety, whilc Antonio says something along the lines “it’s not my fault, but my bad stars”. Even in this fraught conversation they manage to squeeze in some double entendres, such as when Duchess says “I have got well by you”, which could mean an ironic “I have profited by you”, but also “You got me pregnant”, or when Antonio says this is what you get by serving “a prince with body and soul”.

Antonio leaves, apparently sentenced into exile, with all his possessions confiscated. Duchess asks her officers what they think of him and of course they castigate him, but do so in a very ridiculous manner. One says Antonio couldn’t look at a pig’s head being open and that may mean he was a Jew, while another says he didn’t like women and that may mean he was a hermaphrodite. When they leave, she in turn asks Bosola and suprisingly enough Bosola defends him. Scholars still argue about how sincere Bosola is in this scene: does he really believe Antonio to be an honest man or is he doing it to draw Duchess out? Anyway, he gives Antonio a glowing review, saying in a rather colourful language that thos who now condemn him used to be his flatterers, who would be happy to have “his dirty stirrup riveted through their noses, and followed after’s mule”, and now they drop off like lice from a dead body.  Antonio was an honest man, he never profited in an underhanded way from his job and he’s sure to get another job soon from a man who can appreciate what jewel he is.


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