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

Ferdinand enters to see how Bosola has done his job and here begins a truly strange exchange. First of all, Bosola asks accusingly Ferdinand “How have these offended?”, pointing to the dead bodies of Duchess’ children, as if forgetting completely about his role in the murder. Ferdinand answers callously that young wolves don’t need to be pitied, but then is truly moved by the sight of Duchess’ body, and asks Bosola to cover her. Ferdinand remembers that Duchess was his twin and Bosola comments that their case proves kindred rarely agree. Then Ferdinand asks to see his sister’s face again and turns against Bosola, accusing him essentially of obeying his order. He thinks Bosola should have been a better man and openly challenge him, sword in hand if needed. In a rare moment of sober thinking, he realizes that Bosola is like an actor playing a villain, hated by the audience even though he is just following the script. Bosola asks what his payment is going to be and Ferdinand says his only reward is to be pardoned. He orders Bosola to go into exile, and Bosola delivers a long monologue along the lines of “I was just following your orders”. Ferdinand says that now he is going to go and hunt the badger by owl-light, since this is an appropriately dark deed for him. I would argue ordering the murder of his sister and her children is much darker.


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