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

Bosola and Cardinal stay behind to speak in private. Cardinal knows perfectly well what happened to his sister, but feigns ignorance and asks Bosola how she is, so that the whole blame may be offloaded on Ferdinand. He also notices Bosola seems down and interprets it as him being concerned about losing his job due to Ferdinand’s madness. “Do what I tell you and you can ask me everything”, he offers. Bosola agrees and Cardinal explains he wants him to track Antonio down and kill him, so that he can marry his sister off to a more suitable candidate. As they are having this conversation, Julia comes in to tell Cardinal supper is ready and unbelievably, she falls violently in love with Bosola in the space of the few seconds she spends in one room with him. Bosola asks how he can find Antonio and Cardinal answers there are lots of ways. He can start with following Antonio’s friend, Delio: Antonio may accompany him to the Mass (although Cardinal believes him to be an atheist) or Bosola can try to bribe Delio’s friend. He can also investigate among Milanese money-lenders, because Antonio surely is in financial straits, or he can ask local picture makers if somebody has bought recently a portrait of Duchess (it seems the portraits of local celebrities were constantly on sale). Bosola promises to do this and Cardinal leaves.

What follows is surely one of the most surprising courtship scenes in drama: Julia enters with a pistol and tells him he must have bribed one of her servants to give her love potion, so now she has to kill him to kill her longing. This is  a tad unexpected, since she must have met him at Malfi: Bosola gets a job at Duchess’ court in Act I, before her secret marriage, and Julia appears at Cardinal’s apartments in Act II, after the birth of Duchess’ first child, so at least nine months later, still seemingly in love with Cardinal. I am sure scholars have come up with all sorts of artful explanations about what this really means, but sorry, to me it’s just sloppy writing. Bosola disarms her and embraces her in his arms (he makes exactly this pun), but says “Be warned, I am a rough soldier, I cannot pay compliments”, which Julia doesn’t mind, and he in face does make some compliments about her eyes carrying darts in them and so on.

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