John Webster – “The Duchess of Malfi” Act V scene 4

Cardinal enters with Malatesta, Pesara etc. He tells them not to stay up with Ferdinand tonight because he’s getting better.”Even if you hear him having one of his fits, please swear you won’t get up”, he says. “Neither you nor any of your servants. I am going to test you by getting up in the middle of the night and crying out for help, but even then don’t get up”. Instead of getting super-suspicious, all the men promise not to get up, even if Cardinal’s throat were being cut. Actually, I don’t think you can make a lot of noise if you are having your throat slashed and I sense here a big Chekhov’s gun being hanged rather awkwardly. Left alone, Cardinal explains to us that he has made all these precautions so that nobody interferes with Bosola transporting Julia’s body. Once he’s done with it, he’s dead. It’s not a theatrical convention (“we pretend we can hear characters’ thoughts”), Cardinal actually says these words aloud, all the better to be overheard by Bosola. Ferdinand wanders in, mumbling something about how strangling is a very quiet death, and Bosola interprets these words as a threat to his own safety. Antonio enters, led by a servant, who says he is going to fetch him a dark lantern. Antonio says  “Could I take him [Cardinal] at his prayers/There were hopes of pardon”. And then Bosola stabs him, apparently believing he’s Cardinal, saying he won’t give him time to pray. Now, what the hell made him take Antonio for Cardinal? Do they have, like, freakishly similar voices? Does Bosola suffer from Fregoli syndrome? (in that case, I would suggest he pick his hits more advisedly, especially in the dark). The only semi-rational explanation I can think of was that Antonio and the servant were whispering, and from where Bosola was standing, he could only overhear “prayers”, which led him to believe the man who has just entered the hall is Cardinal. But really, it’s a plot-hole the size of Bosola’s stupid head.

Anyway, now of course Bosola laments his fate and says Antonio was the one man he wished to protect. Well, maybe you should have thought about it before you started to stab random guys in the dark. The servant returns and starts to cry, Bosola tells him to shut up. Then, to make Antonio die more quickly, he tells him that his wife and two children are dead. Way to go, Bosola, you are really great at consoling dying men. Antonio says it’s all for the best because he now really wishes to die. He utters some usual sentiments about how all life is vanity and asks Bosola to give his regards to Delio and help his son to run away. He expires. Bosola tells the servant to help him move the body to Julia’s apartment.

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