The Duchess of Malfi Act 3, Scenes 1-2: Summary and Analysis
by John Webster

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Act 3, Scenes 1-2: Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Malateste: a count who the Duchess refuses to marry

After a considerable length of time, Delio has returned to the court, along with Ferdinand. In the meantime, Antonio has informed him that the Duchess has given birth to a son and a daughter. Antonio adds that the common people think of her as a “strumpet,” and they think Antonio has become wealthy through fraudulent means. Ferdinand arrives to assure the Duchess that he does not suspect her, and even if she were a strumpet, “my fix’d love would strongly excuse” her faults. Bosola reports to Ferdinand the rumor that the Duchess has three children, and tells him that he has “a false key into her bed-chamber.”

Antonio, the Duchess, and Cariola joke about the secret marriage and discuss relations between men and women. As the Duchess, now alone, says Antonio should keep to his own bed with Ferdinand having returned, “she sees Ferdinand holding a poniard.” He expresses his anger with her disgraced position and pronounces his readiness to kill her lover, though he hopes never to see him and would prefer to simply shut him up in a dungeon forever. The Duchess protests that her “reputation is safe” and she should be able to marry. Ferdinand answers by bemoaning her permanently tarnished reputation and vows, “I will never see you more.”

Ferdinand leaves, and Antonio, thinking he is betrayed, enters with a pistol and accuses Cariola of giving them away to Ferdinand. She pleads innocent, and the Duchess says Ferdinand intends for her to kill herself with the poniard. Bosola enters as Antonio leaves, and the Duchess tells him Antonio has “dealt so falsely with me, in’s accounts,” by letting bonds she and Ferdinand had issued go into forfeit. Bosola exits, Antonio enters again, and the Duchess tells Antonio her plan is to send him to Ancona while she accuses him of “a feigned crime,” which she justifies by explaining that her noble lie “must shield our honours.” She promptly makes her accusation before Bosola and some officers, and proceeds to punish Antonio with banishment. Bosola protests her decision by saying that Antonio “was an excellent courtier, and most faithful,” a modest, virtuous man.

The Duchess, taking Bosola into her confidence, tells him that Antonio is her children’s father. Bosola praises their relationship, and he agrees with her instruction for him to take her coin and jewelry to Antonio. Bosola suggests the Duchess disguise her plan to meet Antonio at Ancona by feigning “a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Loretto, scarce seven leagues from fair Ancona.” The Duchess and Cariola leave, and Bosola, now alone, feels he must tell Ferdinand of this news, hoping to gain from the revelation.

Antonio reveals that after an indefinite but lengthy interval of time, he and the Duchess have two more children. The possible consequences of the discovery of their marriage have become that much greater. Antonio, in his remarks to Delio about how time quickens when in law, in prison, at a court, begging “the reversion of some great man’s place,” or living with an old wife, shows how much one’s circumstances affects one’s perceptions. Also, all of the examples he gives are of people put in servile positions. These two facts appear highly relevant not just for Antonio but for the court as a whole; status and distorted reality are a constant for Ferdinand’s court. And Antonio’s avowal that no one suspects him of any amorous relationship with the Duchess, and the Duchess’s claim to Ferdinand that “I will marry for your honour” again shows how living in the court affects and distorts behavior, for outside the court they would have no need to hide their marriage. Ferdinand’s reassurances of his support for the Duchess are yet another lie. In the midst of so much uncertainty in his court, it might make sense for Ferdinand to turn to magic and the stars for knowledge, but he rejects them as horrid...

(The entire section is 1,191 words.)