The Duchess of Malfi Act 3, Scenes 3-5: Summary and Analysis
by John Webster

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Act 3, Scenes 3-5: Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Pilgrims: two pilgrims to the shrine at Loretto who witness the Cardinal’s investiture as a soldier and Antonio and the Duchess’s banishment

The Marquis of Pescara: converses with Silvio and Delio, and later seizes Antonio’s lands

The Cardinal and Ferdinand, together with Malateste, Pescara, Silvio, and Delio, open scene three by planning to join a military coalition with the Marquis of Pescara and Lannoy. Bosola enters, and Ferdinand, questioning the truth of the Duchess’s alleged pilgrimage, wonders if her children “were ever christ’ned.” The Cardinal sets off for Loretto, and Ferdinand tells Bosola to get together 150 of his horses and write to the Duke of Malfi, the Duchess’s son from her first marriage. Scene four is devoted to the investiture of the Cardinal as a soldier at the Shrine of Our Lady of Loretto as well as his banishment of Antonio, the Duchess, and their children. The Duchess’s dukedom is also seized by the church. Two pilgrims provide commentary on the scene.

Antonio and the Duchess, leading their train of children and attendants, are lamenting their condition. Bosola arrives bearing a letter from Ferdinand asking Antonio to return to the court for “his head in a business,” which the Duchess reads as meaning Ferdinand intends to kill Antonio. She rejects Bosola’s plea for her to accept the brothers’ “noble and free league of amity and love,” and Bosola responds with a guarded threat for the Duchess as he departs. The Duchess tells Antonio to depart with their oldest son to Milan, and they take their leave of each other. Bosola returns with an armed guard, and tells her she is to be separated from Antonio. He announces he will bring her back to her palace, but again promises that her “brothers mean you safety and pity.”

The Cardinal’s decision to “turn soldier” signals the topsy-turvy world of the court: rather than offering peace, a religious man has resolved to make war. The dismissal of Malateste as a non-combatant contains the telling comment that he “keeps two painters going, only to express battles in model”: once again, superficial appearance trumps reality. Pescara’s subsequent remark that “factions amongst great men” bring their country to ruin brings to mind previous comments in the play about the link between the court and the people it governs. The two brothers criticize the Duchess for hiding under religion, and Ferdinand openly doubts her religion. In act one, Antonio had praised the Duchess’s beauty as displaying her true virtue, but Ferdinand distrusts her beauty as a mask for her depravity. Ferdinand’s closing lines of the scene express his outrage that Antonio, “a slave, that only smell’d of ink and counters” and only dressed as a gentleman at audit time, should marry the Duchess and betray the court. He has again commented on the link between external appearance and inner worth: Antonio is not fit to marry the Duchess because he does not look right.

The brief scene at the Shrine of Loretto serves the simple task of showing the banishment of Antonio, the Duchess, and their children, and the Cardinal’s investiture as a soldier. The pilgrims function as a sort of Greek

(The entire section is 820 words.)