Breakfast illustration of bacon, eggs, and coffee with the silhouetted images of the Duchess' evil brothers, one on each side

The Duchess of Malfi

by John Webster

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"Laugh All Honesty Out Of Fashion"

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 179

Context: The opening scene of this play, the most famous of the post-Shakespearean "tragedies of blood," is in the Presence Chamber of the Duchess' palace at Malfi. Her steward, Antonio, has just returned from France. Early in the first act (which in the older editions is not divided into scenes but is so divided in more modern texts) he answers the questions of his friend Delio concerning the three principal characters of the drama: the Duke of Calabria; his brother, the Cardinal; and their sister, the Duchess of Malfi. Of the Cardinal, Antonio paints the portrait of a "melancholy churchman," a licentious, indeed, a thoroughly wicked man, who missed attaining the Papal Crown only because he scattered bribes too lavishly. The Duke is even worse. Antonio says of the Cardinal "Some good he hath done–," and then breaks off when Delio demands to be told of the Duke. He begins:

The Duke there? A most perverse and turbulent nature.
What appears in him mirth is merely outside;
If he laughs heartily, it is to laugh
All honesty out of fashion.

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"Cover Her Face; Mine Eyes Dazzle; She Died Young"