The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster

The Duchess of Malfi book cover
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"Laugh All Honesty Out Of Fashion"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

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:


ANTONIO
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.