The Duchess of Malfi

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The Duchess of Malfi Act 3, Scene 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
This scene takes place at a shrine to which the Duchess fled under the pretense of a religious pilgrimage. Two Pilgrims comment that the Cardinal is apparently going to “resign his cardinal’s hat” at the shrine. The Duchess, who is soon to arrive at the same shrine, is expected to pray publicly in fulfillment of her vowed pilgrimage. After the pilgrims say they expect the ceremony to be excellent, the play breaks into dumb show, meaning that the actors silently act out a scene while music plays in the background. During the dumb show, the Cardinal is dressed and presented as a soldier. Then Antonio, the Duchess, and their children all pray and present themselves at the shrine. The Cardinal removes the Duchess’s wedding ring and formally banishes her and her entire family from Ancona.
Here the Cardinal does exactly what Ferdinand just criticized the Duchess for doing: he uses a religious show for personal reasons and abuses his power by having the Duchess and her family banished. The Cardinal seems to combine religious influence with a stately soldier’s power to take this essentially unjustified legal action. This is the first time that the Duchess, Antonio, and their family are in public together, during which they are immediately shamed.
Themes
Politics and Corruption Theme Icon
Love and Male Authority Theme Icon
Guilt, Death, and Suffering Theme Icon
Religion and Sin Theme Icon
Class Theme Icon
After the dumb show, the Pilgrims wonder why the Cardinal is being so cruel to the Duchess. They repeat the information that she has been banished, and wonder how the state has the right to do such a thing. They believe that the Pope has interceded at the behest of the Cardinal, which they think is unjust, and they note that the Cardinal went so far as to take the Duchess’s wedding ring off her finger. The pilgrims use a metaphor about a man sinking in a well under his own weight, suggesting that the hardship and injustice that befalls a person is punishment for his or her own misdeeds.
The public response seems to be that the Cardinal is being unnecessarily cruel to the Duchess. At the same time, the pilgrims echo Ferdinand’s sentiment that our hardships and problems are really punishments generated by our own sins and misdeeds. The banishment and the involvement of the Pope is a clear cut example of corruption and abuse of power, and it’s visible to all; here the Cardinal breaks his pattern of dealing mostly in the shadows.
Themes
Politics and Corruption Theme Icon
Love and Male Authority Theme Icon
Guilt, Death, and Suffering Theme Icon
Religion and Sin Theme Icon