The Duchess of Malfi

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The Cardinal is the brother of Duke Ferdinand and the Duchess. Though he is a religious figure, he is in fact just as immoral and despicable as his brother, facts made clear by his attempt to bribe his way into being pope, the fact that Bosola once killed a man on his orders, and the affair he carries on with Julia, Castruccio’s wife. Like Ferdinand, he tries to prevent the Duchess from remarrying in order to preserve his sense of his family’s purity and honor as well as his access to the Duchess’s wealth. Unlike the wild Ferdinand, though, the Cardinal is careful, calculating, and controlled: he refuses to interact personally with the spy Bosola, and he threatens to walk away when Ferdinand becomes too overt about his plans for revenge on the Duchess. While it’s never explained whether the Cardinal is upset by Ferdinand’s violence or just trying to shut Ferdinand up in order to keep themselves looking clean while they plan their revenge, the fact that the Cardinal is entirely capable of murder – he later poisons Julia, after all, when she learns his secrets – suggests that it is the latter. Though he is aware of the religious consequences of his actions, he wields religion only as a tool to maintain his power. He never seems to feel true guilt for his actions, and there is a sense of poetic justice in the fact that ultimately the Cardinal dies after being stabbed by Bosola, the spy he used but refused to engage with or even pay, and his own brother, Ferdinand, who by the end of the play is guilt ridden and insane.

The Cardinal Quotes in The Duchess of Malfi

The The Duchess of Malfi quotes below are all either spoken by The Cardinal or refer to The Cardinal. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Politics and Corruption Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of The Duchess of Malfi published in 2015.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

With all your divinity do but direct me the way to it. I have
known many travel far for it, and yet return as arrant knaves
as they went forth, because they carried themselves always

along with them.

Related Characters: Daniel de Bosola (speaker), The Cardinal
Page Number: 1.1.40-43
Explanation and Analysis:

Bosola says this to the Cardinal after the Cardinal ignores and dismisses him. The Cardinal tells Bosola to go become honest, and Bosola responds with this remark, saying that he wishes the Cardinal, with all his divinity, would show him how to properly become honest. Given what we learn about the Cardinal’s despicable character, this appeal to his divinity might be read as sarcastic.

Bosola goes on to say that he has seen many that went on long journeys seeking to become honest, but they always come back just as bad as when they left, since throughout the entire trip they always carried themselves with them. This seems to suggest that Bosola believes that a person’s true character is essentially set in stone. Bosola reasons that spending time with a knave makes one a knave, so, if you already are a knave, just by spending time with yourself you’re liable to stay one. Bosola’s thoughts on the immobility of character might also be applied to class immobility, which he struggles with in the play.

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Some fellows, they say, are possessed with the devil, but this great fellow were able to possess the greatest devil and make him worse.

Related Characters: Daniel de Bosola (speaker), The Cardinal, Antonio Bologna, Delio
Page Number: 1.1.44-46
Explanation and Analysis:

The Cardinal ignores Bosola and then leaves, so Bosola says this line to Antonio and Delio. He says that while some men are possessed by the devil, the Cardinal is so foul that he could possess the greatest devil and make that devil worse. Here Bosola hints at the Cardinal’s evil nature hidden beneath the appearance of being a holy figure. Later in the play, Bosola will say that spies are little devils, so by accusing the Cardinal of possessing devils, he alludes to the Cardinal being corrupt and having many spies. That the Cardinal can make the devils worse also suggests an unparalleled magnitude of evil, which will be proved later in the play, as the Cardinal is even less able to feel remorse than Ferdinand.

This foul melancholy
Will poison all his goodness, for, I'll tell you,
If too immoderate sleep be truly said
To be an inward rust unto the soul,
It then doth follow want of action
Breeds all black malcontents, and their close rearing,
Like moths in cloth, do hurt for want of wearing.

Related Characters: Antonio Bologna (speaker), The Duchess of Malfi, Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria, The Cardinal, Daniel de Bosola, Delio
Related Symbols: Poison
Page Number: 1.1.74-80
Explanation and Analysis:

Antonio speaks these lines to Delio at the end of Act 1 Scene 1 after Bosola’s exit. Bosola is frustrated with the Cardinal and with the lack of payment for Bosola’s years of service, and he is therefore melancholy. Antonio comments that Bosola’s bad mood will poison all of his goodness, just as a lack of sleep gets turned inward and hurts the soul. Idleness and lack of action, he says, generate bad behavior, just like moths ruin cloth if you don’t wear it. The lines are essentially an elaboration on the phrase “idle hands are the devil’s plaything,” where external factors like sleep, lack of action, and a sad demeanor propagate inward like a poison and create bad effects.

Interestingly, in Act 1 Scene 3, Ferdinand actually suggests that the reverse is true while trying to convince the Duchess not to remarry. In that moment, Ferdinand argues that bad thoughts and feelings are reflected externally on the face (as opposed to Antonio’s assertion here that sad or bad feelings poison inward).

It’s also worth noting that this speech is somewhat stylistically unique ends with one of the play’s few rhyming couplets.

Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

Some such flashes superficially hang on him, for form; but observe his inward character: he is a melancholy churchman. The spring in his face is nothing but the engendering of toads. Where he is jealous of any man he lays worse plots for them than ever was imposed on Hercules, for he strews in his way flatterers, panders, intelligencers, atheists, and a thousand such political monsters.

Related Characters: Antonio Bologna (speaker), The Cardinal, Delio
Page Number: 1.2.70-76
Explanation and Analysis:

While Ferdinand and his courtiers continue discussing war and horses (presumably), Antonio steps aside to tell Delio about the Cardinal. Delio notes to Antonio that the Cardinal seems like a “brave fellow,” but in the excerpt Antonio assures Delio that any appearances are merely superficial. The Cardinal, he says, tries to appear good, but inwardly, he is melancholy, jealous, scheming, conniving, and despicable. He surrounds himself with flatterers, panderers, spies, and, even though he is a Cardinal, he consorts with atheists and other political monsters.

The Cardinal, then, is the exact opposite of the idealized court in France. From the first description of the Cardinal we learn that he is calculating and he strives always to conceal his true inner nature. We also learn that he relies heavily on spies. At hearing these lines, audiences would have their suspicions confirmed that the Italian court in the play is corrupt. We can note early on how important it is to distinguish outward appearance from inward character, something the play continues to explore.

Act 2, Scene 4 Quotes

You may thank me, lady.
I have taken you off your melancholy perch,
Bore you upon my fist, and showed you game,
And let you fly at it. I pray thee, kiss me.
When thou wast with thy husband, thou wast watched
Like a tame elephant - still you are to thank me.

Related Characters: The Cardinal (speaker), Julia
Page Number: 2.4.27-32
Explanation and Analysis:

The Cardinal says these lines to Julia, his mistress and Castruccio’s wife, in the privacy of his palace in Rome. If the Duchess inverts the traditional courtship dynamic between men and women, here the Cardinal reinforces it, playing on the common Renaissance trope in which the male is the tamer and the woman is a wild animal. Here the Cardinal figures Julia as a falcon and himself as a falconer (falcon tamer). In calling her a tame elephant he continues in this trope and also suggests that she may have been sexually frustrated before they started their affair. The Cardinal’s adultery, despite the fact that he is a Cardinal, is another example of his duplicitous and despicable character.

Act 2, Scene 5 Quotes

I would have their bodies
Burnt in a coal-pit, with the ventage stopped,
That their curs'd smoke might not ascend to heaven;
Or dip the sheets they lie in in pitch or sulphur,
Wrap them in't, and then light them like a match;
Or else to boil their bastard to a cullis,
And give't his lecherous father to renew
The sin of his back.

Related Characters: Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria (speaker), The Duchess of Malfi, The Cardinal
Page Number: 2.5.67-74
Explanation and Analysis:

Ferdinand speaks these horrible lines to his brother the Cardinal after finding out that the Duchess has had an illegitimate child. His desire to control her and to preserve his own honor and bloodline is so extreme that he is thrown into utter outrage, even to the point where the Cardinal continuously must ask him to calm down.

Here, Ferdinand offers a terrifying image of what he would to the Duchess for revenge: burn her and her lover in a coal pit with closed vents to prevent her from going to heaven, or dip their bed sheets in sulfur, wrap them up, and light them on fire, or boil the bastard child and give it to the father. These violent ravings, which contain small religious references, are indicative of Ferdinand’s true character and his incestuous jealousy of his sister. His outbursts also show the way his carefully constructed façade begins to crack, as his interior begins to, according to the Cardinal, deform him.

Act 3, Scene 5 Quotes

Thou dost blanch mischief;
Wouldst make it white. See, see, like to calm weather
At sea, before a tempest, false hearts speak fair
To those they intend most mischief.

Related Characters: The Duchess of Malfi (speaker), Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria, The Cardinal, Antonio Bologna, Daniel de Bosola
Page Number: 3.5.23-26
Explanation and Analysis:

The Duchess says this to Bosola after she and her family have been formally banished by the Cardinal. Bosola has come bearing kind letters from her brothers that invite Antonio to come reconcile with them. But the Duchess rightly recognizes that Bosola is essentially whitewashing the true content of the letters. Like the calm before a storm, she says, false hearts speak kindly to those they are about to harm. The Duchess knows this to be true, since she employed a similar tactic, using a feigned pilgrimage as an excuse to flee. We can also note the exquisite poetry of these lines, which play with “see, see” and “sea,” as well as use alliteration with “false and “fair.” Such elevated poetry helps the lines stand out as a general truth.

Act 4, Scene 1 Quotes

That's the greatest torture souls feel in hell:
In hell that they must live, and cannot die.

Related Characters: The Duchess of Malfi (speaker), Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria, The Cardinal, Antonio Bologna, Daniel de Bosola, Children
Page Number: 4.1.70-71
Explanation and Analysis:

The Duchess offers these dejected lines after Ferdinand has forced her to kiss a dead man’s hand and has shown her silhouettes meant to convince her that Antonio and her children are dead. Upon learning that her family is dead, the Duchess loses all will to live, and she asks Bosola to kille her. Bosola denies her and says she must live, to which she responds that it’s the greatest torture felt in hell: souls in hell have to live and cannot die. Living without her love and her children makes existence pain and suffering. Simply being alive in this state and being denied a death is torture to the Duchess. This torture is, however, a ruse by Ferdinand’s design, as her family is (for now) still alive. This also foreshadows the way in which the Duchess will ultimately wrest control over her destiny from her brothers by relishing the death that they serve her. Instead of letting death be the punishment it’s intended to be, the Duchess will view her death as liberation.

I account this world a tedious theatre,
For I do play a part in't 'gainst my will.

Related Characters: The Duchess of Malfi (speaker), Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria, The Cardinal, Antonio Bologna, Children
Page Number: 4.1.83-84
Explanation and Analysis:

The Duchess speaks this meta-theatrical line in another expression of her frustration that she cannot die. Since she believes Antonio and her children are dead, she no longer wants to live. As stated above, existence is torturous to the Duchess, which is exactly what Ferdinand intends. Here the Duchess expresses this frustration by comparing the world to a “tedious theatre” in which she is forced to play a part against her will. Webster makes uncanny, meta-theatrical references this one throughout the play, especially in situations that the characters seem to recognize as excessively tragic, theatrical, or dramatic. In a way, it lets Webster have his melodrama while also winking to the audience that he’s aware of its absurdity.

Act 4, Scene 2 Quotes

BOSOLA: Doth not death fright you?

DUCHESS: Who would be afraid on't,
Knowing to meet such excellent company
In th'other world?

I know death hath ten thousand several doors
For men to take their exits; and 'tis found
They go on such strange, geometrical hinges,
You may open them both ways.
…Tell my brothers
That I perceive death, now I am well awake,
Best gift is they can give or I can take.

Related Characters: The Duchess of Malfi (speaker), Daniel de Bosola (speaker), Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria, The Cardinal
Page Number: 4.2.200-214
Explanation and Analysis:

This exchange happens in the moments before the Duchess’s death. In the face of her executioner, she remains proud, composed, and unafraid, saying that she doesn’t fear death because she knows she’ll meet excellent company in the other world (meaning heaven). Though previously she dismissed religion as foolish superstition, in the face of death the Duchess turns to religion for comfort.

She continues that she is not afraid because there are ten thousand ways to die, and some doors to death so strange that they can be opened both ways. The implication of this statement is that death can come by being killed, but also by murdering (the implication, perhaps, is that the act of murder destroys the murderer’s soul). The final lines demonstrate the Duchess’s defiance of her brothers’ will. Not only is she unafraid to face a death that is meant to terrify her, but because she thinks her family is dead and her life is torturous, she actually greets death as the best gift her brothers can give. Even in dying, she denies them the satisfaction of controlling her.

Act 5, Scene 1 Quotes

It may be that the sudden apprehension
Of danger - for I'll go in mine own shape –
When he shall see it fraught with love and duty,
May draw the poison out of him, and work
A friendly reconcilement. If it fail,
Yet it shall rid me of this infamous calling;
For better fall once than be ever falling.

Related Characters: Antonio Bologna (speaker), The Duchess of Malfi, The Cardinal, Delio
Related Symbols: Poison
Page Number: 5.1.67-73
Explanation and Analysis:

Antonio speaks these lines to Delio outside of the Cardinal’s palace. He plans to confront the Cardinal in a last ditch attempt to reconcile. He says that he hopes that sudden fear in the Cardinal (since Antonio will be appearing without disguise) will draw the poison of hate out of the Cardinal and help bring about a reconciliation between Antonio and the Cardinal. Antonio is especially hopeful that the Cardinal be sympathetic to Antonio once he sees that Antonio is driven by love and duty. Here hatred is compared to a poison, which, once removed from the body, will leave the body cured.

Antonio continues that if he fails, he’ll at least be out of this horrible situation, and he concludes that he would rather fall once by risking everything than continuously fall for the rest of his life. Such a decision to take a large risk shows growth in Antonio, who was hesitant to take large risks when being courted by the Duchess. It also shows the tremendous stakes of the encounter—if Antonio fails, he is likely to die.

Act 5, Scene 2 Quotes

O poor Antonio! Though nothing be so needful
To thy estate as pity, yet I find
Nothing so dangerous.
… How this man
Bears up in blood, seems fearless! Why, 'tis well:
Security some men call the suburbs of hell -
Only a dead wall between. Well, good Antonio,
I'll seek thee out, and all my care shall be
To put thee into safety from the reach
Of these most cruel biters that have got
Some of thy blood already. It may be
I'll join with thee in a most just revenge.

Related Characters: Daniel de Bosola (speaker), Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria, The Cardinal, Antonio Bologna, Julia
Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 5.2.326-339
Explanation and Analysis:

Bosola speaks this soliloquy after the Cardinal kills Julia and instructs Bosola to kill Antonio. Bosola agrees, but once alone on stage, he expresses his pity for Antonio. At the same time, he recognizes that pitying Antonio puts him in a very dangerous position, since Antonio is “[borne] up in blood,” meaning both that he is brave and that blood is being spilled everywhere around him.

Bosola goes on to say that security is considered by some to be the suburb of hell, so he’ll take a risk and try to help Antonio to safety from the Cardinal and Ferdinand (thereby moving Bosola from the “suburb of hell” towards heaven). Bosola even says that he might join with Antonio and seek revenge. This moment demonstrates that Bosola’s guilt and sense of moral obligation has finally outweighed his sense of duty to the Duke. Though he felt bad throughout the play, it is only now that he is overwhelmed by this guilt and driven to act virtuously. This shows that Bosola, who has long been envious of the benefits that fell on Antonio based on his worth as a man, is generally good natured, too—though the amount of time it took him to act on his good nature justifies the Duchess’s choice of Antonio as her suitor rather than Bosola.

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The Cardinal Character Timeline in The Duchess of Malfi

The timeline below shows where the character The Cardinal appears in The Duchess of Malfi. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 1
Guilt, Death, and Suffering Theme Icon
Class Theme Icon
Antonio changes the subject as he sees Bosola, a former employee of the Cardinal and known murderer, entering the room. Antonio then describes Bosola as a man who satirizes... (full context)
Politics and Corruption Theme Icon
Guilt, Death, and Suffering Theme Icon
Religion and Sin Theme Icon
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Bosola tries to talk to the Cardinal, but the Cardinal is extremely dismissive. Bosola believes he deserves better treatment, as he was... (full context)
Politics and Corruption Theme Icon
Guilt, Death, and Suffering Theme Icon
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Antonio asks Bosola what happened in the conversation, to which Bosola replies that the Cardinal and his brother are like plum trees rich with fruit, but only fed on by... (full context)
Politics and Corruption Theme Icon
Guilt, Death, and Suffering Theme Icon
...have served seven years in the galleys for a “notorious murder,” supposedly ordered by the Cardinal. Antonio says that it’s unfortunate that the Cardinal is ignoring Bosola, because he has heard... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 2
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Love and Male Authority Theme Icon
Guilt, Death, and Suffering Theme Icon
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...steered back to the best qualities of horses, and to Antonio and his horsemanship. The Cardinal and Duchess then enter. (full context)
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Once the Cardinal and Duchess enter, Antonio steps aside and begins quietly telling Delio about the character of... (full context)
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...Silvio announces that he is leaving for Milan, and everyone exits the stage but the Cardinal and Ferdinand. Once alone, the Cardinal tells Ferdinand to hire Bosola as a spy to... (full context)
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Bosola asks Ferdinand why the Cardinal is avoiding him. Ferdinand replies that it’s possibly because the Cardinal suspects Bosola of some... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 3
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The Cardinal, the Duchess, and the Duchess’s hand-maiden Cariola enter and join Ferdinand. The Cardinal informs the... (full context)
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The Duchess concedes that she’ll never marry again, but the Cardinal and Ferdinand continue telling her not to. The Cardinal says most widows promise not to... (full context)
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The Cardinal continues that the Duchess might want to get married privately or in secret, and Ferdinand... (full context)
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...for his service as her steward with a kiss. Antonio is worried about how the Cardinal and Ferdinand will react, but the Duchess reassures him that he should not think of... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 3
Politics and Corruption Theme Icon
Love and Male Authority Theme Icon
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...he decides to have Castruccio carry the horoscope in a letter to Ferdinand and the Cardinal. (full context)
Act 2, Scene 4
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This scene takes place in Rome and begins with the Cardinal and his mistress Julia entering. The Cardinal asks Julia what excuse she made up to... (full context)
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Julia begins to cry, but the Cardinal says she’ll probably also cry to her husband that she loves only him. When she... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 5
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Ferdinand and the Cardinal enter with the letter, and Ferdinand says he has dug up a mandrake, which is... (full context)
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The Cardinal asks if their royal blood will be tainted, wondering who the father of the Duchess’s... (full context)
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Ferdinand starts imagining who the Duchess’s lover might be. When the Cardinal tries to calm him, Ferdinand says that it’s “not your whore’s milk that shall quench... (full context)
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Guilt, Death, and Suffering Theme Icon
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...still enraged. He says he could kill the Duchess now by killing himself or the Cardinal, since he thinks that the Duchess’ disobedience is heaven’s revenge on the brothers for their... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 1
Politics and Corruption Theme Icon
Love and Male Authority Theme Icon
Guilt, Death, and Suffering Theme Icon
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...the Duchess have had two more children. Delio asks if this news has reached the Cardinal, and Antonio responds that he fears it has, as Ferdinand has been acting strangely. The... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 3
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In the Cardinal’s residence in Rome, the Cardinal and a Roman courtier named Malateste discuss war and the... (full context)
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Focus shifts to the conversation between Ferdinand, the Cardinal, and Bosola. The Cardinal says that the Duchess is using religion as her cover to... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 4
Politics and Corruption Theme Icon
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 1
Politics and Corruption Theme Icon
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...has been prompted to seize much of Antonio’s lands, and he argues that if the Cardinal and Ferdinand are depriving Antonio of his means of life – his property and wealth... (full context)
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...of Antonio’s citadels, but Pescara says no. Then Julia enters with a letter from the Cardinal asking Pescara to give the same citadel to Julia. Pescara gives it to her and... (full context)
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...now nothing more than his life) that very night. He has gained access to the Cardinal’s private chamber (just as Ferdinand did earlier to the Duchess), and he will go undisguised... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 2
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In the Cardinal and Ferdinand’s palace in Milan Pescara and a Doctor discuss the condition of the Duke.... (full context)
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...Therefore, he wants to try to cure Ferdinand of his madness altogether. Ferdinand, Malateste, the Cardinal, and Bosola then enter. Ferdinand begins acting insane, asking to be left alone and attacking... (full context)
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...spectacle, Bosola comments that a fatal judgment has fallen on Ferdinand. Meanwhile, Pescara asks the Cardinal if he knows what has caused Ferdinand’s outburst. The Cardinal lies and tells a story... (full context)
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The Cardinal says in an aside that he doesn’t want Bosola to know that he was an... (full context)
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The Cardinal then says that he has found the perfect man for the Duchess to marry, but... (full context)
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...is beautiful, and then realizes in an aside that he can use her against the Cardinal. He asks her if the Cardinal would be angry if he saw them together. She... (full context)
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The Cardinal then reenters the room, worrying to himself that Ferdinand in his insane state might talk... (full context)
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The Cardinal asks if Julia can keep this dark secret, but she says that he is in... (full context)
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Bosola jumps out of the wardrobe and says that he has come to the Cardinal to try to collect payment for his service, since Ferdinand in his crazed state will... (full context)
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After the Cardinal exits, Bosola cries out that he pities Antonio. He ultimately decides to seek Antonio out... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 3
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Antonio and Delio are outside of the Cardinal’s window at his palace in Milan. Unbeknownst to Antonio and Delio, they are very nearby... (full context)
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...says “aye, wife’s voice.” The echo seems to discourage him from going to see the Cardinal and tells him to be mindful of his safety, and it goes as far as... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 4
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In the Cardinal’s palace, the Cardinal tells Pescara, Malateste, Roderigo, and Grisolan to leave the sick Ferdinand alone... (full context)
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...find “him” at his prayers; Antonio is saying that he hopes he can find the Cardinal while he’s praying because that will be the best time to make peace with him.... (full context)
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...“fly the courts of princes,” which either means that he should escape the Duke and Cardinal, or leave the Italian court and courtly life in general. Antonio dies, and Bosola asks... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 5
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The Cardinal is in his chambers, holding a book and questioning what hell is like from a... (full context)
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Bosola kills the servant to make sure no one will unlock the door to the Cardinal’s room. He then admits to the Cardinal that he slayed Antonio by mistake. Bosola stabs... (full context)
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...revenge for Antonio (who was murdered by mistake) and Julia (who was poisoned by the Cardinal). Finally, he says, he has taken revenge for himself, who was an actor involved with... (full context)
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Pescara comments on how the Cardinal prevented his own rescue, and Malateste calls Bosola a “wretched thing of blood” and asks... (full context)