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 come to Rome without her husband, Castruccio, and she says that she told him she was going to visit a hermit. She worries that the Cardinal will be false to her, but he tells her not to torture herself with such fears, which are generated by her own guilt at being inconstant to her husband. The Cardinal jokes that men are more constant than women, and says one would have to look at the moon through a telescope to find a constant woman.
The Cardinal’s affair with Julia is another way in which the supposed religious figure shows himself to be a despicable sinner. His hypocrisy is also notable here in that Julia is of a lower class; the Cardinal won’t allow the Duchess to be with someone below her station, but he himself can be with Julia. Because of the deception and hypocrisy of his behavior, it’s ironic that he’s berating Julia here for her inconstancy.
Julia begins to cry, but the Cardinal says she’ll probably also cry to her husband that she loves only him. When she threatens to go home, the Cardinal says he has gotten rid of her melancholy, speaking figuratively of himself as a tamer and Julia as a falcon. Julia says that the Cardinal acted as if he was sick when he wooed her. Someone knocks at the door, and the Cardinal reassures her that his affections for her are strong. He then exits so as not to be found out in his affair.
The Cardinal reinforces common period imagery, like that found in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, in which the woman is a wild animal and the man is her tamer. Such a dynamic creates a stark contrast with the Duchess’s independence and reversal of traditional gender roles. The Cardinal continues to conceal his true nature by exiting at the right moment.
A servant then enters to announce that someone has come to see Julia, and that Castruccio, her husband, is now in Rome. Delio then enters, and Julia notes in an aside that Delio was a former suitor of hers. He asks if she’s been staying there, but she assures him that cardinals do not keep lodging for ladies. Delio says that he’s not there on behalf of her husband and proceeds to make a joke about Castruccio. He then offers her money, and they begin flirting through Delio trying to convince Julia to accept money and Julia refusing it. Then the servant reenters and says that Castruccio has come with a letter to Ferdinand that put him out of his wits. Julia says that she’ll go to see her husband, and she leaves. Alone on stage, Delio says that he fears that Antonio’s secret has been found out, and he laments the unfortunate situation.
Julia’s flirtations with Delio reinforce her image as the play’s inconstant woman. Delio’s disregard for Castruccio is not really explained, and it stands out from his otherwise trustworthy, honorable character. Upon learning that Ferdinand has been enraged by a letter from Amalfi, Delio rightly assumes that the Duchess has been found out, indicating to the audience that Bosola’s letter has been delivered and the information has been passed on.