The Duchess of Malfi


John Webster

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

In the Cardinal’s residence in Rome, the Cardinal and a Roman courtier named Malateste discuss war and the French king. Meanwhile, on the other side of the stage, Ferdinand, Delio, Silvio, and Pescara, a soldier and courtier, discuss Malateste, who they say is a terrible soldier. Bosola then enters and whispers to the Cardinal and Ferdinand, while Pescara, Silvo, and Delio wonder what’s happening. Delio notes that Bosola is a “fantastical scholar,” meaning that he studies esoteric details like the symmetry of Caesar’s nose. Pescara remarks on how furious Ferdinand looks and how he laughs like a deadly cannon.
Malateste is an example of someone who is a flatterer; he is clearly trying only to advance his social status. Bosola’s character is further complicated by the knowledge that he is a fantastical scholar; he’s at once scholarly and a murderer, honest and dishonest. Again we see Ferdinand’s inability to conceal his inner fury and emotions, confirming what he told the Duchess earlier in the play (your face will betray your heart) to be true.
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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 flee with her children and Antonio, which Ferdinand says damns her. Ferdinand notes that, since her intentions are not purely religious and are meant to cover up her dishonorable second marriage, the more pure she tries to seem the fouler she truly is. The Cardinal says he’ll get the state of Ancona to banish the Duchess and her family, and Ferdinand says that he won’t attend the banishment ceremony. He instructs Bosola to write to the Duchess’s child from her first husband, and he curses Antonio before the scene ends.
In the same line of thinking Cariola had, Ferdinand notes that by using religion as a pretense for personal gain, the Duchess damns herself; the purer she tries to seem, the worse she is really being. This, of course, is ironic, as using religion as a tool for personal gain is essentially the Cardinal’s means of power. The Duchess’s child from her first marriage isn’t otherwise mentioned in the play, perhaps due to an oversight from the playwright.
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