The Duchess of Malfi

The Duchess of Malfi Act 5, Scene 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In Milan, Antonio asks Delio what his chances of reconciling with the brothers are. Delio says it’s unlikely, as the brothers’ kind letters promising safe passage seem likely to be nothing more than traps. Delio notes that The Marquis of Pescara 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 – they probably don’t have good intentions for his actual life either. Pescara approaches, and Antonio hides so that Delio can confirm that Antonio’s land is up for grabs.
Antonio and Delio use the Cardinal and Ferdinand’s immoral, corrupt seizure of Antonio’s lands as a measure of the brothers’ feelings toward him. They are rightly suspicious that the letters promising safety are more attempts to conceal bad intentions with kindness.
Themes
Politics and Corruption Theme Icon
Guilt, Death, and Suffering Theme Icon
Class Theme Icon
Once Pescara enters, Delio asks for one 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 she exits, prompting Delio to ask why he was denied. Pescara responds that Antonio’s land was taken illegally by the Cardinal’s force. He says he didn’t want to give property so unjustly obtained to a friend, and that he’s glad that this tainted land is going to such a bad person. Pescara tells Delio that if he asks for noble things, Pescara will be happy to oblige him. Ferdinand is apparently sick with a frenzy, Pescara notes as he departs.
Pescara reveals himself to be a man of virtue and principle, as he recognizes that the Cardinal’s theft of Antonio’s lands is unjust. Even possessing something gained by unjust means, he says, is dishonorable. Pescara reveals, too, that Ferdinand has continued to visibly unravel, and is now completely unable to conceal his internal turmoil.
Themes
Politics and Corruption Theme Icon
Love and Male Authority Theme Icon
Guilt, Death, and Suffering Theme Icon
Class Theme Icon
Antonio comes out from hiding and calls Pescara noble. Then he says that he plans to “venture all my fortune,” (which, in fact, is 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 and with love, and in doing so try to draw “the poison out of” the Cardinal and reconcile with the brothers. If he fails, he says, it’s better to fall once than to always be falling.
Antonio hopes to reconcile with the Cardinal by drawing the hate out of him, which he compares to poison. Since Antonio has lost essentially everything, he decides to risk what he has. He’d rather die with one great fall than continue to fail and fall perpetually, marking a change from his early hesitancy to take dramatic or extreme action.
Themes
Politics and Corruption Theme Icon
Guilt, Death, and Suffering Theme Icon