The Duchess of Malfi

The Duchess of Malfi Character Analysis

The Duchess, a young widow and the ruler of the Italian town of Amalfi, is the intelligent, kind, virtuous sister of the Cardinal and the twin of Duke Ferdinand. Her brothers have prohibited her from remarrying because, they argue, her remarriage would ruin her honor and the honor of the family. The Duchess also seems to understand that her brothers have more nefarious aims, such as ensuring their own chances at inheriting her fortune, though her understanding is implied mainly by her actions rather than her words. Independent and defiant of her brothers’ wishes, the Duchess decides to secretly marry her steward, Antonio, for love, and has three children with him. She keeps both the marriage and the children secret because she understands the threat her brothers would pose to her family should they find out. And, in fact, once her brothers do find out the Duchess seems almost completely unable to protect herself or her children. Perhaps because she is a woman, she lacks her brother’s political power, and they quickly banish and split up her family. They then imprison, torture, and strangle both her and her children. Through all of these trials, the Duchess remains virtuous and good, and she faces both torture and death with bravery and dignity.

The Duchess of Malfi Quotes in The Duchess of Malfi

The The Duchess of Malfi quotes below are all either spoken by The Duchess of Malfi or refer to The Duchess of Malfi. 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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Classics edition of The Duchess of Malfi published in 2015.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

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 Symbols: Poison
Page Number: 1.1.74-80
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act 1, Scene 3 Quotes

You live in a rank pasture here, i'th' court.
There is a kind of honey-dew that's deadly:
'Twill poison your fame. Look to't. Be not cunning,
For they whose faces do belie their hearts
Are witches ere they arrive at twenty years,
Ay, and give the devil suck.

Your darkest actions - nay, your privat'st thoughts –
Will come to light.

Related Characters: Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria (speaker), The Duchess of Malfi
Related Symbols: Poison
Page Number: 1.3.218-228
Explanation and Analysis:
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The misery of us that are born great!
We are forced to woo because none dare woo us;
And, as a tyrant doubles with his words,
And fearfully equivocates, so we
Are forced to express our violent passions
In riddles and in dreams, and leave the path
Of simple virtue, which was never made
To seem the thing it is not.

Make not your heart so dead a piece of flesh
To fear more than to love me. Sir, be confident.
What is't distracts you? This is flesh and blood, sir;
'Tis not the figure, cut in alabaster,
Kneels at my husband's tomb.

Related Characters: The Duchess of Malfi (speaker), Antonio Bologna
Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 1.3.350-364
Explanation and Analysis:
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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.

Page Number: 2.5.67-74
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act 3, Scene 1 Quotes

Do you think that herbs or charms
Can force the will? Some trials have been made
In this foolish practice, but the ingredients
Were lenitive poisons, such as are of force
To make the patient mad; and straight the witch
Swears, by equivocation, they are in love.
The witchcraft lies in her rank blood.

Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 3.1.72-78
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

Do I not dream? Can this ambitious age
Have so much goodness in't as to prefer
A man merely for worth, without these shadows
Of wealth and painted honours? Possible?

Related Characters: Daneil de Bosola (speaker), The Duchess of Malfi, Antonio Bologna
Page Number: 3.2.276-279
Explanation and Analysis:
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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.

Page Number: 3.5.23-26
Explanation and Analysis:
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Thou art happy that thou hast not understanding
To know thy misery; for all our wit
And reading brings us to a truer sense
Of sorrow.

Page Number: 3.5.66-69
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act 4, Scene 1 Quotes

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

Page Number: 4.1.70-71
Explanation and Analysis:
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I account this world a tedious theatre,
For I do play a part in't 'gainst my will.

Page Number: 4.1.83-84
Explanation and Analysis:
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Damn her! That body of hers,
While that my blood ran pure in't, was more worth
Than that which thou wouldst comfort, called a soul.

Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 4.1.120-122
Explanation and Analysis:
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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), Daneil de Bosola (speaker), Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria, Children
Page Number: 4.2.200-214
Explanation and Analysis:
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Only, I must confess, I had a hope,
Had she continued widow, to have gained
An infinite mass of treasure by her death,
And that was the main cause: her marriage -
That drew a stream of gall quite through my heart.
For thee - as we observe in tragedies
That a good actor many times is cursed
For playing a villain's part - I hate thee for't,
And, for my sake, say thou hast done much ill well.

Page Number: 4.2.270-278
Explanation and Analysis:
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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:
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Act 5, Scene 4 Quotes

BOSOLA: O good Antonio,
I'll whisper one thing in thy dying ear
Shall make thy heart break quickly: thy fair Duchess
And two sweet children -

ANTONIO: Their very names
Kindle a little life in me.

BOSOLA: - are murdered!

ANTONIO: Some men have wished to die
At the hearing of sad tidings. I am glad
That I shall do't in sadness. I would not now
Wish my wounds balmed nor healed, for I have no use
To put my life to.

Related Characters: Antonio Bologna (speaker), Daneil de Bosola (speaker), The Duchess of Malfi
Page Number: 5.4.57-66
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act 5, Scene 5 Quotes

My sister! Oh, my sister! There's the cause on't.
Whether we fall by ambition, blood or lust,
Like diamonds we are cut with our own dust.

Related Characters: Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria (speaker), The Duchess of Malfi
Page Number: 5.5.73-75
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Duchess of Malfi Character Timeline in The Duchess of Malfi

The timeline below shows where the character The Duchess of Malfi appears in The Duchess of Malfi. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 1
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The play begins at the Duchess of Malfi’s palace in Amalfi. Antonio, the Duchess’s steward, has just returned from the French... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 2
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...with the entrance of Castruccio, Silvio, Roderigo, and Grisolan, four courtiers to Duke Ferdinand, the Duchess’s brother. Delio notes that the hall is filling up with people, and Antonio replies that... (full context)
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...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 the royal... (full context)
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The Duchess, on the other hand, he describes as noble and completely opposite from her siblings. Antonio... (full context)
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After Antonio departs, Ferdinand tells the Duchess that he wants her to hire Bosola as the supervisor of her horses. She agrees... (full context)
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...not being hired to kill yet. Instead, he is simply being paid to observe the Duchess and report back to Ferdinand. Ferdinand explains that the Duchess is a young widow, and... (full context)
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...dreaming of cutting the lord’s throat. Since his new position makes him responsible for the Duchess’s horses, Bosola jokes that one could say his corruption grew out of horse dung. He... (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 Duchess that... (full context)
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The Duchess concedes that she’ll never marry again, but the Cardinal and Ferdinand continue telling her not... (full context)
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The Cardinal continues that the Duchess might want to get married privately or in secret, and Ferdinand adds that she might... (full context)
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...and says that women like the body part that’s similar to a boneless eel. The Duchess responds in shock, suggesting that she thinks her brother was using phallic imagery, but claims... (full context)
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Once she is alone with Cariola, the Duchess asks if this speech should convince her to obey her brothers. She compares her situation... (full context)
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Antonio enters, and the Duchess tells him to start writing notes for her. She makes a pun on the word... (full context)
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...herself to him, and the two then make a joke about sheets and coupling. The Duchess comments that they are writing a strange will, but Antonio says it’s even stranger if... (full context)
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The Duchess continues by asking him to expand on these thoughts and tell her what he feels... (full context)
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Antonio notes that the Duchess has just given him the ring, and she says that she did to help his... (full context)
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The Duchess makes a metaphor about breaking ground at a mine, where the discovery of the valuable... (full context)
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The Duchess responds that now Antonio will get the benefits of being virtuous. She then laments with... (full context)
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Antonio agrees, and the Duchess pays him for his service as her steward with a kiss. Antonio is worried about... (full context)
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After the Duchess instructs Antonio to kneel, Cariola enters and surprises Antonio, but the Duchess reassures him that... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 1
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...the Old Lady exit, and Bosola transitions to his other work. He notes that the Duchess has ben sick and she wears loose dresses that are out of fashion. He is... (full context)
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...Bosola then talks about Antonio’s rank, which seems on the rise since he is the Duchess’s steward, and Bosola says that royal men are made of the same substance as regular... (full context)
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At this point, the Duchess and her ladies enter. She asks for Antonio’s arm and, since she is out of... (full context)
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Antonio and the Duchess talk about traditions of wearing hats or not in court, comparing the Italian courts to... (full context)
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Alone on stage with Delio, Antonio fears that the Duchess has fallen into labor with no time to get her out of Amalfi in order... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 2
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Bosola enters. He says that there is now no question that the Duchess is pregnant. The Old Lady enters, and Bosola starts making fun of her again, this... (full context)
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...somehow poisoned without his knowledge. A servant reveals that a Swiss guard had entered the Duchess’s bedchamber and robbed her. In response to this robbery, Antonio says that the Duchess wants... (full context)
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After everyone else exits, Delio asks Antonio how the Duchess is doing. Antonio responds that she’s experiencing pain and fear, and he sends Delio to... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 3
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...a lantern, saying that he has heard a woman shrieking from what seemed like the Duchess’s room. He notes that confining all of the courtiers to their separate rooms was most... (full context)
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...is out because he was praying. Antonio then questions whether the apricots Bosola gave the Duchess earlier in the day were poisoned. Bosola denies the accusation of poisoning, but Antonio says... (full context)
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...sent to their rooms. He suspects that he will be formally accused of poisoning the Duchess, but says he’ll laugh at the charge. He remembers that Castruccio is heading to Rome... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 5
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...Cardinal asks if their royal blood will be tainted, wondering who the father of the Duchess’s child might be, and Ferdinand says they must use drastic measures “to purge infected blood.”... (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... (full context)
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...practice seeming calm even though he is still enraged. He says he could kill the Duchess now by killing himself or the Cardinal, since he thinks that the Duchess’ disobedience is... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 1
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...has been away from court for some time. He informs Delio that he and the Duchess have had two more children. Delio asks if this news has reached the Cardinal, and... (full context)
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Ferdinand, the Duchess, and Bosola then enter, and Ferdinand says that he’s going to bed. He suggests to... (full context)
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...Ferdinand asks Bosola what new information he has. Bosola says that it’s rumored that the Duchess has had three bastards, but it’s unknown who the father is. Bosola suspects that someone... (full context)
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After dismissing Bosola’s beliefs about potions, Ferdinand asks for a key to the Duchess’s bedchamber. Bosola asks Ferdinand what he intends to do with the key and then attempts... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 2
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In the Duchess’s bedchamber, the Duchess warns Antonio that he cannot stay with her tonight. He responds that... (full context)
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Cariola then asks Antonio why he always rises so early when he sleeps with the Duchess, to which he responds that working men count the clock and are happy when the... (full context)
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...“hard-favored women” often keep “worse-favored” women as attendants and servants instead of pretty ones. The Duchess responds with a simple analogy, saying that bad painters never desire to have their shops... (full context)
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As the Duchess talks to herself, Ferdinand enters behind her. She turns to see him and, terrified, wonders... (full context)
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Ferdinand then proceeds to curse the Duchess, calling her a screech owl, and he says that he doesn’t want to know anything... (full context)
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Ferdinand accuses the Duchess of disrespecting her dead first husband. The Duchess responds that Ferdinand is being too strict,... (full context)
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...says that he saw Ferdinand (hence the pistol), and, wondering how Ferdinand got to the Duchess’s chamber, he accuses Cariola of betraying them. Cariola, however, claims innocence. The Duchess shows them... (full context)
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...to Rome. But he also reveals that before Ferdinand left, he had said that the Duchess was “undone.” Bosola asks what has happened. The Duchess makes up a lie: that Antonio... (full context)
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Bosola reenters with some officers and the Duchess pretends to accuse Antonio of losing her money and stealing from her. She tells the... (full context)
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The Duchess then asks Bosola for his opinion. He says that she’ll probably never have a servant... (full context)
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...could truly marry a man just for his merit. When he finds out that the Duchess has had three children by Antonio, he launches into a speech praising her for demonstrating... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 4
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 5
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Near the shrine, Antonio, the Duchess, their children, Cariola, and a few servants have been banished from Ancona. Antonio notes that... (full context)
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...enters with a letter from Ferdinand that is supposedly “all love and safety.” But the Duchess immediately calls Bosola out for describing the letter in this way, saying that it’s just... (full context)
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Bosola exits, and the Duchess says that she is afraid there will be an ambush. She tells Antonio to take... (full context)
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As soon as Antonio leaves, the dejected Duchess finds herself facing a disguised Bosola and several troops. Bosola says that she is not... (full context)
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When Bosola tells the Duchess to forget Antonio because of his low birth, she responds by telling an story about... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 1
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In Amalfi, Ferdinand asks Bosola how the Duchess is bearing herself during her imprisonment. Bosola responds that she is doing it so nobly... (full context)
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The Duchess enters, and Bosola greets her kindly, to which she responds that he is wrapping poison... (full context)
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...out the lights, and Ferdinand enters. He comments that the darkness suits her well. The Duchess asks for his pardon, and he says that he grants it, since it is the... (full context)
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...dead, and that she should stop grieving for that which she can never recover. The Duchess replies that this knowledge consumes her like a disease, and she asks to be tied... (full context)
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The Duchess then leaves the room (though probably not the palace, as she’s imprisoned), and Ferdinand reenters,... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 2
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In the Amalfi palace, the Duchess and Cariola hear a horrible noise offstage. Cariola says that it’s the cohort of madmen... (full context)
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Bosola says that he has come to make the Duchess’s tomb. She asks if he thinks that she is sick, and he responds that he... (full context)
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At this point, the Duchess proclaims that she is still the Duchess of Malfi. She calls Bosola plain (though she... (full context)
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...frighten her. Bosola rings the bell, and then gives a rhyming speech to prepare the Duchess for death. Cariola starts yelling for help, but the Duchess knows that it is hopeless... (full context)
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Ferdinand enters and asks if the Duchess is dead, to which Bosola responds that she is. Bosola asks what the children have... (full context)
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Ferdinand then reveals that he and the Duchess were twins, and he asks Bosola to uncover her face. He asks why Bosola didn’t... (full context)
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...peace of conscience for all of the wealth in Europe. He then notices that the Duchess is stirring, and he calls on her soul to return and lead his to hell.... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 1
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...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... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 2
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...aside that he doesn’t want Bosola to know that he was an accessory to the Duchess’s murder. The Cardinal then asks Bosola how the Duchess is doing, pretending not to know... (full context)
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The Cardinal then says that he has found the perfect man for the Duchess to marry, but he says that in order to make the match Bosola must first... (full context)
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...a poison in her, but she continues to press until he tells her that the Duchess and two of her children have been strangled. (full context)
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...says that he might join Antonio in seeking revenge. Bosola comments that he thinks the Duchess is still haunting him, but quickly decides that in fact it is just his remorse. (full context)
Act 5, Scene 3
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...at his palace in Milan. Unbeknownst to Antonio and Delio, they are very nearby the Duchess’s grave, which is evidently right outside the palace. Delio notes that the location has an... (full context)
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...predicting that Antonio will die. The echo also says that Antonio will never see the Duchess again, since he’s risking his life by going to see the Cardinal. Though Antonio doesn’t... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 4
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...Antonio’s if he could have. He says that he wants to tell Antonio about the Duchess and their children before Antonio dies, and Antonio cuts him off to say that their... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 5
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...beyond death” (i.e. that he will go to heaven). He then cries out for the Duchess, and says “whether we fall by ambition, blood, or lust, / Like diamonds we are... (full context)