Study Guide

The Duchess of Malfi Act 2, Scene 1

By John Webster

Act 2, Scene 1

  • It's been a few months, and Bosola is messing around with Castruchio ("your ears are totally big enough to make you look like a convincing judge!") when an old lady comes in.
  • Bosola is a major jerk to her: he spends six lines of prose telling her how ugly she is, ending by likening her to a woman who looked like "an abortive hedgehog." What a charmer.
  • After mercilessly harassing the old woman for a while, Castruchio and the old lady leave, and Bosola switches gears: the Duchess is looking different these days, he notes.
  • She's wearing some unfashionably loose clothes, putting on a little weight, she's frequently sick… Yep, that's right. Bosola's on Baby Bump Patrol.
  • He's got a plan to prove that the Duchess is pregnant: apricots.
  • Apricots? Say what? Renaissance folks thought that pregnant women craved fresh fruit, and that apricots in particular could induce labor.
  • Just then, Delio and Antonio walk in, speaking separately to each other.
  • Antonio's just telling Delio that he and the Duchess have been married for months, and swears Delio to secrecy.
  • Antonio notices Bosola, and they get into a brief discussion about their respective social positions.
  • Bosola claims that he "looks no higher than he can reach," and Antonio's all, "buddy, you could do better."
  • Easy for Antonio to say—he's the Duchess's second-in-command. Bosola doesn't think much of noble parentage. In his opinion, princes and paupers are motivated by the same things and one isn't nobler than the other.
  • The Duchess comes in, fussing crankily with her attendant.
  • Go time. Bosola deploys his apricots; Operation Fruit-Inducing-Labor is in motion.
  • Looks like it's working, too. Having voraciously eaten the apricots, the Duchess immediately gets sick, and is whisked away to her bedchamber.
  • Bosola's got his confirmation, and Antonio is now freaking out a little. Nobody except Delio even knows that he and the Duchess are married, much less that she's having his kid.
  • He was counting on having the time to take the Duchess somewhere else and have her give birth away from the court, but Bosola's apricots have ruined that plan.
  • Alone with Delio, Antonio starts doing some damage control: he's going to spread the rumor that Bosola has poisoned the Duchess, and that she has to be alone to recover. This seems to us to be… not the best plan, but we get that Antonio's under a lot of stress.

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