Notes on Act III, scene ii

casket: box with makeup, comb

glass: mirror

cap and knee: with cap in hand and on bended knee; that is, requesting permission to sleep with their wives, rather than assuming it is their right.

lord of misrule: a person of lower rank chosen to be Master of Revels on festival days, reversing the normal social order

sprawlingest: that is, she spreads herself over most of the bed, an idea which Antonio likes

wherefore still: why always

count the clock: Antonio jokingly compares himself in bed to a worker who hates his job and watches the clock

stop: close

Venus: Roman goddess of love

forego: avoid

Daphne: a nymph pursued by Apollo and turned into a tree to escape (see Ovid's Metamorphoses book 1). In all these myths, Antonio contrasts women who avoided lovers, associated with barrenness, with women who married, associated with fruitfulness and beauty.

peevish: irritable

friends: lovers

mulberry: Antonio tries to convince Cariola to marry based on mythical examples of those who were transformed into productive things like the mulberry, but with tragic foreshadowing he forgets that the mulberry’s fruit turned red from the blood of Pyramus who killed himself when he thought his beloved Thisbe was dead (Ovid, Metamorphoses book 4).

transhap'd: transformed (see Ovid's Metamorphoses)

vain poetry: meaningless fiction

propos'd: if three men proposed to me, who should I choose: the one with wisdom, riches, or beauty?

several: separate

Paris: Paris was son of the king of Troy, whose task was to choose the most beautiful goddess from among Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. Because all were breathtaking, presenting themselves nude, each offered him a bribe. Aphrodite promised him the loveliest woman in the world, so he chose her, and she helped him seduce Helen, taking her back to Troy, resulting in a ten-year war and disaster for the city.

motion ... apprehension: a spectacle able to obscure the judgement

hard-favour'd: unattractive

worse-favour'd: even more unattractive

ill: bad; just as a poor painter doesn't want to be compared to a good one, no plain woman wants to be seen next to an attractive one.

face-making: portraits

prithee: pray thee

tangles: the Duchess is combing her hair, distracting her from seeing them leave and seeing Ferdinand enter

steal forth: sneak out of 

divers: many

chaf'd: become annoyed

'gin: begin

wax: grow

arras: white powder

vouchsafe: condescend to agree

Enter: this entrance is not marked in the Quarto text, leaving it for producers to decide between the suspense of an early entrance, or the surprise of a late one.

his: Ferdinand's

keep: keep to your own bed (out of fear of being discovered)

sweetest: the potential danger adds excitement to their relationship

gossips: godfathers (British usage)

sees: in many productions (including ours) the Duchess sees Ferdinand's reflection in her hand mirror as he approaches her from behind

bare name: just a name, nothing more

I will plant my soul in mine ears: I will give you all my attention

foresee: unhappily our imperfect reason permits us to foresee events but not always to prevent them. Ferdinand predicted his sister would take a lover but failed to stop her.

there's in shame ... : the only good in shamelessness is that you no longer feel any shame about anything

happily: perhaps

basilisk: mythical creature whose glance was fatal

confederacy: her husband's assistance; the Duchess hopes naively that Antonio has arranged this meeting, not suspecting Bosola of stealing a passkey.

to thee: compared to thee (her voice)

whate'er: whoever

hear'st: Ferdinand assumes correctly that her husband is hiding nearby

lecher: lover

embracements: in your arms

use to sound: ability to speak

paraquito: parrot

bewray: betray

thou hast ta'en ... heart: you have taken the lead lining of your husband's coffin and wrapped it around me: that is, you have put me in your first husband's tomb/place by replacing him/me with another lover (suggestion of Ferdinand's incestuous feelings).

hollow bullet: cannonball filled with flammable liquid

too willful: another suggestion that even she recognizes his more than brotherly jealousy

shepherds: one popular genre of plays in the Renaissance were pastorals which depicted love tales of shepherds in the woods

shook hands: bid farewell

invisible: no longer seen

cas'd up: locked up

apparition: Ferdinand appeared suddenly out of nowhere, like a ghost, and just as frightening

cleft: split open

relate: demonstrate

warrantable: justifiable or capable of being proved

gall: gall bladder, associated with bitterness

unjust actions: those who have committed true injustices should have to disguise their actions, not those who are innocent.

fashion'd: worked out a plan

post: in haste

stood engag'd: as her cover story, the Duchess claims that Antonio failed to repay a loan that her brother had guaranteed.

cunning: being used to falsehood and subterfuge, Bosola easily sees through her story.

protested: the creditors are demanding payment, and will claim the deposit that Ferdinand put up.

enginous: pertaining to engines, suggesting speed

periods: complete sentences; we don't have time to speak long

Tasso: 16th century Italian poet who told the story of a Christian maiden who lied to protect others from persecution

got well: you have treated me well, meant ironically

let him: let him go

publish: publicly announce what he has done

brook: withstand

humour: character; he blames his stars for his misfortune, not her (see commentary on humours, II.v)

parts ... sat down: a faithful servant receives no reward, and leaves as poor as he started.

I am all yours: meant with double meaning for the Duchess' ears

pass: leave to go

moisture ... sea again: what goes around comes around; what we reap, that shall we sow

gaping: with an apple in it; orthodox Jews do not eat pork; a typical anti-Semitic insult of the time.

thick: hard of hearing, when someone asked him for a loan

hermaphrodite: a person with both male and female sex organs

chippings: bread crumbs used to polish gold

chain: chain of office, sign of his position as chief steward

rogues: liars, hypocrites

in's: in his (Antonio's); when he was prosperous, they would do anything for him, in hopes of reward

intelligencers: made their children his spies, lackeys

livery: The costume or insignia worn by the servants of a feudal lord

lice: these men were nothing but parasites, who abandon their "host" once he is out of favor

the like: one like him

flatterers: flatterers deny that princes have any vices, and princes likewise deny that the flatterers are lying to them.

coffers: lockboxes, he has filled his own pockets

Pluto: actually the god of the underworld; Plutus was the god of wealth, although an easy mistake, as wealth such as gold or diamonds is found underground.

scuttles: quick movements; wealth comes slowly to reward good deeds but quickly to evil.

unvalued: undervalued

to bless: whoever finds Antonio in his service will be blessed by what you have thrown away.

show: being humble, he would rather criticize himself than show off his good qualities

whispering room: confessional booth at a church

basely descended: born of the lower classes

want: miss

Bermoothes: Bermuda islands

bladders: filled with air, like balloons, to help one float in water

favour: ironically, Bosola aptly describes himself here, as a spy who relies falsely on the favor of the duke and the cardinal.

down: bring you down

painted: external, superficial

seminary: bed for sowing seeds

unbenefic'd: unpaid

engine: a lifting crane or hoist

that: your grave

cabinets: rooms

coats: coat of arms, signifying an important family, sometimes these were sold as bribes rather than merited. See Bosola's earlier comment about mercenary heralds (a few speeches above). Antonio shall be remembered for being rewarded for his merit as a man long after those who have bought their honorary titles.

concealment: I hope you can keep a secret.

Loretto: a religious shrine, where it was believed angels carried the house of Mary from Nazareth.

progress: official journey

train: servants of the household

politician: one who schemes, such as Bosola

quilted anvil: covering the anvil with a quilt softens the blows, so no one hears them

rests: remains

base: lowly; Bosola has few delusions about his own character.

prefers: leads to; every quality of character, whether good or evil, will lead to some type of reward (so he hopes)

paint weeds to the life: even artists who paint lifelike pictures of weeds (a worthless subject) are praised for their skill, so much more Bosola should be praised for his efforts.


Back to Act III, scene ii

Table of contents