Notes for Act I, scene i

in your habit: in your manner of dress

reduce: restore order by removing the flatterers

quits first: first of all gets rid of

sycophants: hypocritical courtiers

dissolute: lacking moral restraint, indulging in vices

which he sweetly terms ... Heaven: the antecedent of "which" is the preceding phrase; a good prince who rules wisely in ordering his kingdom emulates the work of God in his creation.

common fountain: public, common to all

in general: everywhere

poison it near the head: poison the fountain's source. This political metaphor of the polluted fountain suggests that a ruler’s behavior, good or bad, inevitably influences the health of the country, a central question concerning the appropriateness of the Duchess’ subsequent actions..

provident: wise, looking ahead to the future

presumption: some might think it disrespectful to advise the king of problems within his realm

gall: irritating sore; Bosola "rubs people the wrong way"

railing: complaining, criticizing; Bosola criticizes the sins of others which he would like to commit himself, if he had the chance.

galleys: criminals were often sentenced to rowing ships, similar to Roman times

dog days: unlucky or hard times, referring to the hottest part of summer associated with Sirius, the dog star

honest: thrive at honest work rather than as a henchman

divinity: holiness, with implied sarcasm

return as arrant knaves: those such as the Cardinal who seek an honest life return no better than they were, as their villainous nature accompanies them on the journey (see Montaigne, Essays 1.38).

suit: favor

standing pools: stagnant water; the image implies that the brothers have ample riches which they do not share

pies: magpies, type of jaybird

panders: procurers of women, pimps

Tantalus: in Greek mythology Tantalus was condemned in Hades to starvation with food and drink just out of reach, thus we get the word "tantalize"

geometry: Bosola compares a man on crutches to a two-pronged compass used to draw circles

last supportation: the soldier who has lost limbs in battle has only his crutches to support him.

latter swing: final swing before he dies from his wounds

lower and lower: You may be higher up in the court than I am, but each man bows to someone above him. You are a court lackey as well, so don’t criticize me for playing up to the Cardinal.

melancholy: one of four bodily fluids called humours, melancholy causing sadness, moodiness; see commentary notes on humours

want of action ...wearing: lack of useful activity creates dissatisfaction leading to trouble, and like moths in unworn clothes will ruin anything near them.

malcontents: dissatisfied person; see commentary on this scene.


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