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).
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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