I’ve never seen the Duchess of Malfi on stage, but I feel as though I know the play quite well from all the references to it that I’ve come across over the years—even in Hollywood movies. Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, for example, which is one of my all-time favourites. Reggie is in love with Pandora (Ava Gardner) and because she won’t marry him, takes some poison and dies with the words of the Duchess on his lips. It’s marvellous stuff—both Reggies OTT death and the original scene in what must be one of the bloodiest and most violent of all plays. Not to mention the incest.
But it’s because I’ve seen Pandora so often that the “death hath ten thousand several doors” bit sticks in my memory. Here’s the original text from the play, followed by a clip from the Pandora movie. Reggie actually dies about 3 mins 45 seconds in, so don’t let the fact this bit is ten minutes long put you off.
DUCHESS. What death?
BOSOLA. Strangling; here are your executioners.
DUCHESS. I forgive them:
The apoplexy, catarrh, or cough o’ th’ lungs,
Would do as much as they do.
BOSOLA. Doth not death fright you?
DUCHESS. Who would be afraid on ‘t,
Knowing to meet such excellent company
In th’ other world?
BOSOLA. Yet, methinks,
The manner of your death should much afflict you:
This cord should terrify you.
DUCHESS. Not a whit:
What would it pleasure me to have my throat cut
With diamonds? or to be smothered
With cassia? or to be shot to death with pearls?
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: any way, for heaven-sake,
So I were out of your whispering. Tell my brothers
That I perceive death, now I am well awake,
Best gift is they can give or I can take.
I would fain put off my last woman’s-fault,
I ‘d not be tedious to you.
FIRST EXECUTIONER. We are ready.
DUCHESS. Dispose my breath how please you; but my body
Bestow upon my women, will you?
FIRST EXECUTIONER. Yes.
DUCHESS. Pull, and pull strongly, for your able strength
Must pull down heaven upon me:—
Yet stay; heaven-gates are not so highly arch’d
As princes’ palaces; they that enter there
Must go upon their knees [Kneels].—Come, violent death,
Serve for mandragora to make me sleep!—
Go tell my brothers, when I am laid out,
They then may feed in quiet.