The Duke makes Bianca an offer that, with her honour despoiled by his actions, she feels she cannot afford to refuse. So she is now installed as his mistress, dressed in the resplendent clothes and jewels he has bestowed on her. But, alone on stage, she expresses to us the true state of her thoughts and emotions.
How strangely woman’s fortune comes about! This was the farthest way to come to me, All would have judged that knew me born in Venice, 25 And there with many jealous eyes brought up That never thought they had me sure enough But when they were upon me. Yet my hap To meet it here, so far off from my birthplace, My friends, or kindred! ‘Tis not good, in sadness, 30 To keep a maid so strict in her young days. Restraint breeds wand’ring thoughts, as many fasting days A great desire to see flesh stirring again. I’ll ne’er use any girl of mine so strictly. Howe’er they’re kept, their fortunes find ‘em out; 35 I see’t in me. If they be got in court I’ll never forbid ‘em the country, nor the court Though they be born i’th’country. They will come to’t, And fetch their falls a thousand mile about, Where one would little think on’t. 40
Leantio is a hard-working financial go-between, whose work compels him to travel all week. In this scene, he returns home, elated at the thought of seeing, and enjoying, his new-wed wife Bianca again, ignorant of the horror that has happened to her. Before entering the house, he pauses to relish the pleasures which (he thinks) lie ahead for him.
How near am I now to a happiness That earth exceeds not, not another like it! The treasures of the deep are not so precious As are the concealed comforts of a man 85 Locked up in woman’s love. I scent the air Of blessings when I come but near the house. What a delicious breath marriage sends forth! The violet bed’s not sweeter. Honest wedlock Is like a banqueting-house built in a garden 90 On which the spring’s chaste flowers take delight To cast their modest odours, when base lust With all her powders, paintings, and best pride Is but a fair house built by a ditch side. When I behold a glorious dangerous strumpet 95 Sparkling in beauty, and destruction too, Both at a twinkling, I do liken straight Her beautified body to a goodly temple That’s built on vaults where carcasses lie rotting; And so by little and little I shrink back again, And quench desire with a cool meditation. 100 And I’m as well, methinks. Now for a welcome Able to draw men’s envies upon man, A kiss now that will hang upon my lip As sweet as morning dew upon a rose, 105 And full as long. After a five days’ fast She’ll be so greedy now, and cling about me, I take care how I shall be rid of her And here’t begins.
In the aftermath of her catastrophic encounter with the Duke, Bianca’s disturbance is reflected in the fights she picks with the mother of her husband Leantio. Previously quiescent, she now attacks and scorns the woman who has made her welcome. In the aftermath of their latest confrontation, the astonished mother-in-law expresses to us her consternation at this sudden transformation of character.
I would my son would either keep at home, Or I were in my grave. She was but one day abroad, but ever since She’s grown so cutted there’s no speaking to her. Whether the sight of great cheer at my lady’s 5 And such mean fare at home work discontent in her I know not; but I’m sure she’s strangely altered. I’ll ne’er keep daughter-in-law i’th’ house with me Again, if I had an hundred. When read I of any That agreed long together, but she and her mother 10 Fell out in the first quarter? – nay, sometime A grudging of a scolding the first week, by’r Lady. So takes the new disease, methinks, in my house. I’m weary of my part. There’s nothing likes her. I know not to please her here o’late. 15 And here she comes.
Guardiano has been the agent to lure an unsuspecting Bianca to a room where she can be surprised by the Duke and raped. As the Duke achieves his satisfaction offstage, Guardiano reappears and confides to us his satisfaction in the service he has performed.
I can but smile as often as I think on’t. How prettily the poor fool was beguiled, How unexpectedly! It’s a witty age. 395 Never were finer snares for women’s honesties Than are devised in these days, no spider’s web Made of a daintier thread than are now practised To catch love’s flesh-fly by the silver wing. Yet to prepare her stomach by degrees 400 To Cupid’s feast, because I saw ‘twas queasy, I showed her naked pictures by the way – A bit to stay the appetite. Well, advancement, I venture hard to find thee. If thou com’st With a greater title set upon thy crest, 405 I’ll take that first cross patiently, and wait Until some other comes greater than that. I’ll endure all.
Isabella has just met the rich ward whom her father insists she must marry, in order to add his wealth to her already considerable inheritance. Her only words in the scene (and the play) to date have been three syllables of protest – “Dear father!” – which the latter swiftly cuts short. Now, appalled by her husband-to-be’s grossness and inanity, she turns to the audience and unburdens the distress that overwhelms her.
Marry a fool! Can there be greater misery to a woman That means to keep her days true to her husband And know no other man? So virtue wills it. Why, how can I obey and honour him, 165 But I must needs commit idolatry? A fool is but the image of a man, And that but ill-made neither. O the heart-breakings Of miserable maids where love’s enforced! The best condition is but bad enough: 170 When women have their choices, commonly They do but buy their thraldoms, and bring great portions To men to keep ‘em in subjection, As if a fearful prisoner should bribe The keeper to be good to him, yet lies in still, 175 And glad of a good usage, a good look Sometimes. By’r Lady, no misery surmounts a woman’s. Men buy their slaves, but women buy their masters. Yet honesty and love makes all this happy And, next to angels’, the most blest estate. 180 That providence that has made every poison Good for some use, and sets four warring elements At peace in man, can make a harmony In things that are most strange to human reason. O, but this marriage! 185