Study Guide

The White Devil Quotes

  • Betrayal

    Vit. …They told me my intent was to root up
    That well-grown yew, and plant i' the stead of it
    A wither'd blackthorn; and for that they vow'd
    To bury me alive. (1.2)

    Maybe the yew Vittoria is uprooting (and which her husband and Isabella want to stay put) is the old order of things—her marriage to Camillo, the Duke's marriage to Isabella, and the right order of their respective family trees? She will betray her husband in order to keep rooting up this symbolic tree.

    Flam. He will shoot pills into a man's guts shall make them have more ventages than a cornet or a lamprey; he will poison a kiss; and was once minded for his masterpiece, because Ireland breeds no poison, to have prepared a deadly vapour in a Spaniard's fart, that should have poisoned all Dublin. (2.1)

    Flamineo is describing the poison expert, Doctor Julio, who will help Brachiano murder his wife. It's some light comic relief—what with a poisonous fart that could kill everyone in Dublin. That must've been an early incident of chemical warfare…

    Brach. Small mischiefs are by greater made secure. (2.1)

    Brachiano is explaining that the smaller mischief—committing adultery with Vittoria and leaving his wife—will be concealed by the greater betrayal of actually murdering Isabella. This turns out to be a pretty un-wise, since the murder of Isabella is what makes Francisco so determined to kill Brachiano.

    Flam…Treason's tongue hath a villainous palsy in 't; I will talk to any man, hear no man, and for a time appear a politic madman. (3.2)

    Flamineo is worried that people are going to question him about his betrayal ("treason") and murder of Camillo. He doesn't want to be caught in a contradiction or be unable to respond, so he's playing a madman in order to deflect questioning.

    Zan. 'Tis Flamineo.
    Corn. Will you make me such a fool? here 's a white hand:
    Can blood so soon be washed out? (5.4)

    Even though physically you can wash your brother's blood off pretty quickly, you can't wash the sin out of your soul so easily—that's what Cornelia is implying. Mom always knows bad.

    Giov. Remove these bodies. See, my honour'd lord,
    What use you ought make of their punishment.
    Let guilty men remember, their black deeds
    Do lean on crutches made of slender reeds. (5.6)

    Evil is never secure—it's on "slender reeds" because the forces it unleashes will end up destroying it.

  • Family

    Flam. So would I;
    I would the common'st courtesan in Rome
    Had been my mother, rather than thyself.
    Nature is very pitiful to whores,
    To give them but few children, yet those children
    Plurality of fathers; they are sure
    They shall not want. (1.2)

    This is a totally ironic joke. Flamineo knows that the fathers of the children of prostitutes probably don't pay attention to their kids, or even know they exist. He's answering his mother's serious accusations and condemnations (she just said she wished she never gave birth to him) with scornful sass.

    Isab. To dig that strumpet's eyes out; let her lie
    Some twenty months a-dying; to cut off
    Her nose and lips, pull out her rotten teeth;
    Preserve her flesh like mummia, for trophies
    Of my just anger! Hell, to my affliction,
    Is mere snow-water. By your favour, sir;—
    Brother, draw near, and my lord cardinal;—
    Sir, let me borrow of you but one kiss;
    Henceforth I'll never lie with you, by this,
    This wedding-ring. (2.1)

    Isabella's marriage has gone entirely off the rails. She (falsely) threatens Brachiano with divorce—but she doesn't mean it. (He's going to kill her, at any rate.) This is a crystal clear picture of exactly how disastrous their marriage has become.

    Fran. Believe me, I am nothing but her grave;
    And I shall keep her blessed memory
    Longer than thousand epitaphs. (3.2)

    Finally, someone who actually loves one of his relatives: Francisco is so genuinely moved by Isabella's death that it motivates his quest for revenge. His sibling-bond is one of the few familial relationships in the whole play that seems to mean anything permanent.

    Flam… I have a strange thing in me, to the which
    I cannot give a name, without it be
    Compassion. (5.4)

    After seeing his mother weeping over the corpse of his brother Marcello, Flamineo suddenly gets in touch with his basic humanity. But its been AWOL for a pretty long time, and its hard to even know how seriously to take him—though this seems to be real, albeit a little too late to make much of a difference.

    Vit. I will read it:
    I give that portion to thee, and no other,
    Which Cain groan'd under, having slain his brother. (5.6)

    Vittoria attacks Flamineo, comparing him to Cain, who killed his brother Abel (since Flamineo has just killed Marcello). Indeed, Flamineo is very Cain-esque—he's this doomed, damned figure roaming the earth, while searching only for his personal gain.

    Vit. Oh, my greatest sin lay in my blood!
    Now my blood pays for 't. (5.6)

    Is Vittoria honest, here? She's blaming her brother (her "blood"—her family ties) for her sins, and refusing to take any responsibility herself. Isn't she the one who asked the Duke for phony "protection" from Camillo and Isabella?

  • Lust

    Cam. …Your silkworm used to fast every third day, and the next following spins the better. To-morrow at night, I am for you. (1.2)

    Camillo is using this insincere excuse to avoid sleeping with his wife. Essentially, he's saying he's not a sex machine—he needs time to recharge his batteries. But he doesn't actually plan on following through the next day—he's too busy fighting pirates or whatevs.

    Isab. I do beseech you,
    Entreat him mildly, let not your rough tongue
    Set us at louder variance; all my wrongs
    Are freely pardon'd; and I do not doubt,
    As men to try the precious unicorn's horn
    Make of the powder a preservative circle,
    And in it put a spider, so these arms
    Shall charm his poison, force it to obeying,
    And keep him chaste from an infected straying. (2.1)

    The straying is "infected" because Brachiano might pick up some STDs whle sleeping around. Isabella wants to charm him and re-direct his lust back towards her—but it's too late. The fix is in, and she's gonna die.

    Fran. I shall not need; lust carries her sharp whip
    At her own girdle. Look to 't, for our anger
    Is making thunderbolts. (2.1)

    Francisco chastises Brachiano for his lustfulness—and it's doing a fine job of prodding Brachiano into vicious behavior.

    Fran… Like mistletoe on sere elms spent by weather,
    Let him cleave to her, and both rot together. (2.1)

    Brachiano's lustful passion for Vittoria will just lead to death and decay—it's breaking down the social and family order instead of building it up.

    Lawyer. What, are you in by the week? So—I will try now whether they
    wit be close prisoner—methinks none should sit upon thy sister, but
    old whore-masters——

    Flam. Or cuckolds; for your cuckold is your most terrible tickler of
    lechery. Whore-masters would serve; for none are judges at tilting,
    but those that have been old tilters. (3.1)

    This is more comic relief—"tilting" means having sex. Flamineo is saying that a whore-master (pimp) is better qualified to judge crimes related to lust, since a pimp makes a business out of sex. Also, even though their wives cheat on them, cuckolds are apparently experts on sexual matters, according to Flamineo.

    Mont. Oh, your trade instructs your language!
    You see, my lords, what goodly fruit she seems;
    Yet like those apples travellers report
    To grow where Sodom and Gomorrah stood,
    I will but touch her, and you straight shall see
    She 'll fall to soot and ashes. (3.2)

    Even though Vittoria is easy on the eyes, Monticelso claims that she is inwardly corrupt (using the metaphor of the apples of Sodom—a real plant, though they don't actually turn into real ashes: they're just filled with a gross bitter sap). Lust can't distinguish between the way someone looks on the outside and how they look on the inside.

    Zan. Alas! poor maids get more lovers than husbands… (5.1)

    Zanche is poignantly complaining about how men just want to sleep with her but won't actually marry her because of her poverty and servitude.

    Flam. …O men,
    That lie upon your death-beds, and are haunted
    With howling wives! ne'er trust them; they 'll re-marry
    Ere the worm pierce your winding-sheet, ere the spider
    Make a thin curtain for your epitaphs. (5.6)

    Flamineo claims (in a fairly sexist way) that women are fickle—they'll weep over a man's corpse and find a new lover before his corpse can even start to rot. This seems to be related to Flamineo's suspicion of female sexual desires, which he sees as uncontrollable and untrustworthy.

  • Revenge

    Vit. …Take it for words—O woman's poor revenge
    Which dwells but in the tongue, I will not weep…(3.2)

    Vittoria says that in this society, a woman can only take revenge with words and not with actions. It's a poignant denunciation of a society dominated by men—but it's not clear Vittoria's entirely sincere, since she helped provoke the Duke to murder her husband (an action which went far beyond words).

    Lodo. I do thank thee,
    And I do wish ingeniously for thy sake,
    The dog-days all year long. (3.3)

    The dog days (when the star of Sirius rises with the sun in July and August) were considered a time of year when evil things would happen. Since Flamineo was involved in killing Isabella, Lodovico is wishing Flamineo really bad fortune.

    Mont. …sleep with the lion,
    And let this brood of secure foolish mice
    Play with your nostrils, till the time be ripe
    For th' bloody audit, and the fatal gripe:
    Aim like a cunning fowler, close one eye,
    That you the better may your game espy. (4.1)

    This is a really unusual version of the old "Revenge is a dish best served cold" adage. It involves the old idea that mice (small, weaker people) would threaten to go up the noses of bigger creatures like lions, or like elephants with their trunks; an analogy to powerful people.

    Fran… Like the wild Irish, I 'll ne'er think thee dead
    Till I can play at football with thy head… (4.1)

    Ireland frequently rebelled against England in John Webster's time. He calls the Irish savage warriors, favoring beheadings and other uncouth activities.

    Lodo… Oh, the art,
    The modest form of greatness! that do sit,
    Like brides at wedding-dinners, with their looks turn'd
    From the least wanton jests, their puling stomach
    Sick from the modesty, when their thoughts are loose,
    Even acting of those hot and lustful sports
    Are to ensue about midnight: such his cunning!
    He sounds my depth thus with a golden plummet.
    I am doubly arm'd now. Now to th' act of blood,
    There 's but three furies found in spacious hell,
    But in a great man's breast three thousand dwell. (4.3)

    Lodovico marvels at how Monticelso pretends to disapprove of him, while simultaneously enabling him with cash and using him as a hired assassin. Whereas Lodovico is openly depraved and wicked, Monticelso does a way better job of seeming to be virtuous.

    Lodo. I do glory yet,
    That I can call this act mine own. For my part,
    The rack, the gallows, and the torturing wheel,
    Shall be but sound sleeps to me: here 's my rest;
    I limn'd this night-piece, and it was my best. (5.6)

    Even though he's about to be tortured and killed, Lodovico celebrates his revenge. But maybe he'll be a little less ecstatic when he really is on "the torturing wheel"? ("Limn," by the way, means to highlight, depict, or make something stand-out.)

  • Ambition

    Corn. What! because we are poor
    Shall we be vicious? (1.2)

    Cornelia is suggesting that poverty isn't a good enough excuse for murderousness. But, in Flamineo's eyes, that's just what they want you to think. Power and the courage to use it, even for the darkest deeds, is all that really matters.

    Flam. The duchess come to court! I like not that.
    We are engag'd to mischief, and must on;
    As rivers to find out the ocean
    Flow with crook bendings beneath forced banks,
    Or as we see, to aspire some mountain's top,
    The way ascends not straight, but imitates
    The subtle foldings of a winter's snake,
    So who knows policy and her true aspect,
    Shall find her ways winding and indirect. (1.2)

    Flamineo doesn't view ambition as something that can just rocket straight to the top. It has to roll with the times (and the punches), gradually snaking its way to its goal. The "snake" metaphor is particularly apt, especially in Flamineo's case, given his devilish style.

    Flam. Hum! thou art a soldier,
    Followest the great duke, feed'st his victories,
    As witches do their serviceable spirits,
    Even with thy prodigal blood: what hast got?
    But, like the wealth of captains, a poor handful,
    Which in thy palm thou bear'st, as men hold water;
    Seeking to grip it fast, the frail reward
    Steals through thy fingers. (3.1)

    Flamineo is criticizing Marcello's way of doing things—it's not enough to just be a lackey and a follower. Though Flamineo is technically a lackey and a follower of Brachiano, he's twisting it to his own advantage. The only point of serving another person is to serve your self, in his view.

    Flam. Hear me:
    And thus, when we have even pour'd ourselves
    Into great fights, for their ambition,
    Or idle spleen, how shall we find reward?
    But as we seldom find the mistletoe,
    Sacred to physic, on the builder oak,
    Without a mandrake by it; so in our quest of gain,
    Alas, the poorest of their forc'd dislikes
    At a limb proffers, but at heart it strikes!
    This is lamented doctrine. (3.1)

    Flamineo is irritated that his quest for gain runs into obstacles—the same way mistletoe, considered a medicinal plant in Webster's time, is frequently found near a mandrake, which is poisonous. It annoys him that, in trying to help himself, he could easily destroy himself (which he does).

    Flam…It may appear to some ridiculous
    Thus to talk knave and madman, and sometimes
    Come in with a dried sentence, stuffed with sage:
    But this allows my varying of shapes;
    Knaves do grow great by being great men's apes. (4.2)

    Flamineo excuses his crazy behavior, explaining that's it's all just part of his way of getting to the top. You have to be a great man's "ape" (hired lackey or stooge) before you can continue your crawl upwards.

  • Women and Femininity

    Flam. …Her coyness! that 's but the superficies of lust most women have; yet why should ladies blush to hear that named, which they do not fear to handle? Oh, they are politic; they know our desire is increased by the difficulty of enjoying; whereas satiety is a blunt, weary, and drowsy passion. If the buttery-hatch at court stood continually open, there would be nothing so passionate crowding, nor hot suit after the beverage. (1.2)

    Flamineo mocks the "coyness" of women—he claims that women act embarrassed about sexual talk, but not about the actual act itself. He argues that this is just a way of playing hard to get—they all want sex, but by acting shy or coy about it, they feed the male sexual appetite. Um…why don't you ask the ladies to verify that one, Flam?

    Isab… Are all these ruins of my former beauty
    Laid out for a whore's triumph? (2.1)

    Isabella angrily calls Vittoria a "whore," and laments that her own beauty has fallen apart. By comparing it to ruins, it's like she's some ancient, noble, forgotten city, whereas Vittoria is just some newcomer setting up a sleazy sin city on top of it.

    Mont. I shall be plainer with you, and paint out
    Your follies in more natural red and white
    Than that upon your cheek.

    Vit. Oh, you mistake!
    You raise a blood as noble in this cheek
    As ever was your mother's. (3.2)

    Monticelso is playing off the idea of a "painted lady"—a prostitute who wears a lot of makeup. Vittoria boldly says that she doesn't wear any, and her cheeks are made red by noble blood, just like Monticelso's mother's. It's a pretty brave, cheeky thing to say (no pun intended).

    Mont. Shall I expound whore to you? sure I shall;
    I 'll give their perfect character. They are first,
    Sweetmeats which rot the eater; in man's nostrils
    Poison'd perfumes. They are cozening alchemy;
    Shipwrecks in calmest weather. What are whores!
    Cold Russian winters, that appear so barren,
    As if that nature had forgot the spring.
    They are the true material fire of hell:
    Worse than those tributes i' th' Low Countries paid,
    Exactions upon meat, drink, garments, sleep,
    Ay, even on man's perdition, his sin. (3.2)

    Monticelso's attack on "whores" reaches a peak of near-madness pretty quickly. This is supposed to feel deranged—it turns off everyone in the court, and Francisco needs to add a note of rationality and moderation.

    They are those brittle evidences of law,
    Which forfeit all a wretched man's estate
    For leaving out one syllable. What are whores!
    They are those flattering bells have all one tune,
    At weddings, and at funerals. Your rich whores
    Are only treasuries by extortion fill'd,
    And emptied by curs'd riot. They are worse,
    Worse than dead bodies which are begg'd at gallows,
    And wrought upon by surgeons, to teach man
    Wherein he is imperfect. What's a whore!
    She 's like the guilty counterfeited coin,
    Which, whosoe'er first stamps it, brings in trouble
    All that receive it. (3.2)

    This is just part two of Monticelso's tirade—the same comments above apply.

    Vit. You are deceiv'd:
    For know, that all your strict-combined heads,
    Which strike against this mine of diamonds,
    Shall prove but glassen hammers: they shall break.
    These are but feigned shadows of my evils.
    Terrify babes, my lord, with painted devils,
    I am past such needless palsy. For your names
    Of 'whore' and 'murderess', they proceed from you,
    As if a man should spit against the wind,
    The filth returns in 's face. (3.2)

    Vittoria's rebuttal is way more convincing than Monticelso's unhinged rant. But that's part of the irony—we, the audience, know that Vittoria's not being entirely honest. It forces us to marvel at how genuine she seems.

    Vit. …Take it for words—O woman's poor revenge
    Which dwells but in the tongue, I will not weep… (3.2)

    Vittoria argues that women can only get revenge verbally—which would be a poignant cry against patriarchy, if we didn't know that Vittoria played a crucial role in a plot to murder her husband and her lover's wife (which goes a little bit beyond verbal violence).

    Brach. Right! there are plots. Your beauty! Oh, ten thousand curses on 't! How long have I beheld the devil in crystal! Thou hast led me, like an heathen sacrifice, With music, and with fatal yokes of flowers, To my eternal ruin. Woman to man Is either a god, or a wolf. (4.2)

    Brachiano attacks Vittoria when he thinks she's cheated on him (she hasn't) and makes a crazy generalization about all women. Unable to accept that he basically chose to murder his own wife and Camillo (though Vittoria had some input, it seems), he casts off blame on her beauty.

    Flam. What a damn'd imposthume is a woman's will!
    Can nothing break it? [Aside.] Fie, fie, my lord,
    Women are caught as you take tortoises,
    She must be turn'd on her back. Sister, by this hand
    I am on your side. (4.2)

    Flamineo sees women as being excessively willful—which is funny, since he and Vittoria are both incredibly willful, in a negative way.

    Vit. O ye dissembling men!

    Flam. We suck'd that, sister,
    From women's breasts, in our first infancy. (4.2)

    Flamineo claims that the male ability to fake people out is really inherited from women, who are the true masters of deception. Charming.

    Flam… Know, many glorious women that are fam'd
    For masculine virtue, have been vicious,
    Only a happier silence did betide them:
    She hath no faults, who hath the art to hide them. (5.6)

    Flamineo cynically says that many women famed for virtue were really guilty of sin—it's just that no one ever discovered it. Being someone who loves to deceive, Flamineo tends to find deception in others, as well.

  • Mortality

    Giov. What do the dead do, uncle? do they eat,
    Hear music, go a-hunting, and be merry,
    As we that live?

    Fran. No, coz; they sleep.

    Giov. Lord, Lord, that I were dead!
    I have not slept these six nights. When do they wake?

    Fran. When God shall please. (3.2)

    Technically, Giovanni and Francisco are supposed to be Catholics, but Francisco departs from the Catholic view of death. According to Church doctrine, the dead don't sleep after death—rather, they enjoy the "beatific vision" of God until the resurrection occurs. The idea that the dead are in a state of unconsciousness or sleep until the resurrection is called "Adventism."

    Brach. …O thou strong heart!
    There 's such a covenant 'tween the world and it,
    They 're loath to break. (5.3)

    Brachiano really does love the world and all the pleasure he can extract from it. So naturally, separating from life is like a painful divorce for him—especially since he thinks he's going to hell, and sees the devil on his deathbed.

    Brach. O thou soft natural death, that art joint-twin
    To sweetest slumber! no rough-bearded comet
    Stares on thy mild departure; the dull owl
    Bears not against thy casement; the hoarse wolf
    Scents not thy carrion: pity winds thy corse,
    Whilst horror waits on princes'. (5.3)

    Brachiano does not get to enjoy "a soft natural death"— he's reserved for the horror. In fact, there are very few characters in the play who seem destined for a peaceful, sane, and sacred demise—maybe Cornelia or Giovanni?

    Flam… Pray, sir, resolve me, what religion 's best
    For a man to die in? or is it in your knowledge
    To answer me how long I have to live?
    That 's the most necessary question.
    Not answer? are you still, like some great men
    That only walk like shadows up and down,
    And to no purpose; say——
    [The Ghost throws earth upon him, and shows him the skull.]
    What 's that? O fatal! he throws earth upon me.
    A dead man's skull beneath the roots of flowers! (5.4)

    Flamineo asks the ghost questions that it's really to late to ask or answer. The only response is the skull: he's doomed.

    Vit. Are you grown an atheist? will you turn your body,
    Which is the goodly palace of the soul,
    To the soul's slaughter-house? Oh, the cursed devil,
    Which doth present us with all other sins
    Thrice candied o'er, despair with gall and stibium;
    Yet we carouse it off. [Aside to Zanche.] Cry out for help!
    Makes us forsake that which was made for man,
    The world, to sink to that was made for devils,
    Eternal darkness! (5.6)

    It's a little ironic that Vittoria's asking Flamineo if he's become an atheist now that he's advocating suicide—as if he wasn't plotting murder with her and Brachiano back at the beginning of the play.

    Flam… Whether I resolve to fire, earth, water, air,
    Or all the elements by scruples, I know not,
    Nor greatly care.—Shoot! shoot!
    Of all deaths, the violent death is best;
    For from ourselves it steals ourselves so fast,
    The pain, once apprehended, is quite past. (5.6)

    While faking his death, Flameo seems to suggest his real attitude towards mortality as well: he doesn't care if his body just dissolves into the elements, or if something else happens.

    Vit. My soul, like to a ship in a black storm
    Is driven I know not whither. (5.6)

    Vittoria doesn't know what's going on as she dies: is she destined for heaven or hell or… what? She has no clue—but the "black storm" simile seems ominous.

    Flam… We cease to grieve, cease to be fortune's slaves,
    Nay, cease to die by dying. Art thou gone?
    And thou so near the bottom? false report,
    Which says that women vie with the nine Muses,
    For nine tough durable lives! I do not look
    Who went before, nor who shall follow me;
    No, at my self I will begin the end.
    While we look up to heaven, we confound
    Knowledge with knowledge. Oh, I am in a mist! (5.6)

    Flamineo is disturbed by death, but also feels sort of liberated by it—since he'll no longer be one of "fortune's slaves." At the same time, he might be headed for hell—but he can't see, because he's "in a mist." He's refusing to look to heaven and doesn't feel like forgiveness is a possibility or even an option.

    Vit. Oh, happy they that never saw the court,
    Nor ever knew great men but by report! [Vittoria dies.] (5.6)

    This is characteristic for Vittoria—she blames her corruption on "great men" (meaning Brachiano) as she dies, but can't admit that she made some huge mistakes and is really pretty bad, overall.

    Flam. I recover like a spent taper, for a flash,
    And instantly go out.
    Let all that belong to great men remember th' old wives' tradition, to
    be like the lions i' th' Tower on Candlemas-day; to mourn if the sun
    shine, for fear of the pitiful remainder of winter to come.
    'Tis well yet there 's some goodness in my death;
    My life was a black charnel. I have caught
    An everlasting cold; I have lost my voice
    Most irrecoverably. Farewell, glorious villains.
    This busy trade of life appears most vain,
    Since rest breeds rest, where all seek pain by pain.
    Let no harsh flattering bells resound my knell;
    Strike, thunder, and strike loud, to my farewell! [Dies.] (5.6)

    Flamineo admits his life was extremely bad—a "black charnel." But he doesn't beg for forgiveness or say he would have done things differently—he simply laments the emptiness of life and the pointlessness of everything.

  • Power

    Lodo. I am ever bound to you.
    This is the world's alms; pray make use of it.
    Great men sell sheep, thus to be cut in pieces,
    When first they have shorn them bare, and sold their fleeces. (1.1.)

    "Great men" here (and elsewhere in the play) are way different from good men. A "great man" is just a powerful man, in Webster's world—someone who won't hesitate to betray and destroy his underlings for profit.

    Fran. Do not fear it:
    I 'll answer you in your own hawking phrase.
    Some eagles that should gaze upon the sun
    Seldom soar high, but take their lustful ease,
    Since they from dunghill birds their prey can seize. (2.1)

    Francisco means that he's the eagle and Brachiano's the dunghill bird. Although he has better things to do, he might come down to Brachiano's level, if only to defeat and punish him for his adultery.

    Conj. Sir, I thank you.
    Both flowers and weeds spring, when the sun is warm,
    And great men do great good, or else great harm. (2.2)

    The Conjurer seems a little hesitant about what he's doing. He's using his magic to let Brachiano see the pair of murders he ordered—but he seems a little skeptical about Brachiano, who is definitely one of those "great men" doing "great harm" as opposed to "great good."

    Vit. O poor Charity!
    Thou art seldom found in scarlet. (3.2)

    Vittoria attacks the hierarchy of the church—she claims that you would expect to find mercy in a cardinal like Monticelso (since cardinals dress in scarlet), but you seldom do.

    Flam. Your comfortable words are like honey: they relish well in your mouth that 's whole, but in mine that 's wounded, they go down as if the sting of the bee were in them. Oh, they have wrought their purpose cunningly, as if they would not seem to do it of malice! In this a politician imitates the devil, as the devil imitates a canon; wheresoever he comes to do mischief, he comes with his backside towards you. (3.3)

    Flamineo says this to the Savoy Ambassador—who only says one line in the whole play—after he tries to comfort him. Flamineo is claiming that his words were politically motivated and not particularly sincere.

    Fran. Shall I defy him, and impose a war,
    Most burthensome on my poor subjects' necks,
    Which at my will I have not power to end?
    You know, for all the murders, rapes, and thefts,
    Committed in the horrid lust of war,
    He that unjustly caus'd it first proceed,
    Shall find it in his grave, and in his seed. (4.1)

    Francisco denounces war because, in this case, it would cause people to be killed for the sake of a quarrel between him and Brachiano. Hence, even though he doesn't fully prevent the war, he short-circuits it by sneaking behind enemy lines and getting revenge on Brachiano, with help from Lodovico and Gasparo.

    Fran… See the corrupted use some make of books:
    Divinity, wrested by some factious blood,
    Draws swords, swells battles, and o'erthrows all good. (4.1)

    Even though Monticelso is Francisco's ally, Francisco distrusts him. He thinks it's repugnant that Monticelso, while supposedly a religious man, is really just interested in political factions and intrigue. Religion, in his view, should be above dirty, political and personal squabbles.

    Flam. …Glories, like glow-worms, afar off shine bright,
    But look'd to near, have neither heat nor light. (5.1)

    Flamineo notices that great men (meaning powerful men) seem glorious when viewed from a distance—but when you get up-close and personal, you start to notice that they're just messed-up people like everyone else.

    Fran. That 's the misery of peace: only outsides are then respected. As ships seem very great upon the river, which show very little upon the seas, so some men i' th' court seem Colossuses in a chamber, who, if they came into the field, would appear pitiful pigmies. (5.1)

    In Francisco's eyes, weak people thrive during peace. War is the only situation where the truth about people really comes out—you get to see whether they're actually courageous and great, or not.

    Flam. Give me a fair room yet hung with arras, and some great cardinal to lug me by th' ears, as his endeared minion.

    Fran. And thou mayest do the devil knows what villainy.

    Flam. And safely.

    Fran. Right: you shall see in the country, in harvest-time, pigeons, though they destroy never so much corn, the farmer dare not present the fowling-piece to them: why? because they belong to the lord of the manor; whilst your poor sparrows, that belong to the Lord of Heaven, they go to the pot for 't. (5.1)

    Flamineo explains that loyalty, for him, is just a way of receiving protection for his villainies. Francisco, in disguise, agrees that this isn't a bad strategy. It even manages to keep Flamineo somewhat secure after he murders his brother a little later in the play (though he has to renew his pardon every day).

    Flam. He was a kind of statesman, that would sooner have reckoned how many cannon-bullets he had discharged against a town, to count his expense that way, than think how many of his valiant and deserving subjects he lost before it.
    Fran. Oh, speak well of the duke!
    Flam. I have done. (5.3)

    Flamineo thinks he has spoken well of the Duke because he believes that caring about the lives of your citizens is for sentimental fools. The Duke was a "great man" because he was only out for his own worldly glory—and attained it (before being murdered, albeit).

  • Philosophical Viewpoints: Machiavellianism, Pessimism, and Stoicism

    Lodo. …Fortune's a right whore:
    If she give aught, she deals it in small parcels,
    That she may take away all at one swoop. (1.1)

    Lodovico doesn't see any greater meaning or higher purpose in Fortune or Fate. He sees Fortune as primarily vengeful—draining away life and honor after it gives you just a little. It's a pretty pessimistic way of seeing things.

    Flam. …Tis just like a summer bird-cage in a garden: the birds that are without despair to get in, and the birds that are within despair and are in a consumption for fear they shall never get out. (1.2)

    This is Flamineo, riffing on marriage. It's an old-timey version of the dumb "can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em saw." (Yeah, we could've put this in the "Family" theme section—but it's a pessimistic statement so why not put it here?)

    Vit. …No, I do scorn to call up one poor tear
    To fawn on your injustice: bear me hence
    Unto this house of—what's your mitigating title?

    Mont. Of convertites.

    Vit. It shall not be a house of convertites:
    My mind shall make it honester to me
    Than the Pope's palace, and more peaceable
    Than thy soul, though thou art a cardinal.
    Know this, and let it somewhat raise your spite,
    Through darkness diamonds spread their richest light. (3.2)

    Vittoria seems pretty Stoic here. Like Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus, the great Stoic philosophers, Vittoria knows that if she can't control what's going on outside of her, she can at least control her own mind, and try to use it to see external events in a more positive light… Basically, life is giving her lemons and she's making lemonade.

    Flam. …We endure the strokes like anvils or hard steel,
    Till pain itself make us no pain to feel. (3.3)

    This is a villain's version of "pain is medicine for the soul." We learn how to resist pain, or get over pain, by experiencing it. This saying has a Stoic tinge to it, although Flamineo is way too evil for a genuine Stoic.

    Flam…Religion, oh, how it is commeddled with policy! The first blood shed in the world happened about religion. Would I were a Jew!

    Marc. Oh, there are too many!

    Flam. You are deceived; there are not Jews enough, priests enough, nor gentlemen enough.

    Marc. How?

    Flam. I 'll prove it; for if there were Jews enough, so many Christians would not turn usurers; if priests enough, one should not have six benefices; and if gentlemen enough, so many early mushrooms, whose best growth sprang from a live by begging… (3.3)

    Flamineo counters his brother's reprehensible Anti-Semitism with some clever, pseudo-Machiavellian reasoning: if there were more Jews, there wouldn't be so many Christian usurers (money-lenders).

    Lodo. Precious rogue!
    We'll never part.

    Flam. Never, till the beggary of courtiers,
    The discontent of churchmen, want of soldiers,
    And all the creatures that hang manacled,
    Worse than strappadoed, on the lowest felly
    Of fortune's wheel, be taught, in our two lives,
    To scorn that world which life of means deprives. (3.3)

    Flamineo and Lodovico are both guys who believe in getting while the getting's good. They have a Machiavellian outlook: a life that has no "means" (no opportunity to get on in the world and get what's good) isn't worth living at all. And they're both willing to do anything to get that life—even if it's immoral.

    Lodo. …Ud's death! how did my sword miss him?
    These rogues that are most weary of their lives
    Still 'scape the greatest dangers. (3.3)

    Paradoxically, cynical rogues like Flamineo manage to survive longest. Maybe it's because their pessimistic worldview is more realistic and actually gives them a leg up?

    Fran. 'Tis a ridiculous thing for a man to be his own chronicle: I did never wash my mouth with mine own praise, for fear of getting a stinking breath.

    Marc. You 're too stoical. The duke will expect other discourse from you.

    Fran. I shall never flatter him: I have studied man too much to do that. What difference is between the duke and I? no more than between two bricks, all made of one clay: only 't may be one is placed in top of a turret, the other in the bottom of a well, by mere chance. If I were placed as high as the duke, I should stick as fast, make as fair a show, and bear out weather equally.

    Flam. If this soldier had a patent to beg in churches, then he would tell them stories. (5.1)

    Marcello criticizes Francisco for being too "stoical", rather than singing his own praises. Francisco—or at least the North African soldier he's pretending to be—believes in Stoic principles like the basic equality of people and avoiding bluster and egotism. Flamineo cynically says Francisco ("Mulinassar") probably would beg in churches and boast about his past to get charity, if he needed to.

    Flam. Misery of princes,
    That must of force be censur'd by their slaves!
    Not only blam'd for doing things are ill,
    But for not doing all that all men will:
    One were better be a thresher. (5.3)

    This might be a pessimistic viewpoint—but it's actually closer to the Greek philosophy of Epicureanism (the main rival of Stoicism). The Epicureans thought it was better to "live unknown" and enjoy simple pleasures, rather than to strive for power and success.

    Flam… I have liv'd
    Riotously ill, like some that live in court,
    And sometimes when my face was full of smiles,
    Have felt the maze of conscience in my breast.
    Oft gay and honour'd robes those tortures try:
    We think cag'd birds sing, when indeed they cry. (5.4)

    This is fairly pessimistic in tone. Flamineo admits that he's full of inner sadness and has affected a cheerful, devil-may-care attitude on the outside. He suggests, with the bird comment, that this might be the way a lot of people and beings in the world behave: happy on the outside, sad on the inside.

    Flam. …Fate 's a spaniel,
    We cannot beat it from us. What remains now?
    Let all that do ill, take this precedent:
    Man may his fate foresee, but not prevent;
    And of all axioms this shall win the prize:
    'Tis better to be fortunate than wise. (5.6)

    This is another pessimistic statement from Flamineo. Wisdom isn't even necessary, just a good fate (which is out of our control). If you have a bad fate, you can't escape it, since it's inevitable. And if you have a good fate you can't escape it either… Flamineo should probably shrug in the stage directions after he says this.

    Lodo. …What dost think on?

    Flam. Nothing; of nothing: leave thy idle questions.
    I am i' th' way to study a long silence:
    To prate were idle. I remember nothing.
    There 's nothing of so infinite vexation
    As man's own thoughts. (5.6)

    Flamineo seems to think that death is "a long silence"—he's not concerned about going to hell, and he doesn't think about heaven or God as he's about to die. His main belief is in nothingness, and that's what he expects will greet him after death.