Study Guide

The White Devil

The White Devil Summary

A Rocky Start

The White Devil begins on an odd note—the city of Rome banishes Lodovico, a depraved and murderous Count, who will be important in the story later, just not right now. At the moment, he's just going to complain about getting banished. The real main characters are introduced in scene two: Vittoria Corombona, an Italian noblewoman (who, nevertheless, is apparently poor), who is unhappily married to Camillo—the nephew (though also poor) of an important Cardinal, Monticelso. The scheming Duke of Brachiano—Paulo Giordano Orsini—plots to seduce Vittoria, with the help of her brother Flamineo.

Flamineo is a bit of a social-climber, and hopes this will help his advancement in the world. He's also a cold-blooded murderer (or will be soon) and a pessimistic arm-chair philosopher. Vittoria seems willing enough to be seduced, and asks Brachiano for protection from her husband and the Duke's own wife, since she had a dream where they were trying to bury her alive. The Duke promises to help—by killing both Camillo and his wife, though it's unclear if Vittoria fully gets this (though she seems to—probably even intends it). Also, quite awkwardly, Vittoria and Flamineo's Mom, Cornelia, overhears their conversation with the Duke, and yells at Flamineo for being such a vicious, murder-plotting schemer.

Brachiano has to deal with his highly suspicious wife, Isabella after he states that he doesn't love her and wants a divorce. Isabella remains pretty devoted to this creep and pretends to be enraged at Vittoria in order to make herself look jealous and throw suspicion off the Duke. Francisco de Medici, Isabella's brother, and Camillo's uncle (Cardinal Monticelso) want to make sure that the Duke doesn't get away with this whole divorce thing. But it's too late—the Duke has both his wife and Vittoria's husband killed. A corrupt doctor who specializes in poison helps arrange Isabella's death, and Flamineo breaks Camillo's neck and makes it look like a gymnastics accident.

Courtroom Drama

Lacking evidence, but really angry, Francisco and Monticelso put Vittoria on trial for the murders—but they don't try Flamineo or Brachiano, the men who actually arranged the deed (Webster leaves the full extent of Vittoria's guilt a little ambiguous). After Monticelso delivers an incredibly aggressive and bitter courtroom attack on Vittoria for being a "whore," and Vittoria gives a spirited defense, she is sentenced to live out the rest of her life in "a house of penitent whores." In order to avoid any unpleasant questionings about his own guilt, Flamineo pretends to go mad. (It's a pretty philosophical and lucid kind of fake madness though).

After some initial jealousy and confusion caused by a fake love letter Francisco writes to Vittoria while she is in the house of "convertites," Vittoria escapes with the Duke to Padua and they get married. Meanwhile, Monticelso is low-key elected Pope (becoming Pope Paul IV), but that doesn't stop he and Francisco from scheming out a revenge plot, intending to use Count Lodovico—the dude from the beginning, who also was in love with Isabella and wants to kill the Duke for that reason—as their assassin.

The Bloody Endgame

Francisco infiltrates Brachiano's court in Padua, along with Lodovico and a henchman named Gasparo. Francisco is disguised as an important Moor (a person from North Africa), and the other two are disguised as Capuchin monks. Flamineo ends up murdering his own brother, Marcello—who confronts him about an affair Flamineo has been having with the Moorish maid, Zanche. This upsets Flamineo's mother, which upsets Flamineo—reminding him of his humanity (to some extent). Lodovico successfully poisons Brachiano and then strangles him just to speed things along, while pretending to minister the last rites to the Duke.

After being banished from Padua by Giovanni (Brachiano's son and successor) Flamineo goes to Vittoria, pretending that he aims to kill her and himself. When Vittoria fake agrees to kill herself, she uses the pistol Flamineo gives her to "shoot" him. But it turns out that it wasn't really loaded with bullets, and Flamineo—after making a fake death speech—was just testing her loyalty. But, although Vittoria thinks she's narrowly escaped death, she hasn't: Lodovico and Gasparo bust into the room and fatally stab her and Flamineo. They both give eloquent deathbed speeches. Then Giovanni and his officers enter the room, are horrified by the scene, and arrest Lodovico (who's still pretty pleased with himself) for committing these revenge murders. They drag him off to be tortured and killed. And they lived happily ever after.

  • Act 1, Scene 1

    Fortunate Son

    • Count Lodovico—a notorious crook, murderer, and all around bad dude—has just been banished from Rome. Speaking with his cronies, Antonelli and Gasparo, he attacks Fortune for being a "whore," saying she ripped him off by taking back the goodies she had given him.
    • Gasparo and Antonelli point out how corrupt he's been. They list some of his sins (ruining his domain, endless drinking) and how his followers have been wrecked by his lifestyle—worse, he's committed bloody murders in Rome. 
    • Although true, this also seems to partly be joking around—they're all aware of how bad they are, and Lodovico doesn't take these comments to seriously.
    • Gasparo suggests penance. Lodovico says that's not a bad idea—but what about guys like the Duke of Brachiano, Paulo Giordano Orsini, who avoid banishment, while still doing bad things? Like, Brachiano is trying to commit adultery with Vittoria Corombona, another man's wife.
    • Antonelli says that trees that are planted elsewhere sometimes give off pleasant scents—meaning Lodovico might thrive in banishment. But Lodovico says he'll disembowel the people who banished him if he ever comes back.
    • Antonelli and Gasparo expect they'll have luck in trying to repeal the banishment. Lodovico wishes them well, and reminds them that "great men" treat their underlings the same way farmers treat sheep: they cut them in pieces after selling their fleeces.
  • Act 1, Scene 2

    Sir Duke

    • The Duke of Brachiano arrives at the residence of Vittoria Corombona and her husband, Camillo.
    • He complains to Vittoria's brother, Flamineo (who works for the Duke), telling him that he's hopelessly in love with Vittoria.
      Flamineo assures the Duke that Vittoria's into him too. Flamineo and Vittoria's maid, Zanche, will arrange a meeting for them late at night.
    • He also tells the Duke that women like Vittoria aren't really shy or scared of seduction—they're just acting like it to enflame the desires of their suitors.
    • When Brachiano worries about Vittoria's husband, Flamineo tells him that Camillo is just a wimp who can't please a woman. He also tells him that he shouldn't be overly hot to get with Vittoria—men who are in marriage always want to get out of it, even though others want to get in.
    • Camillo approaches, as Flamineo finishes mocking him (Camillo doesn't hear). Brachiano exits.

    Silkworm Sex Machine

    • Flamineo chats with Camillo about his marriage, and Camillo admits his been preoccupied with voyaging (he fights pirates for a living) and doesn't remember when he last slept with her. He says he always wakes up with a "flaw" (space) between him and Vittoria whenever they do have sex.
    • Camillo admits that he knows Brachiano is trying to seduce his wife. Flamineo tries to convince him differently, reminding him of his favorable horoscope, but Camillo's not buying it. 
    • Flamineo pretends to advise him in favor of locking up his wife. Camillo thinks this is good advice, but Flamineo reveals he was kidding—that's a sure way to get cuckolded, regardless of your wife's chastity. He should let Vittoria remain at liberty.
    • None of Flamineo's jokes about cuckoldry make Camillo less anxious, though. Flamineo tries to tell him that his jealousy is like a pair of glasses that are designed to distort appearances—you see adultery everywhere.
    • Vittoria enters. Flamineo tells her she should be nicer to Camillo and accept his entreaties—while constantly mocking him in asides to the audience. He talks Camillo up, saying that he'll lie with Vittoria in an extremely luxurious bed and give her the philosopher's stone and so on.
    • But, craftily, Flamineo tells Camillo not to sleep with Vittoria tonight—he needs to make her wait, so she'll be more eager.
      Camillo agrees, and tells Vittoria he needs to wait a night, like a silkworm, to spin a finer thread. He thinks this is a witty remark, and leaves.
    • The maid, Zanche, prepares the cushions for Vittoria's midnight rendezvous with Brachiano. Brachiano arrives and confesses his love to Vittoria—she seems very receptive. But, all the while, Vittoria and Flamineo's mother, Cornelia, is listening in.
    • Vittoria and Brachiano talk about exchanging jewels, in a somewhat sexually charged moment.
    • Then, Vittoria tells Brachiano about a dream she had: in the dream, she's crying under a yew tree in a cemetery. Her husband, Camillo, and the Duke's wife, Isabella, come along and accuse her of trying to uproot the yew tree and replace it with an evil blackthorn.
    • They try to bury her alive, but a whirlwind comes along and knocks over the yew, killing them and burying them in the grave they've been digging.
    • Flamineo remarks aside that Vittoria is suggesting to the Duke that he murder her husband and his wife, in a veiled way.
      The Duke promises to "protect" Vittoria from them, and promises that she'll be everything to him.

    Parental Supervision

    • Cornelia steps into view and angrily accuses Vittoria and the Duke of adultery. (Zanche exits).
    • Vittoria plays innocent, and the Duke tries to speak, but Cornelia condemns the Duke for setting a terrible example, and curses her daughter—wishing her a short life if she betrays her husband.
    • Vittoria feels cursed and exits.
    • Brachiano, angry with Cornelia, leaves—but tells Flamineo to send Doctor Julio (a poison expert) to him.
    • Flamineo complains about how Cornelia (his mom) interrupted his boss, the Duke—which reflects badly on Flamineo.
    • Cornelia says that just because they're poor doesn't mean they need to be vicious—deceitful and murderous. Flamineo says he's just trying to get rich, to add to the (apparently small) fortune his dead father left him, and doesn't need any of her moral qualms. He's made of tougher stuff.
    • Cornelia wishes she'd never given birth to him, and Flamineo wishes he'd had a prostitute for a mother so he would've had multiple presumed dads to take care of him. He tells her to go tell the cardinal (Camillo's uncle) about what's going on if she feels so bad. Cornelia exits.
    • Alone, Flamineo complains that the duchess (Brachiano's wife, Isabella) has come to court. But, he says, they need to continue their mischief—using the twisting manipulations of a snake, they'll eventually get what they want.
  • Act 2, Scene 1

    This Means War…But Not Yet

    • Brachiano's wife, Isabella, enters with her brother Francisco, Cardinal Monticelso (Camillo's uncle), Marcello (Flamineo and Vittoria's brother), and Giovanni (Isabella and Brachiano's young son).
    • Francisco and Isabella talk about Brachiano's suspected infidelity, and Francisco promises to give Giovanni a horse as a present. Marcello and Giovanni exit to fit the horse.
    • Isabella tells Francisco to gently reason with Brachiano—she wants to charm him into staying true to her. She exits, as Flamineo and Brachiano enter.
    • Monticelso tells Brachiano that he's dishonoring his noble title by pursuing Vittoria and that, when he gets over his lustful obsesson, he'll see how horribly he's behaving and repent.
    • Brachiano cockily asks Francisco what he has to say, and Francisco replies with a threatening metaphor comparing himself to an eagle hunting dunghill birds (like the Duke).
    • He attacks the Duke for trying to seduce Vittoria and calls her a strumpet. Oh no he didn't! The Duke says that if Vittoria was his mistress, all Francisco's cannons couldn't take her away from him.
    • Francisco dismisses this suggestion of war, but then says he wishes he'd never let the Duke marry Isabella, and that they probably will go to war.
    • Francisco says that they came to consult Brachiano about pirates, but he's always busy—he probably will only stop being busy when the pirate problem has grown totally out of control.

    Marriage Woes 

    • Giovanni re-enters and the Cardinal says that the Duke should try to set an example for his good and noble son.
    • Giovanni talks about how he's been practicing throwing a pike, and how, when he's a general, he'll charge at the front of his army, and free prisoners without charging ransom. Francisco and he joke about this, with Giovanni wittily discussing how he'll manage to pay his troops.
    • Giovanni's presence makes Francisco and Brachiano reconcile.
    • Francisco is looking for Camillo to discuss how Count Lodovico has become a pirate—he leaves with Monticelso and Giovanni. Isabella enters.
    • Brachiano asks what brought her here, and she says devotion. Brachiano, irritated, tells her to go to her room. He refuses to kiss her and is disgusted by her efforts to win him back. Cynically, he even suggests that only came here (to Rome—which, it is now revealed, is where they are) to find a lover of her own.
    • Isabella is upset, but Brachiano continues: he attacks Francisco, "the great duke" (Duke of Florence), and claims that the only thing that's great about him is his wardrobe. He curses Francisco, and the priest who married him and Isabella, and his own "issue" (Giovanni, his son).
    • Isabella says he's gone too far.
    • Brachiano swears by his wedding ring he'll never sleep with her again, and says that they're effectively divorced. He tells her to go whine about it to Francisco.
    • Isabella, with her heart broken, nobly says she's going to preserve peace by pretending that she said she would refuse to sleep with him, and wants a divorce.
    • Francisco, Flamineo, Monticelso, and Camillo all re-enter.
    • Isabella puts on a show—when Francisco tries to get them to reconcile, she calls Vittoria a "whore," and generally acts like she's really jealous and enraged. She wishes she had the power of a man, and could murder Vittoria. Isabella swears on her wedding ring that she'll never sleep with the Duke again. Brachiano plays along, acting like he's angry.
    • Francisco says she's mad and jealous, claiming she broke her promise to gently convince the Duke.
    • Isabella, internally grief-stricken, leaves, saying she's headed to Padua.

    What's Up, Doc? 

    • Camillo enters. Flamineo takes the Duke aside and introduces the corrupt doctor (Julio) who will help poison Isabella. Flamineo jokes about the doctor's seedy ways, before they dispatch him after Isabella. Flamineo personally says he's going to kill Camillo and make it look like an accident.
    • The doctor exits (as, apparently, do Flamineo and Brachiano). Camillo, Monticelso, Marcello, and Francisco come forward.
    • Monticelso shows Camillo an emblem of a weeping stag with no antlers someone threw in Camillo's window—it means he's a cuckold.
    • Francisco says that it's a good thing Camillo has no children—in Greek myth, says Francisco, people made sure the sun god, Phoebus, never had kids, by asking Zeus to castrate him. They couldn't tolerate more than one sun: it would be too hot. Francisco applies this to Vittoria—they wouldn't want more than one of her in the world.
    • Monticelso and Francisco give Camillo, with Marcello as joint-commissioner, the job of ridding the Italian coast of pirates. Camillo is worried his wife will cheat on him even more before he gets back, but Monticelso says he'll try to make sure that doesn't happen. Camillo is still worried and plans on getting drunk tonight. He and Marcello exit.
    • Monticelso and Francisco admit that they're making Camillo a sea captain so they can see what will happen if the Duke tries to seduce Vittoria—which they want to prevent.
    • They also reveal the Count Lodovico, though rumored a pirate, is actually now in Padua. Apparently, Lodovico is hot for Isabella and wants to seduce her.
    • They wish Brachiano wouldn't damage his name by pursuing adultery, but feel that's he's going to do it. They leave, in order to see what goes down.
  • Act 2, Scene 2

    The Conjuring

    • Brachiano enters with a Conjurer—the guy who's going to use magic to let him see how his wife and Vittoria's husband are murdered.
    • The conjurer gives a little speech about how a lot of people are practicing fake magic, but he's the real deal. (Brachiano paid him a lot, but the conjurer still feels uncomfortable about this, it seems.)
    • Thanks to genuine magic, the Duke is able to see his wife's murder. She enters her chamber with Giovanni, Lodovico (who's trying to get with Isabella), and other attendants. She kisses the Duke's picture as she does every night—only, this time, Doctor Julio and Christophero (a henchman with no lines) have smeared poison on the lips. She dies. Brachiano is delighted.
    • Next—in a different vision—they see Flamineo, Marcello, Camillo, and four captains enter. They drink and dance. Marcello leaves the room, and they get ready to jump over a vaulting horse. But Flamineo breaks Camillo's neck, and makes sure he's dead with the help of the other four (all conspirators). They place the body to make it look like a gymnastics accident.
    • Marcello enters and sends for the cardinal and the Duke—they apprehend Flamineo and the others with an armed guard, and go to find Vittoria.
    • The Duke says he needs to leave, since he doesn't want to get caught (he's in the same house as Vittoria, Flamineo, and the rest). He exits.
    • The conjurer exits after saying that great men do either "great good" or "great harm."
  • Act 3, Scene 1

    Lawyer Jokes

    • Francisco, Monticelso, and others enter (the Chancellor and Register—but they don't say anything).
    • Francisco compliments Monticelso on getting the important ambassadors of other countries to see Vittoria's trial. Monticelso says it will help make Vittoria infamous, and wonders if Brachiano will be there. Francisco says that would be too impudent. They exit.
    • Flamineo and Marcello enter with a lawyer. Flamineo and the lawyer joke about how only whore-masters (pimps) would be qualified to judge Vittoria.
    • They discuss how the cardinal can discredit Vittoria if he only proves that she kissed the Duke—since that indicates Brachiano probably was able to round the other bases (so to speak).
    • Flamineo says, in an aside, that he's only acting mirthful to quiet suspicion.
    • Marcello accuses Flamineo of being Brachiano's henchman. Flamineo says he's only trying to help himself and Vittoria to make their way in the world. He says that Marcello's method, of remaining totally loyal on Francisco with no concern for his own advancement, doesn't seem to lead anywhere—he's still poor.
    • Marcello says being obsessed with advancement poisons you morally. It's better to be virtuous and honest. Flamineo says he'll think about it.
    • The ambassadors enter. Flamineo and the lawyer make sexual jokes about the French ambassador and mock the Spanish ambassador's appearance.
  • Act 3, Scene 2

    Rants and Raves

    • This scene takes place at Vittoria's arraignment. Francisco, Monticelso, six Ambassadors, Brachiano, Vittoria, Zanche, Flamineo, Marcello, a lawyer, and a guard all enter.
    • Monticelso bids Brachiano take a seat—but Brachiano, being an unwelcome guest, says he brought his own seat.
    • The lawyer starts to plead against Vittoria in Latin—but Vittoria insists on his using a language the people in the courtroom audience can understand (even though she personally knows Latin).
    • Then, the lawyer launches into a plea in incomprehensible English laden with joke-legal jargon. Francisco thanks him for his time and dismisses him.
    • Monticelso says he'll argue against Vittoria in plainer language. They trade barbs and Vittoria says it's inappropriate for a cardinal to act like a lawyer.
    • Monticelso compares her to the "Apples of Sodom"—which look nice but turn to ashes when you try to eat them. He claims Vittoria held riotous feasts and parties, calling her a "whore."
    • Monticelso then launches into a tirade about "whores," claiming, basically, that they're evil, fake, counterfeit people who destroy everything.
    • The French Ambassador comments to the English that Vittoria has "liv'd ill." The English Ambassador agrees but says the cardinal's too bitter.
    • Francisco, sensing the need for a reasonable voice, points out how implausible Camillo's vaulting accident was—foul play needs to be involved. Monticelso says Vittoria doesn't seem to feel too bad about it, causing her to object.
    • Vittoria's bold defense impresses the English Ambassador. She tells them that all their slanders can't damage her actual goodness—they're making her into a boogeyman, more or less.
    • Monticelso points out that Brachiano was staying in her house the night Camillo was murdered, but Brachiano says he was there out of charity, not lust. He was just looking out for Vittoria, since Monticelso was holding her and Camillo in his debt (which he was). Brachiano angrily denounces Monticelso while defending himself—and then leaves.
    • Francisco, trying to be more reasonable, says he doesn't think Vittoria is guilty of murder—but she does seem guilty of adultery. Vittoria is suspicious of his intentions.
    • Monticelso produces a letter showing that the Duke tried to seduce Vittoria—but she says she resisted his temptations. He also shows that the Duke gave her money, but Vittoria says it was just to keep Camillo free from prison (for the debt he owed Monticelso, apparently).
    • Monticelso complains that she was a drain on Camillo's finances and brought no money in dowry. He also dismisses any charges against Flamineo and Marcello—they don't have enough evidence to convict them.
    • Acting as judge as well, Monticelso sentences Vittoria to life in a house of convertites—or "a house of penitent whores."
    • Vittoria claims that they've perverted justice and that she'll make her place of imprisonment seem more honest than the Pope's palace. She exits. Court dismissed, bring in the dancing lobsters.

    A Death in the Family 

    • Brachiano enters, and in a veiled way, tells Francisco that Isabella is dead, offering his condolences. Francisco doesn't know what Brachiano's saying, and Brachiano leaves.
    • Flamineo says, in an aside, that he'll pretend to be mad in order to avoid any unwelcome questions.
    • Giovanni and Lodovico enter. Giovanni is dressed in black, and Lodovico asks him why. Giovanni reveals that Isabella has died.
    • They mourn and discuss death. Francisco tells Giovanni that the dead sleep until God wakes them. Giovanni wishes his mother could sleep forever to escape her grief, and says that she must have loved him since she personally nursed him (not common practice at the time). He exits.
    • Francisco is grief stricken too. All exit.
  • Act 3, Scene 3

    Rogue Match

    • Flamineo, Marcello, and Lodovico enter. Distracted and pretending to be mad, Flamineo talks to himself. He talks about human suffering, and pretends to regret serving Brachiano.
    • The Savoy Ambassador enters and tries to comfort him, but Flamineo says it means nothing.
    • He argues with the French Ambassador, who thinks that Vittoria's guilt was proved. Flamineo accuses him of being bribed and corrupted.
    • He laments that religion gets mixed up in politics, and says he wishes he was Jewish. Marcello, being an Anti-Semite, says there are too many Jews. Flamineo says there are not enough—proved by the fact that so many Christians needed to become usurers (money-lenders).
    • He exits, and Lodovico says, in an aside, that he knows Flamineo was Brachiano's henchman and wants to wind him up. Flamineo re-enters.
    • Flamineo criticizes Lodovico for returning to Rome without being pardoned—he's still officially banished. He and Lodovico exchange colorful curses.
    • Lodovico tells Flamineo of Isabella's death, and Flamineo pretends to grieve. He and Lodovico talk about joining together in mourning and melancholia, and pledge to live unkempt, lice-infected lives of grief. Sounds…fun?
    • Antonelli and Gasparo enter and tell Lodovico that the Pope, on his deathbed, has officially pardoned Lodovico.
    • Lodovico ditches the silly mourning plan, explaining he was joking around. Flamineo says he's (Lodovico's) going back on his word and Lodovico calls Vittoria a "damnable whore."
    • Lodovico laughs at Flamineo, who hits him.
    • Marcello gets mad at Lodovico. He (Marcello) and Flamineo leave.
    • Lodovico regrets that he didn't murder Flamineo, and says he's going to go drink some wine.
  • Act 4, Scene 1

    The Black Book

    • Francisco and Monticelso enter. Francisco says he doesn't want to pursue revenge—making war on Brachiano would be an unjust burden on his subjects, and a sin that will come back to haunt him.
    • Monticelso says he's not in favor of war either—just using treachery to undermine Brachiano.
    • Francisco pretends he's not in favor of treachery, but asks to see Monticelso's "black book"—containing the names of known criminals.
    • Monticelso leaves to get the book. Alone, Francisco says he doesn't trust Monticelso, and won't indicate exactly how he plans to pursue revenge.
    • Monticelso returns and explains the different kinds of people listed in the book: pirates, robbers, women who dress in men's clothing, usurers, corrupt lawyers and priests, and more. He exits.
    • Francisco, alone, ruminates on the book. He doesn't like it, since it's a tool of corruption—people like the cardinal use it to collect bribes from the known criminals in exchange for not turning them in. But he, Francisco, will only use it for one purpose—to find people to help him get revenge. He laments, though, that religion lets itself get twisted to these corrupt purposes—what with a cardinal owning books like this.
    • In a melancholy frame of mind, he sees the ghost of his sister (who enters), which makes him feel extremely sad. But he dismisses it as a hallucination—he needs to keep his mind on revenge. The ghost exits.
    • He writes a fake love-letter to Vittoria and tells his servant (who enters) to deliver it to her in her place of imprisonment when Brachiano's followers are around (in order to make him jealous). The servant leaves.
    • Francisco decides to pay Lodovico to be his instrument in gaining revenge. As the scene ends, he swears to have Brachiano killed.
  • Act 4, Scene 2

    Going Postal

    • Flamineo and a Matron enter—this scene is set in Vittoria's place of imprisonment, the "house of convertites." The Matron is worried that she'll get in trouble for giving Brachiano access to Vittoria, but Flamineo says that everyone's been distracted by the death of the Pope and choosing a new Pope. No one is going to care.
    • Francisco's servant enters, bearing the fake love-letter he wants to give to Vittoria. He passes it on to the Matron, and leaves.
    • Brachiano enters. He demands to read the letter, and sees that it's from Florence. Flamineo opens it and reads it aloud: in it, Francisco tells Vittoria he wants to rescue and take her away to Florence. He claims (falsely, of course) that he's in love with her, making his case and urging her to accept him, despite his older age.
    • Flamineo immediately sees that the letter is a trick, but the Duke flies into a jealous rage. He says that Vittoria is a "whore" and threatens to kill her. He and Flamineo almost come to blows, but Flamineo panders to the Duke and offers to lead him to Vittoria.
    • Vittoria enters. Brachiano confronts her with the letter, insults her, and demands to see her stash of love-letters from Florence (which don't exist).
    • Brachiano blames Vittoria's beauty for seducing him and causing him to pursue his course of action.
    • Brachiano asks God to pardon him for killing his wife, while Vittoria says she hope God takes vengeance against him for killing his wife. She eloquently denounces the Duke for ruining her name and getting her confined to a "house of penitent whores."
    • She collapses weeping on the bed, while the Duke realizes he's wrong. He apologizes and says he's forgotten the fake love-letter.
    • Vittoria's angry with him, and at Flamineo—she calls him (Flam) a pander.
    • Brachiano claims he'll never be jealous again, but Vittoria says she won't be his anymore—it'd be easier to light a bonfire on the bottom of the sea.

    Cool Down

    • Flamineo says to the Duke (out of Vittoria's hearing) that he needs to use better tactics to get an angry woman back on his side. Flamineo acts like he's supporting Vittoria, saying she's justly angry, but urging her to be forgiving—it's more lady-like.
    • He and Brachiano gradually work on Vittoria, acting sweet and apologetic.
    • Flamineo says that the Duke needs to back up his words with deeds—so Brachiano says that he'll steal Francisco's fake escape plan and make it real. He'll bust Vittoria out of her imprisonment and bring her to Padua.
    • Flamineo says it's a great time because everyone's distracted with the death of the pope and the election of the new pope.
    • Brachiano is going to take Giovanni with him, and he tells Flamineo to bring Marcello and Cornelia.
    • Flamineo then tells an allegory about how a crocodile was in pain with worm-infested gums. A little bird came to eat the worms, relieving the croc's pain. But, ungratefully, the crocodile tried to eat the bird—being prevented only by a prick or quill sticking out of the bird's head.
    • The Duke thinks that Flamineo is saying the Duke hasn't done enough for him. But Flamineo explains that his sister is the crocodile and Brachiano is curing her infamy by rescuing her: so she should be grateful.
    • He also notes to the audience that it might seem ridiculous that he's playing mad one second and acting like a wise counselor for Brachiano's benefit the next. But he says it's all for the greater goal of advancing himself in the world.
  • Act 4, Scene 3

    Pope Party

    • Francisco, Lodovico, Gasparo, and six Ambassadors all enter. They're at the Vatican. It's about to get holy up in here.
    • Francisco tells Lodovico to guard the conclave (gathering of cardinals) so no one will disturb the cardinals as they vote on a pope. Lodovico agrees.
    • Gasparo asks why the ambassadors are so well-dressed today, and Francisco explains that they're dressed in the clothing of the different orders of knights to which they belong.
    • As servants come to bring dinner into the cardinals, Lodovico searches under the dishes to make sure that no one is sneaking in any bribes or secret messages to influence the election (as the English Ambassador explains to the French Ambassador).
    • But the cardinals turn away their meals—they're in the middle of the actual election of the pope.
    • In a moment, the cardinal of Aragon steps out and announces the election of the pope in Latin: the new pope is Pope Paul IV… who is actually the same as Monticelso.
    • At the same time, a servant comes up and tells Francisco that Vittoria and Brachiano have escaped. Francisco orders the matron arrested, and regrets sending the letter since it apparently gave Brachiano his own escape plan. He swears that he'll get his revenge, again.
    • Monticelso (now, Pope Paul IV) arrives in state. He says that he is officially excommunicating Vittoria and Brachiano from the Church and banishing them and all their people from entering Rome. All exit except for Francisco and Lodovico.
    • Francisco makes sure Lodovico's ready to get revenge. He also tells Lodovico that he (Francisco) is going to help out, and get some of the glory of the deed. Francisco exits.
    • Monticelso re-enters and asks Lodovico why Francisco worked to get him pardoned and reverse his banishment. Lodovico says Francisco must be a generous dude.
    • Monticelso knows there's more to it than that and keeps pressing, unsatisfied when Lodovico claims that Francisco was just telling him about a horse and nothing else a moment ago.
    • Monticelso condemns Lodovico, saying that he knows he's out for some kind of murderous deed. Lodovico says that he'll tell him—but as a confessing sinner, so that Monticelso will be bound by religion not to tell.
    • Lodovico admits that he pursued Isabella with lust, though she wasn't aware of it, and wants to avenge her murderer. Monticelso says this is damnable and denounces him before exiting. Lodovico is a little surprised, since he thought Monticelso wanted to avenge Camillo's murder.
    • Francisco re-enters with a servant. He tells the servant to give a thousand ducats to Lodovico, and tell him they come from the Pope (which they do). Francisco exits.
    • The servant gives Lodovico the money. Lodovico is surprised to learn they come from the Pope, and marvels at how crafty Monticelso is. He seems to admire that Monticelso is able to act one way in public and another way in private. Lodovico exits, revved up with the urge to get revenge.
  • Act 5, Scene 1

    An Unexpected Guest

    • After Vittoria and the Duke are married, Brachiano, Flamineo, Marcello, Hortensio,Vittoria, Cornelia, Zanche, and others pass over the stage in a procession. Only Flamineo and Hortensio (an officer) remain behind.
    • Flamineo says this marriage has made him the happiest he's been in a long time, and they talk about the Moor (North African) who is visiting the court. Flamineo says that the Moor seems like a great soldier.
    • They also mention the Moor's companions, two Hungarian noblemen and former warriors who have become monks, now retiring to join the Capuchin order.
    • Flamineo and Hortensio keep talking about the Moor: he is a Christian, and, according to Flamineo, he has an admirably low tolerance for courtly nonsense. He seems to understand that nobles are just as flawed as everyone else.
    • Brachiano, the Moor (named Mulinassar, and really Francisco in disguise), the Capuchin monks (really Lodovico and Gasparo in disguise), and Antonelli all enter.
    • Brachiano praises Mulinassar, and asks him to stay to see some fights (for entertainment) at some barriers they'll build tonight, along with ambassadors who are there for the wedding.
    • Mulinassar agrees, and Brachiano, Hortensio, and Flamineo exit.
    • The remaining people on stage—Francisco, Lodovico, Gasparo, and Antonelli—all re-state their vows for revenge, embracing.
    • Lodovico wishes they could poison Brachiano's tennis racket or saddle or do something cool like that. Francisco is open to sneaky stuff, but he kind of wishes he could've killed Brachiano on an open and fair field of fight.
    • Lodovico, Antonelli, and Gasparo all exit, and Flamineo, Marcello, and Zanche re-enter.
    • Marcello says that Flamineo is having an affair with Zanche, and Flamineo acts mildly dismissive, saying women tend to stick where their affection throws them.
    • Zanche says she'll talk to the Moor—since she's a moor, as well—soon, when she gets the chance. She exits.
    • Flamineo and Marcello chat with Mulinassar. Flamineo asks Mulinassar to tell them his exploits, but he's reluctant to toot his own horn. He also won't flatter the duke, since he believes all men are equal made of the same clay. Flamineo says he (the Moor) would probably boast about his war service if he had to beg in churches.
    • Marcello says he's a soldier too, but hasn't made much money. Flamineo says good soldiers aren't recognized in peacetime. He'd personally rather be a cardinal's minion and get away with villainy. Flamineo talks about people he's heard of who went to fight the Turks and discovered they only earned enough money to buy themselves wooden legs and bandages.

    Not a Bro-mance

    • Francisco exits. Hortensio, a young Lord, and Zanche enter.
    • The young Lord says they're getting ready to fight (for entertainment), and Flamineo disparages this young Lord to Hortensio.
    • Flamineo tells Hortensio that he loves Zanche, but nervously and with caution, since she knows about his villainy. He's promised to marry her, but he acts like it wasn't a serious thing.
    • Zanche comes over, and accuses Flamineo of being cool towards her. He says that's a good thing, and disputes with her when she asks if he remembers the promises he made her: yeah, he remembers them, but they were the like the prayers sailors make in a storm before things calm down and they go back to drinking.
    • Cornelia enters and hits Zanche, telling her to go back to the kitchen. Cornelia exits.
    • Zanche complains about Cornelia, and then Marcello calls her a strumpet and kicks her.
    • Flamineo defends Zanche and argues with Marcello. As the argument heats up, Marcello threatens to cut Zanche's throat.
    • Flamineo says he thinks Marcello might be the product of adultery, and Marcello says that they might end up killing one another.
    • All exit, except for Zanche. Francisco, as Mulinassar, enters.
    • Zanche confesses her love for him, and says that she'll give him a decent dowry if he marries her. Mulinassar says he'll consider the idea.
    • She also says that she can tell him blood-curdling secrets, and Francisco thinks he might be able to get some good intel out of her. They both exit.
  • Act 5, Scene 2

    Sibling Rivals Death Match

    • Cornelia and Marcello are alone. Cornelia asks Marcello if he's going to fight someone, and he says that it's just a rumor (he doesn't say it refers to Flamineo).
    • Marcello looks at a crucifix and asks Cornelia if it was the same crucifix, belonging to his father, that Flamineo snapped a limb from when he was a baby.
    • Cornelia says it was, but it's fixed now.
    • Right then, Flamineo enters and stabs and murders Marcello. Cornelia cries for help. Flamineo yells at her, and says he'll send for a surgeon when he goes to a sanctuary.
    • Lodovico, Hortensio, and Gasparo enter.
    • As he dies, Marcello tells his mother to remember what Flamineo did to the crucifix. He says he's dying for his family's sins, and the excessive ambition of his siblings. He dies.
    • Cornelia denies he's dead, while the others gently try to convince her that he is.
    • Brachiano enters, wearing every piece of his armor except the beaver (part of the helmet), along with Flamineo.
    • Flamineo admits to Brachiano that he killed Marcello. Cornelia runs at Flamineo with a knife but drops it. She asks God to forgive him and hopes that he lives to repent for such a horrible sin.
    • Cornelia helps cover up for Flamineo, not wanting to lose another son—she tells Brachiano that Marcello drew his sword first.
    • Brachiano gives Flamineo a lease on his life: he'll need to renew it every day or else be hanged. He also tells everyone not to tell Vittoria about what happened.
    • Meanwhile, Lodovico sprinkles poison on Brachiano's beaver.
    • The Duke calls for the beaver, and Francisco notes, aside, that he calls for his own death. It's ironic, says Francisco, that the last "good" thing Brachiano did in his horrible life was to pardon a murder.
  • Act 5, Scene 3

    Deathbed Madness

    • There's a staged fight (for entertainment) at the barrier, before the Brachiano enters, along with Flamineo and others (including Giovanni). He realizes his helmet's been poisoned and cries for the armorer. When the armorer arrives, Brachiano orders him sent to torture.
    • Vittoria enters and laments. Flamineo calls for physicians who arrive and state the obvious: Brachiano's been poisoned.
    • Giovanni cries and exits on Brachiano's orders. The Duke lashes out at the physicians and tells Vittoria not to kiss him so she won't be poisoned.
    • Brachiano says that horrible deaths are reserved for nobles like him—never peaceful, natural deaths.
    • Lodovico and Gasparo enter as monks, pretending to bring the sacrament of extreme unction. Brachiano is terrified of death. All exit except for Francisco (as Mulinassar) and Flamineo.
    • Flamineo says that the people acting upset about the Duke's death are insincere flatterers. When Mulinassar asks him what he really thought of the Duke, Flamineo says he's the kind of guy who would count expenses in terms of how many cannonballs he'd fired on a town, as opposed to how many of his soldiers lives he'd lost. He says he means this as a compliment!
    • Lodovico enters and tells them that the Duke is babbling in insanity.
    • They bring Brachiano in on a bed, with Vittoria and others following.
    • The Duke babbles about his dinner and sins in an incoherent way, but also seems to suspect the Duke of Florence (Francisco) of being behind the plot.
    • He says he sees the devil, who wears a cod-piece stuck with pins and hides his cloven foot with a rose.
    • Brachiano mentions weird hallucinations, one featuring Flamineo. When he calls for Flamineo, Flamineo feels nervous—thinking that a man on his deathbed naming him so often might be a bad omen.
    • Lodovico and Gasparo (still as monks) stand before him with a crucifix speaking in Latin—they ask the others to leave so they can speak words secret to their order to him.
    • When the rest leave, they reveal that they're Lodovico and Gasparo—they've poisoned him as vengeance for Isabella and are sending him to hell, without the last rites.
    • Brachiano cries out for Vittoria. Gasparo stops Vittoria and her attendants at the door, telling them Brachiano needs peace, while Lodovico strangles him to death. Brachiano dies.

    A Crucial Piece of Intel

    • When everyone's allowed to re-enter, Vittoria is upset. Flamineo (apparently aside) says that women's tears are cheap, and her grief doesn't mean anything.
    • Mulinassar mentions that this was probably Florence's doing (ironic, considering he really is the Duke of Florence).
    • Flamineo laments the Duke's death and says it's better to be a thresher than a noble. He wishes he could meet the dead Duke's ghost and shake his hand.
    • Flamineo exits (and Vittoria too, apparently).
    • With Lodovico in private, Francisco compliments him on a job well done. Zanche enters.
    • Zanche tells "Mulinassar" she had a dream last night, in which he came to her bed. Francisco/Mulinassar tells Lodovico he'll play along.
    • He says he had the same dream—he thought he saw her naked and covered her with a blanket.
    • As she remembers it, she said he was pretty "bold" with her (which might mean they had sex, unless Francisco really is playing along). Mulinassar says he remembers her laughing and being tickled by the blanket.
    • Finally, Zanche reveals the secret she's been keeping: Brachiano had Isabella poisoned, and Flamineo murdered Camillo.
    • Zanche regretfully says she kept their secret, but now plans to make up for it by robbing Vittoria and leaving with Mulinassar.
    • Zanche says that she'll give him a ton of the money she's stolen as a dowry. Mulinassar agrees and promises to meet her. Zanche exits and then re-enters, saying they should meet at the chapel at midnight. They agree and she exits again.
    • Francisco is extremely glad they know this, now, because it gives them perfect justification for the revenge they've been pursuing. He and Lodovico exit.
  • Act 5, Scene 4

    Death Prep

    • Flamineo and Gasparo enter one way, while Giovanni and attendants enter the other door. Flamineo and Gasparo discuss Giovanni—Flamineo says he'll become a fierce ruler in time, when his talons grow out like a great eagle. He tries to cheer Giovanni up, telling him he should be merry—now that his dad's dead, he's in the saddle and in control.
    • Giovanni tells Flamineo to say prayers and express grief, and exits. Flamineo's attempt at fawning fails horribly.
    • Giovanni exits. Flamineo, speaking to himself, claims he's not afraid to die.
    • A courtier enters, who tells Flamineo that Giovanni has officially banished him. Flamineo convinces the courtier to give him some time to put his things in order before he leaves.
    • The courtier exits, and Francisco/Mulinassar enters. Mulinassar tells Flamineo he's seen a sad sight: Cornelia watching Marcello's body wrapped in a winding sheet as they prepare for his funeral.
    • Flamineo wants to see them, though Francisco says it would hurt Cornelia. Flamineo pulls back the curtain where the funeral preparations are happening.
    • Cornelia, Zanche, and the ladies in waiting are winding Marcello's corpse and singing a funeral song.
    • Cornelia is speaking partly crazy-talk as she tries to prepare flowers and herbs for Marcello's grave. Grief has made her childish.
    • She acts like she doesn't recognize Flamineo at first, and thinks he's the grave-maker.
    • As she talks crazily and also sanely notes that Flamineo's hand has been washed of his brother's blood so quickly, Flamineo feels disturbed and wants to leave.
    • Cornelia recites a speech, asking birds and animals to come to Marcello's grave, but warning the wolf away so it won't dig it up.
    • She says the church wouldn't bury Marcello since he died in a fight, which, she says, isn't fair since he paid all his tithes. But, in the end, the poor and the rich both get a grave.
    • Cornelia, Zanche and the ladies leave. Flamineo is overcome with emotion, saying he feels compassion, and asks Francisco to leave too—he does.
    • Alone, Flamineo admits that he's lived an evil life—when he pretended to be happy outwardly, he felt his conscience torturing him inside. He compares himself to a caged bird—people think it's singing when it's crying.

    The Dead Duke Returns

    • Brachiano's ghost enters, presenting to Flamineo a bowl full of lilies with a skull set in it. The ghost looks sad.
    • Flamineo asks the Brachiano if he's in heaven or hell, what religion is best to die in, and if he (Flamineo) has long to live.
    • The ghost's only answer is to throw dirt on him. Flamineo knows this means he'll be dead soon—and sees that this is what the skull in the lilies symbolizes. The ghost exits.
    • Terrified by this vision, and by the sight of his mother weeping over his brother's corpse, Flamineo decides to visit Vittoria's room, to try to get her to give him some money for his banishment, or else kill her. He exits.
  • Act 5, Scene 5

    Do or Die

    • Francisco, Lodovico, and Hortensio enter. Hortensio is listening in.
    • Lodovico says that it's too dangerous for Francisco to stick around and risk his life—he's done enough already. Lodovico vows to finish the vengeance on his own (or, actually, with Gasparo). He exits.
    • Francisco bids Lodovico farewell and says that he'll make sure he's famous and remembered if he dies during the attempt. Francisco exits.
    • Hortensio overhears all this and says he senses something evil is afoot. He heads off to raise some guards from the citadel.
  • Act 5, Scene 6

    Fake Out

    • Vittoria enters holding a book, along with Zanche. Flamineo follows them.
    • Flamineo tells Vittoria to stop praying if that's what she's doing, and listen to him—he has worldly business to discuss. He demands money from her, since she is the executor of the Brachiano's will (Flamineo's boss).
    • She writes out a tiny sum, saying she'll only give him what Cain received after he killed Abel. (So, she knows about Marcello).
    • Flamineo says he has cases of jewels left by Brachiano that are worth more than she gave him—he'll bring them in a moment. He exits.
    • Zanche tells Vittoria to try to calm Flamineo down, since he's clearly desperate.
    • Flamineo re-enters with two cases of pistols.
    • Flamineo tells Vittoria he's going to kill—this, he claims, is what Brachiano told him to do, being jealous that Vittoria would get with someone else. Flamineo is then going to commit suicide, voluntarily.
    • Vittoria asks Flamineo if he's become an atheist and doesn't mind going to hell. How can he avoid thinking about the millions who will arise to damnation at the resurrection?
    • She also tells Zanche to cry for help—when she does, Flamineo threatens to kill her too.
    • Flamineo says these arguments don't move him—they're feminine and emotional.
    • Zanche tells Vittoria to pretend to agree to die, but to convince Flamineo to kill himself first.
    • She makes her case and it seems to work. Flamineo gives them the guns.
    • He speculates on where he'll go in the afterlife, somewhat comically.
    • They shoot, and run towards him, treading on his body.
    • As Flamineo "dies" he asks them to kill themselves. They reveal that they faked him out.
    • As Vittoria triumphantly believes she's sending him to hell, she makes scornful comments condemning him as he acts like he's smelling the soot and feeling the flames of hell as he dies.
    • But Flamineo gets up and reveals that the pistols weren't really loaded with bullets. He was just testing Vittoria's loyalty. He now says he'll live to punish her for betraying him and warns men against wives who will betray them in the same kind of way, taking lovers as soon as they've died.

    The Real Thing 

    • Suddenly, Lodovico and Gasparo bust in, announcing that they're there to avenge Isabella. Flamineo finally recognizes who they really are.
    • They admit that Mulinassar was really Francisco, visiting for vengeance.
    • Flamineo laments that his fate has caught up with him. He claims it's better to just have good fortune than to gain wisdom.
    • Vittoria pleads for mercy—but Gasparo says it's not going to happen. And Lodovico points out that he's getting back at Flamineo for the time he hit him.
    • Flamineo refuses to beg to heaven out loud and when Lodovico asks him what's he's thinking about at the end, he says he's thinking of nothing.
    • Vittoria tells them to kill her before Zanche. She speaks very defiantly, claiming she's unafraid to die. Zanche is defiant, too.
    • Gasparo and Lodovico strike at once and kill all three.
    • Vittoria cheekily says that, now, all Lodovico and Gasparo have to do to get famous is murder some innocent baby.
    • As she dies Vittoria laments her family's sins, claiming that's why she was led astray. Flamineo says he loves his sister's bravery—she's not so bad, he says, since many women that seemed virtuous were really secretly vicious.
    • Vittoria expresses confusion as to where her soul is headed, in death.
    • Flamineo gives a speech, saying that death just frees us from dying and from being fortune's slaves. He refuses to look to heaven as he dies, looking only to himself. Yet he feels like he's "in a mist."
    • Vittoria dies after saying she regrets having ever met "great men."
    • Flamineo's speech continues: he warns people not to be too hopeful about life, especially if they serve great men. He admits that his life was a "black charnel" and says that it all seems utterly pointless and painful. He dies.
    • Giovanni enters with the ambassadors. He asks Lodovico if he's responsible for these deaths. Lodovico admits it and says that he was acting under orders of Giovanni's own uncle, Francisco, who was the same Moor who had infiltrated the court (but now escaped).
    • Giovanni orders Lodovico off to torture and execution. Lodovico says that he's extremely happy he was able to commit this act of revenge, and will find torture and the gallows as calm and soothing as sound sleep.
    • Giovanni speaks the last line in the play, warning guilty men against committing evil, since evil deeds can quickly collapse and ruin the people who committed them.