Synopses and commentary on The White Devil » Act 2 » Act 2 scene 1
Francisco de Medici, the Duke of Florence, talks to his sister Isabella (wife of Brachiano), who has recently arrived with her son, Giovanni.
Francisco questions her as to whether she has seen her husband yet, and asks her to leave so that he can speak with him first. Isabella is anxious that this will make things worse between her and her husband.
Francisco and Cardinal Monticelso warn Brachiano about the consequences of his shameful behaviour with Vittoria. Brachiano defies them and refuses to part with Vittoria, though he is reminded that he may get syphilis (implying that Vittoria is a prostitute) and is neglecting his duties.
Young Giovanni, who is keen to lead his own army and defeat the French, returns. Monticelso reminds Brachiano that he should set a good example to his son, whose amusing sayings bring about a temporary reconciliation between his father (Brachiano) and uncle (Francisco). It is mentioned that Lodovico has become a pirate.
Isabella enters and talks with Brachiano alone. However, he is immediately hostile, refusing to kiss her and accusing her of complaining to her powerful brother. He declares he is divorcing Isabella, who responds by taking the blame on herself and praying for him to return to her.
When Francisco and Monticelso return with Flamineo and Marcello, Isabella rails against Vittoria and at the end of her speech claims she is divorcing Brachiano. Francisco now blames Isabella for ending the marriage and she leaves for Padua.
Vittoria's husband, Camillo, enters and talks to Monticelso and Francisco at one side of the stage, who warn him that Vittoria is making a cuckold of him (being unfaithful). On the other side Brachiano and Flamineo quietly plot to get rid of Camillo. Doctor Julius enters. He has a reputation for treachery and poisoning and Brachiano sends him to Padua to use his skills on Isabella. Meanwhile Flamineo says he will take care of Camillo so that his death will look accidental.
Monticelso sends Camillo off to fight the pirates, hoping Brachiano will now continue his affair with Vittoria, and thus provide enough evidence to be condemned. In fact Francisco and Monticelso admit that the ‘pirates' are non existent - Lodovico is actually in Padua to ask Isabella for a pension. They feel that this ruse is justified so that they can trap Vittoria and Brachiano. The means justify the ends.
In this scene we are introduced to the representatives of the ‘great men' who are often referred to. They are Francisco de Medici, Duke of Florence and Cardinal Monticelso (see Religious / philosophical context > Attitudes to Catholicism > Catholic stereotypes in The White Devil).
There are numerous examples of animal imagery in this scene, particularly in reference to Vittoria. The sense of unlawful death hangs over this scene, with the references to poison and the plots to kill Isabella and Camillo.
Jacques the Moor: This character has a non-speaking part and may be left over from a previous version. He is the black servant of the young Giovanni.
If such a dove-house … that haunt to't: Use of animal imagery to refer to Vittoria. The reference to polecat implies she is a prostitute.
As men to try … infected straying: A spider would be encircled by a ring of powder made from a unicorn's horn to prevent it leaving. Spiders considered to be poisonous are put in opposition to unicorns, mythical creatures denoting goodness and innocence. This shows Isabella's belief that goodness can overcome wickedness.
Void the chamber: Webster's imaginative use of staging. The crowded stage now becomes an intimate scene with just three people.
adder's tail: Another example of poisonous animal imagery.
Some eagles … their prey can seize: Animal imagery showing eagles turning to eat off dunghills rather than flying high to seize their prey. This represents Brachiano turning to Vittoria rather than to his wife.
hemlock: A poisonous plant.
The ghostly father with all's absolution: Brachiano's sins are so great that even the Pope (his spiritual father) cannot absolve him enough for heaven.
Plasters: Associated with the results of sexually transmitted disease
Discover flocks … moulting time/ tub: ‘Wild ducks' was a term for prostitutes and the reference to moulting time meant loss of hair which was a result of syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease. Sweating tubs were used in the treatment of syphilis.
Forward lapwing … on's head: It was believed that a newly-born lapwing chick ran about with part of the eggshell still on its head. The reference is to Giovanni.
circle of pure … horns upon thee: This refers back to Isabella's image of the spider encircled by the powder from a unicorn's horn. Francisco is telling her that her belief in the power of goodness was unfounded.
Bring down her stomach: Hysterical passion (commonly known as the ‘mother') was believed to swell the organs, particularly the womb.
stibium: Metallic antimony used as poison.
cantharides: Dried Spanish fly used as an aphrodisiac, but could cause death if used in excess.
toad: An animal that spits poison. An appropriate image for Doctor Julius, the master of poisoning.
Emblem: A symbolic image / picture which encapsulates a moral message.
‘tis given … cuckold: A man whose wife has been unfaithful to him.
Cornucopia: According to classical myth, the horn of plenty. Ironically here, it is a cuckold's horn which is increasing.
It may be objected … my kinsman: Typically Machiavellian actions; the use of plotting and deceit to gain one's ends (see Religious / philosophical context > Renaissance > Machiavelli).
Mistletoe: When the elm tree hosting the mistletoe dies, the mistletoe will die too. It is an image to indicate the way in which Brachiano and Vittoria will bring about their own destruction.
Investigating Act 2 scene 1
- Francisco and Monticelso are introduced in this scene
- What are their full titles and what can they be seen to represent?
- Look at Monticelso's speech beginning ‘It is a wonder to your noble friends'.
- How does it echo the sentiments expressed by Cornelia in the previous scene?
- Where else in Act 2 sc. 1 does Francisco draw attention to Brachiano's social position and responsibilities?
- Identify images related to poisoning in the scene.
- What images are used to describe Vittoria?
- Look again at the scene from, ‘No my dear lord, you shall have present witness' up to Isabella's exit
- Why does Isabella publicly reject Brachiano?
- How might an audience interpret her brother's response to her behaviour?
- What dramatic purpose do you think Giovanni has in this scene?
- Why might the audience view Francisco and Monticelso differently by the end of the scene?
- Draw a plan to show which characters remain and leave at different sections of the scene
- Note down any points where a particular effect is achieved by having certain groups of characters on the stage at the same time.
Enter Francisco de Medicis, Cardinal Monticelso, Marcello, Isabella, young Giovanni, with little Jacques the Moor
Fran. Have you not seen your husband since you arrived?
Isab. Not yet, sir.
Fran. Surely he is wondrous kind;
If I had such a dove-house as Camillo's,
I would set fire on 't were 't but to destroy
The polecats that haunt to it—My sweet cousin!
Giov. Lord uncle, you did promise me a horse,
Fran. That I did, my pretty cousin.
Marcello, see it fitted.
Marc. My lord, the duke is here.
Fran. Sister, away; you must not yet be seen.
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.
Fran. I wish it may. Begone. [Exit Isabella as Brachiano and Flamineo
enter.] Void the chamber.
You are welcome; will you sit?—I pray, my lord,
Be you my orator, my heart 's too full;
I 'll second you anon.
Mont. Ere I begin,
Let me entreat your grace forgo all passion,
Which may be raised by my free discourse.
Brach. As silent as i' th' church: you may proceed.
Mont. It is a wonder to your noble friends,
That you, having as 'twere enter'd the world
With a free scepter in your able hand,
And having to th' use of nature well applied
High gifts of learning, should in your prime age
Neglect your awful throne for the soft down
Of an insatiate bed. O my lord,
The drunkard after all his lavish cups
Is dry, and then is sober; so at length,
When you awake from this lascivious dream,
Repentance then will follow, like the sting
Plac'd in the adder's tail. Wretched are princes
When fortune blasteth but a petty flower
Of their unwieldy crowns, or ravisheth
But one pearl from their scepter; but alas!
When they to wilful shipwreck lose good fame,
All princely titles perish with their name.
Brach. You have said, my lord——
Mont. Enough to give you taste
How far I am from flattering your greatness.
Brach. Now you that are his second, what say you?
Do not like young hawks fetch a course about;
Your game flies fair, and for you.
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.
You know Vittoria?
Fran. You shift your shirt there,
When you retire from tennis?
Fran. Her husband is lord of a poor fortune,
Yet she wears cloth of tissue.
Brach. What of this?
Will you urge that, my good lord cardinal,
As part of her confession at next shrift,
And know from whence it sails?
Fran. She is your strumpet——
Brach. Uncivil sir, there 's hemlock in thy breath,
And that black slander. Were she a whore of mine,
All thy loud cannons, and thy borrow'd Switzers,
Thy galleys, nor thy sworn confederates,
Durst not supplant her.
Fran. Let 's not talk on thunder.
Thou hast a wife, our sister; would I had given
Both her white hands to death, bound and lock'd fast
In her last winding sheet, when I gave thee
Brach. Thou hadst given a soul to God then.
Thy ghostly father, with all his absolution,
Shall ne'er do so by thee.
Brach. Spit thy poison.
Fran. I shall not need; lust carries her sharp whip
At her own girdle. Look to 't, for our anger
Is making thunderbolts.
Brach. Thunder! in faith,
They are but crackers.
Fran. We 'll end this with the cannon.
Brach. Thou 'lt get naught by it, but iron in thy wounds,
And gunpowder in thy nostrils.
Fran. Better that,
Than change perfumes for plasters.
Brach. Pity on thee!
'Twere good you 'd show your slaves or men condemn'd,
Your new-plough'd forehead. Defiance! and I 'll meet thee,
Even in a thicket of thy ablest men.
Mont. My lords, you shall not word it any further
Without a milder limit.
Brach. Have you proclaim'd a triumph, that you bait
A lion thus?
Mont. My lord!
Brach. I am tame, I am tame, sir.
Fran. We send unto the duke for conference
'Bout levies 'gainst the pirates; my lord duke
Is not at home: we come ourself in person;
Still my lord duke is busied. But we fear
When Tiber to each prowling passenger
Discovers flocks of wild ducks, then, my lord—
'Bout moulting time I mean—we shall be certain
To find you sure enough, and speak with you.
Fran. A mere tale of a tub: my words are idle.
But to express the sonnet by natural reason,
When stags grow melancholic you 'll find the season.
Mont. No more, my lord; here comes a champion
Shall end the difference between you both;
Your son, the Prince Giovanni. See, my lords,
What hopes you store in him; this is a casket
For both your crowns, and should be held like dear.
Now is he apt for knowledge; therefore know
It is a more direct and even way,
To train to virtue those of princely blood,
By examples than by precepts: if by examples,
Whom should he rather strive to imitate
Than his own father? be his pattern then,
Leave him a stock of virtue that may last,
Should fortune rend his sails, and split his mast.
Brach. Your hand, boy: growing to a soldier?
Giov. Give me a pike.
Fran. What, practising your pike so young, fair cousin?
Giov. Suppose me one of Homer's frogs, my lord,
Tossing my bulrush thus. Pray, sir, tell me,
Might not a child of good discretion
Be leader to an army?
Fran. Yes, cousin, a young prince
Of good discretion might.
Giov. Say you so?
Indeed I have heard, 'tis fit a general
Should not endanger his own person oft;
So that he make a noise when he 's a-horseback,
Like a Danske drummer,—Oh, 'tis excellent!—
He need not fight! methinks his horse as well
Might lead an army for him. If I live,
I 'll charge the French foe in the very front
Of all my troops, the foremost man.
Fran. What! what!
Giov. And will not bid my soldiers up, and follow,
But bid them follow me.
Brach. Forward lapwing!
He flies with the shell on 's head.
Fran. Pretty cousin!
Giov. The first year, uncle, that I go to war,
All prisoners that I take, I will set free,
Without their ransom.
Fran. Ha! without their ransom!
How then will you reward your soldiers,
That took those prisoners for you?
Giov. Thus, my lord:
I 'll marry them to all the wealthy widows
That falls that year.
Fran. Why then, the next year following,
You 'll have no men to go with you to war.
Giov. Why then I 'll press the women to the war,
And then the men will follow.
Mont. Witty prince!
Fran. See, a good habit makes a child a man,
Whereas a bad one makes a man a beast.
Come, you and I are friends.
Brach. Most wishedly:
Like bones which, broke in sunder, and well set,
Knit the more strongly.
Fran. Call Camillo hither.—
You have receiv'd the rumour, how Count Lodowick
Is turn'd a pirate?
Fran. We are now preparing to fetch him in. Behold your duchess.
We now will leave you, and expect from you
Nothing but kind entreaty.
Brach. You have charm'd me.
[Exeunt Francisco, Monticelso, and Giovanni.
You are in health, we see.
Isab. And above health,
To see my lord well.
Brach. So: I wonder much
What amorous whirlwind hurried you to Rome.
Isab. Devotion, my lord.
Is your soul charg'd with any grievous sin?
Isab. 'Tis burden'd with too many; and I think
The oftener that we cast our reckonings up,
Our sleep will be the sounder.
Brach. Take your chamber.
Isab. Nay, my dear lord, I will not have you angry!
Doth not my absence from you, now two months,
Merit one kiss?
Brach. I do not use to kiss:
If that will dispossess your jealousy,
I 'll swear it to you.
Isab. O, my loved lord,
I do not come to chide: my jealousy!
I am to learn what that Italian means.
You are as welcome to these longing arms,
As I to you a virgin.
Brach. Oh, your breath!
Out upon sweetmeats and continued physic,
The plague is in them!
Isab. You have oft, for these two lips,
Neglected cassia, or the natural sweets
Of the spring-violet: they are not yet much wither'd.
My lord, I should be merry: these your frowns
Show in a helmet lovely; but on me,
In such a peaceful interview, methinks
They are too roughly knit.
Brach. O dissemblance!
Do you bandy factions 'gainst me? have you learnt
The trick of impudent baseness to complain
Unto your kindred?
Isab. Never, my dear lord.
Brach. Must I be hunted out? or was 't your trick
To meet some amorous gallant here in Rome,
That must supply our discontinuance?
Isab. Pray, sir, burst my heart; and in my death
Turn to your ancient pity, though not love.
Brach. Because your brother is the corpulent duke,
That is, the great duke, 'sdeath, I shall not shortly
Racket away five hundred crowns at tennis,
But it shall rest 'pon record! I scorn him
Like a shav'd Polack: all his reverend wit
Lies in his wardrobe; he 's a discreet fellow,
When he 's made up in his robes of state.
Your brother, the great duke, because h' 'as galleys,
And now and then ransacks a Turkish fly-boat,
(Now all the hellish furies take his soul!)
First made this match: accursed be the priest
That sang the wedding-mass, and even my issue!
Isab. Oh, too, too far you have curs'd!
Brach. Your hand I 'll kiss;
This is the latest ceremony of my love.
Henceforth I 'll never lie with thee; by this,
This wedding-ring, I 'll ne'er more lie with thee!
And this divorce shall be as truly kept,
As if the judge had doomed it. Fare you well:
Our sleeps are sever'd.
Isab. Forbid it the sweet union
Of all things blessed! why, the saints in heaven
Will knit their brows at that.
Brach. Let not thy love
Make thee an unbeliever; this my vow
Shall never, on my soul, be satisfied
With my repentance: let thy brother rage
Beyond a horrid tempest, or sea-fight,
My vow is fixed.
Isab. O, my winding-sheet!
Now shall I need thee shortly. Dear my lord,
Let me hear once more, what I would not hear:
Isab. Oh, my unkind lord! may your sins find mercy,
As I upon a woeful widow'd bed
Shall pray for you, if not to turn your eyes
Upon your wretched wife and hopeful son,
Yet that in time you 'll fix them upon heaven!
Brach. No more; go, go, complain to the great duke.
Isab. No, my dear lord; you shall have present witness
How I 'll work peace between you. I will make
Myself the author of your cursed vow;
I have some cause to do it, you have none.
Conceal it, I beseech you, for the weal
Of both your dukedoms, that you wrought the means
Of such a separation: let the fault
Remain with my supposed jealousy,
And think with what a piteous and rent heart
I shall perform this sad ensuing part.
Enter Francisco, Flamineo, Monticelso, and Camillo
Brach. Well, take your course.—My honourable brother!
Fran. Sister!—This is not well, my lord.—Why, sister!—She merits not
Brach. Welcome, say!
She hath given a sharp welcome.
Fran. Are you foolish?
Come, dry your tears: is this a modest course
To better what is naught, to rail and weep?
Grow to a reconcilement, or, by heaven,
I 'll ne'er more deal between you.
Isab. Sir, you shall not;
No, though Vittoria, upon that condition,
Would become honest.
Fran. Was your husband loud
Since we departed?
Isab. By my life, sir, no,
I swear by that I do not care to lose.
Are all these ruins of my former beauty
Laid out for a whore's triumph?
Fran. Do you hear?
Look upon other women, with what patience
They suffer these slight wrongs, and with what justice
They study to requite them: take that course.
Isab. O that I were a man, or that I had power
To execute my apprehended wishes!
I would whip some with scorpions.
Fran. What! turn'd fury!
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,
Fran. How, ne'er more lie with him!
Isab. And this divorce shall be as truly kept
As if in thronged court a thousand ears
Had heard it, and a thousand lawyers' hands
Sealed to the separation.
Brach. Ne'er lie with me!
Isab. Let not my former dotage
Make thee an unbeliever; this my vow
Shall never on my soul be satisfied
With my repentance: manet alta mente repostum.
Fran. Now, by my birth, you are a foolish, mad,
And jealous woman.
Brach. You see 'tis not my seeking.
Fran. Was this your circle of pure unicorn's horn,
You said should charm your lord! now horns upon thee,
For jealousy deserves them! Keep your vow
And take your chamber.
Isab. No, sir, I 'll presently to Padua;
I will not stay a minute.
Mont. Oh, good madam!
Brach. 'Twere best to let her have her humour;
Some half-day's journey will bring down her stomach,
And then she 'll turn in post.
Fran. To see her come
To my lord for a dispensation
Of her rash vow, will beget excellent laughter.
Isab. 'Unkindness, do thy office; poor heart, break:
Those are the killing griefs, which dare not speak.' [Exit.
Marc. Camillo's come, my lord.
Fran. Where 's the commission?
Marc. 'Tis here.
Fran. Give me the signet.
Flam. [Leading Brachiano aside.] My lord, do you mark their whispering? I will compound a medicine, out of their two heads, stronger than garlic, deadlier than stibium: the cantharides, which are scarce seen to stick upon the flesh, when they work to the heart, shall not do it with more silence or invisible cunning.
Brach. About the murder?
Flam. They are sending him to Naples, but I 'll send him to Candy.
Here 's another property too.
Brach. Oh, the doctor!
Flam. A poor quack-salving knave, my lord; one that should have been lashed for 's lechery, but that he confessed a judgment, had an execution laid upon him, and so put the whip to a non plus.
Doctor. And was cozened, my lord, by an arranter knave than myself, and made pay all the colorable execution.
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.
Brach. Oh, Saint Anthony's fire!
Doctor. Your secretary is merry, my lord.
Flam. O thou cursed antipathy to nature! Look, his eye 's bloodshot, like a needle a surgeon stitcheth a wound with. Let me embrace thee, toad, and love thee, O thou abominable, loathsome gargarism, that will fetch up lungs, lights, heart, and liver, by scruples!
Brach. No more.—I must employ thee, honest doctor:
You must to Padua, and by the way,
Use some of your skill for us.
Doctor. Sir, I shall.
Brach. But for Camillo?
Flam. He dies this night, by such a politic strain,
Men shall suppose him by 's own engine slain.
But for your duchess' death——
Doctor. I 'll make her sure.
Brach. Small mischiefs are by greater made secure.
Flam. Remember this, you slave; when knaves come to preferment, they
rise as gallows in the Low Countries, one upon another's shoulders.
[Exeunt. Monticelso, Camillo, and Francisco come forward.
Mont. Here is an emblem, nephew, pray peruse it:
'Twas thrown in at your window.
Cam. At my window!
Here is a stag, my lord, hath shed his horns,
And, for the loss of them, the poor beast weeps:
The word, Inopem me copia fecit.
Mont. That is,
Plenty of horns hath made him poor of horns.
Cam. What should this mean?
Mont. I 'll tell you; 'tis given out
You are a cuckold.
Cam. Is it given out so?
I had rather such reports as that, my lord,
Should keep within doors.
Fran. Have you any children?
Cam. None, my lord.
Fran. You are the happier:
I 'll tell you a tale.
Cam. Pray, my lord.
Fran. An old tale.
Upon a time Phbus, the god of light,
Or him we call the sun, would need to be married:
The gods gave their consent, and Mercury
Was sent to voice it to the general world.
But what a piteous cry there straight arose
Amongst smiths and felt-makers, brewers and cooks,
Reapers and butter-women, amongst fishmongers,
And thousand other trades, which are annoyed
By his excessive heat! 'twas lamentable.
They came to Jupiter all in a sweat,
And do forbid the banns. A great fat cook
Was made their speaker, who entreats of Jove
That Phbus might be gelded; for if now,
When there was but one sun, so many men
Were like to perish by his violent heat,
What should they do if he were married,
And should beget more, and those children
Make fireworks like their father? So say I;
Only I apply it to your wife;
Her issue, should not providence prevent it,
Would make both nature, time, and man repent it.
Mont. Look you, cousin,
Go, change the air for shame; see if your absence
Will blast your cornucopia. Marcello
Is chosen with you joint commissioner,
For the relieving our Italian coast
Marc. I am much honour'd in 't.
Cam. But, sir,
Ere I return, the stag's horns may be sprouted
Greater than those are shed.
Mont. Do not fear it;
I 'll be your ranger.
Cam. You must watch i' th' nights;
Then 's the most danger.
Fran. Farewell, good Marcello:
All the best fortunes of a soldier's wish
Bring you a-shipboard.
Cam. Were I not best, now I am turn'd soldier,
Ere that I leave my wife, sell all she hath,
And then take leave of her?
Mont. I expect good from you,
Your parting is so merry.
Cam. Merry, my lord! a' th' captain's humour right,
I am resolved to be drunk this night. [Exeunt.
Fran. So, 'twas well fitted; now shall we discern
How his wish'd absence will give violent way
To Duke Brachiano's lust.
Mont. Why, that was it;
To what scorn'd purpose else should we make choice
Of him for a sea-captain? and, besides,
Count Lodowick, which was rumour'd for a pirate,
Is now in Padua.
Fran. Is 't true?
Mont. Most certain.
I have letters from him, which are suppliant
To work his quick repeal from banishment:
He means to address himself for pension
Unto our sister duchess.
Fran. Oh, 'twas well!
We shall not want his absence past six days:
I fain would have the Duke Brachiano run
Into notorious scandal; for there 's naught
In such cursed dotage, to repair his name,
Only the deep sense of some deathless shame.
Mont. It may be objected, I am dishonourable
To play thus with my kinsman; but I answer,
For my revenge I 'd stake a brother's life,
That being wrong'd, durst not avenge himself.
Fran. Come, to observe this strumpet.
Mont. Curse of greatness!
Sure he 'll not leave her?
Fran. There 's small pity in 't:
Like mistletoe on sere elms spent by weather,
Let him cleave to her, and both rot together. [Exeunt.