Castiza enters, lamenting the way in which sin, rather than honor, seems to be rewarded by the world. Her servant announces that a man has arrived to speak with her. Vindice comes in, disguised as Piato the pander.
In the world that Castiza occupies, chastity is the only source of value women possess. It’s no wonder, then, that she wishes to preserve it.
Vindice gives Castiza a letter from Lussurioso and is swiftly rewarded with a smack on the ear—Castiza says she had promised herself she would do so to the next person the Duke’s son sent “to be his sins’ attorney.” She instructs Vindice to tell Lussurioso “my honour shall have a rich name, / When several harlots shall share his with shame.”
It’s clear that this is far from the first advance that Lussurioso has made on Castiza. Her rejection of him gives her a small but tangible power over her world, as she resists being made into a mere target for his lust. Her law-related imagery harks back to corruption of legal authority witnessed in the Junior Brother trial scene earlier. Equating her honor with her name links her chastity specifically with her sense of identity—if she casually gives that up, she sacrifices who she is.
Castiza exits, and Vindice praises her for her chastity and honor. Gratiana, Castiza and Vindice’s mother, enters. Vindice, still in disguise, tries to persuade Gratiana to change Castiza’s mind about Lussurioso, tempting her with the promise of increased wealth and status. Gratiana is initially hesitant, calling Vindice’s request a “most unnatural task,” but he eventually wins her over. In separate asides to the audience, Gratiana blames her womanhood as the reason why she is so influenceable, and Vindice expresses his disappointment in his mother’s corruption.
Following Lussurioso’s suggestion, Vindice attempts to manipulate his own mother. At this point he seems far from achieving his revenge, instead deeply embroiled in the ethically troublesome act of deceiving his own family. Acting as Piato the pander (pimp), he shows the simple equation: women can trade their sex for money and power. The younger and purer they are, the more potential leverage they have in that transaction. That’s why Gratiana wants a piece of the proverbial pie—she knows it’s worth a lot, materially speaking. She also adds her voice to the general low opinion of women and their lack of moral strength throughout the play.
Vindice gives Gratiana a bribe to pressure her further, which she says “enchant[s] our sex.” She promises to convince Castiza to give up her chastity for Lussurioso. Just at this moment, Castiza re-enters. Gratiana tells her “virginity is paradise, locked up” and attempts to persuade Castiza to stop denying Lussurioso’s advances. Castiza is disappointed, asking where her mother has gone.
Gratiana implies that women are easily swayed by gifts. Her statement that virginity is an imprisoned paradise is a disorientating nod towards the book of Genesis—except that in the Bible, it is sin that prohibits further access to paradise; Gratiana’s point is that chastity does. This, of course, is not what she truly believes—it’s just her clumsy attempt to manipulate Castiza.
Vindice tries to get Castiza imagine the lavish lifestyle she could have at court if only she’d change her mind. Gratiana agrees, but Castiza is infuriated. She exits, telling Vindice (still dressed as Piato) to “perish in thy office.” In an aside, Vindice praises Castiza’s “angelic” virtue. Gratiana promises that Lussurioso will be received well if he comes to their house. She exits; Vindice leaves too, wondering why “heaven” doesn’t “strike the sins” of the earth, and blames all “damnation” on “gold and women.”
Vindice tries to appeal to the same materialistic instincts that won Gratiana over, but Castiza resists. Vindice appeals for divine intervention, but none is forthcoming. He blames all wrong in the world on gold and women—unfair firstly because it equates women to material possession, and secondly because it completely overlooks any male role in the world’s problems.