Vindice and Hippolito enter with daggers in their hands, dragging Gratiana. She is distraught, oblivious to why they are treating her this way. She asks them, “am not I your mother?” Vindice spits back that she has lost that title, because “in that shell of mother breeds a bawd.”
Gratiana doesn’t seem like their mother anymore—because Piato (Vindice) corrupted her earlier in the play by persuading her to prostitute Castiza. That is, she isn’t the virtuous mother the brothers once thought she was. But it was Vindice, playing the role of Piato the pimp, who enticed Gratiana with bribery. In a way, then, he is guilty of the same behavior as her. A “bawd” is a madam—an older woman who manages younger prostitutes.
Vindice asks whether Gratiana had talked with a man sent by the Duke’s son, and if that man had convinced her to “work our sister [Castiza] to his [Lussurioso’s] lust?” Gratiana denies the charge, but Vindice reveals that he was that man—Piato. She kneels, weeping, saying it was Vindice’s way with words that “bewitched” her.
The play here presents a troublesome moral puzzle: is Gratiana guilty for accepting money and jewels from Piato in exchange for pressuring Castiza, or is Vindice guilty for disguising himself as Piato and doing his best to manipulate his own mother? Either way, Gratiana is portrayed as weak. It’s worth noting that Gratiana’s pose—kneeling—has religious connotations as a position for prayer. This ties in with the idea presented earlier that people need to pray before they die in order to give themselves the best chance at salvation in the afterlife.
Vindice and Hippolito put away their daggers, satisfied that Gratiana has shown herself to be truly repentant. Gratiana appeals to the heavens to cleanse her through her tears: “To weep is to our sex naturally given; / But to weep truly, that’s a gift from heaven.” Vindice and Hippolito kiss their mother, with Vindice saying “honest women are so […] rare.”
Here Vindice and Hippolito once again act as the custodians of justice, forcing their own mother to confront her wrongdoings and reducing her to a gibbering wreck. Their behavior does seem excessive, highlighting the way in which their overall project has affected their own psyches. Gratiana’s words make a further contribution to the idea of women’s weakness running throughout the play, but her notion that to “weep truly” is a “gift from heaven” makes a subtle case for a world with more empathy than has been present thus far. Vindice reminds the audience that he thinks little of women.
Vindice and Hippolito leave; Gratiana wonders how she was ever able to entertain the idea of prostituting her own daughter. Castiza then comes in. She appears to have changed her mind, now willing to do as Gratiana had wished—“to prostitute my breast to the duke’s son.”
Gratiana’s change of heart seems sincere—otherwise she’d probably admit it wasn’t in an aside to the audience.
Gratiana pleads with Castiza not to sacrifice her chastity and honor. She explains that she has “recovered” from her previous errors and is distraught that Castiza has taken her earlier words to heart. Castiza kisses her mother, explaining that she is still honest and chaste—she was only testing her. Castiza describes “virgin honour” as a “crystal tower.” Gratiana thanks Castiza for saving her.
Like her brothers, Castiza gives Gratiana a chance to repent—but her method is far less aggressive. Gratiana proves that her redemption is genuine, restoring the previous mother-daughter relationship to its full worth. The “tower” imagery links the idea of chastity to power and has connotations of firmness and “standing tall.”