Hippolito and Vindice enter, carrying the Duke’s body dressed in Vindice’s “Piato” disguise. They set the body to look like a man in a drunken stupor. Hippolito tells Vindice that Lussurioso will not come alone, and that therefore the best chance for revenge will come later; this annoys Vindice as he’d like to kill Lussurioso as soon as he discovers that the body of Piato is that of the Duke’s.
Vindice’s hurriedness is not so much a product of wanting to kill Lussurioso immediately as it is of him thinking that this particular opportunity represents the kind of poetic, poignant revenge that Vindice desires.
Lussurioso enters, greeting Vindice and Hippolito. He instructs them to kill Piato. They ask for his assurance that he will protect them for prosecution or retaliation, which he gives. They stab the corpse of the Duke.
This is another example of black humor in the play, surely making audiences then and now feel uncomfortable. Thanks to their clever scheming, Vindice and Hippolito can stab the Duke in front of his son without any repercussions. They’re not only succeeding in terms of their revenge, then, but also in demonstrating their intellectual superiority to the other characters (for now at least).
Lussurioso approaches the corpse, and suddenly realizes that it’s his father, the Duke. Lussurioso buys into Vindice and Hippolito’s plan, thinking that Piato must have killed the Duke and swapped outfits to aid his getaway. Lussurioso notices that the body is cold, before asking the brothers not to tell anyone about his murderous plans with them.
Lussurioso should be suspicious that the body is cold, which indicates the Duke has been dead for a while. That doesn’t align with Hippolito and Vindice’s claim that the man was in a drunken stupor. Vindice and Hippolito’s plan is still working however: Lussurioso is more concerned with covering his own back than the fact that his father has been murdered, and so doesn’t think too deeply about what must have happened.
Lussurioso calls in his servants and asks them to “be witnesses of a strange spectacle.” In an aside to the audience, Vindice notes how “wit” can help a revenger to be the least culpable man around when a murder is discovered. Lussurioso notices that the Duke’s lips are “gnawn with poison.”
Vindice makes an interesting point, which is that his scheming has been so successful that he can hide in plain sight even though he is the Duke’s murderer.
As word of the Duke’s death gets around, more nobles, guards, and court attendees enter, along with Ambitioso, Supervacuo, Spurio, and the Duchess. Ambitioso wonders “over what roof hangs this prodigious comet / In deadly fire?” Supervacuo, Ambitioso and (separately from those two) Spurio privately express their gladness at the Duke’s death.
The play builds towards its climax, with all of the characters grouping together prior to making their revenge motives public. The stage directions don’t indicate a comet in the sky (whereas they do in the last scene), implying that Amibitioso is probably talking metaphorically, linking the symbol of comet as prophecy of doom with the turmoil going on at the court.
Lussurioso summons the nobleman who had earlier said that the Duke was away from court, and sends him off for execution, falsely blaming him for the Duke’s death. He instructs some of the other noblemen to search for Piato.
Lussurioso does everything he can to stop anyone suspecting him of any involvement in the Duke’s death, or of any generally unusual behavior. He uses the nobleman as a scapegoat, and to make it seem like he is taking charge of the situation—which he has to do, given he is the next in line to the dukedom.
One of the nobles points out that, with the Duke’s death, Lussurioso is now ruler. Lussurioso pretends to be anguished by “griefs,” but in an aside remarks “Welcome, sweet titles!” He and the noblemen agree that now is the time “prepare for revels” to welcome Lussurioso to his new supremacy. In another aside, he vows to exile the Duchess. Lussurioso, the Duchess, and the nobles exit.
Reflecting the lack of morality or empathy among most of the characters in the play, Lussurioso is secretly delighted that his father has died. His use of the word “sweet” links his newfound power to sex (having earlier referred to the Duchess and Spurio’s affair as “incestuous sweets”). Instead of grieving for his father, his first thought is to organize a party. For the audience, Lussurioso’s behavior heightens the darkly comic sense that his bloody fate is just around the corner.
Vindice and Hippolito excitedly anticipate the final stage of their revenge, before leaving. Spurio, too, exits expressing his secret desire to kill Lussurioso. Supervacuo and Ambitioso briefly discuss a plan to kill Spurio, intending to use the costumes worn during the “revels” for cover. Supervacuo leaves; Ambitioso lets slip that he wants to kill Supervacuo too, ensuring the dukedom for himself.
Almost every character in the play wants to kill one or more of the others by this point. Again, Vindice and Hippolito’s plan depends on the use of disguise and deception.