The White Devil

by

John Webster

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The White Devil can help.

The White Devil: Act 2, Scene 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Isabella enters the court with her brother Francisco de Medici, the Duke of Florence. Francisco makes reference to Brachiano’s wandering eye, but Isabella says that she would rather let her husband be than try to constrain him out of jealousy.
The fact that both Isabella and Francisco are Medicis by birth is important: historically, the Meidcis were one of the most powerful families in the Renaissance, ruling over huge chunks of Italy and Austria. It is also useful to see how Isabella’s jealousy differs from Camillo’s; whereas Camillo plans to change his wife’s behavior, Isabella (likely constrained by her gender) works only to accept the facts as they are.
Themes
Double Standards of Desire Theme Icon
Class and Corruption Theme Icon
Along with Monticelso, a Cardinal in the Roman church, Francisco meets with Brachiano and Flamineo. Monticelso lectures Brachiano on acting out of passion, counseling that “when you awake from this lascivious dream, repentance then will follow.” Francisco then more directly accuses Brachiano of having an affair with Vittoria.
Brachiano now emerges as a parallel to Lodovico: “lasciviousness” consumes them, and Monticelso asks both men to find “repentance.” However, while Lodovico has begun to look inward, Brachiano is still at the height of his lustful “dream.”
Themes
External Virtue vs. Internal Truth Theme Icon
Double Standards of Desire Theme Icon
Punishment and Repentance  Theme Icon
When Brachiano does not deny the accusation, Francisco is furious that Brachiano is treating Isabella so poorly. Francisco is anxious to “end this with the cannon,” but Monticelso urges the men to take things more slowly. Just then, Brachiano’s young son Giovanni enters. Monticelso knows that Giovanni is a source of great hope for both Francisco and Brachiano, and he encourages Brachiano to train his son “to virtue” by “example.”
This passage shows Monticelso acting according to his religious bona fides: he tries to appease Francisco and Brachiano, creating harmony instead of tension. Monticelso is particularly concerned that no one should fight in front of Giovanni—because the young man will one day take over his father’s leadership position, Monticelso believes it is crucial that Brachiano and Francisco act as “examples” for this future duke. 
Themes
Leading by Example vs. Leading by Force Theme Icon
Quotes
Giovanni and Francisco talk, and Giovanni expresses his desire to be a new kind of prince: he will ride into battle with his fellow soldiers, and he will set free all prisoners of war. Giovanni’s bravery and wit so charm Francisco that he is temporarily able to make peace with Brachiano. Francisco leaves, but not before mentioning that Count Lodovico has now become a pirate.
In a highly stratified class structure, where dukes like Brachiano and counts like Lodovico abuse their power and wealth, Giovanni wants to do the opposite—he imagines leveling the playing field, acting as an equal to his subjects instead of elevating himself above them.
Themes
Class and Corruption Theme Icon
Leading by Example vs. Leading by Force Theme Icon
Get the entire The White Devil LitChart as a printable PDF.
The White Devil PDF
Returning home from her trip abroad, Isabella explains that her intense love for Brachiano has brought her back to Rome early. But while Isabella dotes on Brachiano, he treats her coldly—he insults her brother Francisco, and he vows that he will never have sex with her again.
It is interesting to observe how freely Brachiano scorns Isabella—especially in contrast to Vittoria, who must still go to bed with Camillo. In other words, society gives Brachiano’s (manly) sexual preferences much more leeway than Vittoria’s. 
Themes
Double Standards of Desire Theme Icon
Isabella is deeply hurt, but instead of complaining to Francisco (as Brachiano expects), Isabella decides to make peace between the two men. As Francisco watches, Isabella pretends to be so consumed with jealousy that she can never touch Brachiano again. Using almost the exact same language Brachiano had just used, Isabella makes it look like she is the one who wants to end the marriage. Isabella’s plan to smooth things over works: Francisco leaves Brachiano alone, instead accusing his sister of being weak and foolish in her jealousy.
More than perhaps anyone else in the piece, Isabella is generous and self-sacrificing, almost to a fault. Rather than using her family’s power to chastise or change Brachiano, she merely tries to make him happy, even as he betrays her. And while Isabella’s selflessness could be taken as a strength, for a leader as calculating and ruthless as Francisco, such generosity is only a sign of weakness.
Themes
Double Standards of Desire Theme Icon
Leading by Example vs. Leading by Force Theme Icon
Soon after, Flamineo pulls Brachiano to the side of the stage, introducing him to the nefarious Doctor Julio. The doctor plans to help with the murders of Isabella and Camillo; he explains that Camillo will die a public death with a “politic strain,” while Isabella’s murder will involve “small mischiefs.”
In a production, this stage picture reflects Webster’s overall conviction that evil often hides in plain sight: Flamineo and Brachiano hatch their diabolical plan only a few feet away from Isabella, one of their intended victims.
Themes
External Virtue vs. Internal Truth Theme Icon
Camillo learns that someone has thrown horns through his window. Monticelso interprets this as a sure sign that Vittoria has betrayed her husband (“’tis given out you are a cuckold”). Francisco warns Camillo that if he is not careful, Vittoria will have children by her lover. 
The horns return, once more symbolizing Camillo’s cuckoldry—and revealing how much masculinity in this time period was tied to a wife’s faithfulness. For the first time, moreover, Monticelso begins to be perhaps inappropriately interested in the details of others’ private lives.
Themes
External Virtue vs. Internal Truth Theme Icon
Double Standards of Desire Theme Icon
Punishment and Repentance  Theme Icon
Monticelso believes that if Camillo spends some time away from Vittoria, his absence might make her long for him; to that end, he nominates Camillo to deal with the pirates on the Italian coast. Alongside Camillo, Monticelso also nominates Marcello, an aide to Francisco—who also happens to be Vittoria’s other brother (younger than Flamineo).
Webster adds new layers to his complicated web of connection and status. Though Monticelso is a religious man, he seems to have a good deal of political/military power (as evidenced by his dispatching of Camillo). And while Marcello (like Flamineo) must work as a rich man’s aide, his alliance with Francisco pits him against his siblings.
Themes
Class and Corruption Theme Icon
Camillo leaves, resolving to get drunk and forget his troubles. In his absence, Monticelso and Francisco reveal their real plan: now that Camillo is gone, Brachiano will show the extent of his lust for Vittoria, and they can catch him in the act. Monticelso also explains that Count Lodovico is not a pirate in the slightest; in fact, he is in Padua as they speak, writing letters to Isabella and begging to be let back into Rome.
Brachiano, Vittoria, and Flamineo are not the only schemers—now, even the religious Monticelso and the seemingly upstanding Francisco show their willingness to lie and manipulate. Almost no one, the play is beginning to make clear, is transparent or trustworthy.
Themes
External Virtue vs. Internal Truth Theme Icon
Monticelso and Francisco consider that their plan might put Camillo in real danger—but Monticelso decides that he would “stake a brother’s life, that being wrong’d, durst not avenge himself.” Francisco and Monticelso leave to observe Vittoria (whom they call a “strumpet”) and Brachiano in action. As they go, Francisco compares the adulterous couple to two sickly trees, which grow close and then “rot together.”
Though he is ostensibly the novel’s holiest, least materialistic character, Monticelso is willing to risk his own nephew’s life for political gain (taking Brachiano down). Another detail worth catching: whereas Vittoria favorably compared her love with Brachiano to a tree, Francisco now uses the metaphor of a tree to suggest that this adulterous couple is “rotting.”
Themes
External Virtue vs. Internal Truth Theme Icon
Double Standards of Desire Theme Icon
Class and Corruption Theme Icon
Punishment and Repentance  Theme Icon