The White Devil


John Webster

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

At exactly midnight, Brachiano meets in his home with a conjurer to plot out the mechanics of Isabella and Camillo’s deaths. The conjurer explains that though there are many frauds, he really can help predict and shape the future. To that end, the conjurer shows Brachiano two pantomimes (“dumb shows”) of what will happen to Isabella and Camillo.
Implicitly, the conjurer links two of the novel’s major themes: fraud and deception, whether practiced by false conjurers or scheming servants, are often used by those who lack wealth.
External Virtue vs. Internal Truth Theme Icon
Class and Corruption Theme Icon
In the first dumb show, Doctor Julio and his assistant Christophero enter Isabella’s bedroom and approach the picture she has of Brachiano. Covering their eyes and noses with glass, the two men burn a variety of perfumes over the picture, laughing as they douse the image’s lips in the foul substance. Moments later, Isabella comes in and kisses the picture, which causes her to collapse and die.
Structurally, the dumb show gives the play’s audience insight into the murders without having to derail the action of the play—all while adding a layer of mysticism and magic to the proceedings. Moreover, there is tragic irony in the fact that devoted Isabella will die because of her love for Brachiano.
External Virtue vs. Internal Truth Theme Icon
Double Standards of Desire Theme Icon
The dumb show ends, and the conjurer explains that Isabella always kisses her picture of Brachiano before she falls asleep—so poisoning the picture will be the perfect way to poison her. When Brachiano expresses his surprise that Count Lodovico has appeared in the dumb show, the conjurer explains that he has used magic to discover a surprising truth: Lodovico is secretly in love with Isabella.
Poison is an important symbol in the play: because poison is usually invisible, a little poison sprinkled in the right place transforms benign objects (a picture, a helmet) into dangerous ones. The reveal that Lodovico is in love with Isabella also suggests that exile is already changing him: no longer the lustful playboy he was at the beginning of the paly, he’s now more patient, pursuing only one woman (albeit a married one).
External Virtue vs. Internal Truth Theme Icon
Punishment and Repentance  Theme Icon
In the second dumb show, Flamineo, Marcello, and Camillo all get drunk and compete to jump a vaulting horse. Just as Camillo is about to leap, Flamineo breaks his neck and makes it look like an accident that the horse caused. The conjurer tells Brachiano that both Flamineo and “the virtuous Marcello” are in on this plot. Satisfied, Brachiano promises to pay the conjurer, who reflects that “great men do great good, or else great harm.”
Camillo and Isabella’s deaths mirror their different reactions to their respective spouses’ betrayals: whereas Camillo’s murders target (and emasculate) him in public, Isabella dies in a private moment of love. More important, however, are the conjurer’s act-ending words: if great men can only do “great good” or “great harm,” then their actions (and the example those actions set) take on an extra weight.  
Double Standards of Desire Theme Icon
Leading by Example vs. Leading by Force Theme Icon
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