The White Devil

by

John Webster

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The White Devil: Act 3, Scene 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The scene shifts to the courthouse, where almost all of the characters have come to see Vittoria’s arraignment. Francisco and Monticelso try to keep Brachiano from the proceedings, but they are unsuccessful. The court calls Vittoria to the stand, and the lawyer Francisco has hired begins to question her.
Even from the start, a fair trial seems unlikely for Vittoria, as Francisco and Monticelso wield all their collective power to ensure a sympathetic jury of foreign ambassadors.
Themes
Class and Corruption Theme Icon
At first, the lawyer speaks in Latin, but Vittoria refuses to answer his questions. Though she understands Latin, she declares that “[she] will not have [her] accusation clouded in a strange tongue.” The lawyer then begins to speak English, but he uses so many fancy words that Vittoria again refuses to answer him. Frustrated, Francisco dispatches the lawyer, and Monticelso steps in to accuse Vittoria in plain language of being a “whore.”
The lawyer’s refusal to use simple questions reflects another class divide—in relying on Latin and long words, he is trying to take advantage of what he (wrongly) assumes is Vittoria’s lack of education. Even more importantly, when Monticelso does finally get to the heart of the trial, it becomes clear that he suspects Vittoria less of murder than of improper sexual behavior.
Themes
Double Standards of Desire Theme Icon
Class and Corruption Theme Icon
When Vittoria pushes back against Monticelso’s attack, he launches into a monologue defining the word “whore” as he understands it (and comparing Vittoria to a “guilty counterfeited coin”). Some of the ambassadors begin to suspect that Vittoria really is guilty, while others feel that Monticelso is being too harsh. 
In this crucial moment, Monticelso accuses Vittoria of “counterfeit[ing]” herself, linking female lust both to deception and to a lack of wealth (he compares her, after all, to fake money). But Monticelso is also not what he seems, as members of the jury are beginning to realize: neither his obsession with Vittoria’s sexuality nor his willingness to pummel her with questions were behaviors they would have expected from a cardinal.
Themes
External Virtue vs. Internal Truth Theme Icon
Double Standards of Desire Theme Icon
Class and Corruption Theme Icon
Punishment and Repentance  Theme Icon
Quotes
Francisco now jumps in, arguing that Vittoria’s alleged adultery proves that she is guilty of murder. Francisco focuses on the strange circumstances of Camillo’s death—how, Francisco wonders, could Camillo break his neck even though he only fell two yards? 
If the scandalous details of the ordeal fascinate Monticelso, Francisco interest is more strategic. In turning his attention to the vaulting competition, the calculating duke also expands the slate of suspects, roping Flamineo into the mix.
Themes
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Punishment and Repentance  Theme Icon
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For his part, Monticelso argues that Vittoria should be more mournful of her husband’s death; Vittoria responds that she has just learned of it and has not had the time to process it. She then tells her accusers that “if a man should spit against the wind, the filth returns in ‘s face.”
In declaring that Monticelso’s “filth” will return to him, Vittoria directly names the hypocrisy she faces. As a man of religious standing, Monticelso is able to project all his own base impulses (his impure thoughts, his lies) onto Vittoria—until she turns the accusation back around. 
Themes
External Virtue vs. Internal Truth Theme Icon
Double Standards of Desire Theme Icon
Leading by Example vs. Leading by Force Theme Icon
Punishment and Repentance  Theme Icon
Quotes
Monticelso brings up the fact that Brachiano was staying with Vittoria the night Camillo died. Brachiano explains this away by saying that Vittoria was anxious about money—Camillo was in debt to Monticelso—and he had merely come to comfort her. Brachiano boasts of his own honor and scolds Monticelso for lying, then he exits in a huff.
Once again, no one is innocent; Monticelso is loathsome, but Brachiano is also every bit as adulterous as his accusers claim. Additionally, this passage further complicates the question of class, with Brachiano suggesting that Vittoria is financially vulnerable and that Monticelso is a predatory lender.
Themes
External Virtue vs. Internal Truth Theme Icon
Double Standards of Desire Theme Icon
Class and Corruption Theme Icon
Francisco reflects that he does not think Vittoria could have orchestrated the murder on her own; once again, he compares her to a tree capable either of giving healthy fruit or rotting. But Vittoria is suspicious of Francisco’s sudden generosity, telling him that “[she] discern[s] poison under [his] gilded pills.”
Two of the text’s most potent symbols (trees and poison) now recur. And more than that, Vittoria’s statement—that pretty exteriors hide “poison,” secret, truths—neatly encapsulates the play’s central theme.
Themes
External Virtue vs. Internal Truth Theme Icon
Double Standards of Desire Theme Icon
Quotes
Now that Brachiano is gone, Monticelso produces one of his letters and shows it to the court because it is too “lascivious” to read aloud. Vittoria does not deny that Brachiano sent the letter, but she points out that “temptation to lust proves not the act […] you read his hot love to me, but you want my frosty answer.” Monticelso, refusing to hear this defense, continues to compare Vittoria to the devil.
Monticelso seems to take deep pleasure in immersing himself in the pornographic details of Vittoria’s rumored affair—while at the same time expecting total purity from Vittoria. Here, Webster allows his antiheroine to defend herself with eloquence and strength, pointing out that she should be allowed to be “tempted” (and perhaps implying that it should be Brachiano on trial for his “hot love” instead).
Themes
External Virtue vs. Internal Truth Theme Icon
Double Standards of Desire Theme Icon
Punishment and Repentance  Theme Icon
Monticelso then tells the court about the circumstances of Vittoria and Camillo’s marriage: they met in Venice, Vittoria’s hometown. Camillo spent lots of money courting her but received no dowry from Vittoria’s father. To Monticelso, this lack of a dowry is further evidence that Vittoria is a “notorious strumpet.”
Monticelso now more explicitly ties his sexual critique of Vittoria to a financial one; if Flamineo has illustrated how hard it is to be a man in financial trouble, being a woman without wealth brings an even more treacherous set of challenges.
Themes
Double Standards of Desire Theme Icon
Class and Corruption Theme Icon
The trial ends, and Monticelso assigns Vittoria and her lady-in-waiting Zanche to a house for “convertites,” or “penitent whores.” The court doesn’t charge Brachiano, Flamineo, or Marcello with any crime. However, both of Vittoria’s brothers are charged “sureties,” or court fees; Brachiano pays for Flamineo’s, while Francisco pays for Marcello’s.
All of the legal rulings here are tremendously revealing. The court punishes Vittoria but concludes that the men in her life are innocent; the court also instructs Vittoria to feel “penitent” when in actuality she feels only anger; and Marcello and Flamineo become further indebted to their wealthier bosses.
Themes
Double Standards of Desire Theme Icon
Class and Corruption Theme Icon
Punishment and Repentance  Theme Icon
The unfairness of this sentencing—Vittoria refers to it as a “rape” of justice—fills Vittoria with rage. Monticelso accuses her of madness. As Vittoria leaves the courthouse, she swears to Monticelso that in her heart, the house of convertites will become “honester […] than the Pope’s palace, and more peaceable than thy soul.”
In Vittoria’s anger, the gap between the intention of a punishment and its ultimate effects becomes clear—while Monticelso intends to shame her, Vittoria instead vows to find the kind of “honesty” and “peace” that Monticelso can only ever pretend to have.
Themes
External Virtue vs. Internal Truth Theme Icon
Punishment and Repentance  Theme Icon
Brachiano re-enters, looking distraught and speaking nonsense. Soon after, Giovanni appears dressed all in black—as he has learned to do from his uncle Francisco—and informs everyone in the court that his mother Isabella has been found dead. The news devastates Francisco.
Brachiano planned Isabella’s murder, so it’s clear that he’s faking his grief and madness. Also worth noting: Giovanni is copying all kinds of behavior from the older men around him (like wearing black after a death), proving just how essential it is for a young person to have good “examples.”
Themes
External Virtue vs. Internal Truth Theme Icon
Leading by Example vs. Leading by Force Theme Icon