Flamineo and the Matron are now at the house of convertites, discussing important political news. They reveal that the Pope is on his deathbed, and all of Rome is in chaos. Francisco’s servant interrupts this conversation to sneak the Matron his boss’s letter, explaining that it is for Vittoria.
The Pope was the ultimate source of power in Renaissance Italy, so his death would have profound consequences for dukes like Brachiano and Flamineo (not to mention for a cardinal like Monticelso).
Brachiano arrives, and he and Flamineo demand to see the letter. To Brachiano’s horror, it is a love letter, in which Francisco encourages Vittoria to escape with him to Florence. Brachiano is immediately consumed with jealously; he calls Vittoria a “whore” and vows to cut her into pieces. In his anger, Brachiano also turns on Flamineo—but in the hopes of working things out and saving his own skin, Flamineo offers to bring Brachiano to Vittoria.
Once more, Flamineo must remain more loyal to Brachiano than he does to one of his own siblings. But perhaps more notable is the ease with which Brachiano jumps to calling Vittoria a “whore”—even though he ostensibly loves her, he has no more faith in women than the other men in the play.
Still flustered, Brachiano shows the letter to Vittoria and demands to know the truth. Vittoria explains that she was never involved with Francisco and that the letter is a lie, meant to make her look guilty and unfaithful. Brachiano repents, and he apologizes to Vittoria, explaining that “[he] was bewitch’d; for all the world speaks ill of [her].”
In this exchange, Brachiano admits how much a person’s reputation (how “the world speaks” of them) influences him. But as the play has shown many times, reputation is not a reliable source of information: just look at treacherous Monticelso.
Vittoria can’t forgive Brachiano so easily. Instead, she laments that he has given her nothing but “infamy,” roping her into this elaborate murder plot and getting her sent to this house of convertites. Vittoria throws herself on her bed and begins to sob, while Flamineo encourages her to forgive Brachiano; in turn, Vittoria snaps at her brother for “pander[ing].”
If flattery is one form of manipulation, “pandering” might be another—but if Flamineo wants to stay in his boss’s good graces, what other choice does he have? So in this moment, as in many others, Flamineo must choose between being honest and making Brachiano happy.
After much persuading, Flamineo is eventually able to get Vittoria and Brachiano to join hands and come back together (though Vittoria still complains of “ye dissembling men!”) Brachiano wonders about the motivations behind Francisco’s letter—did he write it out of real love, or is it part of some larger plot?
The court tried and convicted Vittoria as a liar, yet it is the men around her who are constantly “dissembling.” Moreover, though the play doesn’t say so explicitly, Vittoria is just as financially dependent on Brachiano as Flamineo is—she cannot afford to alienate the wealthy duke either.
Moreover, though he loathes Francisco, Brachiano ultimately decides to adopt and adapt the plan laid out in the letter: instead of going to Florence, he will escape with Vittoria to Padua where they can live together as a couple.
Francisco’s plan has backfired, and instead, he has become an inadvertent role model—inspiring Brachiano’s escape and once more proving the important of leading by example.
Before the couple can escape Rome, Flamineo tells a story of a crocodile and a bird. The crocodile has something in its teeth, which the bird kindly picks out for him. The crocodile then becomes scared that he will be accused of not paying the bird for her services, so he tries to eat her. But the bird has a sharp point on her head, and she tears the crocodile’s mouth.
On its surface, this story seems like it would be a metaphor for Flamineo’s service to Brachiano: he has committed crimes to ensure that Brachiano stays out of trouble, and now he wants people to thank him for his service instead of throwing him under the bus.
Flamineo explains that in his analogy, Vittoria is the crocodile and Brachiano is the bird—she must not show ingratitude for what he has done for her. Flamineo then assures his sister of better days to come: “knaves do grow great,” he promises, “by being great men’s apes.”
By shifting the interpretation of this story to depict Vittoria as the crocodile, Flamineo reiterates that women should be subservient to men. And in the final line of the scene, Flamineo clearly articulates his worldview: he is a “knave,” but he hopes that by doing even the most despicable tasks for a great man like Brachiano, he too can become “great” by proxy.