The White Devil

by

John Webster

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The White Devil: Act 5, Scene 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Now at the court in Padua, Flamineo confers with his friend Hortensio. Brachiano and Vittoria have gotten married and are holding court in Padua. An impressive young Moor named Mulinassar, accompanied by two young Capuchin monks from Hungary, has come to visit the couple. Hortensio wonders why Mulinassar has come, and Flamineo explains that he has arrived to offer his services to Brachiano should war break out with Francisco.
Hortensio reflects the sometimes-slapdash construction of The White Devil: the character list doesn’t mention him, and he is never really defined in relationship to the other characters. At the same time, though, since Flamineo so often lies to both his sister and his boss, it is important structurally that Webster introduces a new friend for him, giving Flamineo someone he can be honest with.
Themes
External Virtue vs. Internal Truth Theme Icon
Class and Corruption Theme Icon
Brachiano enters alongside Mulinassar, who is really Francisco in disguise. Brachiano pays great honor to Mulinassar, and he invites Mulinassar and the monks—actually Gasparo and Lodovico—to store their swords in his chapel.
Deception and disguise have been important thematic ideas throughout the piece, but now the play literalizes them. The word Moor refers to someone of the Islamic faith (and specifically to people from Spain, Italy or North Africa); Capuchin monks were a particularly strict order of Catholics.
Themes
External Virtue vs. Internal Truth Theme Icon
Once Brachiano and Flamineo leave, the conspirators reveal themselves and plot their revenge. Lodovico wishes that they had come up with a more stylish kind of murder, but Francisco insists that their plan is the most direct and effective option.
The scene of monks plotting acts as a critique of Catholicism (in line with a playwright working in Anglican England during the Protestant Reformation).
Themes
External Virtue vs. Internal Truth Theme Icon
Meanwhile, Zanche is following Flamineo everywhere he goes, and Flamineo is getting sick of it. Marcello points out that Flamineo has only himself to blame, as he had previously been involved with Zanche. Francisco (still dressed as Mulinassar) enters, and Zanche, herself a Moor, decides she wants to talk to her “countryman” in their shared language.
Moor was a broadly used term, but it generally signified anyone white, Christian Europeans saw as ‘other.’ Webster’s decision to immediately link Zanche with Mulinassar then reflects his own highly racialized (and prejudiced) view of the world.
Themes
Double Standards of Desire Theme Icon
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Flamineo, Marcello, and Francisco-as-Mulinassar discuss the difficulty of making a living as a soldier. Flamineo then complains to Hortensio that he had promised Zanche he would marry her; he no longer wishes to do so, but he is afraid of what Zanche will do to him if he betrays her. Zanche approaches Flamineo and accuses him of being distant to her—to which he replies that “lovers’ oaths are like mariners’ prayers, uttered in extremity.”
Francisco’s misogyny, previously applied to his sister, is also on full display in his own intimate relationships. Earlier in the play, he told Camillo that once men had “enjoyed” women sexually they grew tired of them; now, he embodies that theory in his treatment of Zanche.
Themes
External Virtue vs. Internal Truth Theme Icon
Double Standards of Desire Theme Icon
Quotes
Cornelia enters and strikes Zanche; when Zanche protests, Marcello joins in, kicking her and calling her a “strumpet.” Flamineo then defends Zanche, and the two brothers begin to struggle. Flamineo makes fun of Marcello for being younger than him and exits in a rage. Equally angry, Marcello instructs his servant to murder Flamineo when he gets the chance.  
Cornelia and Marcello, who have previously seemed more noble than their relatives, now show their own racial, gender, and class biases in their violent response to Zanche. Again, the plotting of the play (which has been the subject of much scholarly critique) is difficult to follow here: the violence escalates without clear motivations.
Themes
Double Standards of Desire Theme Icon
Class and Corruption Theme Icon
Meanwhile, Zanche has slipped away to talk to Francisco-as-Mulinassar. Almost immediately, she confesses her love to him; he explains that he has vowed never to marry. To win Mulinassar’s love, Zanche promises to tell him all the secrets she has observed. After she exits, Francisco drops the disguise and tells the audience that “of all intelligence this may prove the best: sure I shall draw strange fowl from this foul nest.”
Paralleling the character of Vittoria, the play portrays Zanche as simultaneously courageous and flighty, combatting sexist stereotypes while also playing into them. And once again, this exchange reminds audiences that Francisco is as selfish and manipulative as all the rest: he is not above using Zanche’s romantic feelings to gain information about his enemies.
Themes
External Virtue vs. Internal Truth Theme Icon
Double Standards of Desire Theme Icon
Leading by Example vs. Leading by Force Theme Icon