Cornelia, having also made the trip to Padua, has heard that Marcello plans to fight someone, but she does not know whom. As she presses him for details, Flamineo enters and promptly stabs his brother with Marcello’s own sword. Cornelia despairs, refusing to believe that her son is really dying.
The show makes clear in Marcello’s death that violence (or threats of violence) beget violence. Rather than trying to make amends with his brother, Flamineo tries (and succeeds) in beating him to the punch, reflecting a quite literal kill-or-be-killed mentality.
As Marcello takes his last breaths, he recalls a moment when, as a young boy at his mother’s breast, Flamineo snapped a crucifix in two. He laments that although Flamineo might gain wealth, this is not a noble way for their family to rise; instead, Marcello believes that a “tree shall long time keep a steady foot, whose branches spread no wider than the roots.”
Tree symbolism has been prominent throughout the text, and here it takes on yet another layer: Marcello suggests that Flamineo has overreached, trying to “spread” in a way that his inner strength or history (his “roots”) cannot support. Though Marcello does not specifically mention “rot,” audiences will by now associate overgrown trees with illness and failure.
Brachiano enters and tries to make sense of the confusion. In her rage, Cornelia grabs the sword and runs at Flamineo as if to kill him—but she cannot bring herself to actually do the deed. Instead, Cornelia tells Flamineo to spend his life begging for “repentance.” Brachiano orders his servants to clean up the scene, and he instructs everyone present that no one should tell Vittoria about what has happened.
For the first time in the play, Cornelia trades eye-for-an-eye punishment for a more nuanced approach: she cannot bring herself to continue the violence, so she instead begs Flamineo to do his own soul-searching and “repent” on his own time. By contrast, Brachiano’s desire to clear the scene (and keep the news from Vittoria) shows his determination to cover up facts rather than face time.
Flamineo begrudgingly does what Brachiano has ordered, acknowledging that his “will is law now.” Meanwhile, Lodovico—still in disguise as a Capuchin monk—secretly sprinkles the front part of Brachiano’s helmet (which the script calls a “beaver”) with poison.
Despite all his violence and deception, Flamineo has not risen any further; Brachiano still makes the rules of society, and Flamineo must still follow them. Visually, the image of a monk poisoning a helmet suggests that even the safest people and objects (religious figures, armor) are not to be trusted.