The White Devil

by

John Webster

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The White Devil: Act 5, Scene 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Brachiano and his friends go to indulge in a staged fight, but as soon as the fight starts, Brachiano feels that his brain is “on fire”—and he realizes that someone has poisoned his helmet. To Vittoria and Giovanni’s dismay, Brachiano begins to die. Flamineo frets that the ambassadors have been similarly poisoned.
In this climactic moment, a staged fight—supposed to be safe and entertaining—becomes deadly through the use of poison; once more, nothing is as it seems, and danger can come from the places one least expects.
Themes
External Virtue vs. Internal Truth Theme Icon
As Brachiano collapses, he fumes that even though as a duke he has “given life to offending slaves, and wretched murderers,” he cannot extend his own life. Vittoria wails, and Brachiano scoffs that it is “miserable […] to die ‘mongst women howling.”
Even Brachiano’s high status as a duke (and his prejudicial view of the lower classes) cannot save him from the visceral, bodily experience of death. Yet despite his intense pain, his sexism—his disgust at Vittoria’s love and mourning—remains.
Themes
Double Standards of Desire Theme Icon
Class and Corruption Theme Icon
Lodovico and Gasparo enter, still dressed as Capuchin monks. Flamineo instructs them to administer the extreme unction, and they exit with Brachiano. Flamineo reflects that at the moment of death, princes are alone; “where are their flatterers now?” he asks. Flamineo confesses to Francisco, who is still dressed as Mulinassar, that he often “dissemble[d]” while working for Brachiano—in reality, he thinks Brachiano is a selfish and cruel leader.
In this fascinating moment, Flamineo acknowledges that status breeds “flattery,” which is its own form of deception (“dissembling”). But since flattery is not truthful, it is also impermanent; in moments of crisis, followers like Flamineo—out for themselves—vanish. In other words, a world built on deceit is also a lonely world, and for the first time, Flamineo is able to recognize that.
Themes
External Virtue vs. Internal Truth Theme Icon
Class and Corruption Theme Icon
Leading by Example vs. Leading by Force Theme Icon
Lodovico (in disguise) enters and explains that Brachiano is going mad, but that he has left his entire dukedom to Vittoria (until Giovanni comes of age). Brachiano then re-enters, cursing and talking nonsense. Even in his stupor, however, Brachiano is able to name Flamineo as Marcello’s murderer. Flamineo worries that this continued association between himself and Brachiano will cause his doom.
After all he has sacrificed, Flamineo receives none of Brachiano’s wealth—that goes to the object of his lust (and then, eventually, his son). Instead, Flamineo only receives the blame for his misdeeds, reflecting once again the impossibility of class mobility in this society.
Themes
Double Standards of Desire Theme Icon
Class and Corruption Theme Icon
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Still dressed as Capuchin monks, Lodovico and Gasparo pretend to give the last rites to Brachiano. But before Brachiano takes his last breath, they reveal their true identities and tell him that he will die and be damned, “forgotten before the funeral sermon.”
Brachiano is denied passage to heaven (as he does not receive extreme unction after all), but he is also denied an earthly legacy. After all, if flatterers desert their bosses in moments of crisis—and dukes surround themselves only with flatters—who would even be there to attend the funeral?
Themes
Double Standards of Desire Theme Icon
Class and Corruption Theme Icon
Quotes
Brachiano finally takes his last breath, and Vittoria bursts into tears. Flamineo, skeptical that Vittoria is faking her sadness, comments that “there’s nothing sooner dry than woman’s tears.” Francisco-as-Mulinassar speculates aloud that this was probably the work of the Duke of Florence (Francisco), and Flamineo agrees, as he thinks Francisco is “Machiavellian.”
Flamineo’s distrust of the world is now even stronger. His sister’s (seemingly real) pain is to him a performance, so he has no faith in intimate relationships. But he is equally disdainful of political life, invoking famed philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli to suggest that Francisco and his underlings are deceitful, manipulative, bullies.
Themes
External Virtue vs. Internal Truth Theme Icon
Double Standards of Desire Theme Icon
Leading by Example vs. Leading by Force Theme Icon
Quotes
Zanche returns and flirts with Francisco-as-Mulinassar, and each pretends to have had a dream about having sex with the other. After the banter dies down, Zanche reveals what happened in the murders of Isabella and Camillo: Isabella’s picture was poisoned, and “damn’d Flamineo” assaulted Camillo.
Here, the play portrays Zanche’s desire as a source of political vulnerability (or gain), reflecting the play’s more general sense of anxiety about women as sexual beings.
Themes
Double Standards of Desire Theme Icon
Still not realizing the true identity of Mulinassar, Zanche tells him she plans to rob Vittoria to and escape to the countryside, where she hopes they will get married. She leaves, telling Francisco-as-Mulinassar to meet her in the nearby chapel at midnight.
Though Zanche and Vittoria have some solidarity as two of the only women in this largely male world, their class difference—and Zanche’s longing for Mulinassar—get in the way of any deep bond the women might maintain.
Themes
Double Standards of Desire Theme Icon
Class and Corruption Theme Icon