The White Devil


John Webster

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The White Devil: Act 5, Scene 4 Summary & Analysis

Young Giovanni, admired by all, has now taken his father’s place as duke. Though Flamineo tries to flatter Giovanni, the young boy sees through this ruse, and he advises Flamineo to study his prayers and “be penitent.” Giovanni exits, but before he does so, he orders a courtier to keep Flamineo away from him. Flamineo reflects that Giovanni “hath his uncle’s villainous look already.”
Consistently, Giovanni and the older people around him have stressed the need for the young prince to have good “examples”: how else can he learn to be a successful leader? But in the absence of role models, Giovanni’s only example has been bad behavior, and he now takes on the ”villain[y]” he has seen in the men around him.
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Meanwhile, Cornelia is deep in mourning for Marcello. Alongside Zanche and other court ladies, she is “winding his grave,” throwing dried herbs on top of his corpse. When Cornelia sees Flamineo, she enters into a kind of madness (or “distraction”). She calls on the plants and animals of the earth to take good care of Marcello’s dead body, and she hopes that he will get into heaven.
Cornelia has always been less concerned with earthly status than the other characters, and perhaps that is because she (more than even Pope Monticelso) has a Christian view of the afterlife. In other words, rather than punishing or rewarding behavior on earth, Cornelia believes everything will shake out in heaven or hell.
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Cornelia’s profound grief disturbs Flamineo. And to make matters worse, Brachiano’s ghost appears and throws dirt on Flamineo, who is overcome with “melancholy” as he thinks of the various people he has killed or wounded. Still, rather than repenting, Flamineo decides to kill Vittoria, believing that her death will “turn to good” all these previous wrongs.
Moreso than any threat of punishment, Flamineo’s firsthand experience of his mother’s grief causes him to feel guilt and “melancholy.” But just as he vowed in the first act to continue down the “snake”-like path he had begun on, he now plots to kill Vittoria rather than accepting and apologizing for what he has done.
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