Throughout The White Devil, many characters use the image of a tree to symbolize Vittoria and Brachiano’s adulterous relationship. Crucially, however, just as the characters disagree about the nature of the relationship itself—is it a boundary-breaking true love? A hideous, indulgent passion?—none of the characters can agree about what kind of tree best captures this amorous duo. Vittoria herself dreams that her love with Brachiano is symbolized by a strong and lovely yew tree; because yew trees would often grow in graveyards, Vittoria’s dream suggests that this new relationship is growing out of the death of two marriages. Incidentally, yew is also extremely poisonous—and the lovers only take their relationship public once Brachiano has his wife Isabella poisoned. Francisco sees the adulterous couple as an even more nefarious kind of plant life: “like mistletoe on sere elms spent by weather,” he reflects, “let him cleave to her, and both rot together.” Whereas Vittoria sees her love as a triumphant (if toxic) yew tree, Francisco sees their love as “rotting” and parasitic. Tracing the different symbolism of trees in the play thus shows how the same event or pairing can, viewed through a different lens, have a completely opposite connotation.
Trees Quotes in The White Devil
My lord, there’s great suspicion of the murder,
But no sound proof who did it. For my part,
I do not think she hath a soul so black
To act a deed so bloody; if she have,
As in cold countries husbandmen plant vines,
And with warm blood manure them; even so
One summer she will bear unsavory fruit,
And ere next spring wither both branch and root.
The act of blood let pass; only descend
To matters of incontinence.
I discern poison
Under your gilded pills.
There are some sins which heaven doth duly punish
In a whole family. This is it to rise
By dishonest means. Let all men know
That tree shall long time keep a steady foot
Whose branches spread no wider than the root.