Act 1 Scene 1
What initial impressions of Italian nobility are the audience given in this scene?
The audience can derive from Act 1 Scene 1 that the Italian nobility is extremely corrupt and as a result cannot be trusted. Lodovico claims Brachiano “seeks to prostitute the honour of Vittoria” even though Vittoria is married to Camillo. Brachiano is representing the rest of court as deceitful and immoral and the fact that Lodovico is observing their dishonesty despite his own criminal background of “certain murders here in Rome” emphasises not only the ultimate hypocrisy, but also how extreme the negative reputation of the Italian nobility is if it can be criticised by a heartless and violent criminal.
What appears to motivate Lodovico?
Lodovico is evidently motivated by internal anger perhaps aimed more towards Brachiano. Lodovico subsequently admits his interest in Vittoria and is angered by her adulterous relationship with Brachiano. Lodovico violently proposes to “I’ll make Italian cut-works in their guts”. This is extreme and violent imagery used to represent Lodovico’s treacherous personality that is motivated by Vittoria’s affair with Brachiano.
What function do Antonelli and Gasparo have in this scene?
In Act 1 Scene 1, Antonelli and Gasparo provide Lodovico with reasonable and logical explanations for his banishment. They remind him of his atrocious crimes and describe them as “bloody and full of horror”. The strong use of adjectives allows the audience to realise who Lodovico is and the danger his character will create throughout the play. Antonelli and Gasparo are used to demonstrate that even Lodovico’s loyal associates believe his sentence to be fair and just.
Antonelli and Gasparo’s other function during this scene is to portray themselves as loyal and devoted followers of Lodovico. Antonelli promises to “repeal your banishment” and therefore allow Lodovico to return. In this sense, Webster foreshadows that Lodovico will eventually return in the play. As the play is of the revenge tragedy genre, Lodovico arrives back in Italy as an act of catharsis to relieve the unnatural order taking place within the plot.
Make a list of the imagery used by Gasparo and Lodovico. How does this help to reveal the latter’s character and motivation?
- “like mummia”
- “bloody and full of horror”
- “Italian cutworks in their guts”
The imagery used by Gasparo and Lodovico in Act 1 Scene 1 reveals Lodovico’s character is extremely dangerous and often can be violent. His motivation is clearly to cause physical harm to the people who have betrayed him as much of the imagery used is vicious and vivid.
Act 1 Scene 2
Vittoria’s entrance is accompanied by a blaze of light. What is the likely effect of this on the audience? Why is the lack of light for line 9 onwards significant?
Vittoria’s blaze of light ultimately emphasises her power in the play. Although Vittoria is a woman, therefore at the time was considered weak and uneducated, she is quite the opposite and holds much power over the male characters. Her promiscuous nature liberates her and gives her strength over the other characters.
Furthermore, the blaze of light incorporates the title of “The White Devil”. Vittoria can be interpreted as the “white devil” because she highly contradicts her nobility through her immoral acts. The oxymoron provides the imagery of both purity and the devil who was responsible for tempting human kind to turn from God. This is a reflection of the two sides of Vittoria; the pure and celibate nature of her relationship with Camillo and her methods of tempting Brachiano away from Isabella.
The lack of light from line 9 onwards highlights a change in tone as a private conversation subsequently takes place between Flamineo and Brachiano. The light fades as all false pretences evaporate and the real personalities are revealed. Darkness always follow light and this is apparent in the play as Flamineo’s scheming begins as the light exits and he admits “we can now talk freely”. The dramatic irony of this conversation builds up tension and the audience appears to recognise that Camillo is in great danger as a result of his own insecurities.
How does the structure of Flamineo’s speech change at line 17? What is the effect?
At line 17, Flamineo begins to speak in prose and considerably longer lines of: “’Bove merit! we may now talk freely: ’bove merit! what is ’t you doubt? her coyness!” Flamineo almost appears bored at the process of scheming and the work that is required to interfere with his sister’s life. His long paragraphs demonstrate he has planned this deceit for a while in an almost rehearsed manner. Although Flamineo is of authority being Brachiano’s secretary, he conveys his lack of nobility and traits of the common man through his immoral and prosaic language.
What is the effect of bringing on a rug and cushions (immediately before Cornelia’s entrance)? What might it highlight about the relationship of Vittoria and Brachiano?
By allowing Zanche to bring a rug and cushions on stage, Webster is portraying the sexual relationship of Brachiano and Vittoria. The audience would be able to immediately assume the extent of their relationship from these physical symbols without the other characters having to mention their adultery. Cornelia enters immediately after which contrasts her moral standards compared to Brachiano and Vittoria.
Look at Vittoria’s explanation of her dream (line 230) where she tells Brachiano a fable. Who do you think she is referring to when she says “that well-grown yew” and “a withered blackthorn”?
Yew trees are often found in church yards, much like in Vittoria’s dream, and are usually associated with death. In her fable, Vittoria could be referring to “that well-grown yew” as Camillo. The term “well-grown” only highlights Camillo’s age and the fact that the tree is usually known as a symbol of sadness provides the idea that Camillo is depressing Vittoria’s life. However, later on the in the play Monticelso claims Lodovico to be a “black and melancholic yew tree” as Lodovico has previously to this scene brought about several deaths and continue to by the end of “The White Devil”.
In terms of “a withered blackthorn”, Vittoria could be describing Brachiano. Vittoria dreamed that her “intent was to root up that well-grown yew” which, as already stated earlier, is Camillo who is subsequently replaced with Brachiano. The fact that he is a “black thorn” explains Brachiano’s destructive nature of Vittoria’s previous marriage and is a contrast to the term “white” used within the title of the play.
What imagery does Cornelia use when she confronts the lovers? How does it indicate her disapproval?
Cornelia includes the imagery of “Judas-like” to eventually confront Brachiano and Vittoria in Act 1 Scene 2. Judas is well known in the Bible to be the disciple who betrayed Jesus. In this way, Vittoria was once Camillo’s disciple and she has now deceived him using a kiss, much like Judas who identified Jesus in this way. This indicates her disapproval as by highlighting the Bible and Biblical figures, Cornelia is reminding them both of their religious teachings, even though the Church is highly corrupt too in the play.
What does Cornelia have to say about the moral responsibilities of men in positions of power?
Cornelia largely believes that men in positions of power should set examples of morals as their responsibility. Cornelia portrays this through: “the lives of princes should like dials move, whose regular example is so strong, they make the times by them go right or wrong.” Webster uses a heroic couplet to indicate the importance of Cornelia’s statement and how she is the Christian viewpoint in the play. In this way, Cornelia recognises that powerful men should guide their people of lower status into ethical methods of living.
What attitude to women is expressed by Flamineo in this scene? Find three quotation which you think illustrate his view.
Flamineo is notably disrespectful to women and this is epitomised in the fact that he even treats his sister as an object. This is illustrated through: “lock up your wife” which is demonstrating Flamineo’s belief of male dominance over women. If Flamineo were moral, he would want a fulfilling and happy relationship for his sister rather than a patriarchal one.
Furthermore Flamineo is extremely misogynistic. He greatly distrusts women and is sceptical towards their motivations. Flamineo states that women: “know our desire is increased by a difficult of enjoying”. In this way, he views women negatively and believes they are deceitful for their own personal gain.
Additionally, Flamineo also ultimately dismisses the opinions of women in the play. In Act 1 Scene 2, Flamineo argues against Vittoria’s defence for herself with “Shall a gentleman so well descended as Camillo”. Although in his asides, Flamineo is critical and insulting towards Camillo, his direct speech is respectful and considerate. In comparison, Vittoria is ignored or her viewpoint is debated and ultimately concluded as incorrect.
What have we seen Flamineo do in this scene? What does his speech at the end (in response to Cornelia’s question “What? Because we are poor…”) tell us about his motivation and morality?
When Cornelia criticises the potent people in society, Flamineo’s motivation becomes clear and that is to become rich and dominant. He is hateful towards his mother Cornelia and society for returning “not a suit the richer” and evidently values wealth within his morality. He fully blames his deceitful nature upon his social status and in this way portrays himself as a typical malcontent of the play.
Act 2 Scene 1
Francisco and Monticelso are introduced in this scene. What are their full titles and what can they be seen to represent?
As Francisco and Monticelso enter the scene, Webster uses their full title of Francisco de Medicis and Cardinal Monticelso. This is because the director is fully aware that Webster wants the audience to be reminder that they both belong to religious institutions. This is to represent how corrupt the Christian church is in the play and how the title “The White Devil” is easily apparent.
Look at Monticelso’s speech beginning “It is a wonder to your noble friends”. How does it echo the sentiments expressed by Cornelia in the previous scene?
Monticelso evidently echoes the sentiments expressed by Cornelia as he begins discussing wealth and fortune in his speech. Monitcelso claims that money is never enough for greedy people as: “neglect your awful throne for the soft down of an insatiate bed”. Webster incorporates a metaphor of royalty to demonstrate that human nature is never satisfied and always has to take more. As an associate of the Church, Monticelso is teaching the Christian doctrine against gluttony and self-indulgence which Lodovico is also similarly criticised for in Act 1 Scene 1.
Identify images related to poisoning in the scene
- “spiders” – considered poisonous
- “Adder’s tail” – animal
- “hemlock” – poisonous plant
- “toad” – image for Doctor Julius
Look again at the scene from “No my dear lord, you shall have present witness” up to Isabella’s exit? Why does Isabella publicly reject Brachiano? How might an audience interpret her brother’s response to her behaviour?
Isabella publicly rejects Brachiano with: “I will make myself the author of your cursed vow” in order to save Brachiano’s overall reputation. Isabella clearly still loves Brachiano to preserve him in this way, but most likely recognises that her Catholic marriage vows are now dispersed. By taking blame for their divorce, Isabella conceals Brachiano’s immoral behaviour and therefore his power as a duke. He can continue to reign with his power which further adds to the theme of hypocrisy prolific throughout the play.
Francisco’s response to this is many rhetorical questions of “are you foolish?” and lists insults of “foolish, mad and jealous woman”. The audience can interpret this as an extremely insensitive manner from Francisco who does not consider his own sister’s emotions at the time. Fransisco recognises that without Brachiano, Isabella will be worthless as a women of the time were not valued for their individuality. She is sacrificing her wealth, status and security for Brachiano’s unforgiveable act; however, this Francisco can simply not understand.
What dramatic purpose do you think Giovanni has in this scene? Why might the audience view Francisco and Monticelso differently by the end of the scene?
Giovanni is largely a physical reputation of Brachiano and Isabella’s marriage. Although Brachiano develops hatred towards Isabella and claims: “I’ll never lie with thee”, their child does represent that their once was a strong love for each other consummated in a child. Giovanni allows the play to become even more of a tragedy as Brachiano has discarded his family for Vittoria.
By the end of this scene, Francisco’s and Monticelso’s true personalities have been revealed and the audience’s perception of them immediately changes. At the beginning of Act 2 Scene 1, Monticelso and Francisco give reasonable conclusion that give them characteristics of moral beings, similarly to Cornelia in the previous scene. However, their plotting and scheming is soon discovered by the audience who realise the corruption within the Church. They both spread the news of Vittoria’s and Brachiano’s relationship to Camillo and falsely send him to fight Lodovico or “pirates”. Their ill advice means that they can allow the affair to continue until there is evidence to condemn both Vittoria and Brachiano. The audience learns of their deceitful and calculating behaviour.