David Bruce: John Webster’s THE WHITE DEVIL: A Retelling — Act 3, Scene 2

— 3.2 —

The arraignment of Vittoria was starting in the courtroom.

She was being tried for adultery and the murder of her husband.

Francisco de Medici, Cardinal Monticelso, the six lieger ambassadors, Brachiano, Vittoria, Zanche (Vittoria’s serving-woman), Flamineo, Marcello, the lawyer, and a guard were present.

Cardinal Monticelso said to Brachiano, “Don’t insist on attending the trial, my lord; here there is no place assigned to you. This business, by order of his Holiness, is left to our examination.”

Brachiano replied, “May it thrive with you.”

He lay a rich garment on the floor for him to sit on during the trial.

Francisco de Medici said, “There’s a chair for his Lordship.”

Brachiano said, “Don’t insist on your kindness: An unbidden guest should travel as Dutch women go to church — they carry their stools with them.”

Cardinal Monticelso replied, “As you please, sir.”

He said to Vittoria, “Stand before the table, gentlewoman.”

He then said to the lawyer prosecuting the case against Vittoria, “Now, signior, fall to your plea.”

As was the legal custom, the lawyer spoke Latin: “Domine judex, converte oculos in hanc pestem, mulierum corruptissiman.”

[“Lord Judge, look upon this plague, the most corrupt of women.”]

Vittoria asked, “Who’s he?”

Francisco de Medici replied, “A lawyer who pleads against you.”

Vittoria said, “Please, my lord, let him speak his usual language: English. If he doesn’t use English, I’ll make no answer to what he says.”

Francisco de Medici said, “Why, you understand Latin.”

Vittoria replied, “I do, sir, but among these listeners who have come to hear my case, half or more may be ignorant of Latin.”

Cardinal Monticelso said to the lawyer, “Go on, sir.”

Vittoria said, “If you don’t mind, I will not have my accusation clouded in a strange language: All this assembly shall hear — and understand — what you can charge me with.”

Francisco de Medici said to the lawyer, “Signior, you need not much insist on using Latin; please, change your language.”

Cardinal Monticelso said, “Oh, for God’s sake!”

He then said to Vittoria, “Gentlewoman, your reputation shall be more famous if you insist on the prosecution using English.”

He meant that if all the people in the courtroom understood the charges against her, they would spread the charges in their gossip, and her reputation would be widely known. Of course, the charges would give her a bad — an infamous — reputation.

The lawyer said to Vittoria, “Well, then, have at you.”

“Have at you” were words used before beginning a fight. Think:En garde. Think: Prepare to be attacked.

Vittoria replied, “I am at the mark, sir; I’ll give aim to you, and tell you how near you shoot.”

She was using an archery metaphor. The mark was the target. She was standing by the target and would let him know how his shots fared: She would tell him if they hit the target, were close, or were wide of the mark.

The lawyer began to plead his case: “Most literated judges, may it please your lordships so to connive your judgments to the view of this debauched and diversivolent woman.”

The lawyer used inflated language, and he sometimes misused words — a common result of trying to use inflated language.

“Literated” judges were literate judges.

The word “connive” means to shut one’s eyes and ignore something that one dislikes. The lawyer was saying that the judges should shut their eyes to what they disliked about the woman, which would be what she was accused of doing. Of course, this was the opposite of what the lawyer wanted to happen: He wanted the judges to be fully aware of Vittoria’s supposed bad points.

“Diversivolent” was a word of the lawyer’s own making and perhaps meant “desiring strife” or “desiring differences.” Volois Latin for “I wish.” The Latin diversemeans “in different directions.”

The lawyer continued, “Such a black concatenation of evil has effected this woman, and this woman has affected such a black concatenation of evil, that to extirp the memory of it, must be the consummation of her, and her projections —”

In other words: Such a black concatenation of evil had effected — created — Vittoria, and Vittoria had desired such a black concatenation of evil that to root up the memory of it, must be the consummation of her, and her projects —

“Consummation” means “the act of making perfect.” The lawyer may have thought it meant “the act of consuming,” as in being consumed by fire.

Vittoria interrupted, “What’s all this?”

The lawyer said, “Hold your peace! Shut up! Exorbitant sins must have exulceration.”

“Exulceration” means “ulceration,” which is soreness.

Vittoria said, “Surely, my lords, this lawyer here has swallowed some apothecaries’ bills, or proclamations, and now the hard and indigestible words come up, like stones we give to hawks for medicine. Why, this is Welsh to Latin.”

Apothecaries’ bills were medical prescriptions that were written in hard-to-understand jargon. Previously, Vittoria had worried that people attending the trial would not understand the lawyer’s Latin, but the lawyer’s inflated English was even harder to understand — it was like Welsh.

The lawyer said to the judges, “My lords, the woman does not know her tropes, nor her figures, nor does she perfectly understand the academic derivation of grammatical elocution.”

In other words: Vittoria does not understand the use of rhetorical devices and figures of speech and the art of public speaking.

Francisco de Medici said, “Sir, your pains shall be well spared, and your deep eloquence shall be worthily applauded among those who understand you.”

This was a small group, at best, and better described as those who pretend to understand you.

He was dismissing the lawyer.

The lawyer started to object, “My good lord —”

Francisco de Medici scornfully interrupted, “Sir, put up your papers in your fustian bag —”

He was punning. “Fustian” is 1) a kind of durable cloth, or 2) pompous speech.

He then said, “I ask your pardon, sir, your lawyer’s bag is made of buckram, and I ask you to accept my notion of your learned verbosity.”

Lawyer’s bags were commonly made of the material called buckram.

The lawyer said, “I most graduatically thank your lordship: I shall have use for my pains elsewhere.”

“Graduatically” meant “like a graduate.”

The lawyer exited.

Cardinal Monticelso said to Vittoria, “I shall be plainer with you, and paint out your follies in more natural red and white than that upon your cheek.”

He meant that he would talk more plainly than the lawyer had. He was also saying that Vittoria was wearing paint — cosmetics.

Vittoria said, “Oh, you are mistaken! You raise a blood as noble in this cheek as ever was your mother’s.”

In other words: You, Cardinal Monticelso, make me angry, and so my face becomes as red as ever was your mother’s.

Cardinal Monticelso replied, “I must spare you for what you just said and not punish you until the evidence cries ‘whore’ to you.”

Speaking as the prosecutor, Cardinal Monticelso said to the judges, “Observe this creature here, my honored lords, a woman of most prodigious spirit in her effected.”

He was punning. One meaning of the sentence was that Vittoria was a woman of great courage — courage that had been produced in her.

But the word “spirit” could also mean semen, and the word “effected” could also mean ejaculated.

Vittoria said, “My honorable lord, it does not suit a reverend cardinal to play the lawyer thus.”

Cardinal Monticelso said to her, “Oh, your trade instructs your language!”

He then said to the judges, “You see, my lords, what goodly fruit she seems to be. Yet like those apples that travellers report to be growing where Sodom and Gomorrah stood, I will only touch her, and you immediately shall see she’ll fall to soot and ashes.”

Deuteronomy 32:32 states, “For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter” (King James Version).

Sir John Mandeville wrote this in his Travels:

By the side of this sea grow trees that bear apples fine of color and delightful to look at; but when they are broken or cut, only ashes and dust and cinders are found inside, as a token of the vengeance that God took on those five cities [including Sodom and Gomorrah] and the countryside round about, burning them with the fires of Hell.

Vittoria said, “Your envenomed apothecary should do it.”

In other words: Your venomous apothecary should be able to poison me and turn my insides to soot and ashes.

Cardinal Monticelso said, “I am positive that if there were a second paradise to lose, this devil would betray it.”

He was calling Vittoria a second Eve.

Vittoria said, “Oh, poor Charity! Thou are seldom found in scarlet.”

Cardinals wore scarlet; so did lawyers.

Cardinal Monticelso said, “Who doesn’t know that, when often night by night her gates were choked with coaches, and her rooms outbraved the stars with several kinds of lights, when she did counterfeit a prince’s court in music, banquets, and most riotous surfeits, this whore indeed was ‘hole-y’?”

Vittoria said, “Ha! Whore! What’s that?”

Cardinal Monticelso said, “Shall I expound ‘whore’ to you? Surely I shall. I’ll describe the character of whores perfectly.

“They are first, sweetmeats that rot the eater.”

Whores give men venereal diseases.

He continued, “In man’s nostrils they are poisoned perfumes.

“They are cozening alchemy, and shipwrecks in calmest weather.”

Many alchemists were swindlers, although some were honest seekers after scientific knowledge. In Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist, swindlers persuade a sucker to invest vast sums of money in an attempt to create a philosopher’s stone that would turn base metals such as lead and iron into valuable metals such as silver and gold.

Cardinal Monticelso continued:

“What are whores!

“They are cold Russian winters, which appear so barren that it is as if nature had forgotten the spring.

“They are the true material fire of hell.

“They are worse than those tributes in the Low Countries — the Netherlands — paid, exactions upon meat, drink, garments, sleep, and aye, even on man’s perdition, his sin.”

Taxes on some products in the Netherlands sometimes equaled or exceeded the value of the product being purchased.

The cause of man’s perdition, according to what Cardinal Monticelso was saying, is prostitution. Also according to the cardinal, in the Netherlands even prostitution was taxed.

Cardinal Monticelso continued, “Whores are those brittle evidences of law, which forfeit all a wretched man’s estate for leaving out one syllable.”

Sir Walter Raleigh lost his Sherbourne estate because of clerical errors.

Cardinal Monticelso continued:

“What are whores!

“They are those flattering bells that all have one tune at weddings and at funerals.

“Your rich whores are only treasuries filled by extortion, and emptied by cursed riot.

“They are worse, worse than dead bodies that are begged at gallows, and wrought upon by surgeons, to teach man in what respect he is imperfect.”

Surgeons could beg for the corpses of hanged criminals so that they could dissect them and learn about the human body.

Cardinal Monticelso continued:

“What’s a whore!

“She’s like the guilty counterfeited coin, which, whoever first stamps it, brings into trouble all who receive it.”

Vittoria said, “This character escapes me. I don’t understand it.”

Cardinal Monticelso said, “This character is you, gentlewoman!

“Take from all beasts and from all minerals their deadly poison —”

Vittoria interrupted, “Well, what then?”

Cardinal Monticelso said, “I’ll tell thee. I’ll find in thee an apothecary’s shop, to sample them all.”

According to Cardinal Monticelso, every poison can be found in the body of a whore.

The French ambassador said, “She has lived ill — she has behaved badly.”

The English ambassador said, “True, but the cardinal’s too bitter.”

Cardinal Monticelso said, “You know what a whore is. After the devil Adultery, enters the devil Murder.”

He believed that Vittoria was guilty of adultery (being a whore) and of murder.

Francisco de Medici said to Vittoria, “Your unhappy husband is dead.”

Vittoria said, “Oh, he’s a happy husband! Now he owes nature nothing.”

Each of us owes a debt to nature. That debt is our death. (In this society, “debt” was pronounced much like “death.”)

Francisco de Medici said, “And he died by a vaulting horse.”

Cardinal Monticelso said, “It was an active plot; he jumped into his grave.”

Francisco de Medici said, “What a prodigy was it, that from some two yards’ height, a slender man should break his neck!”

Cardinal Monticelso said, “In the rushes!”

In this society, rushes were strewn on the floor as a kind of floor covering.

Francisco de Medici said, “And what’s more, upon the instant he lost all use of speech and all vital motion, like a man who had lain in a winding sheet — a shroud — three days. Now note each circumstance of his death.”

Cardinal Monticelso said, “And look upon this creature who was his wife! She comes not like a widow; she comes armed with scorn and impudence. Is this mourning-clothing you are wearing?”

It was not.

Vittoria said, “If I had foreknown that my husband would die, as you suggest, I would have ordered my mourning clothing.”

“Oh, you are cunning!” Cardinal Monticelso said.

Vittoria replied, “You shame your wit and judgment to call it so. What! Is my just defense called impudence by him who is my judge? Let me appeal then from this Christian court to the uncivilized Tartar.”

She believed that she was not receiving a fair trial.

Cardinal Monticelso said, “See, my lords. She defames our proceedings.”

Vittoria knelt and said, “Humbly thus, thus low to the most worthy and respected lieger ambassadors, my modesty and womanhood I tender; but, in addition, so entangled in a cursed accusation, that my defense, of necessity, like Perseus has done, must emblematically represent masculine virtue.

“Let me get to the point: If you find me guilty, then sever my head from my body, and we’ll part good friends.”

She stood up, looked at Cardinal Monticelso, and said, “I scorn to hold my life at yours, or any man’s entreaty, sir.”

The English ambassador said, “She has a brave spirit.”

“Well, well,” Cardinal Monticelso said, “such counterfeit jewels make true ones often suspected.”

“You are deceived,” Vittoria replied.

She said to the judges, “For know that all your strict, combined heads, which strike against this mine of diamonds, shall prove to be only glass hammers. They shall break. These are but feigned shadows of my ‘evils.’”

The heads were 1) hammerheads, and 2) armies.

Vittoria continued, “Terrify babes, my lord, with painted devils: I am past such needless palsy — such needless shivering with fear.

“As for your names of ’whore’ and ’murderess,’ they proceed from you, as if a man should spit against the wind — the filth returns in his face.”

Cardinal Monticelso said, “I ask you, mistress, to answer for me one question: Who lodged beneath your roof that deadly night your husband broke his neck?”

Brachiano said, “That question forces me to break my silence. I was there.”

Cardinal Monticelso asked, “What was your business there?”

Brachiano replied, “Why, I came to comfort her, and take some course of action for settling her estate because I heard that her husband was in debt to you, my lord.”

Cardinal Monticelso said, “He was in debt to me.”

Brachiano said, “And it was strangely feared that you would cheat her.”

Cardinal Monticelso asked, “Who made you the overseer of the estate?”

Brachiano said, “Why, my charity, my charity, which should flow from every generous and noble spirit to orphans and to widows.”

Cardinal Monticelso said, “Your lust!”

Brachiano said, “Cowardly dogs bark loudest. Sirrah priest, I’ll talk with you hereafter. Do you hear?”

His calling the cardinal “sirrah” was an insult.

Brachiano continued, “The sword you frame of such an excellent temper, I’ll sheath in your own bowels.”

The sword was the sword of justice, although Brachiano would probably call it a sword of injustice when it was in Cardinal Monticelso’s hands.

The word “temper” referred to the cardinal’s state of mind and the sword’s state of hardness and elasticity.

Brachiano continued, “There are a number of thy coat who resemble your common post-boys.”

His use of the word “thy” to apply to the cardinal was insulting.

“Post-boys” are letter carriers who ride horses.

Cardinal Monticelso snorted, “Ha!”

Brachiano replied, “Your mercenary post-boys. Your letters carry truth, but it is your practice to fill your mouths with gross and impudent lies.”

He started to leave, leaving behind the garment on which he had been sitting.

A servant said, “My lord, your gown.”

The gown was a loose upper garment that men wore.

Brachiano replied, “Thou lie — it was my stool. Bestow it upon thy master, who will claim the rest of the household-stuff, for Brachiano was never so beggarly to take a stool out of another’s lodging. Let thy master make a valance for his bed out of it, or a demi-footcloth for his most reverend moil.”

A demi-footcloth is a half-length cloth placed on a horse or mule to help protect its rider from mud and dust.

A moil is a hornless cow. Cardinals customarily rode on mules.

The word “moil” can also mean “tumult” or “drudgery” or “mud and mire.”

Brachiano continued, “Monticelso, nemo me impune lacessit.”

[“Monticelso, no one provokes me with impunity.”]

He exited.

Cardinal Monticelso said, “Your champion’s gone.”

Vittoria replied, “The wolf may prey the better.”

Chances are, she was punning on “pray.”

Francisco de Medici said, “My lord, there’s great suspicion about the murder, but no sound proof who did it. For my part, I do not think she has a soul so black to do a deed so bloody; if she has, as in cold countries husbandmen plant vines, and with warm blood manure them, then even so one summer she will bear unsavory fruit, and before next spring wither both branch and root.”

Blood meal is powdered dried animal blood; it used as a fertilizer to boost the nitrogen level in soil.

He continued, “Let pass the act of blood and only descend to matters of incontinence.”

He was advocating that Vittoria not be tried for the crime of murder — just for adultery. Incontinence is being unable to control oneself; in the case of adultery, it is being unable to control one’s lust.

Vittoria said, “I discern poison under your gilded pills.”

Imagine a poisoned pill covered with gold foil. Its appearance is much different from its reality. Vittoria knew that Francisco de Medici was not her friend. If anything, he was playing good cop to the cardinal’s bad cop.

Cardinal Monticelso said, “Now that the Duke of Brachiano’s gone, I will produce a letter wherein it was plotted that he and you should meet at an apothecary’s summer-house, down by the River Tiber.”

He produced the letter and gave it to the judges, saying, “View it, my lords, where after wanton bathing and the heat of a lascivious banquet — please read it, I am ashamed to speak out loud the contents of the rest of the letter.”

Vittoria said, “Grant that I was tempted, but temptation to lust does not prove that the act of lust was committed: Casta est quam nemo rogavit.”

The Latin words meant, “She is chaste whom no man has asked.” They were from Ovid’s AmoresI.viii.43.

This seems an odd quotation to say because the letter would seem to be an invitation to commit adultery in the summer-house.

Vittoria, however, continued, “You read his hot love to me, but you lack my frosty answer to him.”

Her point may have been that no one was asking her for her testimony and evidence. The trial had a person to prosecute her, but it had no one to represent her and defend her — Cardinal Monticelso had waited until after Brachiano had exited to present this letter to the judges. If Vittoria were not given a fair trial and were not asked to give her testimony and present her evidence, then the assumption ought to be that she is chaste.

So far, many accusations had been made, but until this letter was produced, no real evidence had been presented — and the letter was at best circumstantial evidence: As Vittoria pointed out, it did not prove that she had committed adultery.

Cardinal Monticelso said, “Frost in the dog-days! Strange!”

The dog-days are the hottest days of summer in the Northern Hemisphere.

Vittoria said, “Do you condemn me because the Duke of Brachiano loved me? So may you blame some fair and crystal river because some melancholic, mentally disturbed man drowned himself in it.”

She meant drowned in water.

Cardinal Monticelso said, “Truly drowned, indeed.”

He meant drowned in lust.

Vittoria said, “Sum up my faults, I ask you, and you shall find that beauty and gay clothes, a merry heart, and a good appetite to feast, are all, all the poor crimes that you can charge me with. Truly, my lord, you might go shoot flies — the sport would be nobler.”

“Very good,” Cardinal Monticelso said sarcastically.

Vittoria said, “But take your course. It seems you’ve beggared me first, and now are eager to ruin me. I have houses, jewels, and a poor remnant of gold and silver Portuguese crusadoes — coins decorated with a cross.

“I wish those would make you charitable!”

Cardinal Monticelso said, “If the devil did ever take good shape, behold his picture.”

He was saying that she was the image of the devil.

Of course, this was not a compliment, as Vittoria now acknowledged: “You have one virtue left, and that is that you will not flatter me.”

Francisco de Medici asked, “Who brought you this letter?”

Vittoria replied, “I am not compelled to tell you.”

Cardinal Monticelso said, “My lord Duke of Brachiano sent to you a thousand ducats on the twelfth of August.”

Vittoria replied, “It was to keep your nephew — my husband — from being imprisoned; I paid interest for it.”

Cardinal Monticelso said, “I rather think that it was interest for his lust.”

“Who says so but yourself?” Vittoria said. “If you are my accuser, please cease to be my judge. Come away from the bench. Give your evidence against me, and let these lieger ambassadors be the moderators.”

Certainly, Cardinal Monticelso was a biased judge. He had already made up his mind that she was guilty.

Vittoria continued, “My lord cardinal, if your intelligencing — spying — ears were so long as to reach to my thoughts, if you had an honest tongue, I would not care even if you proclaimed out loud all my thoughts.”

Cardinal Monticelso said, “Bah! Bah! After your goodly and vainglorious banquet, I’ll give you a choke-pear.”

A choke-pear is a bitter, difficult-to-swallow fruit.

Vittoria asked, “Of your own grafting?”

In slang, because of its shape, a pear is a penis plus a scrotum. In grafting a branch to a different plant, a shoot is inserted into a slit so that sap can travel from one to the other. You can guess what the shoot, slit, and sap represent.

Cardinal Monticelso said, “You were born in Venice, honorably descended from the Vittelli family. It was my nephew’s fate, ill may I name the hour, to marry you. He bought you from your father.”

“Ha!” Vittoria said scornfully.

Cardinal Monticelso said, “He spent twelve thousand ducats there in six months, and (to my knowledge) received in dowry with you not one julio.”

A julio was a coin struck by Pope Julius II.

Cardinal Monticelso continued, “It was a hard pennyworth, the ware being so light.”

The word “light” can mean promiscuous.

He continued, “I so far have only drawn back the curtain; now I go on to your picture: You came from thence a most notorious strumpet, and so you have continued.”

Vittoria said, “My lord!”

Cardinal Monticelso said, “Nay, hear me, you shall have time to prate. My Lord Brachiano — alas! I am only repeating what is ordinary gossip at the Rialto, a meeting place, and related in ballads, and would be played on the stage, except that vice many times finds such loud friends that preachers are charmed silent.”

Plays about sin often appear on the theatrical stage, but the friends of this particular vice — adultery — charm preachers and make them silent. Because of that, the preachers don’t preach against that sin on the stage that is their pulpit.

Cardinal Monticelso continued, “You, gentlemen — Flamineo and Marcello — the court has nothing now to charge you with, only you must remain upon your sureties for your appearance.”

Flamineo and Marcello needed sureties — people who would ensure that they would appear in court when ordered.

Francisco de Medici said, “I stand as surety for Marcello.”

Flamineo said, “And my lord Duke Brachiano stands as surety for me.”

Cardinal Monticelso said, “As for you, Vittoria, your public — widely known — fault, joined to the condition of the present time, takes from you all the fruits of noble pity, such a corrupted trial you have made both of your life and beauty, and been styled no less an ominous fate than blazing stars to princes.”

A fault can mean a crime or a sin.

Blazing stars — comets — were ominous signs for the great men and great women of the world.

Cardinal Monticelso continued, “Hear your sentence: You are confined to a house of convertites. And your bawd —”

Flamineo thought, Who, I? Is he talking about me?

Cardinal Monticelso continued, “— the Moor —”

Zanche, Vittoria’s woman-servant, was a Moor. Zanche would accompany Vittoria as she served her sentence.

Flamineo thought, Oh, I am a sound man again.

Vittoria interrupted, “A house of convertites! What’s that?”

Cardinal Monticelso answered, “A house of penitent whores.”

Vittoria asked, “Do the noblemen in Rome erect it for their wives? Is that why I am sent to lodge there?”

“You must have patience,” Francisco de Medici said.

“I must first have vengeance!” Vittoria replied. “I would like to know if you have your salvation by patent — by special decree — since you proceed this way.”

Vittoria was saying that rather than getting salvation through sincere repentance, Cardinal Monticelso and Francisco de Medici must have gotten their salvation through politics.

Cardinal Monticelso said, “Away with her. Take her away from here.”

Vittoria cried, “A rape! A rape!”

Cardinal Monticelso said, “What!”

Vittoria replied, “Yes, you have ravished — raped — justice and forced her to do your pleasure.”

Cardinal Monticelso said, “Bah, she’s mad —”

Vittoria said, “Die with those pills in your most cursed maw — those pills that ought to bring you health!”

A maw is the mouth of a voracious animal. The pills were the sentences that the cardinal had handed out without consulting the lieger ambassadors.

Vittorio continued, “Or while you sit on the bench, let your own spittle choke you!”

Cardinal Monticelso said, “She’s turned into a Fury.”

Vittoria said, “I wish that the last day — the Day of Judgment — may so find you, and leave you the same devil you were before!

“Instruct me, some good blood-sucker, to speak treason. For since you cannot take my life on account of my deeds, take my life on account of my words.

“Oh, woman’s poor revenge, which dwells only in the tongue!”

She would have preferred taking revenge at the end of a sword.

“I will not weep,” Vittoria continued. “No, I scorn to call up one poor tear to fawn on your injustice. Bear me away from here and to this house of — what’s your mitigating title?”

Cardinal Monticelso answered, “Of convertites.”

Vittoria said, “It shall not be a house of convertites. My mind shall make it honester to me than the Pope’s palace, and more peaceable than thy soul, though thou are a cardinal.

“Know this, and let it somewhat raise your spite,

“Through darkness diamonds spread their richest light.”

Vittoria considered herself to be a diamond.

A guard led her and Zanche away.

Brachiano entered the room and said to Francisco de Medici, “Now that you and I are friends, sir, we’ll shake handsat a friend’s grave together; it will be a fit place,being the emblem of soft peace, to atone our hatred.”

Brachiano knew that Isabella, who was his wife and Francisco de Medici’s sister, was dead.

“Sir, what’s the matter?” Francisco de Medici asked.

Brachiano did not answer the question, but he said, “I will not chase more blood from that loved cheek. You have lost too much already; fare you well.”

He exited.

Francisco de Medici said to himself, “How strange these words of his sound! What’s the interpretation?”

Flamineo, who had overheard his master’s words, said to himself, “Good! This is a preface to the discovery of the duchess’ death. He carries it well. Because now I cannot counterfeit a whining passion for the death of my lady, I will feign a mad humor because of the disgrace of my sister, and that will keep off idle questions. Treason’s tongue has a villainous palsy in it; I will talk to any man, hear no man, and for a time appear a politic madman.”

By pretending to have become mentally disturbed because of the disgrace of his sister, Flamineo would keep people from asking him questions he didn’t want to answer. He would be a politic madman — a “madman” with a cunning reason to be mad.

To Flamineo, it was easier to pretend to be insane than to pretend to feel sadness for Isabella’s death.

Young Giovanni and Count Lodovico entered the room. Both had been present when Isabella, young Giovanni’s mother, had died, as shown by the magic of the conjurer. Count Lodovico, according to the conjuror, had loved Isabella.

Francisco de Medici said, “How are you now, my noble nephew? What? Dressed in black!”

Young Giovanni replied, “Yes, uncle, I was taught to imitate you in virtue, and you must imitate me in the colors of your garments. My sweet mother is —”

Francisco de Medici asked, “How? Where?”

Young Giovanni said, “— is there.”

Francisco de Medici looked around.

Young Giovanni said, “No, yonder. Indeed, sir, I’ll not tell you, for I shall make you weep.”

Francisco de Medici asked, “Is she dead?”

“Do not blame me now,” young Giovanni said. “I did not tell you so.”

“She’s dead, my lord,” Lodovico said.

“Dead!” Francisco de Medici said.

Cardinal Monticelso said, “Blessed lady, thou are now above thy woes!”

He asked the resident ambassadors, “Will it please your lordships to withdraw a little?”

The ambassadors withdrew.

Young Giovanni asked, “What do the dead do, uncle? Do they eat, hear music, go hunting, and be merry, as we who live do?”

Francisco de Medici said, “No, nephew; they sleep.”

“Lord, Lord, I wish that I were dead!” young Giovanni said. “I have not slept these past six nights. When do they wake?”

“When God shall please,” Francisco de Medici answered.

“Good God, let her sleep always,” young Giovanni said, “for I have known her to stay awake a hundred nights, when all the pillow where she laid her head was salt-wet with her tears. I must complain to you, sir. I’ll tell you how they have treated her now she’s dead. They wrapped her in a cruel fold of lead, and they would not let me kiss her.”

A fold is a wrapping or an embrace. A fold of lead is a kind of lead wrapping-sheet, aka shroud.

Francisco de Medici asked, “Did thou love her?”

Young Giovanni said, “I have often heard her say she gave me suck, and it would seem by that she dearly loved me, since princes seldom do it.”

In this society, princes need not necessarily be male. Upper-class woman often did not suckle their own children; they used wet nurses instead to do that.

Francisco de Medici said, “Oh, all of my poor sister that remains!”

Isabella had only one child: young Giovanni.

Francisco de Medici ordered, “Take him away for God’s sake!”

An attendant led young Giovanni away.

Cardinal Monticelso asked, “How are you now, my lord?”

Francisco de Medici answered, “Believe me, I am nothing but her grave, and I shall keep her blessed memory longer than a thousand epitaphs.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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