David Bruce: John Webster’s THE WHITE DEVIL: A Retelling — Act 4, Scene 3

— 4.3 —

Francisco de Medici met Lodovico, Gasparo, and six ambassadors. Lodovico and Gasparo were escorting the six ambassadors as they came from the conclave to elect a new pope. Some other people were present.

Francisco de Medici said to Lodovico, “So, my lord, I commend your diligence. Guard well the conclave, and as the order is, let none have conversation with the cardinals.”

No conversation was permitted because the cardinals ought not to be bothered for appeals to elect one or another cardinal to be the new pope.

Lodovico replied, “I shall, my lord.”

He then ordered some of the people around the ambassadors, “Make room for the ambassadors.”

Gasparo said, “They’re wondrously and splendidly dressed today. Why do they wear these different kinds of clothing?”

Lodovico said, “Oh, sir, the ambassadors are knights of several orders:

“That lord in the black cloak, with the silver cross, is Knight of Rhodes.

“The next is Knight of St. Michael.

“That ambassador is Knight of the Golden Fleece.

“The Frenchman, there, is Knight of the Holy Ghost.

“My Lord of Savoy is Knight of the Annunciation.

“The Englishman is Knight of the honored Garter, dedicated to their saint, St. George.

“I could describe to you their different institutions, with the laws annexed to their orders, except that time does not permit such a discourse.”

Francisco de Medici asked, “Where’s Count Lodovico?”

Lodovico answered, “Here, my lord.”

Francisco de Medici said, “It is on the point of dinner time. Marshal the cardinals’ service.”

Lodovico replied, “Sir, I shall.”

Several servants entered the room, carrying covered dishes.

Lodovico ordered a servant, “Wait, let me examine your dish. Who is this for?”

The servant replied, “For my Lord Cardinal Monticelso.”

Lodovico asked another servant, “Whose is this?”

The second servant replied, “For my Lord Cardinal of Bourbon.”

Lodovico examined each covered dish.

The French Ambassador asked, “Why does he examine the dishes? To observe what food has been prepared?”

The English Ambassador answered, “No, sir, he examines them to prevent any letters being conveyed in to bribe or to solicit the advancement of any cardinal.

“When first they enter the conclave, it is lawful for the ambassadors of princes to enter with them, and to make their suit for any man their prince likes best; but afterward, until a general election is held and the pope has been chosen, no man may speak with them.”

Lodovico ordered, “You who attend on the lord cardinals, open the window and receive their food.”

A conclavist — a person serving the cardinals as they elected a new pope — opened the window and said, “You must return the service: The lord cardinals are busy about electing the Pope. They have given over scrutiny and are fallen to admiration.”

The word “scrutiny” meant examining the votes. When there were not enough votes for one person to become pope, the cardinals fell to adoration: If enough cardinals turned to one cardinal and bowed or kneeled, that cardinal became the new pope. A two-thirds majority was needed for a cardinal to become pope.

Lodovico told the servants carrying covered dishes, “Away, away. Leave, leave.”

The servants exited.

Francisco de Medici said, “I’ll lay a thousand ducats you hear news of a new pope very quickly.”

A clamor sounded.

Francisco de Medici said, “Listen; surely, a new pope’s elected.

“Look, my Lord of Arragon appears on the church battlements.”

The Lord Cardinal of Arragon proclaimed in Latin:

Denuntio vobis gaudium magnum: Reverendissimus Cardinalis Lorenzo de Monticelso electus est in sedem apostolicam, et elegit sibi nomen Paulum Quartum.”

[“I announce to you with great joy: The Most Reverend Cardinal Lorenzo Monticelso has been elected to the Apostolic See, and he chose as the name for himself Paul IV.”]

Everyone shouted in Latin: “Vivat Sanctus Pater Paulus Quartus!

[“Long live the Holy Father Paul IV!”]

A servant said to Francisco de Medici, “Vittoria, my lord —”

Francisco de Medici quickly asked, “Well, what of her?”

The servant continued, “— has fled the city —”

Francisco de Medici said, “Ha!”

The servant finished, “— with Duke Brachiano.”

Francisco de Medici said, “Fled! Where’s the Prince Giovanni?”

The servant answered, “Gone with his father: Brachiano.”

Francisco de Medici ordered, “Let the Matron of the Convertites be arrested. Fled? Oh, damnable!”

The servant exited.

Francisco de Medici then said, “How fortunate are my wishes! Why, it was for just this I labored: I sent the letter to instruct him what to do.”

The letter had included a plan for helping Vittoria escape from the House of the Convertites.

Francisco de Medici continued, “Thy reputation, foolish Duke of Brachiano, I first have poisoned. I directed thee in the way to marry a whore; what can be worse?

“This follows:

“The hand must act to drown the passionate tongue.

“I scorn to wear a sword and prate of wrong.”

Francisco de Medici intended to take action to get revenge for the wrongs done to him rather than just complain.

Cardinal Monticelso, who was now Pope Paul IV and who was wearing the special clothing of a pope, arrived and said in Latin, “Concedimus vobis Apostolicam benedictionem, et remissionem peccatorum.”

[“We grant you the Apostolic blessing and forgiveness of sins.”]

Cardinal Monticelso, who was now Pope Paul IV, said, “My lord reports that Vittoria Corombona has stolen away from the House of Convertites by the means of Brachiano, and they have fled the city.

“Now, although this is the first day of our seat, we cannot better please the Divine Power than to sequester from the Holy Church these cursed persons. Make it therefore known that we pronounce excommunication against them both. All who are their family and friends in Rome we likewise banish. Let’s go.”

Everyone except Francisco de Medici and Lodovico exited.

Francisco de Medici said, “Come, dear Lodovico. Have you taken the sacrament to prosecute the intended murder?”

“With all constancy,” Lodovico said. “But, sir, I wonder you’ll engage yourself in person, because you are a great prince.”

Francisco de Medici said, “Don’t divert me from my course of action. Most members of his court are of my faction, and some are of my council. Noble friend, our danger shall be alike in this design. Let part of the glory be mine.”

Francisco de Medici took off his cap to honor Lodovico, and then he exited.

Cardinal Monticelso, who was now Pope Paul IV, had returned in time to see Francisco de Medici and Lodovico talking together. He askedLodovico, “Why did the Duke of Florence with such care labor to bring about your pardon? Tell me.”

Lodovico replied, “Italian beggars will explain that to you. These Italian beggars, begging for alms, order those they beg from, to do good for their own sakes.

“Or it may be that he spreads his bounty with a sowing hand, like kings, who many times give excessively — out of measure — not for desert so much, as for their pleasure.”

According to Lodovico’s reply, Francisco de Medici brought about the pardon either to do good for his own soul or out of generosity because he possessed so much wealth.

The newly elected Pope Paul IVsaid, “I know you’re cunning. Come, what devil was that you were raising?”

One meaning of the word “cunning” is “knowledgeable in occult matters.”

Lodovico asked, “Devil, my lord?”

The newly elected Pope Paul IVsaid, “I ask you, how does the Duke of Florence employ you? What do you do that caused his hat to fall to his knee with such compliment to you, when he departed from you?”

Lodovico said, “Why, my lord, he told me of a resty, sluggish, inactive Barbary horse that he would have liked to bring to the career, the sault, and the ring galliard.”

The metaphorical Barbary horse was Vittoria. The career, the sault, and the ring galliard were all actions that a good trainer taught a horse.

Lodovico said, “Now, my lord, I have a rare French rider.”

The French had an international reputation for riding well on horseback.

Riding well means giving the horse commands and having the commands obeyed.

The metaphorical French rider was Francisco de Medici, who gave Lodovico commands that Lodovico had promised to obey.

The newly elected Pope Paul IVsaid, “Take your heed, lest the jade break your neck.”

A jade can be 1) a bad horse, or 2) a bad woman.

He continued, “Do you put me off with your wild horse-tricks? Sirrah, you lie.

“Oh, thou are a foul black cloud, and thou threaten to be a violent storm!”

Lodovico replied, “Storms are in the air, my lord; I am too low to storm.”

He was a count, but dukes and popes ranked higher.

The newly elected Pope Paul IVsaid, “Wretched creature! I know that thou are fashioned for all ill, like dogs. Once dogs get blood, they’ll always kill.

“The talk you and Francisco de Medici had was about some murder, wasn’t it?”

Lodovico replied, “I’ll not tell you.”

He paused, thought, and then said, “And yet I don’t care greatly if I do, indeed, with this condition.

“Holy father, I come to you not as an informant and spy, but as a penitent sinner. What I utter is completely in confession, which, as you know, must never be revealed.”

This is true: What is said in confession must never be revealed.

The newly elected Pope Paul IVsaid, “You have gotten the better of me.”

Lodovico said, “Sir, I did love Brachiano’s duchess — the late Isabella — dearly, or rather I pursued — attended — her with hot lust, although she never knew about it. She was poisoned — I swear upon my soul she was poisoned. And I have sworn to avenge her murder.”

The way he could avenge her murder was to murder Brachiano. To do that, he would have to travel to Padua, where Brachiano was.

The newly elected Pope Paul IVasked, “You have sworn this to the Duke of Florence?”

“To him I have,” Lodovico replied.

The newly elected Pope Paul IVsaid, “Miserable creature! If thou persist in this, it is damnable.

“Do thou imagine that thou can slide on blood, and not be tainted with a shameful fall?

“Or, like the black and melancholic yew-tree, do thou think thou can root thyself in dead men’s graves, and yet prosper?

“Instruction to thee comes like sweet showers to over-hardened ground: They wet, but don’t pierce deep.

“And so I leave thee, with all the furies hanging around thy neck, until by thy penitence thou remove this evil, by conjuring from thy breast that cruel devil.”

The newly elected Pope Paul IV exited.

People in this society took eternal damnation seriously.

Lodovico said to himself, “I’ll give it up; I won’t commit murder. He says that it is damnable.

“Besides, I expected his support, by reason of the death of Camillo, his nephew.”

Francisco de Medici and a servant had arrived a few minutes earlier. Francisco de Medici had seen the newly elected Pope Paul IV and Lodovico talking together, and he worried that Pope Paul IV had said something that might cause Count Lodovico to lose his resolve to murder Brachiano.

Francisco de Medici asked the servant, “Do you know that count?”

“Yes, my lord,” the servant replied.

Francisco de Medici ordered, “Carry for him these thousand ducats to his lodging. Tell him the newly elected pope has sent them. Perhaps that will confirm more than all the rest. Perhaps the money will outweigh any words that have been spoken.”

He gave the servant the money and then exited.

The servant went over to Lodovico and said, “Sir.”

Lodovico asked, “Are you talking to me, sir?”

The servant said, “His Holiness has sent you a thousand crowns, and he wants you, if you travel, to make him your patron for intelligence.”

Sometimes, people such as popes or other high-ranking people would subsidize someone’s travel as a way to gain information about the countries they were visiting.

Lodovico replied, “I am his creature always to be commanded. I will do what he wants.”

He then said to himself, “Why, now it has come about. He vehemently criticized me, and yet these crowns were counted out, and laid ready, before he knew about my voyage.

“Oh, the art, the modest outside appearance of greatness!

“Great ones sit, like brides at wedding-dinners, with their looks turned away from the least wanton jests, their weak stomach sick of the modesty, when their thoughts are loose and unchaste, even performing in their imagination those hot and lustful sports that are to ensue about midnight. Such is the new Pope Paul IV’s cunning!

“He sounds my depth thus with a golden plummet.”

The golden plummet was the thousand ducats.

He continued, “I am doubly armed now.”

Lodovico believed that he had the support of both Francisco de Medici and the new Pope Paul IV.

He continued, “Now to the bloody act of murder.

“There’s only three Furies found in spacious hell,

“But in a great man’s breast three thousand dwell.

The three avenging goddesses known as the Furies were Tisiphone, Megaera, and Alecto.

The furies in a great man’s breast are things such as murderous thoughts.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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