David Bruce: John Webster’s THE WHITE DEVIL: A Retelling — Act 5, Scene 1

— 5.1 —

In Padua, Brachiano, Flamineo, Marcello, Hortensio, Vittoria Corombona, Cornelia, Zanche, and others, including the six ambassadors, walked by in a procession. Brachiano and Vittoria had just been married.

Flamineo and Hortensio remained behind as the other members of the procession exited.

Flamineo was the brother of Marcello and Vittoria, and he served as secretary to Brachiano.

Hortensio was one of Brachiano’s officers.

“In all the weary minutes of my life, day never dawned until now,” Flamineo said. “This marriage confirms me to be a happy man.”

Hortensio said, “It is a good assurance of financial and political security.”

Flamineo now was brother-in-law to a powerful man: the Duke ofBrachiano.

Hortensio asked, “Have you seen yet the Moor who’s come to court?”

“Yes,” Flamineo said, “and I spoke with him in the Duke of Brachiano’s private room. I have not seen a more handsome person, nor have I ever talked with a man better experienced in state affairs or the rudiments of war. He has, according to reports, served the Venetian in Crete these fourteen years, and he has been chief in many a bold military campaign.”

“Who are those two who bear him company?” Hortensio asked.

Flamineo answered, “Two noblemen of Hungary, who, living in the emperor’s service as commanders, eight years ago, contrary to the expectation of the court, entered into religion, in the strict Order of Capuchins. But being not well settled in their undertaking, they left their Order, and returned to court; for which, being afterward troubled in conscience, they vowed their service against the enemies of Christ, went to Malta, were there knighted, and in their return back, at this great solemnity, they are resolved forever to forsake the world and settle themselves in a house of Capuchins here in Padua.”

The Capuchins were an offshoot of the Franciscans.

“It is strange,” Hortensio said.

Flamineo said, “One thing makes it so: They have vowed forever to wear, next to their bare bodies, those coats of mail they served in.”

Some penitents vowed to wear shirts made of horsehair next to their skin, but these ex-military men would wear armor next to their skin.

“That is a hard penance!” Hortensio said. “Is the Moor a Christian?”

“He is,” Flamineo said.

“Why does he offer his service to our duke?” Hortensio asked.

Flamineo answered, “Because he understands there’s likely to grow some wars between us and the Duke of Florence, in which he hopes to find employment.

“I never saw one in a stern bold look wear more command, nor in a lofty phrase express more knowing, or deeper contempt of our slight airy courtiers as if he travelled all the princes’ courts of Christendom. In all things he strives to express that all who would dispute with him may know that worldly glories, like glow-worms, shine bright from far off, but looked at from a near distance, have neither heat nor light.”

He looked up, saw Brachiano coming, and said, “The duke.”

Brachiano arrived, along with the three newcomers to the court: the Moor and the two noblemen of Hungary. The newcomers had an attendant with them. Also arriving were Carlo and Pedro and some other attendants.

Events would show that the newcomers to the court were in disguise.

The Moor, who was called Mulinassar, was actually Francisco de Medici in disguise. The two noblemen of Hungarywere actually Lodovico and Gasparo in disguise. Antonelli was also in disguise and was serving as an attendant.

Events would also show that Carlo and Pedro, although they served in Brachiano’s court, were actually loyal to Francisco de Medici, who had placed them there as informants to him.

Brachiano said to the newcomers, “You are nobly welcome. We have heard fully about your honorable service against the Turk — the Ottoman sultan — our enemy.

“To you, brave Mulinassar, we assign a suitable pension, and we are inwardly sorry that the vows of those two worthy Hungarian gentlemen make them unable to accept our proffered bounty.

“Hungarians, your wish is that you may leave your warlike swords as monuments — tokens of your vow — in our chapel. I accept it as a great honor done to me, and I must ask your leave to contribute your presence during our new duchess’ revels.

“Only one thing, as the last vanity — worldly pleasure — you ever shall view, don’t leave before seeing a barriers that has been planned for tonight.”

A barriers is a kind of martial tournament. Two men would fight with weapons — usually pike and sword — while separated by a waist-high barrier. Larger groups could also fight.

Brachiano continued, “You shall have private standings — you shall have a good place from which to see the contests.

“It has pleased the great ambassadors of several princes, in their return from Rome to their own countries, to grace our marriage, and to honor me with such a kind of sport.”

The disguised Francisco de Medici said, “I shall persuade the Hungarians to stay, my lord.”

Brachiano said to Flamineo and Hortensio,“Let’s set on there to the presence-room.”

The presence-room was a room in which a high-ranking person such as a duke received visitors.

Everyone exited except the conspirators against Brachiano.

Carlo said to the disguised Francisco de Medici, “My noble lord, you are most fortunately welcome.”

The conspirators embraced.

Carlo added, “You have our vows, sealed with the sacrament, to second your attempts and assist you.”

Pedro said, “And all things are ready. Brachiano could not have invented his own ruin (even if he had despaired and committed suicide) with more fitness.”

The disguised Lodovico said to the disguised Francisco de Medici, “You would not take my way of dealing with Brachiano.”

The disguised Francisco de Medici said, “My way is better ordered.”

The disguised Lodovico said, “I would have poisoned his prayer-book, or a set of beads, the pummel of his saddle, his looking-glass or the handle of his tennis racket — oh, I would have poisoned that, that!

“That way, while he had been bandying at tennis, he might have sworn himself to hell, and struck his soul into the hazard!”

The disguised Lodovico wanted to damn Brachiano’s soul and not just kill his body. If Brachiano’s tennis-racket handle were poisoned, he might play a game, grow angry and swear and die without repenting his sin.

The hazards in tennis were openings in the inner wall where tennis was played.

The disguised Lodovico continued, “Oh, my lord, I would have our plot against Brachiano be ingenious, and have it hereafter recorded as an example to be followed, rather than for us to borrow and follow someone else’s example.”

The disguised Francisco de Medici said, “There’s no way more effective than this way we have already thought through.”

The disguised Lodovico said, “Onward, then.”

The disguised Francisco de Medici said, “And yet I think that this revenge is poor because it steals upon him like a thief: To instead have taken him by the helmet in a pitched battlefield, led him to Florence —”

The disguised Lodovico interrupted, “It would have been splendid, and there to have crowned him with a wreath of stinking garlic, to have shown the harshness of his government and the rankness of his lust.”

He looked up, saw people coming, and said, “Flamineo comes.”

The disguised Lodovico,the disguised Gasparo, the disguised Antonelli, Carlo, and Pedro exited, leaving behindthe disguised Francisco de Medici, who remained quiet and was not noticed at first by the new arrivals: Flamineo, Marcello, and Zanche.

Flamineo, Marcello, and Vittoria were brothers and sister.

Marcello said, “Tell me why this devil haunts you?”

The devil was Zanche, Vittoria’s woman-servant. She was a Moor.

Moors were dark-skinned, and this society regarded the devil as being black.

Flamineo replied, “I don’t know. For by this light, I do not conjure for her. It is not so great a cunning as men think, to raise the devil; for here’s one up already. The greatest cunning would be to lay him down.”

In this context, “cunning” is magic or conjuring.

He was joking. He had put his hands on his crouch and pretended to have an erection as he talked about conjuring the devil down.

“She is your shame,” Marcello said.

In this society, dark skin was regarded as ugly.

“I ask thee to pardon her,” Flamineo replied. “Truly, you see, women are like burs: Wherever their affection throws them, there they’ll stick.”

Seeing Francisco de Medici, who was disguised as a Moor, Zanche said, “That is my countryman, a handsome person. When he’s at leisure, I’ll discourse with him in our own language.”

Flamineo said, “I hope you do.”

Zanche exited.

Flamineo then said to the disguised Francisco de Medici, “How is it with you, brave soldier? Oh, I wish that I had seen some of your iron days — your days in armor! I ask you to relate some of your military service to us.”

The disguised Francisco de Medici replied, “It is a ridiculous thing for a man to be his own chronicler. I did never wash my mouth with my own praise, for fear of getting a stinking breath.”

Marcello said, “You’re too stoical. The Duke of Brachianowill expect other discourse from you.”

The Stoics had a poor opinion of fame. George Long (1800-1879) translated these lines from Book 4 of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations:

He who has a vehement desire for posthumous fame does not consider that every one of those who remember him will himself also die very soon; then again also they who have succeeded them, until the whole remembrance shall have been extinguished as it is transmitted through men who foolishly admire and perish. But suppose that those who will remember are even immortal,and that the remembrance will be immortal, what then is this to thee?

The disguised Francisco de Medici replied, “I shall never flatter him: I have studied man too much to do that. What difference is between the Duke of Brachianoand me? No more than between two bricks, all made of one and the same kind of clay, only it may be that one brick is placed on top of a tower, and the other brick may be placed in the bottom of a well, by mere chance. If I were placed as high as the duke, I should stick as fast, make as fair a show, and bear out weather equally.”

This sounds egalitarian, and the Stoics were in many ways egalitarian, but of course Francisco de Medici and Brachiano were both dukes. The disguised Francisco de Medici was the Duke of Florence. In addition, they were both fair skinned: Under his disguise, Francisco de Medic was light complexioned.

Flamineo said, “If this soldier had a patent to beg in churches, then he would tell them stories.”

The soldier was the disguised Francisco de Medici.

Disabled soldiers needed a permit to beg. If they were caught begging without a permit, they could be whipped.

Marcello said, “I have been a soldier, too.”

The disguised Francisco de Medici asked, “How have you thrived?”

Marcello replied, “Indeed, poorly.”

Previously, Marcello had served Francisco de Medici.

The disguised Francisco de Medici said, “That’s the misery of peace: Only outsides are then respected. As ships seem to be very great upon the river, the same ships seem to be very little upon the seas, so some men in the court seem to be Colossuses in a chamber, but the same men, if they came into the battlefield, would appear to be pitiful pigmies.”

Flamineo said, “Give me a fair room yet hung with arras, and some great cardinal to lug me by the ears, as his endeared favorite.”

An arras is a wall hanging that is often placed in front of an alcove. Behind an arras is often a good place to hide.

The disguised Francisco de Medici said, “And thou may do the devil knows what villainy.”

Flamineo said, “And safely.”

If he were a cardinal’s favorite, he would have a powerful ally.

“Right,” the disguised Francisco de Medici said. “You shall see in the country, during harvest-time, pigeons, although they destroy no matter how much corn, the farmer does not dare to present the fowling-piece to them. Why won’t the farmer shoot them? Because they belong to the lord of the manor; in the meantime, your poor sparrows, which belong to the Lord of Heaven, go into the cooking-pot for eating the farmer’s crops.”

“I will now give you some politic instruction,” Flamineo said. “The Duke of Brachiano says he will give you pension-money, but that’s only a bare promise. Get the promise in a legal contract signed by him. For I have known men who have returned after serving against the Turk: For three or four months they have had pension-money to buy themselves new wooden legs and fresh bandages, but after these three or four months, no pension-money was to be had. And this miserable courtesy is as if a tormentor should give hot cordial drinks to a person who is three-quarters dead on the rack, only to fetch the miserable soul again to endure more dog-days.”

The poor soul would be revived only for the purpose of enduring more torture.

Hortensio, Zanche, a young lord, and two other people entered the scene.

Flamineo asked, “How are you now, gallants? Are they ready for the barriers?”

“Yes, “ the young lord answered. “The lords are putting on their armor.”

The disguised Francisco de Medici exited.

Hortensio asked about him, “Who’s he?”

“A new upstart,” Flamineo said. “One who swears like a falconer and will lie in the duke’s ear day by day, like a maker of almanacs; and yet I have known him, since he came to the court, to smell worse of sweat than an under tennis-court keeper.”

Almanacs, which included weather predictions, were regarded as unreliable. Astrologers, who made almanacs, were also often unreliable.

Hortensio said to Flamineo about Zanche, “Look, yonder’s your sweet mistress.”

Flamineo replied, “Thou are my sworn brother, and so I’ll tell thee that I do love that Moor, that witch, very constrainedly.”

“Very constrainedly” does not mean “full-heartedly.”

He continued, “She knows some of my villainy. I love her just as a man holds a wolf by the ears; except for the fear of her turning upon me, and pulling out my throat, I would let her go to the devil.”

A proverb stated, A man who holds a wolf’s ears will be bitten; a man who lets go of the wolf’s ears will be killed.

Hortensio said, “I hear she claims marriage from thee.”

Flamineo said, “Indeed, I made to her some such dark promise; and, in seeking to fly from it, I run on, like a frightened dog with a bottle at its tail, a dog that would like to bite it off, and yet does not dare to look behind him.”

Zanche walked over to them, and Flamineo said, “Now, my precious gypsy.”

Zanche replied, “Aye, your love to me rather cools than heats.”

Flamineo said, “By the Virgin Mary, I am the sounder lover because of it; we have many wenches about the town who heat too fast.”

To heat too fast can mean to become lustful too fast, but some sexually transmitted infections cause the sufferer to feel heat in the genital area, legs, and/or buttocks.

Hortensio asked, “What do you think of these perfumed gallants, then?”

Flamineo said, “Their satin cannot save them: I am confident that they have a certain spice — a hint — of the disease, for they who sleep with dogs shall rise with fleas.”

The disease is syphilis.

Zanche said, “Believe it, a little paint and gay clothes make you loathe me.”

She meant that he would fall or had fallen for a woman wearing makeup and gay clothing and so he did or would hate her.

Flamineo said, “What! Love a lady because of her makeup or gay apparel? I’ll unkennel — release — one example more for thee. Aesop had a foolish dog that let go of the flesh in order to attempt to catch the shadow; I would have courtiers be better diners.”

Zanche asked, “You remember your oaths?”

Flamineo said, “Lovers’ oaths are like mariners’ prayers, uttered in extremity; but when the tempest is over, and when the vessel stops tumbling, they fall from protesting — promising — to drinking.”

Sailors pray to God and make promises in the middle of a storm when they fear for their lives, but once the storm is over, they go back to their regular practice of drinking.

A woman can be regarded as a vessel, and tumbling can be done in bed. Some men make promises to get a woman in bed, but after the sex is over they forget their promises and go back to drinking.

Flamineo continued, “And yet, among gentlemen, protesting and drinking go together, and agree as well as shoemakers and Westphalia bacon: They are both drawers on.”

Westphalia bacon is salted and draws on drink — consuming it incites one to drink — while shoemakers draw on shoes.

Flamineo continued, “For drink draws on protestation, and protestation draws on more drink. Is not this discourse better now than the morality of your sunburnt gentleman?”

The sunburnt gentleman was the disguised Francisco de Medici. Because he was disguising himself as a Moor, he had darkened his face.

Cornelia, the mother of Flamineo, Marcello, and Vittoria, entered the scene, and said to Zanche, “Is this your perch, you haggard? Fly to the stews.”

A haggard is a wild female hawk; the stews are brothels.

Cornelia struck Zanche.

Flamineo said, “You should be clapped in irons by the heels now! You have dared to strike in the court!”

Intentionally striking someone hard enough to draw blood in the court was a serious offense that could result in paying a fine, serving time in prison, and having one’s right hand cut off.

Cornelia exited.

Zanche said, “She’s good for nothing but to make her maids catch cold at nights. They dare not use a bed-staff for fear of her light fingers.”

This kind of bed-staff belonged to a man who could keep the serving-women warm at night. Other kinds of bed-staffs were wooden slats laid across bed-stocks and a stick used to assist in making up a bed that had been placed in a recess.

Cornelia’s light fingers were employed in striking serving-women. Because she was an old woman, her blows were not heavy.

Marcello said, “You’re a strumpet — an impudent one.”

He kicked Zanche.

Flamineo asked, “Why do you kick her? Tell me. Do you think that she’s like a walnut tree? Must she be beaten before she bears good fruit?”

A proverb stated, “A woman, a dog, and a walnut tree, the more you beat them the better they be.” Sometimes, instead of a dog, the proverb mentioned an ass.

Beating a walnut tree makes walnuts fall from the tree. According to the proverb, beating a dog, ass, or woman brings about obedience.

The fruit a woman bears is a baby.

Marcello said, “She brags that you shall marry her.”

Flamineo said, “So what?”

Marcello said, “I had rather she were pitched upon a stake, in some new-seeded garden, to frighten her fellow crows away from there.”

Flamineo said, “You’re a boy, a fool. You be the guardian of your hound. I am of age and need no guardian.”

Marcello, who wanted Zanche to stay away from Flamineo, said, “If I take — capture — her near you, I’ll cut her throat.”

Flamineo asked, “With a fan of feathers?”

Marcello had been a soldier, but now he was in a court: A fan of feathers is something a courtier might possess.

Marcello replied, “And, as for you, I’ll whip this folly out of you.”

Flamineo asked, “Are you choleric? I’ll purge it with rhubarb.”

A choleric person is a bad-tempered person.

Hortensio said to Flamineo, “Oh, your brother!”

Flamineo replied, “Hang him! He wrongs me most, he who ought to offend me least.”

He then said to his brother, “I suspect my mother played foul play when she conceived thee.”

In other words, he was saying that he suspected that their mother had had an affair when she conceived Marcello, and so the two brothers did not have the same father.

Marcello said, “Now, by all my hopes, like the two slaughtered sons of Oedipus, the very flames of our affection shall turn two ways.”

Eteocles and Polynices were two brothers — the sons of Oedipus — who agreed to take turns ruling the city of Thebes. One brother was supposed to rule for a year, and then the other brother would rule for a year, and so on. Eteocles ruled for the first year, but then he refused to give up the throne so that his brother could rule for a year. Angry, Polynices gathered an army together and marched against Thebes, creating the story of the Seven Against Thebes. (The Seven were the seven main assailants: one for each of the seven gates of Thebes.) The two brothers killed each other in combat, and when their corpses were cremated together, the flame split in two over their corpses because even in death they were still angry at each other.

Marcello continued, “Those words I’ll make thee answer with thy heart-blood.”

Flamineo said, “Do, like the geese in the progress. You know where you shall find me.”

A progress is a journey undertaken by notables or armies. It would stop at night, and attract a lot of people. Such stops were good places for prostitutes — who were called geese — to conduct business.

Marcello said, “Very good.”

Flamineo exited.

Marcello said to the young lord, “If thou are a noble friend, bear him my sword, and ask him to find a sword the length of it.”

When peopledueled, they would use swords of the same length so that neither had an advantage.

The young lord said, “Sir, I shall.”

Everyone exceptZanche exited.

Seeing the disguised Francisco de Medici walking toward her, Zanche said, “He is coming! Go away, petty thoughts of my disgrace!”

One disgrace was the way she had been treated by Cornelia and by Marcello.

Another “disgrace” was the color of her skin. This culture did not regard dark complexions as beautiful.

She said to the disguised Francisco de Medici, “I never loved my complexion until now because I may boldly say, without a blush, I love you.”

The disguised Francisco de Medici replied, “Your love is untimely sown; there’s a spring at Michaelmas, but it is only a faint one. I am sunk in years, and I have vowed never to marry.”

Francisco de Medici was middle-aged, while Zanche was young.

Michaelmas is September 29, and in Italy the weather at that time may be spring-like for a while, but only a brief while because colder weather soon sets in.

“Alas!” Zanche said. “Poor maidens get more lovers than husbands, yet you may mistake — underestimate — my wealth. For, as when ambassadors are sent to congratulate princes, there’s commonly sent along with them a rich present, so that, although the prince may not like the ambassador’s person, nor the ambassador’s words, yet he likes well the present. So I may come to you in the same manner, and be better loved for my dowry than for my virtue.”

The disguised Francisco de Medici said, “I’ll think about the proposal.”

“Do,” Zanche replied. “I’ll now detain you no longer. At your better leisure, I’ll tell you things that shall startle your blood:

“Do not blame me because this passion I reveal;

“Lovers die inward when they their flames conceal.”

Zanche exited.

Alone, the disguised Francisco de Medici said to himself:

“Of all intelligence this may prove the best:

“Surely I shall draw strange fowl from this foul nest.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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