David Bruce: John Webster’s THE WHITE DEVIL: A Retelling — Act 5, Scene 2

— 5.2 —

Marcello and his mother, Cornelia, talked together. A page was present.

Cornelia said, “I hear a whispering all about the court: You are to fight. Who is your opposite?”

The duel was supposed to be held between Marcello and Flamineo, and so Flamineo was his opposite.

Cornelia also asked, “What is the quarrel about?”

Marcello said, “It is just an idle rumor.”

Cornelia said, “Will you dissemble and not tell me the truth? Surely you don’t do well to frighten me like this: You never look this pale except when you are very angry. I command you, upon my blessing — nay, I’ll call the duke, Brachiano, and he shall school you. He shall make you tell me.”

Marcello said, “Don’t make known a fear, which when revealed would convert to laughter: People will laugh at you if you tell them what you are afraid will happen. What you fear is not so.”

He saw the crucifix she was wearing around her neck and asked her, “Wasn’t this crucifix my father’s?”

“Yes, it was,” Cornelia replied.

Marcello said, “I have heard you say that while you were giving my brother suck that he took the crucifix between his hands, and broke a limb off.”

While Marcello was saying these words, Flamineo entered the room without being seen. He was holding Marcello’s sword.

“Yes, but that limb is now mended,” Cornelia said.

Flamineo said, “I have brought your weapon back.”

He ran Marcello through with the sword.

“Oh!” Cornelia shouted. “Oh, my horror!”

Mortally wounded, Marcello said, “You have brought it home, indeed.”

“Help!” Cornelia shouted. “Oh, he’s murdered!”

“Do you turn your gall up?” Flamineo said to Marcello. “I’ll go to sanctuary and send a surgeon to you.”

Flamineo was morbidly mocking Marcello. The gall bladder was regarded as the seat of anger, and Flamineo was pretending to be surprised that Marcello was angry. This society believed that an excess of blood was a cause of an illness that could be cured by bloodletting. Flamineo had just let blood out from Marcello’s body, and so Marcello ought to be happy because he was being medically treated.

In this society, a fugitive could go to a church and get sanctuary. As long as they were in the church, they could not be arrested.

Flamineo exited just before Hortensio, Carlo, and Pedro arrived.

“What!” Hortensio said, “Lying wounded on the ground!”

Marcello said, “Oh, mother, now remember what I said about the breaking of the crucifix! Farewell.

“There are some sins that heaven duly punishes in a whole family. This is what it is to rise by all dishonest means! Let all men know that a tree shall for a long time keep a steady foot if its branches spread no wider than the root.”

After saying this proverb against excessive ambition, he died.

“Oh, my perpetual sorrow!” Cornelia said.

“Virtuous Marcello!” Hortensio said. “He’s dead. Please leave him, lady. Come, you shall.”

Hortensio and Carlo pulled her away from the body of her son.

Cornelia objected, “He is not dead; he’s in a trance.”

She was wrong.

She continued, “Why, here’s nobody who shall get anything by his death. Let me call him again, for God’s sake!”

Carlosaid, “I wish that you were deceived.”

Certainly, Flamineo wanted Marcello dead.

Certainly, Marcello was dead.

Cornelia cried, “Oh, you abuse me! You abuse me! You abuse me! How many have gone away thus, for lack of medical attendance! Lift up his head! Lift up his head! His bleeding inward will kill him.”

Hortensio said, “You see that his soul has departed.”

Cornelia pleaded, “Let me come to him; give him to me as he is, if he has turned to earth. Let me but give him one hearty kiss, and you shall put us both in one coffin. Fetch a looking-glass: See if his breath will not stain it. Or pull out some feathers from my pillow, and lay them on his lips to see if he is breathing. Will you lose him for a little painstaking?”

Hortensio said, “Your kindest duty is to pray for him.”

Cornelia said, “I would not pray for him yet. He may live to lay me in the ground and pray for me, if you’ll let me come to him.”

Brachiano, completely armed, arrived with Flamineo and others, including the disguised Lodovico and the disguised Francisco de Medici. Some attendants were among those present.

Brachiano detached the beaver — the lower part of his helmet — set it aside, and asked Flamineo about the murder, “Was this your handiwork?”

Flamineo replied, “It was my misfortune.”

Cornelia said, “He lies! He lies! He did not kill him: These men have killed him — they would not let him be better looked after.”

Brachiano said, “Have comfort, my grieved mother-in-law.”

Cornelia replied, “Oh, you screech-owl!”

His existence made her angry. He was alive, while her son was not.

This society regarded screech-owls as birds of ill omen.

Hortensio said, “Don’t be like that, good madam.”

Cornelia cried, “Let me go! Let me go!”

She ran to Flamineo with her knife drawn, but coming to him, she let her knife fall.

She said, “May the God of heaven forgive thee! Don’t you wonder why I pray for thee? I’ll tell thee what’s the reason: I have scarcely enough breath and life left to number twenty minutes. I’d rather not spend that in cursing. Fare thee well. Half of thyself lies there” — she pointed to Marcello’s corpse — “and may thou live to fill an hourglass with his moldered, decayed-to-dust ashes to tell that thou should spend the time to come in blessed repentance!”

Brachiano said, “Mother-in-law, please tell me how he came by his death? What was the quarrel?”

Cornelia had lost one son; she did not want to lose her other son, so she lied for Brachiano and put the blame for the fight on Marcello.

Cornelia said, “Indeed, Marcello — my younger boy — presumed too much upon his manhood, gaveFlamineo bitter words, drew his sword first, and so, I don’t know how, for I was out of my wits, he fell with his head just in my bosom.”

The page, who was an eyewitness, said quietly, “That is not true, madam.”

Cornelia said quietly to the page, “I pray to thee, be quiet. One arrow’s lost already; it would be vain to lose this arrow, for that first arrow will never be found again.”

When an arrow was lost, the archer would sometimes shoot a second arrow in the same direction and at the same velocity in an attempt to find the first arrow.

Brachiano ordered some attendants, “Go, bear the body to Cornelia’s lodging. And we command that no one acquaint our duchess with this sad incident.”

This was his and her wedding day; he did not want her to mourn yet.

He then said, “As for you, Flamineo, listen — I will not grant your pardon.”

“No?” Flamineo asked.

Brachiano said, “I will grant you only a lease of your life; and that shall last for only one day. Thou shall be forced each evening to renew it, or be hanged.”

Every evening, Flamineo would have to humbly ask Brachiano to allow him to live for another day.

Flamineo replied, “At your pleasure.”

While everyone was distracted, the disguised Lodovico sprinkled Brachiano’s beaver with a poison.

The beaver is the lower part of a helmet; it is detachable.

Flamineo said to Brachiano, “Your will is law now, and I’ll not meddle with it.”

Brachiano said, “You once did defy me in your sister’s lodging: I’ll now keep you in awe for it.”

He was referring to the time that he had ordered Flamineo to get Vittoria, who was then in the House of Convertites.

Using the majestic plural, Brachiano looked around and asked, “Where’s our beaver?”

The disguised Francisco de Medici said quietly to himself, “He calls for his destruction.”

He then said out loud, pretending to be sad about Marcello’s death, “Noble youth, I pity thy sad fate!”

He then said quietly to himself, “Now to the barriers.”

He was looking forward to seeing that entertainment. Brachiano would put on his beaver there so he could participate.

The disguised Francisco de Medici then continued saying quietly to himself, “This shall further his passage to the black lake in hell: The last good deed Brachiano did, he pardoned murder.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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