'The White Devil'

  • Order/disorder
  • threats to society
  • Approaches/Cultural Materialist
  • political and social contextualisation
  • intellectual background to Webster's drama


How to Study a Renaissance Play: Marlowe, Webster, Johnson. Coles, Chris. MacMillan, 1988.

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  • Created by: Anagora
  • Created on: 20-04-13 15:26

Theme of Order and Disorder in 'The White Devil'


  • Just, ordered world/World running out of control

Character action demonstrating this:

Flamineo acting as the pander in Act I, ii

shows a disregard for Vittoria's honour

  • Flamineo gulling Camillo: the art of deception - where he encourages the adulterous liaison - acting as  go between

saying one thing and doing the other demonstrates a disregard for morality

  • this threatens ordered society - it is at odds with the creation of an ordered society


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'The White Devil'

Natural justice vs. Revenge

  • natural justice/ characters delivering their own form of justice - revenge
  • desire for revenge is a disruptive & destructive force
  • far from restoring order leads to a society which is chaotic and brutal

Cordelia chastises Flamineo for being a pander to his own sister

  • she stresses the vice and immorality of his actions
  • she tells Flamineo that people in high places, of high rank and status, should be aware of the influence their behaviour has on the world (ref: "setting dials" speech, Act 1, ii, (270))

Flamineo's response

  • A man must take his chances in the world even if it means following the path of deception and immorality
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Lodivico throws off personal responsibility too.

His viewpoint is clearly demonstrated in the opening scene in his "Fortunes's a right whore" speech:

  • No longer a belief in Providence
  • Everything is down to Fate - chance
  • because the world lacks natural justice, he believes; he feels entitled to take revenge into his own hands

Lodivico's influence is a dangerous one:

  • no regard for life
  • violent disposition
  • lacks a moral framework
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'The White Devil'

Act II opens with Monticelso upbraiding Brachianno for abusing his priviliged position, neglecting his duties in the pursuit of his adulterous relationship, Act II, i, (25 - 42).

Double standards

  • Monticelso  appears to want to pursue a moral order - to correct Brachianno's behaviour
  • Later, he acts deviously, setting Camillo off to rid the coast of pirates, so that with him out of the way the adulterous pair will be exposed
  • This plot will enable him to pursue full revenge on Brachianno and Vittoria

This piece of double-dealing has clear parallels with Flamineo's actions in Act I, ii, as the pander, where he hopes for advancement from the illicit relationship.

  • A gap, then, between the morals/ideals Monticelso preaches and the duplicity of his actions
  • By giving way to his baser instincts there is a sense of moral disorder and a corrupt society
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'The White Devil'

Hypocrisy of Monticelso

A desire for personal revenge, yet all the time whilst he is plotting his revenge he pontificates on the shortcomings of others.

  • This personal quality is unattractive
  • Not what we'd expect from a representative of justice and Christian values

Monticelso wants to expose Vittoria's "black lust" and make her "infamous to all our neighbouring kingdom," Act III, i, (7 - 8).

Injustice of Monticelso

Francisco dismisses the lawyer during Vittoria's trial and Monticelso takes over the prosecution himself attempting to discredit and abuse Vittoria. He puts her sexuality on trial.

She answers him with calm and dignity, emerging as a more worthy character than her accusers. She is brave and defiant in the face of corruption, whilst Monticelso in this mockery of a trial can be seen, in his language and attitude, to be the real villain.

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Monticelso's revenge

Monticelso tries to persuade the court that Vittoria is not the virtuous lady she seems.

Her outward appearance is a foil which hides a rotten and corrupt core, he argues. In his vitriol he compares her to corrupt and rotten fruit. The corruption lies beneath the surface, he says.

Appearances and Reality

Monticelso implies that Vittoria is the devil in disguise; he challenges, "she'll fall to soot and ashes," Act III, ii, (62-68).

There is something rather sinister and menacing about the way he offers to touch her to reduce her to "soot and ashes."

Monticelso, who supposedly represents moral order and correctness, appears to concern himself with the most unpleasant details of Vittoria's sexual nature, dwelling obsessively on the subject of her sexuality: hidden desires, perhaps, for that which he considers disgusting.



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Francisco's revenge

Bracchiano meets his fate at the hands of brutal and hellish tormentors, Lodivico and Gasparo, Francisco's henchmen.

Lodivico, for his own reasons, having loved Isabella, wants revenge for her death too. 

  • A parody of the last rites where Bracchiano is commended to hell, Act V, iii, (140 - 187)

A form of poetic justice for his evil-doing, we might argue, where the wicked are punished for their sins and the schemers are eventually caught in their own web of deceit.

Or, has the audience some sympathy for Bracchiano, despite his guilt? 

  • Revengers taking matters into their own hands
  • A world spinning out of control
  • In Christian belief, it's only God who ultimately has the right to mete out punishment
  • C16 audience would recognise that this is a disordered hellish world
  • Indeed, Vittoria having learned of Bracchiano's death says "O me! this place is hell" (187).


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