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Duality in The White Devil Author(s): Susan H. Mc Leod Source: Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 20, No. 2, Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama (Spring, 1980), pp. 271-285 Published by: Rice University Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/450173 Accessed: 10/05/2010 04:39
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SEL, 20 (1980) ISSN 0039-3657

Duality in The White Devil


SUSAN H. Me LEOD In the past century one objection to the works of John Webster which has returned to foul his reputation decade after critical decade, as predictable as the swallows, is that his plays are formless, lacking constructional or thematic unity. For example, in 1888J. M. Symmonds, in his edition of Webster and Tourneur's plays, found that in Webster "the outlines of the fable, the structure of the drama as a complete work of art, seem to elude our grasp." In The White Devil "each part is etched with equal effort after luminous effect upon a murky background; and the whole play is a mosaic of these parts. It lacks the breadth which comes from concentration on a master-motive." William Archer, writing in the next decade, had harsher words: "Much might be said, if
space permitted, of Webster's construction. .
.

. Of dramatic

concen-

tration he did not dream." In the tragedies "the differentiation between romance and drama is still incomplete. They are not constructed plays, but loose-strung, go-as-you-please romances in dialogue."' We find these same complaints repeated in the present century with remarkable regularity: in the 1902 revision of that venerable reference book, the Chamber's Cyclopaedia of English Literature; by Rupert Brooke in the next decade; by T. S. Eliot in 1924; by Muriel Bradbrook in 1935; by Ian Jack in 1949; in the Folger Library General Reader's Edition of The Duchess of Malfi in 1959;2 and by Robert Ornstein in
Susan H. Me Leod teaches at San Diego State University. Her publications include a book on Webster and articles on Medieval and Renaissance literature; at present she is working on a rhetorical analysis of The Duchess of Malfi. 'J. M. Symmonds, ed.,John Webster and Cyril Tourneur: Four Plays (1888; rpt. New York: Hill and Wang, 1956), p. 15; William Archer, "Webster, Lamb, and Swinburne," New Review, 13(1893): 106. Archer in fact preferred Appius and Virginia to the tragedies, since it was "vastly superior to them in point of form." 2Chambers's Cyclopaedia of English Literature, ed. David Patrick (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1902); Rupert Brooke, John Webster and the Elizabethan Drama (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1917), pp. 79-80; T. S. Eliot, "Four Elizabethan Dramatists," Selected Essays, 1917-1932 (London: Faber and Faber, 1932), p. 98; Muriel Bradbrook, Themes and Conventions of Elizabethan Tragedy (1935; rpt. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1952), p. 186; IanJack, "The Case of John Webster," Scrutiny, 16(March 1949): 38-43; Louis B. Wright and Virginia A. LaMar, eds., The Tragedy of "The Duchess of Malfi" (New York: Washington Square Press, 1959), p. xi.

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1960, who speaks for a multitude when he says: "Although it is possible now to patronize the misguided William Archer, the specter of his criticism still hovers over Webster's plays. For however inadequate Archer's critical theories were, his attacks on the formlessness of Webster's tragedies contained an irreducible kernel of aesthetic truth."3 There have of course been a number of voices raised to contradict this critical chorus, finding unity where others found only chaos. Una Ellis-Fermor has pointed out that those who find Jacobean drama inferior to post-Ibsen drama because it lacks the same tight dramatic structure are not so different from eighteenth-century writers who were distressed because Shakespeare and his fellow-dramatists failed to observe the Unities. Each of the Jacobean playwrights "tends to make for himself a form which mirrors his thought, his comment upon events or people and their relations, rather than to select primarily a chronological sequence of events to make a pattern."4 Both H. T. Price and Cecil Davis have shown how Webster's dramatic and poetic structures are interrelated, achieving a union of figure and fable (what Price called "figure in word" and "figure in action") which integrates the disparate aspects of the tragedies into unified wholes.5 And a number of critics have seen in the plays at the very least a unity of tone or mood.6 But in spite of such efforts to lay the ghost of nineteenth-century criticism, we find that the opinions of Archer and Symmonds return periodically to haunt us still. What I propose to do here as a contribution to the ongoing exorcism is to argue for the presence of that very thing which Symmonds found The White Devil. This master-motive, lacking-a master-motive-in while it is not what the play is "about" (any more than Troilus and Cressida is "about" love and war), may nevertheless be taken as the organizing principle of the work. It is like the theme in a piece of music, stated and varied, sometimes obvious, sometimes subtle. This theme is, I submit, the duality suggested by the play's title-duality in the sense of duplicity (since "white devil" could mean simply "hypocrite"), and in the sense of dialectical opposition. It is this motif, expressed in presentational terms (that is, in both the verbal and the visual elements of the play), which serves as a sort of magnetic north towards which all the elements of the play point, and by which we as readers/viewers may chart our course.
3Robert Ornstein, The Moral Vision of Jacobean Tragedy (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1960), p. 128. 4Una Ellis-Fermor, The Jacobean Drama: An Interpretation, 4th edn. (London: Methuen, 1961), p. 30. 5Hereward T. Price, "The Function of Imagery in Webster," PMLA, 70(September 1955): 717-39; Cecil W. Davies, "The Structure of The Duchess of Malfi: An Approach," English, 12(1958): 89-93. 6For example, T. S. Eliot, "The Duchess of Malfy," Listener (December 18, 1941): 826; Frost, p. 31; Bradbrook, p. 212.

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For Jacobean writers a natural method of representing duplicity in dramatic terms was simple duplication, since in emblems and other iconographic devices of the period duplication was often used in this manner. The fickle goddess Fortuna, for example, was often referred to as "double," and depicted quite literally as two-faced; sometimes one face was beautiful, the other ugly, sometimes one face was black, the other white.7 Throughout The White Devil Webster uses duplication in a like manner to emphasize and restate the theme of duality. He gives us, for example, two physicians, two "Capuchins" who accompany Francisco to Bracciano's court, and two resident conspirators who join them there, two conspirators dressed "as captains" who help Flamineo murder Camillo, and two poisoners who kill Isabella. In each case only one figure would have served the purpose. The two physicians in attendance upon Bracciano, for example, are quite redundant, especially since only one of them speaks-either that, or we must imagine that they intone their professional opinion together: Brac. What say yon screech-owls, is the venom mortal? Phys. Most deadly.
(V.iii. 19_2O)8

Their function, like the function of the various pairs of conspiratorial murderers, is almost entirely iconographic, illustrating the duplicity that is everywhere in Bracciano's court as obviously as the two faces of Fortuna. Certain actions or scenes are also duplicated in the play. Monticelso has two persuasion scenes regarding revenge for Isabella's death (one the complete reverse of the other), Vittoria two arraignments (each with a letter for evidence), Isabella and Bracciano two divorce scenes, and
7Howard R. Patch, in The Goddess Fortuna in Mediaeval Literature (1927; rpt. New York: Octagon, 1974), p. 43, n. 3 and 4, cites a number of illustrations of such two-faced Fortunes, and prints an excellent example (pl. 1, facing p. 18) from Jean de Meun's translation of Boethius (Paris MS, Bibl. Nationale, Fr. 809, folio 40). Another accessible illustration may be found in The Complete Works of Shakespeare, ed. Hardin Craig, rev. David Bevington (Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1973), p. 24. The reproduction is identified as being from the Folger Shakespeare Library; the publishers have further identified it as from Boccaccio's Here begynneth the Boke of Johan Bochas Descrying the Fall of Princes . . ., 1527 (STC 3175). 8All references to the play are from The White Devil, ed. John Russell Brown, 2nd edn. (London: Methuen, 1966, rpt. 1968). I follow Brown's spelling of Bracciano's name. I do not mean to imply that the physicians had anything to do with Bracciano's death. These doctors seem to be simply representative of a profession Webster depicted everywhere as at best quacks (as the doctor who treats Ferdinand in The Duchess of Malfz, V. ii), at worst venal murderers (as Dr. Julio, who poisons Isabella in The White Devil, Il.i and ii).

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Flamineo two death scenes. There are two simultaneous schemes to get rid of Camillo, twice a supposedly dying man is harangued by two hypocritical tormenters, and twice a devious woman relates a dream of "you/ yew" to a man she is attempting to fascinate.9 Of these, none is more striking than the two divorce scenes of Act II, which are mirror images of each other. The scene begins with Isabella's declaration that she will try to win back her husband: As men to try the precious unicorn's horn Make of the powder a preservative circle And in it put a spider, so these arms Shall charm his poison, force it to obeying And keep him chaste from an infected straying. (II.i.14-18) Francisco orders her out. When she returns to face Bracciano alone her husband insults her, accuses her of what is in fact his own sin (dissemblance and planned adultery), and then, with peculiarly formal cruelty, declares his intent by kissing her and returning to her his wedding ring:

Your hand I'll kiss, This is the latest ceremony of my love, Henceforth I'll never lie with thee, by this, This wedding-ring: I'll ne'er more lie with thee. And this divorce shall be as truly kept, As if the judge had doom'd it: fare you well, Our sleeps are sever'd. Isa. Forbid it the sweet union Of all things blessed; why the saints in heaven Will knit their brows at that. Brac. Let not thy love

Brac.

9It should be noted that the opening and closing scenes of the play, while not duplicates, certainly seem to be meant as a pair. The play begins and ends with Lodovico and his followers. We begin with Lodovico's punishment for certain murders in Rome, bloody and full of horror; he dismisses his crimes as mere "flea-bitings," and threatens, "I'll make Italian cut-works in their guts / If ever I return" (I.i.52-53). We end with Lodovico's punishment for those very murders in Padua, shown rather graphically to be bloody and horrible, for which he is also boldly unrepentant. Pointed verbal references in both scenes to fortune (I.i.4; V.vi. 177-82, 252, 281), the hangman (I.i.56; V.vi. 192, 211), meteors and comets (I.i.25-26; V.vi.214), and to thunder and storms (Ii. 11-12; V.vi.248, 276), as well as the more obvious references to blood (I.i.31-32, 35; V.vi.226-29, 240-41, 281) serve to underscore the likeness. This pair of scenes serves both as framework and frame of reference for the play, showing us its violence, corruption, and duplicity.

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Make thee an unbeliever, - this my vow Shall never, on my soul, be satisfied With my repentance: let thy brother rage Beyond a horrid tempest or sea-fight, My vow is fixed. Isa. O my winding-sheet, Now shall I need thee shortly! dear my lord, Let me hear once more, what I would not hear, Never? Brac. Never. (II.i. 192-209) The Duchess then declares that to keep peace between her husband and brother she will make herself the author of this vow of divorce; she then repeats the little ceremony Bracciano had just enacted, gesture for gesture and almost word for word, for the benefit of Monticelso and Francisco:

Sir let me borrow of you but one kiss, Henceforth I'll never lie with you, by this, This wedding-ring. Fran. How? ne'er more lie with him?Isa. And this divorce shall be as truly kept, As if in thronged court, a thousand ears Had heard it, and a thousand lawyers' hands Seal'd to the separation. Brac. Ne'er lie with me? Isa. Let not my former dotage Make thee an unbeliever, -this my vow Shall never, on my soul, be satisfied With my repentance. (253-63) Isabella's earlier image of the unicorn's horn, with its suggestions of purification, is repeated in an ugly transformation by her brother: Was this your circle of pure unicorn's horn You said should charm your lord? now horns upon thee, For jealousy deserves them. (266-68) Then he orders her out, as he had at the beginning of the scene; her forced deception has (for the moment) been successful. Webster reinforces these scenes of duplicity in the rhetoric of the play, which is full of duplication; he makes extensive use in particular of the

Isa.

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rhetorical devices of subjunctzio, copulatio, and heratio. '0 Subjunctio is the simple repetition of a word or phrase, as when Vittoria cries after her trial, "a rape, a rape" (III.ii.274). Copulatio is the repetition of a word after a few intervening words, as when the "Franciscans" exhort Vittoria to leave them alone with the dying Bracciano "for charity, / For Christian charity" (V.iii.172-73). Heratio is the repetition of a word with a particular emphasis or different aspect of meaning, as in the wooing scene in Act I: Brac. What value is this jewel? 'Tis the ornament Vit. Of a weak fortune. Brac. In sooth I'll have it; nay I will but change My jewel for your jewel. Flam. Excellent, His jewel for her jewel, -well put in duke. Brac. Nay let me see you wear it. Vit. Here sir. Brac. Nay lower, you shall wear my jewel lower. Flam. That's better-she must wear his jewel lower. (I.ii.221-28) In each case the rhetorical devices underscore dissemblance and false-seeming in the action. Vittoria's cry of outraged innocence at her trial is part of a pose, since the audience already knows that a house of convertites is not an inappropriate place for her; the "Franciscans" by Bracciano's bedside want the chamber empty not for charity but for privacy, so that they might administer the coup de grace to the Duke;11 Vittoria and Bracciano's talk of jewels recalls the deception of Camillo,12 and also shows us the lower side of this illicit love affair, beginning as it does with bawdy puns and Flamineo's leering enjoyment of them. These three rhetorical devices occur throughout the play, not overpoweringly but certainly insistently, like chimes in the distance; often
Subjunctio is also known as epizeuxis or adjectio; copulatio as ploche, conduplicatio, or diacope; heratio aspalilogia, duplicatio, or diaphora. For the Renaissance definitions of these terms, see Lee A. Sonnino, A Handbook to Sixteenth--Century Rhetoric (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1968). "The "Franciscans' "plea also recalls ironically the excuse Bracciano gave at the trial for his visits to Vittoria: "Why my charity, my charity" (III.ii.161). '2Flamineo, while gulling Camillo, had promised his sister "He will give thee a ring with a philosopher's stone in it" (I.ii.152). For an excellent discussion of the ring and jewel imagery in Webster see Samuel Schuman, "The Ring and the Jewel in Webster's Tragedies," TSLL, 14(Summer 1972): 253-68. On the exchange of rings between Isabella and Bracciano (below), Schuman notes: "it is clear that Brachiano hands her the ring he swears by, and she later gives him another or the same one back" (p. 259).
l

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they are used in conjunction with duplicated gestures and props for emphasis. Bracciano, for example, after first quarreling with Francisco and Monticelso, insists "I am tame, I am tame sir" (II.i.83), leading them to expect a reconciliation between the Duke and his Duchess. But his repetition underscores the fact that Bracciano is far from tame, as his subsequent harsh treatment of Isabella shows. The exchange of wedding rings which he initiates and the kiss which he gives his lawful wife repeat ironically his actions in his tryst with Vittoria, further emphasizing the Duke's hypocrisy. When Bracciano later dons his beaver for the wedding festivities, his act recalls visually the "charm'd night-cap" he put on to view Isabella's poisoning; his own deceitfulness as well as Francisco's treachery is thus emphasized as he shouts: Brac. An armourerl Ud's death an armourer! Flam. Armourer; where's the armourer? (V.iii. 1-2) It is significant that the last scene of the play, where deception follows deception in an almost breathless fashion, is thick with examples of these rhetorical figures and their occasional visual analogues. Flamineo's directions to his sister and Zanche in his mock death scene, for example, show his deceptive intent: Shoot, shoot, Of all deaths the violent death is best, For from ourselves it steals ourselves so fast The pain once apprehended is quite past. (V.vi.115-18) His duplicity is further emphasized in the double set of pistols Flamineo produces for the scene-one set harmless, one presumably deadly. Vittoria's resolution to take part in the proposed suicide pact is undercut by her use of copulatio: Behold Bracciano, I that while you liv'd Did make a flaming altar of my heart To sacrifice unto you: now am ready To sacrifice heart and all. (83-86) And when the revengers burst in and throw off their holy garments to reveal the armor beneath they underscore their false-seeming in the

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rhetoric of their taunt: "Isabella, Isabella!" (171).13 The most famous example of subjunctio in the play is of course Bracciano's dying cry, "Vittoria? Vittoria!" - a more complex case to which we shall return later. Related to the rhetoric of the play and the duplication of character and action is a recurrent pattern of dialogue, peculiarly Websterian, suggesting duplicity. At intervals there are scenes where a central figure is being harangued by two others in a highly artificial manner: the "comforting" of Lodovico (I.i), the arraignment of Vittoria (III.ii), Bracciano's death scene (V.iii), and Flamineo's mock death scene (V.vi). The first time such a scene occurs we have a comment upon it; Lodovico tells his two companions: "This well goes with two buckets, I must tend / The pouring out of either" (I.i.29-30). It is, as Lucas notes, an apt description of the device.'14 In each of the "well with two buckets" scenes one accuser or mocker would have been sufficient; that Webster gives us two instead, and places the scenes at periodic intervals in the play, suggests a carefully planned presentational comment on the duplicity of the world he depicts. In the opening scene, for example, Antonelli and Gasparo appear to be rebuking Lodovico for his sins, and offering him comfort with a series of platitudes on the virtues to be derived from affliction. But as the Earl points out, such comforts are "painted"; his friends are merely mocking him, or (as one critic points out) if they rebuke him at all, it is because he is not as hypocritical as they are.'5 Vittoria's arraignment is, in spite of what we know about her earlier guilty intentions, a travesty of justice. As far as we know she has not actually committed the crimes she is accused of, and her accusers are men who are more corrupt than she. In Bracciano's death scene the duplicity is underlined by the disguises of the two murderers, who pose as noblemen who are at once knights of Malta and Capuchins. Their disguises combine both the active and contemplative Christian lives; the extent of their piety is shown immediately after Flamineo's glowing description of them, when we hear they have sealed with the sacrament their conspirators' vows to murder (V.i.13-65). Flamineo's mock death
'3Other examples of these three rhetorical figures in the last scene may be found in lines 3, 5, 8, 50-51, 64, 141-42, 160, 167, 190-94, 202-204, 231, 240-41, 252, 259-60, 274-76, 277, 282. '4F. L. Lucas, ed., The Complete Works of John Webster, 4 vols. (London: Chatto and Windus, 1927), 1:200. It is interesting that the goddess Fortuna occasionally was shown with two buckets, symbolizing the nature of her gifts (one bucket contained honey, the other gall), and suggesting the see-saw effect of her wheel (Patch, pp. 53-54). For an illustration of Fortune's buckets, see the picture of Galeazzo Visconti in Albert S. Cook, "The Last Months of Chaucer's Earliest Patron," Transactions of the Connecticut Academy of Art and Sciences, 21(1916): 17. '5James Smith, "The Tragedy of Blood," Scrutiny, 8(December 1939): 269.

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provides us with a grotesque parody of Bracciano's murder as Vittoria and Zanche begin quite piously, then reveal their true intentions and taunt their victim with glee. Besides duplication, there is a more subtle way in which Webster expresses his master-motive. Samuel Schuman touches upon the use of dialectic in the play when he notes the "constant pairing of opposites. .
.

. Murderers are most cruel when disguised

as friars; the red

cheeks of an adulterate murderess are more 'natural' than the red robes of a cardinal; to be 'great' is to be 'evil.' "16 In Webster's chiaroscuro world there are also certain characters in contraposition. The Cardinal and Cornelia, for example, are both elder parent-figures. Cornelia is so concerned with the conduct of those for whom she is responsible that at one point she curses her own offspring and rebukes the powerful Bracciano. She speaks to them of honor, of the example that Princes should set, protesting to Flamineo "because we are poor, / Shall we be vicious?" (I.ii.312-15). The Cardinal, who as Camillo's uncle feels responsible for him, is bent only on secret revenge for the wronging of his kinsman; at one point, after concocting a plot to be rid of Camillo so that Bracciano might have the opportunity to cuckold him further, Monticelso defends his devious conduct: It may be objected I am dishonourable, To play thus with my kinsman, but I answer, For my revenge I'd stake a brother's life, That being wrong'd durst not avenge himself. (II.i.391-94) There are pairs of siblings in the play who exhibit the same extremes of behavior. Flamineo panders his sister, murders his brother, drives his mother mad, and finally attempts to murder his sister and his paramour; it is not without reason that he is called a devil (V.vi.123)indeed, an early critic took Flamineo to be the white devil of the play's title.'7 His brother, on the other hand,'8 is called "virtuous Marcello" (V.ii.25) and "noble youth" (V.ii.80), and his actions bear out these epithets. He is as innocent of wrongdoing as Flamineo is guilty-indeed, he must be "whispered out of the room" so that his brother can murder Camillo, implying that he might have put a stop to the proceedings, or at least reported the truth. He bewails his sister's undoing and rebukes
'Schuman, p. 256. '7John Genest, Some Account of the English Stage, from the Restoration in 1660 to 1830, 10 vols. (Bath: H. E. Carrington, 1832), 1:346, says "The White Devil is Flamineo- he assists Brachiano in debauching his sister Vittoria-kills Camillo and pretends that he died by accident."

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Flamineo for his rumored part in it, counseling him, "For love of virtue bear an honest heart" (III.i.58). When the brothers quarrel their opposition is further underscored by Marcello's imagery: Like the two slaughtered sons of Oedipus The very flames of our affection Shall turn two ways. (V.i.205-207) Isabella and her brother Francisco are another black and white pair. Francisco is first seen defending his sister's honor, but we soon see he cares as little for her as the Cardinal seems to care for Camillo; he ignores her entreaty to speak mildly to Bracciano, says that he wishes he had given her to her grave rather than to the Duke in marriage, and is coldly cruel to her by the end of the scene, mocking her and laughing with Bracciano at what "excellent sport" her "rash vow" will make. As the play unfolds he is seen as the consunmmate Machiavel, plotting secretly and trusting no one, not even his fellow-politician Monticelso, who implies that he is a devil (IV.iii.88). At the end he disguises himself as a Moor, an appropriate visual representation for one so black-hearted. Isabella is on the other hand called "blessed lady" (III.ii.321); she is a figure so saintly and self-sacrificing that she attempts to settle the differences between her brother and husband by pretending guilt herself, and so devoted that in spite of her husband's cruelty continues to kiss his picture nightly. Giovanni provides us with a touching example of her warm and loving nature when he says, "I have often heard her say she gave me suck, / And it should seem by that she dearly lov'd me, / Since Princes seldom do it" (III.ii.336-38). There is a similar opposition between the spotless Isabella and the black Zanche, a contrast which would have been even more pronounced in Jacobean productions of the play, where both roles were taken by the same actor.'9 Where Isabella is the virtuous and devoted wife, Zanche is the lascivious, fickle paramour. She is depicted as vicious, helping Flamineo to debauch Vittoria, and heartless, indifferent to the suf'8Some critics find in Vittoria the counterforce to Flarnineo, as for example B. J. Layman, "The Equilibrium of Opposites in The White Devil: A Reinterpretation," PMLA, 74(September 1959): 336-47, and Irving Ribner,Jacobean Tragedy (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1962), p. 106. '9W. W. Greg, "Webster's White Devil: An Essay in Formal Criticism," MLQ, 3(December 1900): 123. Greg bases his statement on the fact that in all quartos except that of 1672 Isabella is included among the characters who enter for the trial scene, which takes place after Isabella has died. "No doubt Zanche was intended, one actor playing the two parts, and the direction finding its way from a stage copy.' The doubling explains why Zanche exits so early in I.ii.

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ferings and madness of Cornelia. And she is totally without conscience; when she fittingly becomes enamoured of the disguised Francisco, she offers to rob her mistress and desert the lover who has just defended her "honor" by killing his own brother. Other characters refer to her as a "witch" (V.i.153), "infernal" (V.iii.216), and a "devil" (V.i.86). But when we try to place Vittoria, the white devil, into this dialectical schema, we find that we metaphorically recreate the wooing scene of Act I, with Flamineo and Zanche on one side, commenting with voyeuristic approval, and Cornelia on the other, voicing her horror.20 Vittoria is always poised between extremes, evoking a dual response from any given audience, especially from the critics. Lamb admires her "innocence-resembling boldness" in the trial scene, while lan Jack deplores the same as a "lie in the poet's heart."21 Muriel Bradbrook says that Vittoria is guilty, but there is a strong undercurrent of suggestion in the play that she is innocent; Ralph Berry, on precisely the same evidence, arrives at the opposite conclusion: Vittoria is innocent of wrongdoing, but the imagery damns her as guilty.22 Leonora Leet Brodwin, in what is perhaps the most wholehearted defense Vittoria has ever had outside her own, sees the heroine as beyond good and evil, motivated only by her "great love" for Bracciano; in a recent (1977) production of the play at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, Vittoria was depicted as little better than a whore, whose only motivation seemed to be lust.23 The dual reaction to Vittoria should not surprise us, for every time she is on stage the contradictory elements of her nature are emphasized and often commented upon. In the first act, for example, she does not seem at all averse to adultery (in spite of what she tells her mother, she does not seem to have done much to discourage the Duke's advances), she speaks ambiguously of her "weak fortune," and hints to Bracciano of convenient murders. She is, according to her brother, a devil. On the other hand she has some of our sympathy, since her husband is an impotent fool, her brother is using her for his own preferment, and the Duke is rich, powerful, and completely love-sick for her. Moreover, she seems
20Lucas points out that Flamineo and Zanche appear to be on one side of the protagonists and Cornelia on the other, acting almost like "two sections of a Greek chorus" as they make their comments of exultation and misery (pp. 212-13). 21Charles Lamb, Specimens of the English Dramatic Poets Who Lived about the Time of Shakespeare (1808), quoted in Hunter, p. 56; Jack, pp. 41-42. "Bradbrook, p. 187; Ralph T. Berry, The Art ofJohn Webster (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1972), pp. 52-53. 23Leonora Leet Brodwin, Elizabethan Love Tragedy, 1587- 1625 (New York: New York Univ. Press, 1971), pp. 255- 81. On the cover of the program for the Guthrie production of the play is a photograph of the actress who played Vittoria; one half of her face is in black and white, while the other half is a negative image, in white and black. It is a splendid visual image of the dual nature of the heroine; unfortunately the idea did not carry into the production itself.

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genuinely aggrieved by her mother's curse, and her reaction is in sharp contrast to Flamineo's; after Vittoria's shamefaced exit her brother mocks Cornelia, using imagery that points up this contrast; Shall I Having a path so open and so free To my preferment, still retain your milk In my pale forehead? No this face of mine I'll arm and fortify with lusty wine 'Gainst shame and blushing. (I.ii.327-32) When we next see Vittoria it is at her arraignment. We know her to be guilty of much, certainly of intent if not of deed, and thus realize that her sentence is not an unjust one. Yet her trial is such a mockery, and she defends herself so bravely and wittily against her powerful and corrupt accusers, that our response is the mixed response of the audience of ambassadors: "She hath done ill." "True, but the Cardinal's too bitter. .
.

. She hath a brave spirit"24 (III.ii.106-107,

140). In her second

"trial" in the House of Convertites, we also sympathize with Vittoria, since we know her to be falsely accused on the flimsiest of evidence. She seems genuinely hurt and shocked by Bracciano's loss of faith in her, and we can understand her indignation when he says "all the world speaks ill of thee" - since the Duke himself is responsible for her infamy. But our sympathy is undercut by the fact that Vittoria seems as much concerned with reward as with love and honor: What have I gain'd by thee but infamy? What do you call this house? Is this your palace? Is't not your high preferment? Your dog or hawk should be rewarded better Than I have been. (IV.ii. 107-91)

24The adjective "brave" may be taken in two ways- brave in the sense of courageous, but also in the sense of showy, as when she "Outbrav'd the stars with several kinds of lights, / When she did counterfeit a prince's court" (III.ii.74-75).

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Her reaction to Bracciano's poisoning sounds like grief born of love, especially since it is paralleled by Giovanni's reaction: Vit. Giov. O my loved lord, -poisoned? O my most loved father! ...

(V.iii.7-15) She shows great concern for her dying husband's comfort, directing the supposed holy men to hold the crucifix constant, since it seems to bring him solace; Francisco himself comments on how heavily she takes the Duke's death. On the other hand Flamineo says that her tears are but "moonish shades of grief' and will soon dry, and her first concern when she learns of the poisoning is for herself: "I am lost forever." Indeed, her only outright declaration of love for Bracciano comes in the final scene of the play during an obvious piece of histrionics, and is undercut by Zanche's parallel declaration to Flamineo, which we know to be entirely false. This final scene shows us the same contrariety of character; Vittoria enters with what is evidently a book of devotions (since Flamineo remarks, "What are you at your prayers?" (V.vi.l)), and rebukes her brother for his crimes, giving him for the reward he demands only that portion which was Cain's. She stands up bravely to her murderers, mocking their cowardly deed, and in her dying cries acknowledges the justice of her death. Yet she joins with Zanche in a grotesque plot to kill her brother (which, as one critic notes, not only demonstrates her bitchery, but makes her look silly25), and before she sees that death is inevitable shes uses all her art to win over her murderers, flattering them shamelessly. Each time we see her, all the antinomies of the play converge in Vittoria; her contradictory nature is the focal point for the tension which charges Webster's work. This tension is best illustrated in Bracciano's death scene. To return for a moment to the rhetoric, twice in the play before this scene Vittoria's dual nature has been emphasized by the use of copulatioonce when Lodovico mentioned her name in the first scene of the play, and later when Bracciano wooed her in the House of Convertites: Lod. The Duke of Bracciano, now lives in Rome, And by close pandarism seeks to prostitute The honor of Vittoria Corombona, Vittoria, she that might have got my pardon For one kiss to the duke. (I.i.40-44)
25Layman, p. 345.

284

THE

WHITE

DE VIL

Brac.

I have drunk Lethe. Vittoria? My dearest happiness? Vittoria? (IV.ii. 129-30)

When the Duke is poisoned his speech is at first full of "brain-sick language"; then, as he nears death, he seems incapable of speech at all. It is therefore a stirring rhetorical as well as theatrical moment when the dying man, silent at first during the terrible harangue of his murderers, is "come to himself again," gathering his remaining strength for a cry which is at once a clear-eyed cry for help and an affirmation of his love, a love which one critic calls "deep and selfless," transcending all the evil and suffering of the play.26 But the Duke's words may also be seen as a terrible revelation. His first words in the play were "Quite lost Flamineo" (I.ii.3), and when he first wooed Vittoria he declared with a lover's hyperbole, "if you forego me / I am lost eternally" (207-208). At her suggestion he committed great crimes; his murderers' taunts then have a ring of truth: Lod. Devil Bracciano. Thou art damn'd. Gasp. Perpetually. Lod. A slave condemn'd, and given up to the gallows Is thy great lord and master. Gasp. True: for thou Art given up to the devil. Lod. 0 you slave! You that were held the famous politician; Whose art was poison. Gasp. And whose conscience murder. (V.iii. 151-56) Moreover, the scene with the "Franciscans" is an exact parody of the Commendatio Animae, the holy rite of commending a departing soul to God, with which aJacobean audience would have been familiar.27 This sacred rite calls for the dying person, when he feels at the point of death, to say "Jesu, Jesu, Jesu." Here Bracciano calls not upon his savior, but upon the woman who has brought about his damnation: "Vittoria? Vit26H. T. Price, p. 729. Price goes on to say, "this love, a source of so much evil and suffering, remains a thing of strength and beauty. Probably in his final cry 'Vittoria? Vittorial' Brachiano transcends his crimes and brings salvation upon himself. Webster shows the same transfiguration in Vittoria, who, on learning of Brachiano's death, " exclaims, '0 me! this place is hell.' "Susan H. Mc Leod, "The Commendatio Animae and Bracciano's Death Scene in Webster's The White Devil," AN&Q, 14(December 1975): 50-52.

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toria!" That there is a dual rather than a triune repetition is significant.


Bracciano had told Vittoria earlier: "Thou hast led me .
.

. to my

eternal ruin. Woman to man / Is either a god or a wolf' (IV.ii.89, 91-92). But in fact Vittoria is both to Bracciano, having led him to this moment which is at once triumphant and terrible. The duality of her nature, expressed in Bracciano's cry, is not like that of Spenser's Duessa, masking foulness with fair show. Vittoria is in fact a "reconciliation of opposites,"28 a synthesis of the play's dialectic; she is, in the language of the play, an excellent devil, a glorious strumpet, the devil in crystal, a diamond in darkness, a white devil. This, then, is the design I see in Webster's play, a design of duality which informs the characterization, the action, the visual elements, the very language of the work. It is not the sort of formal element we are used to in nineteenth- and twentieth-century drama, but it is nevertheless a master-motive, one such as we might find in a piece of music. It is a thread to follow amidst complexity; it is the "path or friendly clew" which serves to guide us through what is not, after all, an artistic wilderness. San Diego State University

28Bradbrook, p. 187.

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