Act 5 scene 2


Cornelia wants to know what Marcello's quarrel is about. Marcello plays it down, then changes the subject and asks about a crucifix that Cornelia wears about her neck. Cornelia admits that Flamineo broke it as a baby but that it is now mended.

Suddenly Flamineo enters and fatally runs Marcello through with a sword. Witnessed by Carlo, Hortensio and Pedro, the dying Marcello reminds his mother of the broken crucifix and says the whole family has been damned for Flamineo's actions. Cornelia cannot accept Marcello is dead.

Brachiano enters in armour, but without his helmet, accompanied by Flamineo, ‘Mulinassar' and the ‘monk' Lodovico. He questions Flamineo, who admits responsibility for the death of his brother, although Cornelia blames everyone else who would not help to keep Marcello alive. Despite going to stab Flamineo, Cornelia cannot bring herself to do so and calls on God to forgive him. In order to protect her elder son, she then blames her younger one (as he can no longer be punished), but Brachiano does not believe her and refuses to pardon Flamineo, just reprieving him on a day by day basis.

While Brachiano is delivering his judgement, Lodovico sprinkles poison on his beaver (the lower part of the face guard of his helmet). When Brachiano leaves, calling for his helmet, Francisco recognises that he is calling for his death and follows him to the barriers. He is pleased that Brachiano is more likely to be damned for dealing with murder leniently.

Watch Act 5, scene 2

Accompanying teaching resources


Was not this crucifix my father's?: The crucifix is a potent Catholic symbol. Its breaking by Flamineo as a baby is symbolic as it identifies Cornelia as a guardian of Christian values and Flamineo as the destroyer of such values.

Do you turn … surgeon to you: This refers to an earlier remark about Marcello's choler (anger). Bloodletting was supposed to be the remedy for too much choler, which was supposed to come from the gall, so Flamineo is doing him a ‘favour' by stabbing him and releasing his blood. He also offers to send him a surgeon who would also have purged him of blood. His comments to his dying brother are malicious and ironic.

I'll to sanctuary: Flamineo immediately thinks of his own self-preservation. Medieval law allowed fugitives to claim sanctuary in a church where they could not be arrested.

That tree ... than the root: Maybe a reminder of the yew tree of Vittoria's dream in Act 1. Marcello is reminding us that branches should not spread wider than the roots of a tree. In other words we should not be too ambitious. This is an accusation that is made against both Flamineo and Vittoria.

Let me call him again … fetch a looking glass: Cornelia's desperate attempts to revive her son echo those of King Lear on finding the dead Cordelia (King Lear, Act V sc 3).

The God of heaven forgive thee: Cornelia takes a Christian approach to the murder of one of her sons by the other, and calls on God for forgiveness. She refuses to spend her time in cursing and seeking revenge.

You once did brave me: Unlike the forgiving Cornelia, Brachiano shows himself to be vindictive, tormenting his servant for having once slighted him.

the black lake: This probably refers to Acheron, the black river of the Greek underworld. This underlines the fact that Brachiano is damned for his evil deeds on earth and that his last one, which was to treat a murderer leniently, will hasten that damnation.

Investigating Act 5 scene 2

  • What anecdote does Marcello recount about his brother as a child?
    • What is the symbolic significance of the story?
  • Make notes on the following:
    • Who is killed, and how?
    • Who escapes death, and why?
    • Whose death is arranged, and by what means?
  • Note how the characters are being divided clearly into good and evil camps as the play nears its end
    • What are the characteristics of each?
    • Why is this important to a Jacobean audience?

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