Act 5 scene 3


Vittoria, Giovanni and ‘Mulinassar' (Francisco) watch the tournament, part of Brachiano and Vittoria's wedding celebrations. Then Brachiano enters with Flamineo, asking that his helmet is removed, which is discovered to be poisoned. Despite physicians attending, Brachiano knows he is dying and Giovanni is taken away to spare him the sight.

Brachiano reflects on the death of princes, blaming Francisco who (ironically) offers him comfort as ‘Mulinassar'. Vittoria is distraught, realising that her future is now very uncertain. The Capuchin ‘monks' (Lodovico and Gasparo) enter on the pretext of ministering to the dying Brachiano, who is taken by those attending to his bed.

‘Mulinassar' and Flamineo are left on stage. Flamineo reflects on how insincere people are to great men. When ‘Mulinassar' reminds him how he has gained by serving Brachiano, Flamineo denies it and criticises his master. Lodovico returns saying that Brachiano is near death and hallucinating, but that he has left the care of the state with Vittoria until Giovanni is old enough to inherit.

Brachiano is revealed in bed (probably within the inner stage) accompanied by Vittoria. Brachiano raves about his visions of those on stage and other imaginary figures, including the devil. The Capuchin ‘monks' send everyone away so that they can supposedly minister to Brachiano's dying moments. They talk to him of his death in Latin, but once safely alone, they reveal themselves as Lodovico and Gasparo and damn him for his past evil deeds.

Brachiano rallies enough to call for Vittoria, but the ‘monks' persuade her to leave again, then strangle Brachiano. Vittoria returns briefly to see her dead husband and then departs grieving, leaving Flamineo with ‘Mulinassar' and a ‘monk' (Lodovico). Flamineo is cynical about Vittoria's grief and reflects on the Duke of Florence's Machiavellian machinations in bringing about Brachiano's death. He departs, wanting to address his dead master one more time.

Alone, ‘Mulinassar' congratulates Lodovico for making Brachiano's death terrifying. Zanche enters, wanting to ingratiate herself with ‘Mulinassar', who plays along with her. After claiming that she has dreamt of him, she reveals how Isabella and Camillo were killed and her role in it. To demonstrate her sorrow for this, she intends to steal Vittoria's money and jewels and elope with ‘Mulinassar'. He appears to be delighted, agreeing to her arrangements.

Once alone, Lodovico says that their plotting is just retribution for Brachiano's murders, but Francisco feels that justice has nothing to do with it. The renown they achieve will excuse their crimes.


They fight at the barriers: The fight at the barriers would have been staged as spectacle at the Red Bull Theatre (see The Theatre > Design of Theatres > The Red Bull Theatre). It was a highly formal ceremonial combat; a dying tradition of court life. As a representative of medieval chivalry it is contrasted with the Machiavellian revenge plot (see Themes and significant ideas > Machiavellian corruption).

heart … covenant 'tween the world and it: It was a measure of moral worth as to how prepared a person was to die and to be judged by God. Brachiano wants to hold on to his worldly power rather than to face his death.

screech-owls: Birds of ill omen that foretold death.

Most corrupted … needy friends: Death is addressed directly. He is seen as a schemer who is without the ability to save life as a great man is without friends. Brachiano sees himself as the victim of fate, even though at the end of the speech he acknowledges that Francisco is the cause of his death.

Do not kiss me: Brachiano wants his new wife to avoid the fate of his previous wife.

unction: Webster plays with the two meanings of unction as:

  • medicinal ointment, used ironically here since Brachiano is referring to poison
  • the anointing oil used at the point of death, known as extreme unction, which onlookers believe the ‘monks' are administering to Brachiano, though they are actually killing him

MonkFranciscans: Franciscans are an order of friars, but here there is a double meaning as they are in the service of Francisco.

Withdraw into our cabinet: Brachiano and his attendants will next be seen when the curtain across the inner stage is opened (see The Theatre > Design of theatres > four levels of acting).

within compass of the verge: The area of jurisdiction around any royal court.

‘Faith like a wolf ... with poultry: Flamineo claims he has been given poultry meat to stop him demanding human flesh. This is a metaphor which implies he has been bought off cheaply and not got the rewards he deserved. Wolf was also a term for an ulcer.

These speeches ... appear so: This indication of madness is typical of Revenge Tragedy (see The Theatre > Revenge Tragedy > Features of revenge tragedy).

See, see, Flamineo ... in a halter: Flamineo is described as a rogue dancing on a tightrope using bags of money to balance, with a lawyer waiting to see how he can profit from his fall. The implication is that the rope should have been used to hang him. This metaphor draws attention to Flamineo's cunning and love of money.

orris powder: New brides would sprinkle scented powder from the root of the iris on their hair. The powder was white, similar to flour.

Domine Brachiane ..infernali: Lord Brachiano, you were accustomed to be guarded in battle by your shield; now you shall oppose this shield (the crucifix) against the infernal enemy.

Olim hasta ...animarum: Once with your spear you prevailed in battle; now you shall wield this holy spear (the hallowed taper) against the enemy of souls.

Attende Domine ... in dextrum: Listen, Lord Brachiano, if you now also approve what has been done between us, turn your head to the right.

Esto secures ... quid esset periculi: Rest assured Lord Brachiano: think how many good deeds you have done – lastly remember that my soul is pledged for yours if there be any peril.

Si nunc ... in loevum: If you now also approve what has been done between us, turn your head to the left.

Thou art damn'd: The conspirator's brief is to terrify Brachiano, which they do by making clear his hellish destination after death. (See Big ideas from the Bible > Judgement.)

broke your wife's neck … poison'd: This refers to the scandal attached to Elizabeth I's favourite, the Earl of Leicester, whose wife died in suspicious circumstances in 1560.

Rosarytrue-love knot: The noose used to strangle Brachiano might have been Lodovico's waist cord (part of a monk's costume) or his rosary. It is also a reminder that Brachiano's death has come about because of his affair with Vittoria.

snuff: Death is like a candle being snuffed out.

more rivers to the city: Construction of The New River was started in 1609 to bring more drinking water to London.

To teach court-honesty it jumps on ice: There is much talk in this part of the play about the hypocrisy and deceit of courtiers. Princes are flattered in their life because their courtiers are always looking for advancement. Such loyalty has a purely mercenary motivation.

The bed of snakes is broke: The mystery is revealed. An appropriate metaphor as snakes are poisonous.

excellent penitence: Lodovico is ironic about Zanche's version of paying penance for her sins, since it involves another crime.

that sunburnt proverb: Zanche is hoping that her actions now will wash away her sins and make her ‘white' (drawing on the imagery of Revelation about the forgiveness of Christ, Revelation 7:13-14) although she quotes a well known saying about the inability of people to really change:

Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?
Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.
Jeremiah 13:23 TNIV

Tush for justice: As a true Machiavellian villain, Francisco does not care about the justice of his cause. He claims that the ends (his fame) justify the means (see Themes and significant ideas > Machiavellian corruption).

Investigating Act 5 scene 3

  • Jousting was associated with chivalry and noble behaviour. Why do you think Webster chose to start the scene with the fight at the barriers?
  • How is the cruelty of Lodovico and Gasparo emphasised in the scene?
  • Look again at the speeches made by Brachiano. Make notes on the following:
    • Use of images traditionally associated with death
    • References to his life as a statesman and soldier
    • How Flamineo is described
  • Now go back to lines spoken in Latin by Lodovico and Gasparo.
    • How do the content, structure and tone of the murderers' speeches change when they move from Latin to English?
  • How do Flamineo's comments on Brachiano's suffering and Vittoria's grief confirm our view of his character?
  • What is the function of Zanche in this scene?

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