Act 5 scene 6


An angry Flamineo demands that his sister Vittoria (who is accompanied by Zanche) rewards him for his service to Brachiano. However, she bequeaths him nothing, since he is their brother Marcello's killer. Flamineo threatens her and leaves briefly, returning with two pairs of pistols. Although Vittoria says he will inherit all her wealth, Flamineo claims he is acting under Brachiano's orders. Flamineo says that he intends to die with her as neither are safe now that Brachiano is dead and suicide is preferable.

Vittoria and Zanche appear to agree to this death pact, but they want to persuade him to die first so that they can escape. Flamineo gives the pistols to the two women so that they can shoot him and each other at the same time. Vittoria and Zanche shoot Flamineo and he falls to the ground and appears to be dying. They remind him of his wickedness and tell him that he is destined for hell. However, Flamineo now rises and tells them he has played a trick on them as there were no bullets in the pistols and so he is not hurt. He claims he did it to test their loyalty and now he is convinced of the treachery of all women.

Lodovico and Gasparo then enter with co-conspirators, Pedro and Carlo. With cries of ‘Isabella, Isabella!' they throw off their disguise and are recognised by Flamineo. When Lodovico explains that ‘Mulinassar' is really Francisco, Vittoria realises that they are all doomed.

The conspirators bind their victims and taunt them. Both Vittoria and Zanche show courage in the face of death, accusing the conspirators of cowardice in striking at helpless victims. Flamineo shows admiration for his sister's bravery, who acknowledges the part passion has played in her downfall and regrets that she ever encountered great men.

With both women dead, Flamineo acknowledges the wickedness of his life, but defiantly calls on thunder to accompany his death. Suddenly thunderous pounding on the doors leads to the entry of young Giovanni, his guards and the ambassadors. The guards shoot and wound Lodovico, who tells Giovanni that the murders were done on the instructions of his uncle, Francisco. Giovanni orders Lodovico and his companions to be taken to prison to be tortured. Lodovico leaves defiantly saying he has no regrets for what he did.

Giovanni orders the bodies to be removed and the play ends with an enigmatic quotation.


Enter Vittoria with a book in her hand: Flamineo's disrespect towards Vittoria's breviary or psalter indicated his low moral position. Carrying a book on stage was also seen as an indication of a character's melancholy.

How ruffin? … Nay, stay, blouze: A ‘ruffin' is a devil and ‘blouze' a fat, red-faced woman. These initial insults set the tone of the scene.

Cain and AbelI give that portion … slain his brother: This is a reference to the biblical account of Cain and Abel, in which Cain killed his brother Abel (Genesis 4:1-16). This has parallels with Flamineo's killing of his brother, Marcello. Along with Judas, Cain was seen as an archetype of despair. (See Big ideas from the Bible > Cain and Abel.)

Shall we groan in irons … die at any's bidding: This shows Flamineo's resolve to choose the manner of his death. Choosing suicide or making a death pact is regarded as a sin according to Christian belief, since the fate of human beings should be left in the hands of God.

say your prayers … make you ready: Catholics believed that it was important to confess sins to God before dying so as to able to enter heaven in a state of grace. Gasparo later tells Flamineo to Recommend yourself to heaven.

palace of the soul … soul's slaughter house: Vittoria sees the body as the palace of the soul rather than its prison, which is a more common Christian metaphor. This may be an indication of Vittoria's sensual nature. If Flamineo damns himself by suicide he would forfeit the chance of his soul's eternal life. See Big ideas from the Bible > Judgement

despair with gall and stibium: Despair is flavoured with bitter substances and poisons (gall – bile and stibium – antimony) and so leads to suicide. This is another of the frequent examples of poison imagery.

that .. made for devils / Eternal darkness: According to Christian theology, hell is the realm of devils, associated with torment, fire and the absence of light. See later references to dark and horrid / fire from hell / soot.

in graves .. at last day.. /.. shall rise: Vittoria refers to the Christian belief that at the final judgement, previously dead Christians will come back to life, based on the events after the death of Jesus on the cross in Matthew 27:50-53. (See Big ideas > Judgement; Apocalypse, Revelation, the end Times, the Second Coming.)

Mandrakemandrakes: Because of their often humanoid shape, these plant roots were believed to shriek if pulled from the ground, leading to the death of any who heard them.

two cupping glasses: Flamineo makes an analogy between the pistols and the contemporary medicinal practice of drawing blood out of a body (by creating suction on the skin by means of a hot glass).

Whither shall I go now? … cart drawn with one horse: This supposed death speech of Flamineo's includes many examples of great men reduced to a humiliating fate, taken from Menippos by the Roman poet, Lucian.

mix'd with earth: Flamineo refers to the words of the burial service (see Liturgy Burial of the dead:Committal which reflect the Genesis account that God created the first man from earth Genesis 2:7.

River StyxWhat a religious oath was Styx: The Styx was a Greek mythological river that formed the boundary between the land of the living and of the dead. The gods respected the Styx and swore binding oaths on it.

springe .. fox .. braches: Flamineo uses hunting imagery to portray his death.

Artillery Yard: A contemporary reference to the shooting practices held in Bishopsgate which James I revived in 1610.

We have brought … A matachin it seems: This is a reference to the masque; the dance of masked revelers. A matachin is a sword dance performed in masks and costumes. Lodovico and his fellow conspirators have been disguised as Capuchin monks who also carry swords. (See The Theatre > Design of Theatres > Masques)

the pillar: This would have supported the roof of an open-air stage. (See The Theatre > Design of Theatres > Four levels of acting.)

You, my death's man … ask forgiveness: The convention was for an executioner to ask the victim's forgiveness.

I'll cut off your train: The tail or train of a comet, here referring to Zanche, the attendant to Vittoria. Halley's comet had appeared in 1607.

good for the falling sickness: Elizabethans believed that sprinkled blood helped cure epilepsy.

‘Twas a manly blow: A sarcastic remark by Vittoria drawing attention to the fact that her attacker is striking a woman who is bound.

toledo .. English fox: References to Spanish and English swords.

O my greatest sin …blood pays for't: Sexual passion was symbolically represented by blood. Here Vittoria blames her loss of actual blood on the metaphorical blood of her sexual passion for Brachiano.

nine muses: The Greek goddesses who inspire the creation of literature and the arts.

O happy they … but by report: This could be the moral of the play. Any character who serves the court and gets involved with ‘great men' seems to suffer.

lions i'th' Tower: Since the Middle Ages, monarchs had kept a small menagerie in the Tower of London.

Candlemas day: Celebrated on February 2nd, this marked the event of the baby Jesus being presented in the Temple at Jerusalem and the purification of his mother, Mary, following childbirth.

This busy trade of life … to my farewell: Flamineo's dying words appear to reject the kind of life he has led in the service of the court. He says the ‘trade' of life is futile and rejects the flattery of the courts preferring the natural sound of thunder, which was traditionally supposed to accompany the fall of great men.

I limb'd this night-piece: Given the amount of blood-shed, Lodovico's analogy that he has ‘painted' the dark scene is macabre.

Let guilty men … made of slender reeds: An ambiguous maxim to end the play. Who is Giovanni referring to? It could be Lodovico, Francisco or Flamineo. It implies that the guilty can never be secure. This is true of Flamineo and Lodovico whose fates are sealed, but Francisco will probably escape censure.

Investigating Act 5 scene 6

  • How does the dialogue in the opening of the scene convey the tension between the characters?
    • What justification does Flamineo provide for threatening Vittoria?
  • What examples of Machiavellian behaviour do we have in the first part of this scene (up to the point where Flamineo rises from his supposed death)?
  • Several characters make concluding comments on powerful men, ambition and court life.
    • Identify three different examples of these.
  • Who is killed in the scene and by whom?
    • Who appears to escape unhurt and unpunished from the various plots?
    • What might this lead an audience to conclude about the world which has been depicted?

Related material
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.