Act 3 scene 1


As Vittoria's trial is prepared, Francisco and Monticelso express their hope that the ambassadors attending can be convinced of her guilt, although there is little hard evidence. As they leave, Marcello and Flamineo enter with guards and a lawyer. They discuss whether lechers and cuckolds are suitable to judge Vittoria but are pessimistic about her chances.

Flamineo privately admits he is pretending to be light-hearted in order to take suspicion off himself. Marcello blames him for facilitating Vittoria and Brachiano's affair, which Flamineo admits was to secure his own advancement in the world. They debate the ways in which they are treated by their respective masters, with Marcello urging Flamineo to be virtuous and not always thinking about his own selfish needs.

As the ambassadors settle, the lawyer and Flamineo make jokes at their expense.


At the beginning of the scene the Chancellor and Register are probably there to prepare for the trial i.e. place a table and raised chairs.

lieger: resident

in by the week: Caught

My lord cardinal … catch conies: A dual purpose metaphor. A ferret ensnares conies (rabbits). A cony can also be a word for a woman continuing the theme of animal imagery, particularly in reference to women.

Gull: Deceive or cheat

Were made his engine and his stalking horse: Flamineo acted as an engine (instrument) or stalking horse (decoy) in order to lead Brachiano to Vittoria. A stalking horse was originally used to enable hunters to get near their prey.

As witches … serviceable spirits: Flamineo cynically likens war wounds in the service of a master as being no better than witches using blood for sacrifices.

And thus when … lamented doctrine: The malign influence of ‘great men' is again shown to injure people who rely on them. There is the use of plant imagery; mistletoe, thought to cure ills, and mandrake, a poisonous plant, to show evil always accompanies good when ‘great men' are concerned. 

MMandrakeore on mandrakes: A mandrake is a mythical plant whose forked root resembled human form. It was said to shriek when pulled from the ground and to grow under gallows. In Webster's play The Duchess of Malfi the mandrake feeds on blood and drives men mad.

politic: Cunning and self-seeking behavior, associated with Machievelli's advice to princes.

lieger Ambassadors: In the stage directions the ambassadors pass over the stage. Important events are often accompanied by spectacle in The White Devil.

Frenchman … Spaniard: Jokes made about foreign stereotypes would be popular with Webster's London audience

Investigating Act 3 scene 1

  • Look again at the opening exchange between Francisco and Monticelso.
    • What kind of trial might the audience expect?
    • What does it further reveal about these two characters?
  • Compare Flamineo and Marcello in this scene.
  • What devices are used to suggest the importance of this trial?

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