Money, trade and gold

Economic prosperity

16th century lady trading moneyThe sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had been a time of great social change with increased prosperity. This was the case in England but even more so in Italy with the start of the modern banking system (see Social/Political Context > Renaissance Italy > Growing economic prosperity). The audience would certainly associate Italy with trade and even with the corruption that money often brings.

Money the corrupter

From the start of The White Devil we see how the inheritance of wealth has led to Lodovico's ruin, via orgies of drunkenness, gluttony and murder as he has worked his way through his inheritance. Conversely, in Act 1 scene 2 Flamineo complains of his lack of inheritance and claims it is the cause of his lack of morality. He needs to do whatever is necessary to make his way in the world.

This sense of money as a corrupting power continues through the play:

  • When Brachiano is dying he has a vision of Flamineo as a tightrope walker, keeping his balance with bags of money:
‘And there's a lawyer
In a whipt gown with velvet, stares and gapes
When the money will fall.' (Act 5 scene 3)
  • The readiness of the lawyers to catch any falling money expands the influence of money beyond the individual to society at large
  • It is gold which secures the services of Lodovico for Francisco's plot. He convinces Lodovico falsely that Monticelso is trying to bribe him
  • ‘He sounds my depth with a golden plummet; (Act 4 scene 3)
    A plummet to sound depth is normally made of lead, but here it is symbolically said to be made of gold to represent money
  • Flamineo sums this up in Act 3 scene 3 when he says ‘there's nothing so holy but money will corrupt and putrify it.'

This perspective on money bears out the biblical precept in 1 Timothy 6:9-10 that:

9But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10For the love of money is the root of all evil:

Women as commodities

An important aspect of women in the play is their market value. A noble lady would be expected to come to marriage with a dowry and thus be an important economic asset to their husband:

  • It is significant in the trial that it is said that Camillo did not receive a dowry with Vittoria, for which he is regarded as a fool
  • In Act 5 scene 2 Zanche refers to the important information she intends to give to Mulinassar (Francisco) as a dowry:
‘So I may come to you in the same manner, and be better loved for my dowry than my virtue.'

Women are also described as something that can be traded:

  • This attitude is seen in Monticelso in Act 4 scene 1 when describing ‘fellows that are bawds to their own wives' when they are made bankrupt
  • Flamineo describes women as wares to be handled which can therefore be spoiled:
‘Will any mercer take another's ware
When once it is toused and sullied?'
(Act 4 scene 2)

Women, and especially Vittoria, are often criticised for their sexual immorality. This is described in terms of fraudulent or ‘counterfeit jewels'. During Vittoria's trial Monticelso explains what he means by a whore:

‘your rich whores
Are only treasuries by extortion fill'd,
And emptied by curs'd riot.  …
 …  the guilty counterfeited coin
Which whosoe'er first stamps it brings in trouble
All that receive it'
(Act 3 scene 2)

When described in terms of money or trade women are seen as an asset or as something fraudulent.

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