Act 2 scene 2


Brachiano has asked a Conjuror to demonstrate the murders of Isabella, his wife, and Camillo, Vittoria's husband. The Conjuror ‘conjures' the first of two dumb shows (or mimes), in which Doctor Julius poisons the lips of a portrait of Brachiano, which Isabella then kisses. She faints and dies, witnessed by Giovanni (her son) and Lodovico, who the Conjuror says is infatuated with Isabella. Observing this, Brachiano is very pleased at her death.

The Conjuror then ‘conjures' a second dumb show in which Camillo, Flamineo, Marcello (Flamineo's brother) and others are exercising using a vaulting horse. Marcello leaves and when Camillo vaults, Flamineo catches him and pulls him down, breaking his neck. Marcello returns at the cries and sends for help, but Francisco's guards enter and arrest both Flamineo and the innocent Marcello.

The Conjuror tells Brachiano that the guards will be coming for Vittoria regarding Camillo's murder, and since they are in her house they should make their escape, as they will also be suspected. Brachiano leaves after offering to reward the Conjuror, who reflects on the harm ‘great men' can do.


nigromancer: Someone who practises the black arts and who can communicate with the dead.

A curtal to show juggling tricks: A contemporary reference to a Mister Banks who trained his docked horse / dog to perform tricks.

Figure-flingers: Those who calculate horoscopes, astrologers.

The devil were fast … fustian Latin: An anti-Catholic barb at the Latin used by their priests (who would often make their hearers fearful about the works of the devil), which is now associated with the mumbo-jumbo of any charlatan.

Methought I saw Count Lodowick there: Lodovico's movements are important. In Act 1 sc.1 he was banished. In Act 2 sc.1 he was said to have become a pirate, but Monticelso acknowledged that this was just a ploy to get Camillo out of the way. Later we are told that he has gone to Padua to be with Isabella and so he witnesses her death.

She's poisoned … her spirits / O ‘twas most apparent … The engine of all: After each dumb show the Conjuror explains to Brachiano what has happened. This enables the audience to take in the details and understand the implications of the events.

Both flowers … great harm: The scene ends with a rhyming couplet spoken by the Conjuror alone on stage. It echoes Cornelia's sentiments about ‘great men' in Act 1 sc. 2.

Investigating Act 2 scene 2

  • There are two dumb shows in this scene. These were quite common in revenge tragedy, usually used as an introduction to the play. (See Contexts > Theatre > Revenge Tragedy > Dumb show.) Webster uses the device for different purposes. Investigate the following:
    • How the dumb shows contribute to the plot
    • What we learn further of the characters depicted in the dumb show
    • What we learn further of Brachiano who observes them
    • In what ways the two dumb shows differ.
    • How does using the device of the dumb show affect the audience's response to the murders?
  • How does the language in the opening speech of the Conjuror contrast with his speech after the two mimes?

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