The White Devil Contents
- Social / political context of The White Devil
- Religious / philosophical context of The White Devil
- The Theatre
Francisco de Medici
The Machiavellian villain
In Francisco de Medici, Webster creates an archetypal Machiavellian villain (see The Theatre > Revenge Tragedy > Features of revenge tragedy > Machiavellian villain). Machiavelli wrote a book of advice to rulers called The Prince, which tended to advocate pragmatism and manipulation, rather than morality, as devices by which to govern. A cynical Machiavellian ruler would avoid getting his hands dirty, preferring to set up others to do his underhand work by misdirection and suggestion. This type of villain will manipulate people to do exactly what he wants, without them ever realising they are working to his ends.
Francisco's Machiavellian characteristics
An understanding of power
As Duke of Florence, Francisco has experience of power and a practical attitude towards its exercise:
- When he discusses the tactics of war with his young nephew, Giovanni, he knows how important it is to reward the soldiers even though it means demanding ransoms:
How then will you reward your soldiers?'
(Act 2 sc 1)
- He does not engage in violence himself but uses henchmen to do it for him. In particular, he exploits Lodovico's love for Isabella to get him to carry out revenge on those he believes responsible for her death. However in Act 5 scene 5 he agrees to leave before the vengeance is carried out, so that he cannot be implicated.
The use of conspiracy
There are a number of occasions when we see the Duke engage in conspiracy:
- In Act 2 sc 1 Francisco plots with Monticelso to send Vittoria's husband, Camillo, away to fight pirates, even though there is no danger from them. This is in order to give Brachiano opportunity to commit adultery with Vittoria, by which he can be exposed as a villain
- Later he plots with Lodovico to carry out vengeance (for the death of his sister, Isabella) on Brachiano. He says to Lodovico in Act 4 scene 3:
Most of his court are of my faction,
And some are of my counsel. Noble friend,
Our danger shall be ‘like in this design;
Give leave, part of the glory may be mine.'
- He uses spies as the quotation above shows. He has friends and intelligence sources in Brachiano's court.
Cunning and subterfuge
Francisco employs a number of devices to trick others:
- In Act 4 scene 2 he sends a false love letter to Vittoria to cause trouble between Brachiano and Vittoria. However, his ultimate end is to drive them closer together and when they abscond together he has realised his goal:
I only laboured.' (Act 4 scene 3)
- In Act 4 scene 3, he conspires against his old ally, Monticelso, and sends money to Lodovico, who thinks it is a bribe from Monticelso, the new Pope.
- He uses disguise to overcome his enemies. He arrives at Brachiano's court after his marriage to Vittoria disguised as the Moor, Mulinassar. In so doing, he takes on the guise of a soldier, a man of action, very different from the courtier and politician that he is in reality. In a speech full of dramatic irony (Act 5 sc 1), Francisco claims to believe in equality between men rather than in superiority of birth:
than between two bricks made of one clay.'
Inspired by vengeance
Francisco is motivated by the desire to avenge the death of his sister, Isabella. But rather than act in hot passion, he coldly plots the downfall of Vittoria, Brachiano and Flamineo. His purpose is confirmed after the ghost of Isabella appears to him in Act 4 scene 1:
With tombs, or death-beds, funerals or tears,
That have to meditate upon revenge?'
Does Francisco have any good qualities?
It could be said that the Duke's most positive quality is his love for his sister. When he hears of her death in Act 3 scene 2 he says:
And I shall keep her blessed memory
Longer than thousand epitaphs.'
That said, Francisco does not show much sympathy for Isabella in her quarrel with Brachiano. He wants a reconciliation between them for the sake of family honour and was angry with Isabella for ending the marriage:
They suffer these slight wrongs, with what justice
They study to requite them; take that course.'
(Act 2 scene 1)
All this creates some doubt as to whether his vengeance is for love of his sister or to avenge the family honour.
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