The White Devil Contents
- Social / political context of The White Devil
- Religious / philosophical context of The White Devil
- The Theatre
It could be said that Isabella is the only character in The White Devil who seems to exhibit no negative apsects.
The good wife
Isabella is the wife of Brachiano and sister of Francisco de Medici. She first appears in Act 2 scene 1, after it has already become clear (in Act 1) that her husband is pursuing Vittoria. When she appears, Francisco is angry with Brachiano for the way he is neglecting his wife, but Isabella shows that she is still a loving wife and has forgiven Brachiano:
Set us at louder variance; all my wrongs
Are freely pardoned,'
(Act 2 scene 1)
When Brachiano and Isabella meet in the same scene to discuss their differences she shows her love for him:
As I to you a virgin.'
Nevertheless, Brachiano rejects her advances and proclaims he is divorced from her. Hurt and bewildered, Isabella still shows great magnanimity by taking the responsibility for their separation on to herself, so as not to deepen the developing rift between her husband and more powerful brother:
Myself the author of your cursed vow.
I have some cause to do it, you have none;'
She gives no explanation for this decision to her brother and as a result of it she receives criticism from him. Francisco considers she is a ‘foolish, mad,/ And jealous woman' and that wives should learn to ‘suffer these slight wrongs'. It is only as she leaves the stage that she expresses her true feelings almost as an aside:
Those are the killing griefs which dare not speak.'
A pitiable death
From the audience's perspective Isabella is therefore an object of great pity, which is only enhanced when we learn that Brachiano is plotting her murder. This is witnessed by Brachiano and the Conjuror in the first Dumb Show in Act 2 scene 2 and again emphasises her fidelity to her marriage.
Knowing it is her nightly custom to kiss her husband's picture, Brachiano's accomplices are able to use her love for her husband to kill her. In a striking metaphor of her marriage, her devoted kisses are met with poison. Brachiano's callous reaction to her death increases the sense of pity that she evokes.
The good mother
We see Isabella's exceptional devotion as a mother through Giovanni's grief at her death in Act 3 scene 2. He also explains that she had breast-fed him showing an unusual amount of love for a noble woman of the time:
And it should seem by that she dearly loved me,
Since princes seldom do it.'
(Act 3 scene 2)
When she decides to make the divorce from Brachiano look like her decision, she gives no public explanation. May one of her motives be concern that her son should not think badly of his father? It is possible given her devotion to them both.
After her death Isabella continues to be influential as a focus for vengeance against Brachiano and Vittoria. This is true of Lodovico, who was in love with her, and of her brother Francisco. Initially Francisco is not sure whether he is justified in involving his subjects in a war against Brachiano for what are personal reasons. However, his resolve is strengthened in Act 4 scene 1 when Isabella's ghost appears to him. (See The Theatre >Revenge Tragedy > Features of Revenge Tragedy > Ghosts.)
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