Marcello's family

Marcello is the brother of Vittoria and Flamineo and in the service of Francisco de Medici. He is part of the Corombona family, whose fortunes demonstrate the complex social situation of the time:

  • They are descended from an honourable family and, as Flamineo says in Act 1 sc 2, their ‘father proved himself a gentleman'
  • Now, their social status has diminished. Flamineo and Marcello can only sustain themselves by being employed by other nobles
  • However, since Vittoria's marriage to Camillo, the nephew of the powerful Cardinal Monticelso, the family's prospects have been enhanced by being related to nobility.

Unlike Flamineo, Marcello is not discontented with his status, although he admits to ‘Mulinassar' that he has not prospered as a soldier.

Marcello's sense of honour

SoldierMarcello is contrasted with his brother Flamineo, who is seen to be worldly and dissatisfied with life. Despite their similarity of circumstance, Marcello shows acceptance of his situation and speaks honourably of his master, Francisco. He is also very alert to the honour of his family name:

  • While awaiting trial in Act 3 scene 1 he chastises Flamineo for his role in Vittoria's alleged affair with Brachiano, which has led to the dishonouring of their sister
  • His vehement prejudice against Zanche is also because Flamineo's alliance with a loose woman (and a Moor) would dishonour the Corombona name. He is supporting his mother in this, and is provoked to call Zanche a ‘strumpet' and kick her in Act 5 sc 1, after she has insulted Cornelia. Whilst modern audiences would find his treatment of Vittoria's maid wholly unacceptable, Jacobean watchers would be more likely to condone his position, especially since his elder brother Flamineo seems to have abdicated responsibility to his family.

Marcello's moral status

Marcello is himself compromised by his association with Flamineo and Francisco, evidenced by the fact that he ends up on trial for Camillo's murder along with his brother. He was at Camillo's house when Vittoria's husband was murdered by Flamineo in Act 2 sc 2.

However, Webster enables him to take a morally higher position:

  • Although both brothers suffer at the hands of great men, they have different reactions. Whereas Flamineo claims he is justified in helping Brachiano access Vittoria, as it is the only way to make progress in the world, Marcello reminds him of the virtues that he should follow instead:
    ‘For love of virtue bear an honest heart,
    And stride over every politic respect,
    Which where they most advance they most infect.'
    (Act 3 sc 2)
    This speech puts Marcello firmly on the side of Christian morality as opposed to the cunning and self-serving qualities of court life
  • Marcello is presented in the Second Dumb Show as having been ‘whispered out of the room' prior to Camillo's ‘accident'. Marcello is completely innocent of any charge concerning the deaths of Camillo and Isabella and Webster also makes it evident in Act 2 sc 1 that Marcello plays no part in the initial conspiracy
  • In Act 5 sc 2 Marcello's comments on Flamineo's breaking of Cornelia's crucifix symbolically align him with Christian values.

Marcello's end

The strength of Marcello's opposition to Flamineo's liaison with Zanche is the ultimately the cause of his premature end. When an angry Flamineo casts doubt on Marcello's legitimacy (and therefore on Cornelia's virtue), Marcello takes the moral high ground and challenges his brother to a duel:

Those words I'll make thee answer
With thy heart blood. (Act 5 sc 1)

As an honourable man, Marcello expects Flamineo to fight fairly and sends him his sword so that he can procure one to match it. He is not prepared when Flamineo enters, supposedly returning the sword, and plunges it into him. His virtue has made him vulnerable and Flamineo is able to kill him instantly. This again shows the contrast between Flamineo's ability to deceive and Marcello's more honest nature.

Typically, Marcello sees his own death as an appropriate punishment for the sins his family has committed (see Big ideas from the Bible > Judgement). Hortensio sums him up as ‘Virtuous Marcello.'

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