As a revenge tragedy - W.D. promises its audience imminent violence,
bloodshed and betrayal.
E.g Lodovico's 'flea bitings'
Few characters are marked by
goodness & purity - the
perspective on humanity is
bleak and pessimistic
Webster avoids a simplistic understanding of evil by
giving his villains motives that are symptoms of society
as of original sin.
Webster opens the play w/ Lodovico's banishment
Lodovico is a minor character, yet open and
closes play poss. because his story perfectly
encapsulates the play's conflicts between
powerful social forces and the anarchic
He is a dangerous man w/out any regard for law
and order. Roman rulers decided him to be too
unstable and violent to live in their society and so
wish him gone. The same forces will reject Vittoria
for her unruly sexuality and Bracc for his
These social forces are not
to be trusted as just.
Through Flamineo's social
climbing Webster makes an
implicit attack on the forces
of money and power that
Like Lodovico, Flamineo is desperate and dangerous
who will stop at nothing to get what he wants e.g.
prostituting his sister and killing his brother. He wishes
respect and acceptance, but Ludovico is willing to forgo
Flamineo is born poor, and
has to rely on his wit to
balance the score of his social
'betters' - his use of wit, puns,
and double-entendres touches
on the discrepancy between
what appears and what truly
is, a crucial motif in the play.
E.g. 'strange you should lose your count'
Class inequality is not the only factor that creates a hierarchy forcing people to
use deceit for their gain. Women are powerless unless they use manipulation
Vittoria convinces Bracciano to murder their
spouses by relating it to her dream. 'Yew
tree' several psychological implications - tree
is large, powerful institution that dwarfs the
people under it - 'yew' homophone of 'you' -
symbolic connection between a yew tree and
death (common motif in revenge tragedy)
Vittoria, like Flamineo,
uses trickery to gain
greater power. What she
presents is not what she
truly is, which conforms to
one of the play's most
A woman's position in the world is also explored through the fear of cuckoldry
that Camillo expresses in his discussion with Flamineo - traditionally there were
fewer worse insults that a man could suffer, whereas male infidelity was
nowhere near as grevious. The extremity of the fear serves as reminder that a
wife was considered as much possession as partner.
Cordelia's entrance at the end of Scene 2 evokes a symbolic morality play.
Morality plays - popular in the
medieval period, usually detailed
one individual's path as he fell
from innocence into sin, repented,
and was ultimately saved.
The play's personified concepts like virtues and
sins in order to make them more
understandable - Braccianos and Vittoria's
love-bed would likely be placed at the centre of
the stage w/ Flamineo and Zanche representing
vice on one side, and Cornelia representing
virtue on the other. Contrast between the two
groups vividly and visually depicts the two
possibilities for the lovers.
Invoking these morality
plays makes the play's
narrative arc easier to
understand, preparing the
audience for the imminent
Webster's morality is ambiguous, and he ends his Act with Flamineo to remind us that evil comes
not from simple choice, but rather from complicated social desires. Flamineo is not interested in a
moral choice, but in a physical gain, in achieving a social position to which he feels entitled. It is
unlikely that many characters will choose the side of Virtue, which Cornelia represents.