The title of the play suggests the importance of colour in determining guilt. White - usually associated with
innocence and virtue, instead aligns itself with vice and sin. It is in keeping with the plays many ironies that the
traditionally pure 'white' should hide darkness and sin.
Francisco's power is extremely apparent. The stage is crowded at the beginning of
the scene, but Francisco empties it with a simple order - startling display of his
power. Echoes with Act 1, Sc 1.
Similar to Act 1, Sc 1 - the scene features two men chastising a
third for his immoral actions. Francisco criticises Bracciano and
uses the threat of war as a tactic.
Their overly aggressive, masculine displays are ceded by the arrival of Giovanni - a
visual representation of what Bracciano should be striving for - the chivalric values
of virtue and courtly love.
Act 2 features several scenes of irony - the divorce scene, which parodies a marriage
ceremony even as it dissolves its union. Isabella is the wronged person, yet offers to
play the martyr. She is the only one with an actual cause, and yet offers to facilitate a
divorce she could oppose.
All of her virtue ironically pleads Bracciano's case to
the audience, however; her excessive sanctimony helps
us understand why her husband would prefer a
sensual lover to his prim, overly-religious wife.
The irony is compounded as soon as Monticelso and Francisco
re-enter, and Isabella acts like a jealous shrew for the sake of her
husband's happiness. The misogyny of this world is also apparent in
this scene, as Francisco calls his sister a 'foolish, mad and jealous
woman' for her displays.
A woman's jealousy is enough cause for a
man to request divorce, though a
woman's knowledge of a man's infidelity
would not necessarily prove just cause.
Isabella is limited in her agency, and is
only able to reach a desired end through
manipulation, creating a scene that is not
as it seems.
The play's pessimistic view of humanity is quite apparent after
Isabella leaves, and Camillo and Julio enter. The 6 men create a
'split-stage' that highlights parallels and contrasts between the two
groups. Flamineo and Bracciano plot to kill both Isabella and
Camillo with the help of Doctor Julio, while Monticello and Francisco
manipulate Camillo into leaving. Whilst Monticello and Francsico
seemingly work on the side of virtue and the law - employing
treachery just as deviously as Bracc. & Flamineo
Monticelso suggests that revenge is more important than Camillo's life
(gambling it by sending him out to sea) Reputation trumps most other qualities,
the pursuit of it causes all characters to reveal their vices.
Webster's plays reveal their innate theatricality in performance, and the dumbshows
created by the Conjurer are quite delightful to see.
However, they also possess
much literary value - Isabella's
death is a foreshadowing of
Bracciano's own, occurs
through a poisoned
mouthpiece, a reference to
how he divorced her with a
Camillo's death by vaulting is a sexual pun - implying sexual mounting,
Camillo's placement underneath the vault highlights his sexual
Conjurer's assessment at the end of the Act provides insight into Webster's sense of
humanity - noting that great men do either great or terrible things, he indicates that
people are rarely pure in virtue/vice, but are easily led to devote their potential to either or both.
The 'great' man might do worse things, and cannot be understood simply
by his outward appearance. Likewise, sometimes the man who does
'harm' is in fact 'great'.
What we are capable of is not always apparent, in the same way that morality is not always contained in white.