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Discuss the importance and presentation of Flamineo in "The White Devil" Free essay! Download now

Home > A Level > English > Discuss the importance and presentation of Flamineo in "The White Devil"

Discuss the importance and presentation of Flamineo in "The White Devil"

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Downloads to date: N/A | Words: 2500 | Submitted: 18-Mar-2009
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Study of a main character in "The White Devil" and his significance in the play


In a play where it is difficult to say who the hero is, partly because not one character is wholly good and partly because there are so many of them, Flamineo probably emerges as the character with the most actual stage appearances; he certainly delivers the most soliloquies and asides, as if we are expected to know and understand his character better than any other.

He is cast as the play's malcontent, a stock figure more commonly belonging to the comedy genre: he is permanently peevish, cynical, melancholy. Indeed, you could be forgiven for believing that you had stepped into the world of comedy in the opening act of the play, where (in scene ii) we see Flamineo, as Bracciano's pander, stage managing the gulling of the hapless Camillo, so that his wife can be freed up for an adulterous liaison. We have a scenario that could have come straight from Shakespearean or Ben Jonson's comedies whereby Bracciano is set up to spy on Camillo who in turn believes he is spying on Vittoria while Flamineo speaks to her about her marriage. The dupe is naive and trusting; the pander quick thinking, opportunist and completely scurrilous. Flamineo engages in banter of a base and gross nature. He particularly enjoys the double entendre, so that when the confiding husband confesses that he can't remember when he "last lay with her", Flamineo immediately remarks (perhaps with a wink that includes an audience as well as the appreciative Duke):
"Strange you should lose your count" (act 1 sc. ii l 57)
For our and Bracciano's entertainment, he leads Camillo by the nose, exposing him for the "ass" he told Bracciano he was. He teaches his brother-in-law that absence makes the heart grow fonder so that Camillo even volunteers to hand over his keys and so be locked out of his own wife's chamber.
It is Camillo's trust in Flamineo and Flamineo's flagrant abuse of that trust that makes this scene the stuff of comedy. So, in the very beginning we see Flamineo as shrewd manipulator, quick thinking, cunning and amoral, but apparently more made in the comic mode than the tragic. This, of course, changes.
It changes very shortly with the arrival of Cornelia, who just about catches her daughter in flagrante delicto with Bracciano. Flamineo sees the falling apart of his carefully constructed plan. His master's abrupt departure from the scene exposes Flamineo's vulnerability and paranoia. His angry tirade against his mother reveals for us the real figure who masquerades as puppeteer extraordinaire: we see the feelings of insecurity and inferiority; the chip on the shoulder, the hatred and the darkness that looms so very close to the surface. He is Webster's parody of the worst kind of courtier: an educated but restless young man, suffering under the yoke of poverty and resenting the family that (he feels) never provided for him. His only driving force is a compelling need to raise himself up the social ladder. He tells us darkly and without elaboration how he learned his trade ("Conspiring with a beard/Made me a graduate") and the metaphor "heel my tutor's stockings/ At least seven years" only hints at the lengths he has gone to to ingratiate himself and so win favour in the past. Satire is richly evident when he tells us how Court made him "More courteous, more lecherous by far", the pun in "courteous" telling us simultaneously of his corruption at court but also of how he has learned the easy, oily charms and manners that now smooth his path into the favour of others. The venom and hatred he shows his mother (I would the common'st courtesan in Rome/ Had been my mother rather than thyself")

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