John Ford



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a synoptic, alphabetical character list


A "ghost character". The name of the artist whose portraits of Biancha and Fiormunda are used by D'avolos to trap Fernando into revealing his love for the Duchess. The picture-maker is said to reside 'by the castle's farther drawbridge, near Galeazzos'.


Only mentioned. The masque arranged for him by the Duke of Brabant is the inspiration for the revenge of the pregnant court ladies on their seducer, Ferentes.


Paulo Baglione is the Abbot of Monaco and uncle to Biancha, Duchess of Pavia. His status as a prince of the Church runs counter to derogatory remarks by other characters concerning Biancha's low birth. The Abbot's first visit to the Court of Pavia breaks his journey to Rome, where he is due to be made a Cardinal (although his new dignity is not specifically referred to on his return). His welcome is shown in a dumbshow. After dinner, he is entertained by a masque of 'antickes' which turns into a massacre, as the three court ladies made pregnant and deserted by Ferentes turn the performance into a public execution of private justice, when they collectively stab him to death. The Abbot makes no comment or intervention on this occasion. When he returns from Rome to visit his niece, Biancha has been murdered by her husband, and recently buried. The Abbot attends the Duke's ceremonial penance at her tomb, where her innocence is proclaimed before both Fernando and the Duke commit suicide. The Abbot on this occasion is moved to make brief remarks on both men's desperate ends, and nearly as briefly gives his approval and blessing to the severe justice dispensed by the new Duke, Roseilli. Very possibly the most reticent Cardinal in the entire cannon.


Newly-married Duchess of Pavia at the start of the play. Her low birth, as the daughter of a mere gentleman, is stressed, although her uncle is the Abbot of Monaco. The Duke has married her for her beauty, ignoring criticism of her social inferiority. Biancha is particularly resented by the Duke's sister, Fiormunda. Her marital fidelity is the crux of the action. She is passionately desired by the Duke's best friend, Fernando, and has repelled his advances twice before the start of the play. When he tries again to seduce her, she lectures him sternly about his betrayal of his friendship with her husband, and her determination to keep her marriage vows. He later tries one last time to persuade her that his lust has been replaced by the purest love, but she again rejects him, outraged that he should question her fidelity and betray his friend. She later visits him indiscreetly and declares that she has also loved him from the first. She offers herself to him; warning that if he chooses to consummate their love, she will be forced to atone by killing herself. They agree on a chaste, platonic love hereafter. Although they decide together not to commit adultery (the 'sacrifice' of the title), their intimate conversation is overheard by D'avolos (Fiormunda's corrupt agent) and misinterpreted. Her honor is thus compromised anyway. D'avolos (like Iago) feeds her husband's groundless jealousy with sinister hints. Her shows of platonic affection for Fernando continue to be open to misinterpretation. She is only once seen to attempt to influence her husband (like Desdemona) planning to persuade him to recall the banished Roseilli. The Duke lays a trap and finds the lovers together, shortly after Biancha has revealed that she is tempted to greater physical intimacy with Fernando than before. Left to defend herself before her enraged husband, she exculpates Fernando to the best of her ability, and also derides her husband's attitude, and physical deficiencies. She declares that, as passion led the Duke to marry her, so passion has led her to love Fernando. She is shameless, because she has nothing to be ashamed of. The Duke takes revenge on her imagined adultery and murders her. Fernando commits suicide in her tomb for her sake, having persuaded the Duke of her innocence. The Duke then also kills himself in remorse, demanding to be buried together with them in the same tomb.


Phillippo Caraffa, the Duke of Pavia. Described (by his wife) as having a 'crooked leg', 'scambling foot' and 'bloodless lip' amongst other physical defects. A headstrong, volatile and gullible ruler, he has recently married Biancha, a Milanese gentlewoman, despite objections to her low birth. His sudden passion for her is indicative of his impetuosity. He is infatuated with her and equally devoted to his best friend, Fernando. Courtiers remark on the moral decline in the duchy since he came to power: he indulges the depravity of Ferentes, whom he relies on for entertainment and gossip. The Duke knows himself to be 'choleric' and has temper-tantrums on the least provocation. His Secretary, the scheming D'avolos, manipulates his orders, showing that the Duke is both credulous and complacent in delegating his power, easily enraged when he discovers the truth, but easily distracted by other topics. He is too quick to believe reports against his loyal courtier, Roseilli, slandered for her own reasons by his sister, Fiormunda. Having encouraged a close intimacy between his best friend and wife, he is initially oblivious of their growing romantic attachment, then too quick to trust his Secretary's reports of their (inferred) adultery. The Duke's absence hunting without his best friend allows Fernando, then Biancha, the opportunity to reveal their love for eachother, and to reach the decision to keep their relationship platonic out of the Duchess's respect for her marriage vows. Their indiscreet meetings in the Duke's absence, however, give scope to D'avolos's plots to disgrace them on his. He is incited to jealousy by D'avolos and declares that he has felt ill since the hunt. Like Othello, he rages at D'avolos to provide evidence of the guilt of his wife and friend; he remains able to dissimulate friendship for Fernando throughout and to provide a gracious reception for the Abbot. He denounces the murder of Ferentes during the masque as treachery by the three women, who in turn accuse him of flagrant injustice in neglecting their grievances against their seducer. He continues to act unjustly, imprisoning Maurucio for his innocent participation in the masque, condemning the women to death until the pleas of their fathers, and Fernando's for Morona, placate him. His sister provokes him to extreme revenge against the (innocent) lovers by reminding him of his family honor and the need to preserve the legitimacy of his heirs. He is moved by these ideas, and more by the fear of scandal and mockery. He retains the wit to challenge his sister to reveal any ulterior motives for her actions, but is easily fooled into believing circumstantial evidence which corroborates his worst fears. He makes a solemn vow of vengeance without ever confronting his wife or friend with his suspicions. He consents to the marriage of Maurucio and Morona, then exiles them from court without giving a reason. The Duke's passions are causing him to act 'distractedly' and 'distemperedly' and his rule is declining into impetuous tyranny. He tells Biancha he intends to seek a cure at the spa in Lucca, but instead confronts the lovers, has Fernando arrested, and murders his wife at the insistence of his sister. He challenges Fernando to a duel, but is finally persuaded of his wife's innocence, and must be prevented from committing suicide in remorse. Instead, he denounces D'avolos as a villain and removes him from office. At his wife's tomb, in the presence of the Abbot, he confesses his guilt to Biancha's ghost then stabs himself after Fernando's own suicide, demanding to be buried in the same tomb as the lovers.


Daughter to the Duke's counselor, Petruchio, and cousin to Fernando. She is the Duchess's maid. Besotted by the lecherous courtier, Ferentes, Colona is one of the three court ladies to be seduced and made pregnant by him. Like the others, she his innocently believed his promises of marriage. When he rejects her and her disgrace is made public, her father first disowns her. Together with Julia's father, Nibrassa, Petruchio insists that the betrayed women seek revenge on Ferentes. They join with Morona, his third victim, and contrive to murder him during the masque they perform as part of the ceremonial welcome to the Abbot of Monaco. They present the Duke with their infants, but he is unmoved. He first condemns them to death for treachery, but the extenuating circumstances of their revenge allow them to be pardoned later, after their fathers plead their provocation. She continues to serve the Duchess, escorting Fernando to her presence for an innocent tryst, and shouts an ineffectual warning that the Duke has contrived to discover them together. She is not subsequently mentioned by name, but her attendance at the Duchess's tomb with the rest of the court, may be inferred.


Secretary to the Duke, he is the Machiavellian villain of the play, serving the Duke's disaffected sister, Fiormunda, ultimately for his own purposes. Never overtly expressed, D'avalos appears to be motivated by pure ambition for power, to manipulate the Duke and rule through him. The Duke believes him loyal and trustworthy. The gradual discovery of his treachery by honest characters as his control of the Duke tightens, provides a major political theme in the play- the damage done by a predatory and self-serving politician. His credit with the gullible and volatile Caraffa allows him to slander others close to the throne. First seen delivering to Roseilli the news of his banishment, it is later made clear that D'avalos has exaggerated the Duke's sentence for his own reasons. He serves Fiormunda by breaking to Fernando the unwelcome news of her passion for him and his curiosity is sparked by the latter's improbable indifference to his romantic disclosure. Fernando's rejection of the most eligible lady at court prompts him to suspect rightly that Fernando has a secret and illicit love, but he regards it as policy to lie to Fiormunda about the failure of his mission. D'avalos has the cunning to persist in his allegations of disloyalty against Roseilli, when the Duke is made aware that his orders have been distorted. He weathers the threat to his credibility by turning the Duke's anger from his own fault to Roseilli's alleged defection to the court of Spain. (D'avalos's downfall will ultimately be his arrogance- his failure to recognize Roseilli in his disguise as Fiormunda's Fool, and careless plotting within earshot of the rival he believes absent from court. Having moved from the character assassination of Roseilli to his next target- the Duchess- he underestimates the hero's resilience and resourcefulness.) D'avolos is shrewd enough to spot the overt signs of Fernando's desire for the innocent Duchess. He tests his theory by showing Fernando portraits of the two ladies and notes the lover's emotional reaction to Biancha's image. He delights in this discovery, but it is clear that in his own corruption he cannot distinguish between the adulterous lust he infers and the emotional torment of unrequited passion, which Fernando is suffering. He reveals this to the furious Fiormunda, who realizes that Fernando's protestations of celibacy to her are false. The incident of the portraits thus turns her motivation in the play from desire to revenge. D'avalos's witnesses the compromising dialogue between Biancha and Fernando, when his interpretation of their intimate conversation based only on body language (and his cynical expectations) convinces him of their adultery. The audience, hearing their innocent words, are made aware of her indignant rejection of Fernando's advances. Ironically, Ford contrives here to produce a variation on Iago's jealousy-gambit, when D'avalos ultimately incites the Duke to murder his wife by telling what he believes to be the truth of her infidelity. D'avalos plays on the Duke's choleric nature and insecurity by dropping constant hints of his cuckoldry until the Duke challenges him to produce proof of his wife's adultery. D'avolos enlists the help of Fiormunda's maid, Julia, in spying on the Duchess, promising her a new gown and honorable marriage. This emphasizes her gullibility and his plausibility, as D'avolos nowhere else mentions any carnal desire for her or anyone else. D'avolos later leads the Duke, armed, to an intimately compromising meeting of the platonic lovers and takes charge of the house-arrest of the disgraced Fernando, leaving the Duke to murder Biancha in private. The Duke's volatile temper and guilt, combined with Fernando's subsequent unimpeachable honesty, which persuades honest courtiers of his innocence, finally prevail against D'avolos's cunning. The catalyst of the Abbot's return to visit his murdered niece provokes the Duke to denounce D'avolos as an 'arch-arch-devil and bloody villain' but he continues to trust in his use to Fiormunda and succeeds in brazening out a show of repentance when Roseilli reappears. The Duke sends word that D'avolos has been deprived of his court position but he is clearly already scheming to survive any regime change, even hinting that the Duke's suicide is 'labour saved'. His hopes of survival as the new Duchess's henchman are quashed by Roseilli's integrity and justice, and he is summarily sentenced to death by starvation- hanged in chains from the castle walls for all his earlier crimes.


Only mentioned. The report of the Duke's innovative masque welcoming the Archbishop of Mentz to his own court, notably featuring the performance of 'female Antickes', is the inspiration for Ferentes's plans for a similar masque to welcome the Abbot of Monaco. The novel inclusion of female performers allows the disgraced ladies (Colona, Julia and Morona) to achieve their revenge on Ferentes, by murdering him during the performance.


A lecherous courtier, he is intent on seducing every woman available to him. A promiscuous reprobate, he is given license by the Duke, who depends on him for licentious entertainment. Respectable courtiers remark that the moral decline at court is recent and regrettable, although it is unclear whether Ferentes's promiscuity is a cause or effect of the Duke's corruption. Given the recent return from travel of the Duke's favorite, Fernando, Ferentes plans to ingratiate himself with Fernando. Before the start of the play Ferentes has already promised marriage to Julia and, getting her pregnant, moved on to new conquests, leaving her melancholy. He also impregnates Colona and Morona, repudiating all three when they challenge him to make good his promises. He has discarded Julia for being too easily seduced, Morona for being too old and Colona for not being pretty enough. The women band together to be revenged on him. During the masque he organizes for the ceremonial court welcome to the Abbot, the women, disguised as 'female antickes', murder him. He dies cursing the women as whores and the Duke has more sympathy for him than the women, even when they present their newborn infants to him. (The gestation of the children informs the time-line of the play by inference.)


The hero of the play, he is nephew to the Duke's counselor Petruchio, cousin to Colona and kinsman to Roseilli. He has recently returned to court from travelling abroad and is an accomplished and eloquent courtier. It seems that the Duke and court have degenerated morally in his absence. He is the Duke's best friend, but passionately in love with the Duchess, as he is in turn desired by the Duke's widowed sister, Fiormunda. His conflicted loyalties torment him as much as his unrequited desires. He has several extended soliloquies in which to express his torment. The Duke encourages deep intimacy between Fernando and his wife, which keeps him in the presence of temptation. Before the start of the play he has already solicited Biancha's love on two occasions, and is still tormented by his desires, and her constant rejection. He hides his banished kinsman, Roseilli, at court, and later assists him to infiltrate Fiormunda's privacy in the disguise of a natural Fool. This seems to be motivated not just from kinship, but a deep sympathy for another's unrequited love. He rejects Fiormunda's romantic advances and thus arouses the suspicion of her messenger, D'avolos, that he must have a secret love. Accosted by Fiormunda directly, he politely flirts with her, but when all else fails to deter her, convinces her that he is sworn to a life of celibacy. Biancha enlists his help to plead for the banished Roseilli, a well-intentioned scheme which is prevented by the Duke's rage at D'avolos. He later joins the Duke and other courtiers in spying on Maurucio, seizing the opportunity to speak privately with the Duchess. Once again he tries to woo her. This time, her moral outrage and stern lecture convince Fernando to accept her refusal. He is moved by her 'virtue and resolution' to forgo his lust and any further attempt to persuade her to betray her husband. D'avolos then discovers his secret attachment by showing Fernando portraits of Biancha and Fiormunda. His infatuated reaction to an image of his love is taken as proof of actual adultery, and D'avolos decides to make political mischief out of the inferred secret affair. It seems that his resolution then weakens, and he sends a letter in a further attempt to woo Biancha. In the Duke's absence she once again sees Fernando privately: he pleads that pure love, not lust, now moves him to action. Her rejection is more vehement than before and he sincerely vows never again to solicit her. This conversation has been overheard and again misinterpreted by D'avolos. Biancha now visits Fernando in bed and reveals her own love to him. She offers herself to him with the condition that, if they do make love, she will have to kill herself in atonement. She offers him the choice, and they agree to continue as chaste and platonic lovers. Holding hands and kissing will be the extent of their physical intimacy, although Biancha's public behavior will continue to compromise their reputation, with Fernando powerless to prevent it. Fernando, knowing himself technically innocent, is for a long time oblivious of the growing jealousy of both the Duke and his sister; (the latter now determined to be revenged on Fernando for his betrayed preference for Biancha over herself). Fiormunda slanders him to the Duke after the death of Ferentes, suggesting that the covert reason for his murder was to conceal hard evidence of Fernando's adultery. Fernando, unaware, (like Cassio), joins with Biancha to plead for the release of Maurucio and Morona. He is disturbed by the Duke's decision to exile the liberated couple, but does not realize that the Duke's rage is directed against himself. Fiormunda makes a final attempt to woo him, bluntly warning him of her brother's deteriorating mind, caused by jealousy. She warns him off his presumed adulterous affair but Fernando incautiously denounces her malice and declares that he detests her. This will provoke her determination to see the Duchess dead. The Duke pretends to depart to a spa for his health, leaving his wife in Fernando's care. Fernando ignores a further warning from his kinsman, Roseilli, that Fiormunda intends to betray the lovers. Despite this, they meet and share a bed, spied on by Fiormunda. Biancha is struggling with their agreed chastity as her passion for Fernando has grown stronger. Fernando vows to be buried alive in her tomb should she die before him. The Duke finds them kissing, places Fernando in D'avolos's charge and kills Biancha. Next seen in the charge of Petruchio and Nibrassa, and unaware of her death, Fernando persuades the older courtiers of the couple's innocence. He accepts Nibrassa's sword and they determine to rescue Biancha, but the Duke burst in, dagger bloodied, and challenges Fernando to a duel. Instead, Fernando yields and begs for death. He swears to Biancha's innocence and the Duke is struck with sudden remorse. Fernando prevents the Duke form committing suicide on the spot. Fernando is mysteriously absent from the obsequies at the Duchesses tomb, when the Duke confesses his guilt in public. He rises from her tomb, alive in his winding-sheet and defies the Duke by claiming his rightful place at Biancha's side. He takes poison to join his true love in death, unaware that the Duke will shortly stab himself and demand to be buried three-to-a-grave.


The Marquesse Fiormunda is the widowed sister of the Duke; deeply resentful of his new Duchess and herself passionately drawn to his best friend Fernando. She is plainly characterized as a young widow unable to revert to a life without carnal gratification after the unspecified death of her young husband. Her accomplice in her twin objectives of discrediting Biancha and obtaining Fernando's love is the Machiavellian D'avolos. She is unaware that he is less than trustworthy and equally credulous when told by Fernando that he has sworn to live celibate, in order to put an end to her immodest persistence in soliciting him, to the extent of offering him her late husband's ring. Her desire for Fernando, however, although misplaced, need not be other than sincere. The play divides all who suffer for love into those who accept their fate patiently and the others, like her, who seek redress for their frustration in violent reprisals. Fiormunda is also strongly motivated by her family honor, although her contempt for her sister-in-law's low birth is qualified by personal jealousy when she learns that Fernando truly loves Biancha. She never doubts the truth of their rumored adultery and her motivation changes from desire for Fernando to revenge on the (innocent) couple for having been deceived by his politic excuse. She is unscrupulous, calculating and remorseless; a shrewd tactician but a long-term strategist undermined by her obsession with Fernando. She is indifferent to the honest love offered her by the noble Roseilli and has contrived before the start of the play to have him removed from court to frustrate his persistent suit. She is oblivious of his reappearance in the disguise of a Fool, even when he is given to her as a love-token by the elderly Maurucio, who is equally infatuated with her, and whose overweening attentions cause her furious embarrassment to the amusement of the rest of the court. She ironically exchanges gifts with her despised geriatric suitor - the Fool for a toothpick - but her failure to see through Roseilli's disguise of imbecility leads to indiscreet plotting in his presence, which he in turn relays to his endangered kinsmen. Roseilli thus learns when her passion for Fernando sours into revenge, although his warning is ineffectual. It is significant that Fiormunda makes no attempt to intercede for the three court ladies, including her own maid, Julia, debauched by Ferentes. After his murder she twists the Duke's understanding of their revenge into a plausible tale of a conspiracy to kill him to cover up his alleged knowledge of Fernando's adultery. This lie, together with her eloquent arguments on behalf of their shared family honor and the need to preserve his heirs from the taint of bastardy, persuade the Duke to join her and D'avolos in a solemn oath of vengeance against Biancha and Fernando. She makes a final attempt to win Fernando for herself, by warning him of her brother's growing 'distraction' and the danger of his liaison with the Duchess. He now detests her for her obvious malice. Her realization that she will never win him over makes her desire for revenge more urgent and implacable. Her maid is enlisted to spy by D'avolos, while Fiormunda herself spies on an intimate conversation between Biancha and Fernando. When the Duke interrupts them, furious but indecisive, her intervention, urging her brother on to murder his wife, is crucial. The Duchess dead and her brother consumed with remorse verging on insanity, it is unclear whether Fiormunda's initial repentance is sincere at the point when Roseilli reappears to propose marriage to her once again. She declares that she honors him, however, and accepts him at last. After Fernando and the Duke both commit suicide, she formally bestows the dukedom on her new husband. Roseilli dispenses summary justice in condemning D'avolos to death and Fiormunda to a life of celibate marriage and atonement, which she accepts as her just desert. The Abbot gives the new dispensation his blessing, and she embraces her fate with patience, apparently a reformed and chastened character.


Servant to the foolish old courtier Maurucio. Loyal to his 'anticke' master though capable of mocking his romantic pretensions with scurrilous innuendoes. Terrified when his master's romantic folly is overheard by the Duke, he continues to attend his master through subsequent scenes. When Maurucio is released from prison, he weeps for joy, and presumably accompanies his master and new mistress into exile.


A court lady, daughter to Nibrassa, in the service of the Duke's sister Fiormunda. Julia is one of Ferentes's many gullible lovers. She is already melancholy at the start of the play, made pregnant by him and discarded, despite his promises of marriage. Her father angrily disowns her when he learns of her disgrace, only relenting, together with Colona's father, on condition that the women avenge themselves on their seducer. Together with the equally abused Morona, they succeed in planning a public revenge on Ferentes. They participate in the masque he arranges as part of the ceremonial welcome for the visiting Abbot. Disguised as 'female antickes', they murder him. They present the Duke with their infants, and Julia is bold enough to be their spokeswoman, stressing that the Duke has failed to give them public justice and forced them to desperate private revenge. He is unmoved, and first condemns them to death for treachery. The extenuating circumstances of their revenge allow them to be pardoned later, after their fathers plead for their lives. Julia continues to serve Fiormunda, and is enlisted to spy by D'avolos. He has already promised her a new gown for her services, and also offers her marriage, which she is again gullible enough to believe. She agrees to spy for him, but makes no further overt contribution to the action. She is not subsequently mentioned by name, but her attendance at the Duchess's tomb with the rest of the court, may be inferred.


A foolish and vain old courtier (his age given at one point as 70, later as 60), much mocked for his pretensions to romantic love he should long ago have outgrown. Ferentes amuses the Duke with gossip about his 'dotage' and he is made a figure of satirical fun by the cynical younger courtiers for his inappropriate and hopeless passion for the Duke's sister. Maurucio is humored but teased by his loyal servant Giacopo and spied on by the Duke and courtiers, preening himself and practicing love-poetry intended to woo Fiormunda. Like Malvolio, his romantic fantasies are hopeless and he is severely mocked by the onlookers. Fiormunda is outraged and disgusted to be the object of his desires. The Duke is too amused to be offended by Mauricio's foolish ambitions to marry his sister: he forgives Maurucio and invites him to dinner as a reward for the amusement he has provided, which has temporarily lifted his melancholy. Seduced by this advancement, he is made to believe by Ferentes that Fiormunda secretly loves him in return. Fernando also uses his infatuation, presenting to him the gift of a Fool (Roseilli in disguise), whom he then passes on to Fiormunda as a love token. He is delighted by her return gift, of a toothpick. He participates in the masque and, though innocent of any part in Ferentes's murder, is unjustly imprisoned by the Duke. Fernando, Biancha and Morona later plead for his release, and Giacopo weeps to see his master freed. The Duke consents to his marrying the disgraced Morona, but exiles them from court. D'avolos spitefully suggests that they start a new life running a brothel in Naples. The episode disturbs Fernando, who expresses concern about the Duke's immoderate decision to banish them.


A court lady, said by Ferentes to be a 'stale widow' of forty-six. This has not prevented his seduction of her, her belief in his promises of marriage, or her pregnancy. He derides her for her decrepitude, as he rejects his other pregnant conquests. Together with his younger victims, Morona plots revenge. After the babies are born, they kill hum during a masque of 'antickes' and are sentenced to death for treachery by the Duke. Reprieved when Fernando pleads for her release, the Duke consents to her marrying the disgraced Maurucio, but exiles them from court. D'avolos spitefully suggests that they start a new life running a brothel in Naples. The episode disturbs Fernando, who expresses concern about the Duke's immoderate decision to banish them.


One of the Duke's counselors, father to Julia. With Petruchio he represents the old order of moral courtiers outraged by the degeneracy of the new Duke's régime. He bitterly rejects his daughter when he learns of her pregnancy. Relenting together with Petruchio, both fathers command their daughters to be revenged on their seducer, Ferentes. He successfully pleads for his daughter's life and liberty after the murder of Ferentes. Together with Petruchio, after the murder of the Duchess, he is convinced by Fernando's declaration of the innocence of the platonic lovers. He accepts that the Duke is a jealous madman, and agrees too late to rescue the Duchess. He offers his own sword to the unarmed hero. He is not subsequently mentioned by name, but his attendance at the Duchess's tomb with the rest of the court, may be inferred.


One of the Duke's counselors, father to Colona and uncle to the Duke's favorite, Fernando. He is also kinsman to the unfairly disgraced Roseilli. With Nibrassa he represents the old order of moral courtiers outraged by the degeneracy of the new Duke's régime and is outspoken in his concerns about the Duke's character and behavior. He keeps the secret of Roseilli's continued presence at court, but advises him against his passion for Fiormunda, who, he says, is in reality his only enemy at court. He deplores the scandal of his daughter's pregnancy, but, less severe than Nibrassa, does not absolutely disown her for her stupidity. He agrees with Nibrassa that the girls must take revenge on their seducer to redeem their honor. He successfully pleads for his daughter's life and liberty after the murder of Ferentes. In private conversation with his kinsmen he continues to express grave concerns about the Duke's mental degeneration. Together with Nebrassa, after the murder of the Duchess, he is convinced by Fernando's declaration of the innocence of the platonic lovers. He accepts that the Duke is a jealous madman and agrees too late to rescue Biancha. He is later put in charge of the Duchess's funeral. Not subsequently mentioned by name, his attendance at the Duchess's tomb with the rest of the court may be inferred.


A young nobleman and courtier, kinsman to Petruchio and Fernando, banished on the Duke's orders at the start of the play. He is incredulous at the disgrace, proud of his descent from a long line of nobles renowned for their loyalty to the state. Roseilli's fault is to have been too attentive to the Duke's sister Fiormunda, who, indifferent to his love, has contrived to bring him into disfavor. The Duke's command to leave court is delivered to him by the Machiavellian D'avolos, and is later revealed to have been grossly exaggerated by the messenger for reasons of his own. Believing himself in serious disfavour, Roseilli is first hidden at court by his kin. The Duchess is moved to plead for his pardon, leading the Duke to realise that his order has been wilfully misinterpreted, but D'avolos persists in stressing the danger Roselli poses to the Duke as an alleged malcontent. Threatened with death if he fails to deliver Roseilli, D'avolos continues to slander him in his assumed absence, provoking the Duke's further anger with false news that Roseilli has defected to the court of Spain. Underestimating D'avalos, Petruchio informs Roseilli that his only enemy at court is Fiormunda and advises him to overcome his passion for her. Roseilli agrees to the unspecified plan proposed by Petruchio, and subsequently takes on the disguise of a natural fool, for love (like Antonio in The Changeling). It remains unclear whether this was the proposed plan, or Roseilli's own idea, as the strategy is aimed at remaining near to his indifferent beloved. As the unnamed Fool, he is given by Fernando to the foolish Maurucio, and passed on by him to Fiormunda as his own love-token. Roseilli makes no progress in his romantic strategy but being believed incapable of proper speech and understanding, becomes privy to information of plots against his kin. He learns, variously, that his pursuit of Fiormunda is hopeless, and of the danger to his kinsman of D'avolos's plots. On several occasions, both in coded fool's gibberish and private conversation he warns Fernando of their enemy's strategies. As the Fool he is a participant n the masque of antickes when Ferentes is murdered, but his assumed mental incapacity exempts him from the Duke's fury. He anticipates Fernando's danger and downfall and is unable to prevent it. After the Duchess's death, Roseilli visits Fiormunda undisguised and again offers her his love. She accepts his proposal declaring that she now repents her previous behaviour honors him. After the Duke's suicide, she endows her new husband with the dukedom: his first abrupt decisions demonstrate his dedication to justice. Roseilli condemns D'avolos to death and declares that their marriage will be celibate. Fiormunda accepts his decision with humility and the Abbot blesses the new dispensation.


Compare to Middleton's Women Beware Women. Ford is apparently thinking of Middleton's play or at least of the history that also inspired Middleton's play.

Middleton and Rowley's The Changeling might also have supplied inspiration. Go Back to Top