(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Vendice holds a skull in his hand. It is the skull of Gloriana, his late betrothed, who was poisoned by the Duke when she resisted his lecherous advances. Vendice watches as the Duke, accompanied by his new wife and his two sons, passes through the city. Combined with the hate provoked in Vendice by his fiancé’s horrible murder is his outrage over the death of his father, caused by the same corrupt ruler. In addition, Vendice’s brother reports that he has been asked by Lussurioso, the Duke’s heir and a man as depraved as his father, to locate a pander. Vendice disguises himself as Piato, a pander, and is hired by Lussurioso, thereby gaining access to the ducal household.

The sons of the Duchess—the Duke’s stepsons—are as corrupt as the Duke’s sons. The Duchess’s third son recently raped the wife of Antonio, who subsequently killed herself. When this son is brought to trial and sentenced, the Duke puts off the young man’s execution and orders that he be kept in prison. His two older brothers promise to help him escape. Their mother, the Duchess, reveals her love for Spurio, the Duke’s illegitimate son, who hates his father. Spurio accepts the Duchess’s advances because adultery with his stepmother will avenge him on his father.

As Lussurioso’s pander, Vendice is commissioned to set up an assignation between Lussurioso and Vendice’s own sister, Castiza. Vendice is delighted when Castiza emphatically rejects Lussurioso’s suit but is horrified when their mother tries to persuade her daughter to yield.

Having returned to the ducal palace, Vendice learns from Hippolito that the Duchess and Spurio have been seen together and that they have an appointment for that very night. Vendice uses this information to deflect Lussurioso from his pursuit of Castiza. Ostensibly to protect his father’s honor but actually to get rid of Spurio, his hated half brother, Lussurioso rushes to the Duke’s bedchamber and attacks the man who is in bed with the Duchess. This man is not Spurio, however, but the Duke. The Duke, who is not seriously injured in the attack, orders Lussurioso taken to prison under sentence of death.

The Duchess’s sons, eager to eliminate their stepbrothers, attempt to trick the Duke by seeming to ask for mercy for Lussurioso while depicting the heinousness of killing a ruler. The crafty Duke surprises them by granting their request to have Lussurioso executed. What they do not know is that Lussurioso has already been released through a prior order of the Duke. When they arrive at the prison and inform the jailer that it is the Duke’s command that “their brother” is to die, the jailer, with only the Duchess’s third son in custody,...

(The entire section is 1111 words.)