Italian dukedom. Unspecified Italian principality in which the play unfolds. Although the location is clearly Italian, the play provides not a single place name. By depicting a court in Italy as a hotbed of vice, the playwright follows the English Renaissance tradition of demonizing the unethical Niccolò Machiavelli’s birthplace. Simultaneously, the play’s geographical vagueness invites audiences to identify “this villainous dukedom vexed with sin” as a distorted mirror of the intrigue in King James I’s English court.
Ducal palace. Setting for almost half of the play’s twenty scenes. As seen through the revenger Vindice’s eyes, this site of the ducal family’s routine indulgence in rape, incest, adultery, betrayal, and murder is a living hell of damned souls. The drama’s centerpiece is Vindice’s revenge in the “unsunned lodge/ Wherein ’tis night at noon”—a palace locale symbolizing the moral darkness of both the duke’s sins and Vindice’s brutal punishment.
Court of law
Court of law. The setting of the second scene, in which the royal court undermines the legal one by extenuating rape and delaying the rapist’s punishment. Such failure of the law provides context for Vindice’s blood revenge, although the heaven that Vindice himself invokes so often as the source of true justice seems to hover just above the stage.
Prison. Scene of two sons’ incarceration for sexual crimes, where worldly corruption, rather than justice, again dictates villains’ fates.
Countryside. Although no scenes are explicitly set outside the ducal capital, the play’s dialogue opposes Christian values beyond the town against those in the “accursed palace.” Vindice, living with his family “not far from Court,” comments, “Let blushes dwell i’ the country,” and equates chastity with a “foolish country girl.” Nevertheless, the court’s poisonous evil spreads to the country to contaminate Vindice’s mother, Gratiana (Grace), if not his sister, Castiza (Chastity).