The Devil's Law-Case | Study Guide

John Webster

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The Devil's Law-Case | Character Analysis



From start to finish, Romelio is interested only in making money. He tries to work every situation to benefit himself regardless of who he hurts in the process. Romelio begins his conquest for power and money by forcing his sister into an engagement with Ercole even though she is already engaged to Contarino. This leads to a deadly duel resulting in both Ercole and Contarino being pronounced as dead. Romelio does not feel remorseful for his actions and tries to ensure Contarino is dead by attempting to murder him. Then Romelio forces Jolenta into his twisted plan to get Ercole's money and get rid of his own illegitimate child. In the end Romelio is forced to right all his wrongs when he restores Contarino's fortune and marries Angiolella.


Contarino enters as a passionate man who is set on marrying Jolenta. This passion is only intensified when he learns that Jolenta has been forced into an engagement with Ercole. Contarino confronts Ercole and challenges him to a duel for the right to marry Jolenta. While they fight Contarino offers Ercole a number of opportunities to surrender Jolenta and escape further harm. These offers are rejected and both Ercole and Contarino end up fatally wounded and in the hospital. Contarino disguises himself after recovering from his wounds from the duel and Romelio's attack. Contarino watches the drama of the courtroom unfold and offers his services as Ercole's second in the final duel against Romelio. Contarino is unmasked at the last moment and embraced by his one-time rival Ercole. Contarino's earlier affections from Jolenta are replaced by feelings for Leonora who went through so much to profess her love for him.


Ercole finds himself in a love triangle but he proves to be one of the few honest characters in the play. Ercole believes he is the only rightful suitor of Jolenta until he is confronted by Contarino. Ercole is fatally wounded but recovers quickly. The recovery encourages him to avenge the assumed death of Contarino who Ercole believes was ultimately killed by Romelio. Ercole surprises everyone in the courtroom when he reveals himself and challenges Romelio to a duel. However, Contarino removes his disguise moments before the duel takes place and embraces Ercole.


Jolenta is an innocent pawn in Romelio's twisted grab for power and money. She is forced into an engagement with Ercole and then believes both Ercole and Contarino die in a fatal duel. Jolenta is approached by Romelio while she is grieving these losses and asked to be the linchpin in his schemes. She attempts to turn the tables on Romelio but soon realizes she has few chances of escaping the mess that has been created. Jolenta's attempts to run away with Angiolella and start over. Once again her plan backfires and she is found out. She must build a monastery alongside Leonora and Angiolella to pay for her sins.


Leonora struggles with her position in society. As a widow she has little power or money. This makes it hard for her to find love or favor with men. She believes she has found her true love in Contarino but there are obstacles to overcome before they can be together. Leonora is so passionate about Contarino that she demands Romelio go to Contarino's bedside and ensure he recovers fully. This plan backfires when Romelio attempts to murder Contarino for his own gain. Romelio's betrayal sends Leonora into a downward spiral where she ultimately decides to lie about his conception. In the end Leonora is found out and made to build a monastery to repay her debt to society.


Crispiano starts out as a dishonest lawyer boasting about his unethical business practices. He is happy to spy on his son and gather intel for the king of Spain while disguised as a caricature of the devil. However, Crispiano is ready to see justice is served when Leonora's falsified lawsuit reaches his courtroom. Crispiano listens to the wild story Leonora tells but removes his disguise to disprove Leonora's main argument. Crispiano then removes himself as judge and offers to represent Romelio to ensure he receives a fair and just trial.

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