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The White Devil

The White Devil by John Webster
By: (1580-1634)

John Webster's The White Devil (1612) is a Jacobean revenge tragedy, replete with adultery, murder, ghosts, and violence. The Duke of Brachiano and Vittoria Corombona decide to kill their spouses, Isabella and Camillo, in order to be together, aided by the crafty and ambitious Flamineo, Vittoria's brother. Their actions prompt vows of revenge from Isabella's brother Francisco, the Duke of Florence, and Count Lodovico, who was secretly in love with her. The title refers to the early modern proverb that "the white devil is worse than the black," indicating the hypocrisy practiced by many of the characters in the play.

First Page:



In publishing this tragedy, I do but challenge myself that liberty, which other men have taken before me; not that I affect praise by it, for, nos hæc novimus esse nihil, only since it was acted in so dull a time of winter, presented in so open and black a theatre, that it wanted (that which is the only grace and setting out of a tragedy) a full and understanding auditory; and that since that time I have noted, most of the people that come to that playhouse resemble those ignorant asses (who, visiting stationers' shops, their use is not to inquire for good books, but new books), I present it to the general view with this confidence:

Nec rhoncos metues maligniorum, Nec scombris tunicas dabis molestas.

If it be objected this is no true dramatic poem, I shall easily confess it, non potes in nugas dicere plura meas, ipse ego quam dixi; willingly, and not ignorantly, in this kind have I faulted: For should a man present to such an auditory, the most sententious tragedy that ever was written, observing all the critical laws as height of style, and gravity of person, enrich it with the sententious Chorus, and, as it were Life and Death, in the passionate and weighty Nuntius: yet after all this divine rapture, O dura messorum ilia, the breath that comes from the incapable multitude is able to poison it; and, ere it be acted, let the author resolve to fix to every scene this of Horace:

Hæc hodie porcis comedenda relinques... Continue reading book >>

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