Friday, 28 August 1998

John Webster: The White Devil (1612)

Edition:  Everyman
Review number: 112

Like the better known Duchess of Malfi, sometimes considered almost to be a sequel to The White Devil, this play is concerned with the murky depths of Italian politics. It is actually based on real events, though the plot apparently differs quite widely from the true history of the famous courtesan Vittoria Corombona.

The story begins with the banishment of Lodovico, for his crimes in the city of Rome; he rails against others, whose crimes are greater yet who retain the privilege of living in the city (notably Paulo Giodano Ursini, the Duke of Brachiano, protector of Vittoria though husband of Isabella). Isabella's brother is the powerful Francisco de Medicis, Duke of Florence discovers his relationship with Vittoria and insults him; Brachiano's response is to divorce the innocent Isabella. He then proceeds to arrange the murders of Isabella and Camillo, Vittoria's husband.

As various parties begin to try to exact their revenge and Vittoria is put on trial for the murder of Camillo, the bloodthirstiness of the play mounts - poison, stabbing, strangling, shooting. All in all, it is an excellent example of a revenge tragedy, though the plot takes second place to the poetry of individual scenes.

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