The White Devil is one of John Webster’s two exceptional revenge tragedies. The revenge tragedy is a subgenre that flourished during the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. It is characterized by actions of lust, murder, and vengeance. The dark passions and questionable motives that govern the revengers distinguish these plays from more classically conceived tragedies, in which the hero who falls is noble, if flawed, and the fall arouses pity and awe. The high moral message is noticeably absent from revenge tragedies such as The White Devil.
To plot his play, Webster used real events that occurred some twenty-seven years before the play’s first production. Conveniently, the scandalous affair between Vittoria Corombona and the duke of Brachiano took place in Italy, a country traditionally associated with corruption for the English. It is an appropriate setting for Vittoria, the white devil of the title. While some critics are unsure to whom the epithet is applied, only Vittoria combines satisfactorily its dual nature. Beautiful, intelligent, articulate, strong, Vittoria is also an unrepentant adulterer who is implicated in the murders of her husband Camillo and Brachiano’s duchess Isabella. It is no accident, however, that in this drama of moral ambiguity, the extent of Vittoria’s responsibility is left unclear; she may be guilty of no more than a wish, revealed in a dream, that Isabella and Camillo die.
In a world...
(The entire section is 1069 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of The White Devil Critical Essays. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!