In the late 1970’s, new information was learned about a family named Webster that lived in London in the parish of St. Sepulcher-Without-Newgate and is believed to have been the family of John Webster, the tragic dramatist. The head of this family, also named John, was a member of the Merchant Taylors’ Company; this information accords with a statement written by the playwright, which mentions that he had been “born free” of the Merchant Taylors’, meaning that at the time of his birth his father was an actual member of that guild. The senior Webster became free in 1577 and, most likely with the expectation of a sufficient income to allow him to have a family, married Elizabeth Coates that same year. The future playwright, believed to be the eldest son because he bears his father’s name, was most likely born within the years 1577-1580. The father later became a prosperous coach maker, whose coaches frequently carried the dead to burial. This may explain the playwright’s preoccupation with death, which began at an early age.
No records prove that the young Webster went to the famous Merchant Taylors’ School, but such an assumption is reasonable. Since his plays show knowledge of the law, it has always been thought that he attended law schools. Records do show, however, that on August 1, 1589, a John Webster was admitted to the Middle Temple from the New Inn.
The earliest record about the playwright’s theatrical career comes from 1602, when he, along with four other writers including Thomas Dekker , received commission from the Lord Admiral’s Company to write a play to be known as Two Shapes, probably the same play as Caesar’s Fall, now lost, for which the company paid the playwrights five pounds on May 22. Later that year Webster collaborated on two other plays, being paid in October for Lady Jane, which may have been published under a different title, and in November for Christmas Comes but Once a Year, now lost. In 1602 and 1604, he wrote minor poems,...
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