John Webster, Renaissance Dramatist

John Webster, Renaissance Dramatist

John Webster, Renaissance Dramatist

John Webster, Renaissance Dramatist

Synopsis

Transgressive and darkly brilliant, the drama of John Webster has long been celebrated as one of the crowning glories of the English Renaissance. David Coleman locates Webster's remarkable plays within the context of the tumultuous political, religious, and economic climate of Jacobean London. He reintroduces readers to the playwright's great tragedies and familiarizes them with lesser-known works. He unpacks the fascination and repulsion expressed by generations of critics and theatergoers, ultimately arguing that the relevance and resonance of Webster is nowhere near extinct. This marks the only introductory guide to Webster's work that takes recent scholarship into account. Chapters devoted to The White Devil, The Duchess of Malfi, and The Devil's Law-Case situate each of these plays within their historical, cultural, and critical contexts. Coleman also recounts the performances of these plays, from their original stage production to today's cinematic interpretations.

Excerpt

John Webster was born into a world of rapid change. Old structures of society, of religion, and of trade were breaking down, to be replaced by a world which we would recognise as ‘modern’. the centuries-long political and theological dominance of the Catholic church was being challenged across Europe by a number of new understandings of Christianity, grouped together under the term ‘Protestantism’; cities were becoming larger, drawing in more people from the countryside and changing the nature of local communities; and in those cities, the beginnings of a world-wide trade economy were making themselves felt. in such an atmosphere of change, different people reacted in different ways. Some adopted a fixed religious position, going to their death for their beliefs: this occurred among both Catholics and Protestants. Some probably doubted the validity of religion entirely, but the power of the church was not yet weakened enough that such an opinion could be publicly uttered without fear of reprimand. Some embraced the new economy as a means of getting rich quick, trampling over whomever and whatever stood in their way; others complained of the unfairness and immorality of the economic system. Some strove to maintain what they saw as the ancient dignity of the English social system, with its concentration of power in the figure of the monarch; others mounted a radical challenge to that system, at one point in the seventeenth century eradicating monarchy from England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland completely.

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