Duchess of Malfi

Duchess of Malfi

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Duchess of Malfi

Duchess of Malfi

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Excerpt

Early Editions of the Play. The Duchess of Malfi was first printed as a small Quarto, in 1623. It was reprinted, with some trifling variation, in 1640 and 1678. But, according to Dyce, the First Edition is 'by far the most correct of the Quartos.' It has been used, for purposes of collation with Dyce's text, in the preparation of the present volume. No Edition, subsequent to the first three, can claim any authority.

Life and other Works of Webster. In the second generation of Elizabethan dramatists, if the name Elizabethan may be given a wide meaning, there is no figure more marked than Webster's. Of his life we know little, and nothing of importance. His career as dramatist began in the closing years of the Queen's reign, and seems to have lasted through that of her Successor. Whether he lived on into the days of Charles I. is quite uncertain.

But our ignorance of his outer life matters little; it is clear that his whole soul went out in his dramas. Here his range was unusually wide even for an age where width, no less than depth, was the rule. His comedies--written in partnership with Dekker, and, in one instance, with Rowley--are full of life and of that keen observation which came by nature to the contemporaries of Shakespeare. And in one of them--Westward Ho--there is a strain of passion and poetry which, however strangely it may contrast with the bald setting that surrounds it, certainly gives it a place among the more memorable pieces of an age rich beyond all others in comic genies.

But no one can doubt that his true field was Tragedy. Even in his lighter vein he seems to have needed tragic material before he could give free play to his extraordinary powers. The Devil's Law-Case, his one tragi-comedy, is, save for the closing scene, entirely tragic in plot and conduct. And it shows dramatic powers of a higher kind, a keener sense of effect, and a subtler appreciation of the finer shades of character, than can be found in any of his comedies.

It is, however, in strict Tragedy that Webster is at his greatest. Ever since Lamb wrote in praise of them, Vittoria Corombona and The Duchess of Malfi have been universally accepted as among the first masterpieces of the Elizabethan drama. They show a closer study of Shakespeare's work than is to be found in any other dramatist of his time; and they show also a nearer approach to his spirit.3 There is in both plays a blending of tragedy with pathos, of pity with terror, that has never been surpassed, and perhaps not even equalled, except by Shakespeare himself. Besides this, we find in them that depth of reflection, combining profound humanity . . .

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