Poetic Drama: An Anthology of Plays in Verse from the Ancient Greek to the Modern American

By Alfred Kreymborg | Go to book overview

PREFACE TO THE WHITE DEVIL

BEFORE TURNING to John Webster and the twilight of the gods, we should take some note of Thomas Middleton, Cyril Tourneur, and John Ford. Middleton ( 1570-1627) wrote plays in collaboration with Dekker, Drayton, Munday, Rowley, and Webster; and The Changeling, written with Rowley in 1621, is probably the finest of all collaborations. While Rowley was primarily a journeyman hack, Middleton had originality and his psychologic insight bared the rise of the London merchant class over the landed aristocracy. Like Jonson and Dekker, he was deeply versed in the daily life of the capital and his work was realistic. It was never as bitter as Jonson's or as genial as Dekker's, that forerunner of Dickens. Middleton exposed the sharpers of his time with unfailing gusto and saw through business methods in advance of our time. The Changeling is a powerful melodrama of hatred and love and debased love, and our blood is slowly frozen by the villainous De Flores' gloating possession of the lovely Beatrice. For sheer blood and thunder, however, this drama was surpassed by the works of Tourneur and Webster. Ford falls midway between this terrific pair, but even that gentler poet cluttered his stage with dead bodies in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. Nothing at the time could please an Elizabethan audience more than the tremendous actions of life superseded by the still more tremendous actions of death. With the decadence of court and nobility, poets and their audience were not yet prepared to accept a natural step in historical progress, but eyed the middle class with horror and aversion.

Little is known of the life of John Webster ( 1580?-1625), but his strong nature, his deep sense of pity and terror, his obsession with death and decay in a magnificent setting--these are present throughout his brilliant tragedies, The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi. Webster claims additional interest now because of the influence he shares with the metaphysical giant, John Donne, over T. S. Eliot and his countless imitators. Death these days has a fascination similar to that which stirred the twilit Elizabethans--or as Eliot chants:

Webster was much possessed by death
And saw the skull beneath the skin;
And breastless creatures under ground
Leaned backward with a lipless grin.

But Webster, and Donne as well, were impassioned men with a forthright power and imagination which brought great life to their dramas and poems. Outside of Eliot there is little or no such life in contemporary verse, and death, not poetry, is the victor over death.

Webster, who worked very slowly, composed his two masterpieces in a meteoric period of four years, 1611-1614. Before that time and after, he worked with other dramatists or settled down to labors of his own which, except for occasional passages, fell to the mediocrity of the poets of the next generation. Where Ford and Tourneur wrote sensational dramas tinged with genuine poetry and in Tourneur's case with poetry so

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Poetic Drama: An Anthology of Plays in Verse from the Ancient Greek to the Modern American
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vi
  • Contents vii
  • Lines Before the Curtain 1
  • Introduction the Story of Poetic Drama 3
  • Preface to Agamemnon 45
  • Preface 45
  • Preface to Oedipus Coloneus 68
  • Preface 68
  • Oedipus Coloneus 70
  • Preface to Ion 94
  • Preface 94
  • Ion 96
  • Preface to the Acharnians 122
  • Preface 122
  • Preface to Oriental Plays 146
  • Preface 146
  • The Chalk Circle 148
  • Act I 150
  • Act I 158
  • Act I 164
  • Act IV 168
  • Nakamitsu (manju) 174
  • Preface to Medieval Plays 178
  • The Mystery of Adam 180
  • Abraham, Melchisedec, and Isaac 194
  • The Second Shepherds' Play 199
  • The Second Shepherds' Play 208
  • The Second Shepherds' Play 218
  • Preface to Tamburlaine the Great 223
  • Preface 223
  • The First Part of Tamburlaine the Great 225
  • Act I 225
  • Act I 225
  • Act I 227
  • Act I 230
  • Act I 230
  • Act I 231
  • Act I 232
  • Act I 232
  • Act I 233
  • Act I 234
  • Act I 235
  • Act III 236
  • Scene II 236
  • Scene II 238
  • Scene II 241
  • Scene II 241
  • Scene II 242
  • Scene III 243
  • Scene III 244
  • Scene III 245
  • Scene III 245
  • Preface to Measure for Measure 252
  • Preface 252
  • Measure for Measure 254
  • Scene IV 258
  • Scene IV 259
  • Scene IV 259
  • Scene II 263
  • Scene III 265
  • Scene III 266
  • Scene III 268
  • Scene III 268
  • Scene III 271
  • Scene III 274
  • Scene III 274
  • Scene III 275
  • Scene III 278
  • Scene III 280
  • Scene III 281
  • Scene III 281
  • Scene III 281
  • Scene III 281
  • Preface to Volpone 289
  • Preface 289
  • Volpone or the Fox 291
  • Act I 292
  • Act I 292
  • Act I 301
  • Act I 301
  • Act I 306
  • Scene III 307
  • Act III 309
  • Act III 309
  • Act III 310
  • Act III 313
  • Act III 313
  • Scene V 314
  • Scene VI 314
  • Scene VI 318
  • Scene VI 318
  • Scene VI 322
  • Scene VI 327
  • Scene VI 327
  • Scene VI 331
  • Scene III 333
  • Scene IV 333
  • Scene IV 334
  • Scene IV 335
  • Scene IV 336
  • Scene IV 336
  • Preface to a New Way to Pay Old Debts 340
  • Preface 340
  • A New Way to Pay Old Debts 341
  • Act I 341
  • Act II 346
  • Act II 348
  • Act II 348
  • Act II 350
  • Act II 353
  • Act III 355
  • Scene II 356
  • Scene II 361
  • Scene II 362
  • Scene II 362
  • Scene II 365
  • Scene II 367
  • Scene II 369
  • Scene II 369
  • Scene II 375
  • Preface to the White Devil 376
  • Preface 376
  • The White Devil; Or, Vittoria Corombona 378
  • Scene II 379
  • Scene II 384
  • Scene II 384
  • Scene II 388
  • Scene II 389
  • Scene II 390
  • Act III 392
  • Scene II 398
  • Scene II 400
  • Scene II 400
  • Scene II 403
  • Act V 406
  • Scene II 409
  • Scene II 410
  • Scene V 417
  • Scene VI 417
  • Preface to the Sheep Well 422
  • Preface 422
  • The Sheep Well 424
  • Act II 432
  • Preface to Cinna 449
  • Preface 449
  • Cinna or the Mercy of Augustus 451
  • Scene II 452
  • Scene II 453
  • Scene II 454
  • Scene II 455
  • Scene II 455
  • Scene II 458
  • Act III 459
  • Scene II 460
  • Scene III 460
  • Scene III 461
  • Scene V 463
  • Act IV 463
  • Scene II 463
  • Scene II 463
  • Scene II 464
  • Scene II 465
  • Scene II 466
  • Scene II 466
  • Scene II 466
  • Scene II 468
  • Scene III 469
  • Preface to Athaliah 471
  • Preface 471
  • Athaliah a Tragedy Founded Upon Holy Scripture 473
  • Scene II 475
  • Scene II 476
  • Scene II 476
  • Scene II 477
  • Scene II 477
  • Scene II 477
  • Scene II 478
  • Scene II 478
  • Scene II 478
  • Scene II 480
  • Scene II 480
  • Scene II 482
  • Scene II 482
  • Scene II 483
  • Scene II 483
  • Scene II 484
  • Scene III 484
  • Scene III 485
  • Scene III 485
  • Scene III 486
  • Scene III 486
  • Scene VIII 488
  • Act IV 488
  • Act IV 488
  • Act IV 489
  • Act IV 489
  • Act IV 490
  • Act IV 491
  • Act IV 491
  • Act IV 492
  • Act IV 492
  • Scene II 493
  • Scene III 494
  • Scene IV 494
  • Scene V 494
  • Scene V 495
  • Scene VII 496
  • Scene VIII 496
  • Preface to the Misanthrope 497
  • Preface 497
  • The Misanthrope 499
  • Scene II 502
  • Scene II 504
  • Scene II 505
  • Scene II 505
  • Scene II 506
  • Scene II 506
  • Scene II 506
  • Scene II 506
  • Scene VI 509
  • Scene VII 509
  • Act III 509
  • Act III 509
  • Act III 510
  • Act III 510
  • Act III 511
  • Act III 511
  • Act III 512
  • Act IV 514
  • Scene II 515
  • Scene III 515
  • Scene III 517
  • Scene III 518
  • Scene III 518
  • Scene III 519
  • Scene III 520
  • Scene III 520
  • Scene III 521
  • Scene III 521
  • Scene VII 522
  • Scene VIII 522
  • Preface to Torquato Tasso 523
  • Preface 523
  • Torquato Tasso a Drama in Five Acts 525
  • Scene II 527
  • Scene II 529
  • Scene II 531
  • Scene II 533
  • Scene II 533
  • Scene II 537
  • Scene III 537
  • Scene V 542
  • Act III 542
  • Scene II 542
  • Scene II 542
  • Scene II 545
  • Scene II 545
  • Scene II 548
  • Scene II 548
  • Scene II 548
  • Scene II 548
  • Scene II 551
  • Act V 555
  • Scene II 556
  • Scene II 557
  • Scene IV 558
  • Scene V 559
  • Preface to the Death of Wallenstein 562
  • Preface 562
  • The Death of Wallenstein 564
  • Scene II 565
  • Scene III 565
  • Scene III 566
  • Scene III 567
  • Scene III 570
  • Scene III 570
  • Scene III 573
  • Scene III 573
  • Scene III 574
  • Scene III 576
  • Scene IV 577
  • Scene V 577
  • Scene V 578
  • Scene VII 581
  • Act III 582
  • Scene II 582
  • Scene II 582
  • Scene II 583
  • Scene II 584
  • Scene II 586
  • Scene VI 587
  • Scene VII 587
  • Scene VII 588
  • Scene VII 588
  • Scene XI 590
  • Scene XII 590
  • Scene XIII 590
  • Scene XIII 591
  • Scene XIII 591
  • Scene XIII 593
  • Scene XIII 593
  • Scene XIII 594
  • Scene XIX 596
  • Scene XX 596
  • Scene XX 597
  • Scene XX 598
  • Scene XX 598
  • Scene XX 599
  • Scene XX 599
  • Scene XX 599
  • Scene XX 601
  • Scene XX 602
  • Scene XX 602
  • Scene XX 602
  • Scene VII 605
  • Scene IX 606
  • Scene IX 607
  • Scene IX 608
  • Scene IX 609
  • Scene IX 609
  • Scene IX 610
  • Scene IX 610
  • Scene IX 610
  • Scene IX 610
  • Scene IX 613
  • Scene IX 615
  • Scene IX 616
  • Scene IX 617
  • Scene IX 618
  • Scene IX 618
  • Scene IX 618
  • Scene IX 619
  • Scene IX 619
  • Scene IX 620
  • Preface to the ] 621
  • Preface 621
  • E Cenci 622
  • Act I 622
  • Scene III 625
  • Act II 627
  • Act II 627
  • Act II 629
  • Act III 631
  • Scene II 635
  • Scene II 636
  • Scene II 636
  • Scene II 638
  • Scene II 639
  • Scene II 640
  • Act V 643
  • Scene II 644
  • Scene II 646
  • Scene II 648
  • Preface to the White Saviour 650
  • Preface 650
  • The White Saviour a Dramatic Fantasy 651
  • Second Scene 653
  • Second Scene 657
  • Second Scene 662
  • Second Scene 665
  • Sixth Scene 671
  • Seventh Scene 676
  • Seventh Scene 683
  • Seventh Scene 689
  • Seventh Scene 693
  • Seventh Scene 698
  • Preface to the Last Night of Don Juan 702
  • Preface 702
  • The Last Night of Don Juan 703
  • Preface to the King's Threshold 726
  • Preface 726
  • Preface to Gruach 740
  • Preface 740
  • Gruach by Gordon Bottomley 741
  • Preface to the Dog Beneath the Skin 757
  • Preface 757
  • Act I 760
  • Scene II 765
  • Scene II 767
  • Scene II 768
  • Scene II 771
  • Scene II 773
  • Scene II 778
  • Scene III 781
  • Act III 788
  • Scene II 789
  • Scene III 793
  • Scene IV 793
  • Scene V 799
  • Epilogue 804
  • Preface to the Death of Eve 806
  • Preface 806
  • Preface to Aria Da Capo 818
  • Preface 818
  • Preface to Hole in the Wall 826
  • Preface 826
  • Preface to the Fall of the City 832
  • Preface 832
  • Preface to Shenandoah 842
  • Preface 842
  • Supplementary Lists and Reading 853
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