John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi and The White Devil

4 April 2015
This paper is a critical analysis of Webster’s `The Duchess of Malfi` and `The White Devil,` focusing on the theme: `Sense of an elite woman’s place in the world.

This paper first presents in detail Webster’s view on morality and social relevance in the two plays especially in his use of imagery and characterization. The author then compares the strong central female characters in both plays. The paper argues that the plays force the re-evaluation of traditional social conventions, almost presenting a case for allowing women more freedom in deciding their own futures.
Perhaps the most powerful argument in favor of the presence of a social and moral comment in The Duchess of Malfi and The White Devil is to disprove the view that Webster was nothing more than a tawdry showman who resorted to grisly horror to entertain and amuse his audience. One cannot deny that both The Duchess of Malfi and The White Devil cause a great deal of emotional discomfort in their unabashed use of bloody murders, including the killing of innocent children in The Duchess of Malfi. But a counterpoint to this argument could well be that the very effectiveness of Webster’s plays lies in his use of baser human instincts to illustrate on the one hand, human resilience and fortitude even in the face of the greatest of horrors, and on the other the dire consequences of giving into negative emotions such as greed, lust and the desire for revenge and power.`
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