The Duchess of Malfi

"Heaven fashioned us of nothing; and we strive to bring ourselves to nothing"
Product Number: WEB191947
Released: 02 Mar, 2017
Business Term: Multiuse 75 Circ
ISBN: #9781787373402
Publisher: Stage Door
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John Webster is known primarily for his two Jacobean tragedies, The Duchess of Malfi and The White Devil. Much of the detail and chronology of his life that led to these two pivotal works is, however, unknown. His father, a carriage maker also named John Webster, married a blacksmith's daughter, Elizabeth Coates, on November 4th, 1577, and it is likely that Webster was born within a year or two in or near London. The family lived in St. Sepulchre's parish. Both his father and his uncle, Edward Webster, were Freemen of the Merchant Taylors' Company and Webster attended Merchant Taylors' School in Suffolk Lane, London. Some accounts say he began to study law but nothing is certain although there are some legal aspects to his later works to suggest this may have been so. By 1602, Webster was employed working as part of various teams of playwrights on history plays, though unfortunately most were never printed and therefore do not survive. These include a tragedy Caesar's Fall (written with Michael Drayton, Thomas Dekker, Thomas Middleton and Anthony Munday), and a collaboration with Thomas Dekker; Christmas Comes but Once a Year (1602). This factory line assembly of plays may seem rather odd to us today but plays then ran for much shorter durations and consequently a steady supply had to be assured. Webster's relationship with Dekker seems to have been a good one. Together they wrote Sir Thomas Wyatt, printed in 1607, although it is thought first performed in 1602 and two city comedies, Westward Ho! in 1604 and Northward Ho! in 1605. It seems Webster also adapted, in 1604, John Marston's The Malcontent for staging by the King's Men. On March 18th, 1606 Webster married the 17-year-old Sara Peniall at St Mary's Church, Islington. Sara was 7 months pregnant and marrying during Lent required the issuing of a special permit, hence the certainty of the date. Their first child, John, was baptised at the parish of St Dunstan-in-the-West on March 8th, 1606. Records show that on the death of a neighbour, who died in 1617, several bequests were made to the Webster family and it is therefore thought that other children were born to the couple. Despite his ability to write comedy, and to collaborate with others, Webster is remembered best for his sole authorship on two brooding English tragedies based on Italian sources. The White Devil, retells the intrigues involving Vittoria Accoramboni, an Italian woman assassinated at the age of 28. It was performed at the open-air Red Bull Theatre in 1612 but was unsuccessful, perhaps being too high brow for a working-class audience. In 1614 The Duchess of Malfi was first performed by the King's Men, most probably in the indoor Blackfriars Theatre and to a more high-brow audience. It proved to be more successful. The play Guise, based on French history, was also written but him but no text has survived. Webster wrote one more play on his own: The Devil's Law Case (c. 1617-1619), a tragicomedy. He continued to write thereafter but always in collaboration and usually city comedies; Anything for a Quiet Life (c. 1621), with Thomas Middleton, and A Cure for a Cuckold (c. 1624), with William Rowley. In 1624, he also co-wrote a topical play about a recent scandal, Keep the Widow Waking (with John Ford, Rowley and Dekker). The play itself is lost, although its plot is known from a court case. There is also some certainty that he contributed to the tragicomedy The Fair Maid of the Inn with

Author(s): John Webster
Original Publish Date: 02 Mar, 2017

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