The White Devil

Webster's Tragic Vision in "The White Devil" 12th Grade

John Webster’s The White Devil portrays an inherent brutality within the human condition, which, while humanity may strive to do good, ensures its ultimate destruction. He draws on genuine fears of the Jacobean era to attribute immorality to every aspect of human life, hinting at the inexorable nature of evil. The elusive king, James I, did not prevent the burgeoning power of superstition and deception within society, in some ways encouraging it, such as through his studies into witchcraft. This approach allowed for the acceleration of equivocation, as well as for a vulnerable society, verging into meritocratic tendencies. Webster uses these societal fears to question the political and religious systems of the early seventeenth century, considering the challenges to Catholicism and the burgeoning power of the office of papacy. He also questions the influence of disease, suggesting that all of his characters are infected with a moral illness that only their deaths can cure them of.

The White Devil depicts evil as an accepted part of aristocratic society. It is a putative part of “court life; Brachiano’s ‘close pandarisme’ is actually known, and Lodovico’s past murders are common knowledge” (May, 1963). Webster suggests that...

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