The White Devil


The play was written for and first performed by Queen Anne's Men at the Red Bull Theatre in Clerkenwell in the early months of 1612. The troupe usually offered simpler and more optimistic plays of the type written by their dramatist, Thomas Heywood. The play staged before Webster's seems to have been If This Be Not a Good Play, a tragicomedy by Thomas Dekker. Webster's play failed at its debut. In the prefatory epistle to the quarto, Webster praised the actors, mentioning Richard Perkins; but complained of the winter weather and above all of the audience, whose intellect he compared to that of donkeys.

The first successful modern production was that of the Marlowe Society (ADC Theatre, Cambridge, March 1920), with music by C. Armstrong Gibbs and with Eric Maschwitz as Vittoria. The Society specialised in Elizabethan and Jacobean revivals in uncut texts performed with their original economy and rapidity, and with the female roles played by men. "Anybody who enjoys hearing beautiful poetry beautifully spoken" wrote the editor of the Cambridge Review, "and tragic passion 'with dignity put on' should not miss this wonderful opportunity. What a magnificent play!"[2] "After three hundred years it must console the poet in his Elysium to know that at last his play has been played with success before a 'full and understanding auditory'. We must confess that to us it was the ritual of an initiation to the mysteries of a play which we always believed to be great, but which we never realized was quite so wonderful".[3] The production inspired the Cambridge scholar F. L. Lucas to edit the complete plays of Webster. "But in what exactly does the fascination of Webster consist?" he asked in the New Statesman.[4] "What could make the Cambridge production of The White Devil in 1920 seem still, to at least two who saw it then without any preconceptions, the most staggering performance they had ever known?"

In 1925 the Renaissance Theatre mounted a heavily cut version featuring Viola Tree and Cedric Hardwicke. The production was not well reviewed, perhaps mainly because of a failure to understand the special requirements of Renaissance dramaturgy. Webster scholar F. L. Lucas asked in the New Statesman, "Who can hope to speak passionate verse lying on one elbow on the floor?"[5]

In 1965, an Off-Broadway production was staged at the Circle in the Square starring Frank Langella as Flamineo, Carrie Nye as Vittoria, Paul Stevens as Brachiano, Robert Burr as Francisco, Eric Berry as Monticelso and Christine Pickles as Cornelia. The production ran from 6 December 1965 to 17 April 1966 and won the Obie Award for Distinguished Performance (Frank Langella).

In November 1969, the National Theatre at the Old Vic in London, performed the play in a production by Frank Dunlop (who went on to found the Young Vic). The cast was largely drawn from the company. Geraldine McEwan played Vittoria, Edward Woodward Flamineo, Edward Petherbridge Lodovico, Benjamin Whitrow Camillo, Derek Godfrey Bracciano, Jane Lapotaire Zanche, Hazel Hughes Cornelia, John Moffatt Monticelso, Jane Wenham Isabella, Anthony Nicholls Francisco and Edward Hardwicke Marcello. In later performances Derek Jacobi played Lodovico. It was designed by Piero Gherardi as a crumbling wall out of which characters emerged like crawling insects in fantastic costumes of great extravagance. William Hobbs staged the fights and played the Spanish Ambassador. Mime work was by Claude Chagrin. The assistant director was Roland Joffe (since then the director of "The Killing Fields" and "The Mission").

The Royal Shakespeare Company performed The White Devil in 1996 at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon (later transferred to London to The Pit at The Barbican), directed by Gale Edwards with Richard McCabe as Flamineo, Philip Quast as Ludovico, Ray Fearon as Brachiano, Jane Gurnett as Vittoria, Stephen Boxer as Francisco and Philip Voss.

The Royal Shakespeare Company are currently2014 performing The White Devil in the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, directed my Maria Aberg. This production opened on the 6th August 2014 to mixed reviews. Flamineo, Vittoria's brother is played by a woman.

On 15 August 2010 BBC Radio 3 broadcast a production adapted and directed by Marc Beeby which, according to the BBC Radio 3 web site, "sets the action in a murky underworld of the 1950s – a world that seeks to hide its shifting alliances, betrayals and sudden violence beneath a flaky veneer of honour and respectability." The production featured Patrick Kennedy as Flamineo, Anna Maxwell Martin as Vittoria, Frances de la Tour as Cornelia, Shaun Dingwall as Brachiano, Peter Wright as Francisco, Sean Baker as Monticelso and Harry Myers as Ludovico.

This content is from Wikipedia. GradeSaver is providing this content as a courtesy until we can offer a professionally written study guide by one of our staff editors. We do not consider this content professional or citable. Please use your discretion when relying on it.