Posted at 10.07.2018
The play 'The White Devil' by John Webster, together with Thomas Kyd's 'The Spanish Tragedy' and Shakespeare's 'Hamlet', can be an example of a very popular genre of crisis through the Jacobean and Elizabethan eras- the revenge tragedy. Key elements in every revenge tragedy are a magic formula murder, the occurrence of any vengeful ghost, moments of real or feigned madness, a central persona, who seeks to revenge for the murder after justice has failed them in the general public area, intrigue, plotting and disguise, and an eruption of standard violence at the end which brings about the destruction of the characters in the play, alongside the avenger. Those key elements of the revenge tragedy are carefully interrelated with two of the key themes in 'The White Devil'- the styles of love and revenge.
The play itself is a story of passion and revenge, with the two themes being tightly interconnected, as the one brings about the other. The writer structured his play on the real life report of the killing of Vittoria Accoramboni in Padua on Dec 22, 1585. John Webster is thought to have written this play with the aim of showing problem in Italy and by doing this to depict 'the political and moral express of Great britain in his own day'. But what grabs the audience of the play is not so much the hidden meaning, but the display of just what a person is capable of under the influence of emotions, when common sense is left behind, when the driving a vehicle forces are passion or revenge.
But enthusiasm doesn't come from nowhere, it always, as every feeling, has a source. And in this play the key source of love is not other people but Vittoria, the 'femme fatale', the meant 'white devil' from the title. It is even said that the subject refers to a modern day proverb having that 'the white devil is worse than the dark'. Colors are symbolic in this play, especially dark-colored and white, but red also appears in the storyline when in the center of the trial Vittoria's white cloak comes down and reveals a red dress. Thus Vittoria is sometimes referred to as the 'scarlet girl'. But furthermore important is how interest causes the act of murder, and in the case with Vittoria and her lover Brachiano, it is enthusiasm in the sense of quite strong sexual desire which makes Brachiano plot the murders of his better half Isabella and of Vittoria's hubby. Thus we can say that Brachiano's love is a violent enthusiasm, the one which is, regarding to Rowland Wymer, nothing more than an 'aspect associated with an arrogant, aristocratic will which recognizes no communal or moral impediments to its fulfillment'. That's why when Isabella's sibling and Cardinal Monticelso decide to make Brachiano confess his adulterous romance with Vittoria, instead of doing that he and Flamineo arrange to own Isabella and Camillo murdered. This is more than an explicit indicator of how passion can be violent, dangerous and even leading to death and murder. Additionally it is meant that Vittoria herself urged her enthusiast to commit the murders by recounting to him an ambiguous goal that she experienced, where she perceives the graves of her man and his partner.
But enthusiasm in "The White Devil" is seen not only in the sense of a very strong libido. It can also come to imply 'a quite strong belief or feeling about something'(Longman Dictionary of Modern-day English), and in this so this means it could be none the less dangerous or violent. When, for example, Isabella's brother Francisco chooses to avenge her loss of life, it is again interest in the sense of a solid desire to do something because you believe in it, and believe that it is right, this is the driving push for committing murder. Not merely him, but many, if not all of the people in the play, is seen as behaving in completely different ways, sometimes influenced by logical judgments, sometimes- by other, unconscious pushes. As Wymer places it, ' the deeper and much more pervasive emphasis is on the extreme and unpredictable mixture of in contrast impulses found in the individual heart'(38) and what achieves the startling and unexpected effect is the fact that ' virtuous self-control offers way to quick surges of violence'(38). And this Wymer's argument provides support to my observation that interest is what needs control when self-control is fully gone, even as we can substitute 'surges of violence' with 'violent passions' to see that it meets more than well. In addition the author himself helps the argument that his personas quit reason and surrender to their passions by reducing them to the level of the animals. Pets and beast are the creatures whose driving a motor vehicle force are instincts and passions, because they don't really have, unlike humans, reason or cleverness, and therefore take action according to what they feel, from what their intuition and passions inform them. The individuals of the play are many times known as pets: Vittoria is compared to a 'cursed dog let loose at midnight', Brachiano when dying from the poisoned helmet, refers to people as wolves.
But the styles of passion and revenge are not interconnected only with one another, but also with the topics of fatality and problem or injustice. That which we see in 'The White Devil' is a vicious circle, with one these leading invariably to the other. The storyplot itself starts with Lodovico boasting that he has been treated unjustly by the courtroom and protesting resistant to the court's discrimination between aristocrats and himself. Injustice is also seen in the landscape with Vittoria's trial where she actually is found guilty to be a whore even though there is certainly little hard proof her being involved in the murder, apart from the dream she experienced and told to Brachiano. This unfair phrase comes from the actual fact that her accusers are also her judges. But injustice often has consequences, and in this play the consequence of injustice takes the form of personal revenge. Lodovico, who has been in love with Isabella, and Francisco, her brother, see her death as an unjust act of violence created from adulterous interest and decide to bring justice themselves also to avenge Isabella's loss of life. Fatality is another aspect that is all-pervasive in the play- from the very first organized murder to the loss of life of almost all characters in the long run of the play. Some critics have even argued that Webster was too concerned with loss of life, but others argued which it was not so much death itself that Webster wanted to within this play, but 'the art work of commendable dying'( Thomas McAlindon, 45). An example of this is given by Vittoria and Flamineo, who face their deaths with courage and stoicism. Brachiano's loss of life, on the other side, is agonizing and horrifying, and it could be seen to serve as a connection between crime and consequence. Brachiano is seen as the villain of the piece so his loss of life, which is again an take action of revenge, is the most brutal, incorporating physical pain and spiritual torment, when his murderers reveal to him their identities.
When first staged, the play didn't become successful, even the opposing- it was a complete failure, mainly, some claim, because of its style. Indeed Webster's 'The White Devil' presents us with so many designs and aspects at the same time, that it is sometimes even hard to comprehend what its main goal is. Even though it was predicated on a real-life report, the play doesn't follow the storyline closely, mainly because Webster used not just one, but many options. But some dispute that he deviates from the true historical event and numbers deliberately, in order to achieve some of his ends, for occasion he magnifies the engagement of some characters so the revenge factor can be put focus on. But putting apart these discrepancies, 'The White Devil' has turned out an excellent exemplory case of a Jacobean tragedy making use of some of the most quality conventions of the revenge tragedy. We have an offence, plotting, intrigue, bloody treacherous activities, faked madness, private revenge, disguise, death, and order restored by the end. And what is more- the play is defined in Italy, which was very quality of revenge takes on. But regardless of what the goal of Webster was, he reveals us numerous themes in order to do this goal, and two of the very most evident ones are the themes of love and revenge, which alongside the themes of injustice and fatality form a vicious circle. It is the violent interest of Brachiano for Vittoria that places all the tragic occurrences in movement: his enthusiasm leads to loss of life, this death leads to revenge which ends again in loss of life. The chaotic violent passions that blur the mind of virtually all the character types of the play are against the stoic facing of death of a few of them. Which is not the underlying message, but this sensationalism, that grabs the audience.