The White Devil in the twenty-first century.


Webster’s play The White Devil belongs to the genre of Jacobean revenge tragedy. Irrespective of its difficulties, it can still work spectacularly well on stage. However, a modern audience may well approach it with a different set of assumptions from those of an early seventeenth century audience. To get some sort of a feel for this, ask yourself what might be a twenty-first century response to the following situations:

§         Two married people embark on an affaire

§         An ambitious young man is prepared to prostitute his sister to his employer to gain advancement

§         A powerful man employs a hitman to get rid of an inconvenient wife

§         A powerful man employs a hitman to get rid of an inconvenient rival

§         A servant woman from an ethnic minority throws herself at an upwardly mobile white professional man

§         A mother denounces her son and daughter on religious grounds

§         A political leader employs an ex-con to avenge an offence

§         A political leader uses allegations of sleaze to undermine a political opponent

§         A woman is socially ostracised for a sexual transgression whilst the man gets off scot-free

§         Audiences are presented with scenes of sex and violence (What certificate would you give a film of The White Devil?)


Would it make any difference if the people in question were celebrities instead of dukes and cardinals?


Some of these things might no longer seem shocking; but some of them undoubtedly would. Do the things that seem less significant now have anything in common?