John Webster



  • (c. 1580 - 1634) English playwright.Little is now known about Webster's life. He was the son of a Londoncoachmaker and appears to have studied law at the Middle Temple. Althoughhe is recorded as the author of several other works, incuding a historyplay, Lady Jane, his only surviving works are Westward Ho!and Northward Ho! (1604 - 05), written in collaborationwith Thomas Dekker, the comedy The Devil's Law Case (1620),and the two tragic masterpieces, The White Devil (1612) andThe Duchess of Malfi (1614). With their eloquent poetry andsuperbly crafted plots, the two plays are amongst the most compellingof Jacobean revenge tragedies. Nevertheless, Webster hasoften been criticized for the violence and morbidity of his work:George Bernard Shaw called him the "Tussaud Laureate"of English literature, while Rupert Brooke described his plays as"full of the feverish and ghastly turmoil of a nest of maggots".Both The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi have enjoyedfrequent modern revivals.
    Webster was much possessed by death
    And saw the skull beneath the skin;
    And breastless creatures under ground
    Leaned backwards with lipless grin.
    T. S. Eliot: Whispers of Immortality