Revenge Tragedy in "The White Devil"

            The White Devil is atypical of a revenge tragedy play. As a result, the action has to be ingenious and at times gruesome, whilst also being translatable to the stage. Webster uses many techniques and methods whether it is in staging, language or characterisation, to bring the action closer to the audience and heighten the theatrical effectiveness of the play. .

             Act One Scene Two is the first introduction of the main characters; Brachiano, Vittoria, Camillo, Cornelia and Flamineo. It is a scene full of ambiguities and contradictions, the sense of ambivalence coming from both the language and the action. The staging of the play is effective in itself. The carpet and cushions which Zanche laid out implies a sexuality which contrasts with the romantic and almost cliched lover's conversation leaving the audience confused at their true motives or emotions. Likewise, the counterbalance of Flamineo and Zanche overseeing the action on one side, with Cornelia representing the virtuous holy maternal figure on the other is reminiscent of the morality play which characterises Vice and Virtue. Also, the observation of such private action allows Webster to include three viewpoints, gloating, passion and agonised despair. .

             This open presentation of an important scene allows the audience to enter into the drama and choose their own moral angle on the events unfolding before them. The Jacobean audience would have immediately recognised the traditional characters of the Vice, Virtue and malcontent, making them less distanced by the paradoxical language, for example, the inverted collocation 'excellent devil'. Another method of inciting an audience response is Webster's use of bawdy humour with the sexual innuendo of the 'jewel' imagery. However there is always another interpretation, 'jewel' could either represent married chastity or more negatively, sexual organs. Another double meaning used to great effect is that of 'lost', which could either represent Brachiano's love for Vittoria, or be indicating the moral condemnation of his soul due to his villainous deeds as Duke.

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