In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section John Webster

  • Introduction
  • Editions, Complete and Collected Works
  • Textual Studies
  • Biographical Studies
  • The Webster Canon

British and Irish Literature John Webster
Luke Wilson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 January 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0060


The reputation of John Webster (b. 1580–d. 1634) as a playwright rests primarily on his two great tragedies, The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi, which in their poetry and characterization are often compared to Shakespeare, but which are distinguished by their satirical bent, their distinct tonality (the macabre imagination that prompted T. S. Eliot to describe Webster as “much possessed by death”), and their powerfully equivocal treatment of female characters. Webster also collaborated extensively, early in his career, with Dekker and later with Middleton, Heywood, and others, and was the sole author of two additional plays, The Devil’s Law Case and the lost Guise. He published a poem on the death of Prince Henry and a Lord Mayor’s pageant, and contributed to the sixth edition of Overbury’s Characters. Devil and Malfi continue to generate extensive critical response, and there has recently been increased interest in The Devil’s Law Case and the collaborative Cure for a Cuckold.

General Overviews and Surveys

Overviews and surveys of Webster’s works tend to devote most of their attention to The Duchess of Malfi and The White Devil. Those that supply substantial discussions of the other works include Berry 1972, Dent 1960, Lagarde 1968, and Pearson 1980 (all cited under Critical Monographs 1955 to 1980), and Forker 1986 and Goldberg 1987 (both cited under Critical Monographs 1981 to 2012). Forker 1986 and Goldberg 1987 (both cited under Critical Monographs 1981 to 2012), and Pearson 1980 (cited under Critical Monographs 1955 to 1980).

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