Week 448: From ‘The White Devil’ by John Webster

‘The White Devil’ is a play by Shakespeare’s contemporary John Webster (1584-1634). Featuring a convoluted plot and a cast of murderous Italians, it might seem unlikely to have much appeal for a modern audience, and yet, come to think of it, those same ingredients didn’t stop the TV drama ‘The Sopranos’ from being a runaway success, and certainly the twentieth century saw a renewed appreciation of Webster’s dark poetry. One thing’s for sure: he had that Elizabethan knack of handling a strong, flexible blank verse line in a way that has never been surpassed or indeed equalled since. Here is the Italian nobleman Giovanni in conversation with his uncle Francisco de Medici, Duke of Florence, lamenting the death of Giovanni’s murdered mother Isabella.

Giov.   What do the dead do, uncle? do they eat,
  Hear music, go a-hunting, and be merry,
  As we that live?

Fran.   No, coz; they sleep.

Giov.   Lord, Lord, that I were dead!
  I have not slept these six nights.  When do they wake?

Fran.   When God shall please.

Giov.   Good God, let her sleep ever!
  For I have known her wake an hundred nights,
  When all the pillow where she laid her head
  Was brine-wet with her tears.  I am to complain to you, sir;
  I’ll tell you how they have us’d her now she ‘s dead:
  They wrapp’d her in a cruel fold of lead,
  And would not let me kiss her.

John Webster

2 thoughts on “Week 448: From ‘The White Devil’ by John Webster

  1. Hi David, What you write about other poets’ work is always interesting. Perhaps you could pull it all together one day in a basic introduction “Poetry, how to enjoy it” or some such! It would benefit reluctant readers like yours truly (though I’m not at all reluctant when it comes to your work!).

    • Well, thanks for the encouragement, Michael, but I have always seen myself as one of life’s learners rather than life’s teachers, and I would feel very diffident about telling anyone else what to enjoy or how to enjoy it. I claim no critical stance or ideology: my policy with this blog, in so far as I have a policy at all, is just to present a poem I genuinely like in the hope that my readers may like it too, give a bit of background if it seems helpful, then get out of the way and let the poem speak for itself. And I think that in the main the poems I choose do speak for themselves. So I would say to ‘reluctant readers’ like yourself don’t worry overmuch about what others may think or say, just use their opinions as possible signposts to things you too may find interesting, but don’t worry if you don’t, and trust in the holiness of your own heart’s affections, as Keats put it.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s