In John Webster’s Jacobean revenge tragedy The White Devil , the playwright portrays an Italian court filled with intrigue, immorality, and suspicion. Central to this volatile mix, is Webster’s idea of adultery and the female adulteress. Drawing heavily from established adultery stereotypes of the day, Webster unfolds a suspenseful plot about Vittoria, her lover Bracciano, and her scheming brother Flamineo as they engineer an illicit affair and plot the murder of Vittoria’s and Bracciano’s respective spouses. However, the playwright discards the stereotypes of the adulterer as catalyst of the action and the adulteress as petty traitor. Instead, Webster creates a world turned upside down as he challenges ideas of gender and social position through his portrayal of adultery. To measure Webster’s challenge to social norms, this paper contrasts his re-definition of the gender and social roles in an adulterous relationship against the portrayal of adultery in pamphlets and public records from the era.
Jennifer Hebel, ’06 Port Byron , IL
Majors: English and Classical Studies
Sponsor: Kirilka Stavreva