Thursday, 9 October 2014

Review of The White Devil

Let's be real, who wouldn't love a seventeenth-century play brimming with allusions to prostitution, witchcraft and downright misogyny? This quote I believe helps bring to light the paradoxes at the centre of the play. On the one hand, fortune is necessary - she has the power to control lives and does so unheeded. On the other hand, she might leave you with some nasty surprises (and yes, as with most plays of this era, that probably means syphilis). 

I'm not sure whether studying Shakespeare last year has swayed my opinion, but I really think that seventeenth century literature gets a poor reputation as being incredibly dry. The likes of Middleton, Shakespeare and even John Webster at points can be humorous. Having said that, it did make me feel a bit like a 40-year-old crazy cat lady laughing at Middleton last year. Personally, my favourite laughable part of The White Devil was the reference to poisonous Spanish "farts". Although I'm not an especial fan of juvenile humour, I was quite startled to come across it in this centuries-old play. I'm still unconvinced as to whether it makes me revel in the fact that simple humour has stuck around, or despair that we haven't really progressed from finding the word "fart" funny.

Moving on from the humourous aspect, I found the misogynistic elements of the text rather interesting. It is never truly clear whether Webster is handling Vittoria's case as something which supports female empowerment, or degrades it. The scene in which Vittoria's arraignment is described explores this most thoroughly. I wish I had enough space to quote the whole description of whores made by the lawyer, but alas its glorious length is a bit too, well, lengthy. Anyway, to summise, everything which the lawyer states whores are Vittoria is able to simply refute. However, in the refutation of this she alludes to her promiscuity. In this scene the reader is shown that Vittoria is able to speak Latin. She is also eloquent enough to hold a strong argument. During this period female eloquence of speech and licentiousness were deeply connected. Thus the very fact that she speaks is a paradox to her pleading that she is not the lusty creature that she is accused of being.

What were your favourite parts?

Steph x

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