Synopses & Reviews
Following Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, the new court of King James was beset by political instability and moral corruption. This atmosphere provided fertile ground for the dramatists of the age, who explored the ways in which social decadence and the abuse of power breed resentment, leading inexorably to violent retribution.
In Cyril Tourneur’s The Revenger’s Tragedy, the debauched son of an Italian Duke attempts to rape the virtuous Gloriana—a veiled reference to Elizabeth I. John Webster’s The White Devil depicts a sinister world of intrigue and murderous infidelity, while The Changeling, perhaps Thomas Middleton’s supreme achievement, powerfully portrays a woman bringing about her own unwitting destruction. All three are masterpieces of brooding intensity, dominated by images of decay, disillusionment, and death.
- The introduction explores the plays' major themes and places them within the turbulent cultural and social context of their time of composition
- Previously published as Three Jacobean Tragedies
Three masterpieces of Jacobean drama, dwelling on death, decay, and the end of the reign of Elizabeth I: 'The Revenger's Tragedy' (Cyril Tourneur), 'The White Devil' (John Webster) and 'The Changeling' (John Middleton).
These four plays, written during the reigns of James I and Charles I, took revenge tragedy in dark and ambiguous new directions. In The Duchess of Malfi
and The White Devil
, John Webster explores power, sex, and corruption in the Italian court, creating two unforgettable anti-heroines. In The Broken Heart
, John Ford questions the value of emotional repression as his characters attempt to subdue their desires and hatreds in ancient Greece. Finally, Ford's masterpiece 'Tis Pity She's a Whore
explores the taboo themes of incest and forbidden love in a daring reworking of Romeo and Juliet
About the Author
was born in about 1578 in London. He studied law at the Middle Temple before embarking on a career in the theater, collaborating on many plays with contemporary dramatists. But it was his two solo-authored tragedies, The White Devil
(1612) and The Duchess of Malfi
(1614), that sealed his reputation. He died in the 1630s.
JOHN FORD was born in 1586 in Devon, England. His early career was wholly concerned with poetry and philosophical works, and it was not until the 1620s that he began writing stage plays, including The Broken Heart (1620) and'Tis Pity She's a Whore (c.1630). Nothing more is known of Ford after the performance of his last play in 1638.
JANE KINGSLEY-SMITH (editor) is a reader at Roehampton University, London, and author of Shakespeare's Drama of Exile and Cupid in Early Modern Literature and Culture.