Sydney Theatre Company
Playwright: John Webster, adapted by Gale Edwards
Director: Gale Edwards
August 2000 @ Theatre Royal
Hugo Weaving … Brachiano
Angie Milliken … Vittoria
Jeremy Sims … Flamineo
Philip Quast … Francisco
John Gaden … Monticelso
Jeanette Cronin/Heather Mitchell … Isabella
William Zappa … Ludovico
Bruce Spence … Camillo
Paula Arundell … Zanche the Maid
The White Devil (1612) is a revenge tragedy by the English playwright John Webster. This play is concerned with the murky depths of Italian politics. It is actually based on real events, though the plot apparently differs quite widely from the true history of the famous courtesan Vittoria Corombona.
The story begins with the banishment of Lodovico, for his crimes in the city of Rome; he rails against others, whose crimes are greater, yet who retain the privilege of living in the city (notable Paulo Giodano Ursini (Duke of Brachiano), protector of Vittoria though husband of Isabella). Isabella’s brother is the powerful Francisco de Medicis, Duke of Florence discovers his relationship with Vittoria and insults him; Brachiano’s response is to divorce the innocent Isabella. He then proceeds to arrange the murders of Isabella and Camillo, Vittoria’s husband.
As various parties begin to try to exact their revenge and Vittoria is put on trial for the murder of Camillo, the bloodthirstiness of the play mounts – poison, stabbing, strangling, shooting. All in all, it is an excellent example of a revenge tragedy, though the plot takes second place to the poetry of individual scenes.
“I’ll seat you above law, and above scandal…you shall to me at once be dukedom, health, wife, children, friends, and all”[To Isabella]: “Because your brother is the corpulent Duke…I scorn him like a shaved Polack! All his reverend wit lies in his wardrobe…your brother, the great Duke first made this match…accursed be the priest that sang the wedding mass, and even my issue! Your hand I’ll kiss; this is the latest ceremony of my love. Henceforth I’ll ne’er lie with thee: and this divorce shall be as truly kept as if the judge had doomed it. Fare you well: our sleeps are severed” [to Cardinal Monticello]: “cowardly dogs bark loudest: sirrah priest, I’ll talk with you hereafter…the sword you frame of such an excellent temper I’ll sheathe in your own bowels” [to Vittoria] : ” Thou hast lead me, like an heathen sacrfice, with music and with fatal yokes of flowers to my eternal ruin. Woman to man is either a god or a wolf”
“your art to save fails as oft as a great man’s friends…how miserable a thing it is to die ‘mongst women howling”