Tragic mediation in The White Devil
Thomas J. Moretti
Observe, that no society hath the privilege to be free from a Judas.
Thomas Adams, ‘The White Devil’ (1613)1
For decades, John Webster’s The White Devil has been pushed and pulled
between the poles ‘early’ and ‘modern’: on one end is the claim that the play in
fact offers a complexly moralist, even providentialist worldview; on the other
end is the reading of The White Devil as a cynical, even radical tragedy, one
which bears witness to a culture facing nihilistic anxieties and which represents the
A world of difference: religion, literary form, and the negotiation of conflict in early modern England
Jonathan Baldo and Isabel Karremann
reform’ in the early years of the English Reformation, Walsh argues,
Rowley’s play does not seek to discredit religious reform. Rather, it exposes
its processes as ‘an inevitable and on-going means of mediating the new normality of confessional plurality and what we might term permanent religious
“unsettlement” ’ (cf. pp. 115, 122).
The next two contributions examine the irenic potential of the tragic form.
Such potential is often ascribed to stage comedies, romances, and even histories, but not tragedies, which, as Thomas J. Moretti observes in his contribution
quite the politic imposture, then, based on equal disbelief in all religions, that Chloe Preedy has
highlighted in Christopher Marlowe.16 For Thomas J. Moretti finds that
in The White Devil John Webster’s exposure of the inauthenticity of every
form of faith does ‘ironic service’ (cf. p. 127) to interdenominational rapprochement, as a type of negative ecumenicism that leaves playgoers desiring to pretend their common Christianity. And even in Macbeth James R.
Macdonald identifies an eschatological ambivalence, compounded by Thomas