John Webster: The Apprentice Years

  • Neil Carson


Honest disagreement among readers is a familiar and necessary feature of literary criticism. Ordinarily, of course, such disagreement occurs in a context of assumptions about which the disputants have no quarrel. What is striking about discussions of the work of John Webster is the absence of that larger area of agreement within which meaningful arguments about detail can take place. There is no universally acceptable definition of Webster’s peculiar genius, nor even a general consensus about wherein, precisely, the admitted greatness of the mature tragedies can be said to lie. One critic, for example, decries Webster’s weak characterization, noting the absence of what he calls “significant inner revelation”,1 while another claims that “deepened insight into character… [is] Webster’s greatest strength.”2 The extent of the playwright’s conscious control over his material is also a subject of debate. One reader thinks that Webster has “little realization of the effect of his plays”,3 while another concludes that his “structures are too deliberate, too intellectual. ”4


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  1. 1.
    Travis Bogard, The Tragic Satire of John Webster quoted in G. K. Hunter and S. K. Hunter (eds.), John Webster (Harmondsworth, 1969), p. 175.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    M. C. Bradbrook, “Fate and Chance in The Duchess of Ma fi”, Modern Language Review Vol. 42 (1947), quoted in Hunter and Hunter, John Webster p. 133.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Clifford Leech, John Webster (New York, 1970; first published 1951), p. 32.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Rupert Brooke, John Webster and the Elizabethan Drama (New York, 1967; first published 1916), pp. 79–81.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Frederick E. Pierce, The Collaboration of Webster and Dekker (New Haven, Conn., 1909 ).Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Thomas Heywood,An Apology for Actors (1612), B4.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    Thomas Heywood, Epilogue, “A Maidenhead Well Lost”, R. H. Shepherd (ed.), The Dramatic Works of Thomas Heywood (London, 1874), Vol. IV, p. 165.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    Thomas Dekker, Dramatic Works Fredson Bowers (ed.) (Cambridge, 1955), Vol. II, p. 339.Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    Northrop Frye, A Natural Perspective (New York, 1965), p. 38.Google Scholar
  10. 13.
    Ralph Berry, The Art of John Webster (Oxford, 1972).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • Neil Carson

There are no affiliations available

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