• Richard Allen Cave
Part of the Text and Performance book series (TEPE)


The pictorial approach to Renaissance tragedy will work, it seems, no better for Webster than for Shakespeare. On the evidence of these four productions a preferable method appears to be to allow the packed verse to make its dramatic impact within a production that is sensitive to Webster’s deep preoccupation with character and his creation of a dramatic structure that, through various devices of patterning with scenes, encourages an audience to make ever subtler moral discriminations about the society his plays portray. Webster is fascinated by the ways conscience manifests itself in the psyche and the ways minds free themselves from the burden of guilt. This is not to argue that he is an aridly moralistic dramatist. He also delights in the arts of the theatre — acting, mime, music, spectacle — and exploits them richly, but to a distinctive purpose. Always his concern is to make his stage-action a metaphor for the inner lives of his characters. Those productions have succeeded best which have placed their main focus on emotional and moral realism rather than on realism of sensational effect in violence and spectacle. Usually it is the production that severely stylises its surface effects that releases an audience imaginatively into a full appraisal of the interplay of character beyond its immediate significance for the development of the plot.

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© Richard Allen Cave 1988

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