Book Review: “The White Devil” (1612) by John Webster

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2013 production of Webster’s “The Duchess of Malfi.”

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Read my review of the 2014 RSC production here!

The White Devil is not an easy play to wrap your head around. The language is dense, the plot complicated to the point of convoluted, and the male characters all have names that end with “o.” Thanks, early modern dramatists’ obsession with Italy! The first time I read Webster’s work there was only one scene I enjoyed (more on that later), but having let it sink in for a few days, I find that there are things I appreciate about this play, things worth drudging through the confusing dialogue for.

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Study Advice: 5 Tips for Reading Shakespeare

The Cobbe portrait.

The Cobbe portrait.

It is practically impossible to say or write anything about literature without at one point running into Shakespeare. He is (mis)quoted by everyone, his characters are a much-used point of reference, and his plays continue to inspire other works of art to this day. The Bard is everywhere, to both the delight and horror of literature students all over the world. These days, the name Shakespeare has become synonymous with high culture, complex works that can only be deciphered by the scholarly elite… And yet most highschool students are expected to read at least one of his plays in school and make sense of it.

I think the #1 thing that keeps some people from getting into Shakespeare is the language: it’s a whole different vocabulary to get used to. When you’re not familiar with early modern writing, his plays can look quite daunting on paper and when you try to read the opening monologue, you instantly start to panick (“oh God, I don’t know what any of these words mean and here I thought I was pretty good at English what is happening“).

So what is the best way to tackle a Shakespeare play?

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Book Review: “Coriolanus” (1605-1608?) by William Shakespeare

National Theatre (2013-2014)

National Theatre (2013-2014)

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Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare’s least read, least performed, and all around least popular plays. It is not as poetic compared to his other works, the story is dark and very political, and sympathetic characters are thin on the ground. And yet I am glad that Tom Hiddleston’s star power (and Ralph Fiennes’ film adaptation a couple of years before that) has brought it back into the public consciousness, because Coriolanus has a lot to offer and asks a number of thought-provoking questions about power, democracy, and the cost of integrity.

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