WEBSTER, dons (c.1580-e.N35). One of the greatest of English dramatists, best known for his tragedy The Duchess of Ito Of his life little has come down to us. As early as about 1601 lie began to write for the stage. col laborating with tine group of writer, which in cluded Drayton, Munday, and others. His al terations to Marston's play of The .11alcontent appeared in 1004. With Dekker he collaborated in the two comedies Westward Hoe and North ward Iloc, which were produced in the winter of 1001-05, and printed in 1007. Much of his early work, however, is irrecoverably mingled with that of inferior men. his own peculiar powers were first fully revealed in the tragedy of The White Devil, or 'Vittoria Corombona, which was printed in 1612, having been acted some time before. This is one of his two master pieces. Appius, and Virginia, which was acted a few years later, is a tragedy based upon the familiar Roman story, and was well received, but is comparatively commonplace. The 'tragi-come dy' of The Devil's Law Case is not only in parts excessively coarse, but is inferior in construc tion. In the same year with this (1023) was first printed The Duchess of Matti, which had been played in 1616. The accumulation of hor rors which gather about the end of the unhappy lady of Amalfi produces an intensity of im pres•sion that amply justifies Charles Lamb's well-known comment : "To move a horror skill fully, to touch a soul to the quick, to lay upon fear as much as it can bear, to wean and weary a life till it is ready to drop. and then step in
with mortal instruments to take its last forfeit ; this only a Webster can do." Of his more recent critics, Swinburne unhesitatingly places him next to Shakespeare among English dramatists. (fosse gives him a slightly lower place. In 1024 Webster wrote a Lord Mayor's pageant. He has been identified, doubtless erroneously, with a man of the same name who afterwards wrote works of a quite different character, but this is the latest date that can be positively given in his life. his death has been variously set, from 1625 to 1652. Consult: Dyee, ed., The Works of John 'Webster, now First Collected, with Some Account of the Author. and Notes (London, 1S30; new ed., rev.. 1S50) Haz litt, ed.. The Dramatic Works of John Web ster, with an introduction (ib., 1857) ; Sy monds, ed., The Best Plays of Webster and Tourncur, with an Introduction. and Notes (Lon don, 188S) ; Vopel. John Webster: Researches on His Life and Plays (Bremen, 1887) Hazlitt, Lectures on the Dramatic Literature of (hr Age of Elizabeth (3d ed.. London. 1540): Gosse, Seventeenth Century Studies (ib.. 1853) Swinburne, Studies in Prose and Poetry (ib., 1894).