To the editors:

I haven’t yet seen either production in the Motley Crew repertory performances of John Webster’s The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi (November 3). But your review gives readers a mistaken impression by calling The Duchess a “potboiler.” It’s one of the most widely admired tragedies of the period (including Shakespeare), and it’s also one of the most often taught and performed.

Among other things, ye olde early-20th-century stock decadent view of Webster recited by your review blocks out much of the interest of these plays for a contemporary audience–for example, the fact that The Duchess focuses on outspoken female desire in a culture that doesn’t usually allow it, and on the consequences of her choice in a world that doesn’t countenance marriage across class lines. Maybe the production doesn’t see these things either (I don’t know yet), but I’d urge your critic to revisit the plays, not just the Eliot and Shaw sound bites, before blaming Webster.


Jeffrey Masten