'Another Voyage': Death as Social Performance in the Major Tragedies of John Webster

Roberta Barker


The metatheatrical death scenes of John Webster’s great anti-heroes, Flamineo in The White Devil and Bosola in The Duchess of Malfi, reveal considerable social significance when considered as performance texts for the early modern English theatre. These ambitious courtiers’ careers reflect both early modern culture’s attraction to acting as an aid to social advancement and its mistrust of acting as dangerous hypocrisy. Webster’s depiction of their deaths not only acknowledges the limitations of performance, but also explores its potential in a world where unstable identities are grounded in ceaseless social exchange. On stage, Flamineo’s and Bosola’s death scenes may have exposed the tenuous boundaries between character, actor and spectator in a society where all were performers.

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