Image of John Webster


Lifetime: 1580 - 1632 Passed: ≈ 392 years ago





John Webster

John Webster was an English Jacobean dramatist best known for his tragedies The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi, which are often seen as masterpieces of the early 17th-century English stage. His life and career overlapped with Shakespeare's.

Webster's life is obscure and the dates of his birth and death are not known. His father, a carriage maker also named John Webster, married a blacksmith's daughter named Elizabeth Coates on 4 November 1577 and it is likely that Webster was born not long after, in or near London. The family lived in St Sepulchre's parish. His father John and uncle Edward were Freemen of the Merchant Taylors' Company and Webster attended Merchant Taylors' School in Suffolk Lane, London. On 1 August 1598, "John Webster, lately of the New Inn" was admitted to the Middle Temple, one of the Inns of Court; in view of the legal interests evident in his dramatic work, this may be the playwright. Webster married 17-year-old Sara Peniall on 18 March 1605 at St Mary's Church, Islington. A special licence was needed to permit a wedding in Lent, as Sara was seven months pregnant. Their first child, John Webster III, was baptised at the parish of St Dunstan-in-the-West on 8 March 1606. Bequests in the will of a neighbour who died in 1617, indicate that other children were born to him.

Most of what is otherwise known of him relates to his theatrical activities. Webster was still writing plays in the mid-1620s, but Thomas Heywood's Hierarchie of the Blessed Angels (licensed 7 November 1634) speaks of him in the past tense, implying he was then dead.

Books by John Webster

The White Devil  Cover image

The White Devil

Murder Love Revenge Violence Ghost Story Hypocrisy

John Webster's The White Devil (1612) is a Jacobean revenge tragedy, replete with adultery, murder, ghosts, and violence. The Duke of Brachiano and Vittoria Corombona decide to kill their spouses, Isabella and Camillo, in order to be together, aided...

Duchess of Malfi Cover image

Duchess of Malfi

John Webster's bloody Jacobean tragedy exposes the decadence of the Italian court. The virtuous Duchess of Malfi, a young widow, secretly marries her steward Antonio, and is subsequently persecuted by her brothers: the sexually obsessed and eventuall...