The White Devil


John Webster

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Themes and Colors
External Virtue vs. Internal Truth Theme Icon
Double Standards of Desire Theme Icon
Class and Corruption Theme Icon
Leading by Example vs. Leading by Force Theme Icon
Punishment and Repentance  Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The White Devil, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

External Virtue vs. Internal Truth

Many of the characters in John Webster’s The White Devil go to great lengths to demonstrate their outward virtue. Low-ranking soldier Flamineo showers his boss with compliments, noblewoman Vittoria asserts her purity, and Cardinal Monticelso constantly asserts the value of prayer and penitence. But beneath these exemplary exteriors, each of the characters is much less innocent than they appear. Flamineo is treacherous and manipulative, flattering others only to advance his own position; Vittoria is adulterous…

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Double Standards of Desire

Over the course of The White Devil, a 1612 play by Englishman John Webster, every man in noblewoman Vittoria’s life calls her a “whore.”. Indeed, when the show begins, Vittoria does betray her husband Camillo by having an affair with the Duke of Brachiano. But while Brachiano, despite being just as married as Vittoria is, faces almost no consequences for his behavior—society takes Vittoria to court for her slip-up, publicly humiliates her…

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Class and Corruption

On the surface, John Webster’s play The White Devil is a dramatic story of lust and revenge, as lovers Vittoria and the Duke of Brachiano plot to kill their respective spouses. But beneath this thrilling exterior, there is also a more complicated story about the privileges that come with having money—and about the challenges those without resources face. Three of the show’s main characters (Brachiano, Duke Francisco, and Cardinal Monticelso), all men of…

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Leading by Example vs. Leading by Force

Though there are very few heroes in The White Devil, the character who is most consistently decent is the young Prince Giovanni. As Giovanni comes of age over the course of the play, he gets plenty of advice from both his father the Duke of Brachiano, and from his father’s rival, Duke Francisco. But while each of these prominent men instructs Giovanni in the bravery and selflessness needed to be a…

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Punishment and Repentance

The White Devil, John Webster’s play about lust and murder in 16th century Italy, begins with a banishment and ends with torture. For characters like the duke Francisco de Medicis or the cardinal Monticelso, punishment is both a tool and an obsession; choosing to inflict—or withhold—execution, jailtime, or forced penance is the primary way that these leaders exercise their power. But rather than affirming this eye-for-an-eye worldview, The White Devil consistently challenges the idea…

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