Work as a playwright


Webster started in the theatre working for Philip Henslowe. The first mention of Webster as a writer comes in 1602 when Anthony Munday, Michael Drayton, Thomas Middleton, and John Webster were paid an advance for a now-lost play titled Caesar's Fall (or Two Shapes). Webster's first known work dates from 1604.

In 1604 Webster wrote an Introduction for the revival of John Marston's The Malcontent, and collaborated with Thomas Dekker on Westward Ho, a city comedy, and on The Famous History of Sir Thomas Wyatt. An historical play, Appius and Virginia (c.1608) was probably a collaboration with Thomas Heywood.

Solo work

Webster's first sole-authorship play was The Devil's Law Case (c.1610), a tragicomedy. This was followed by his two masterpieces. The White Devil was published in 1612 and performed at the Red Bull Theatre, Clerkenwell by The Queen's Men Theatre Company. (See The Theatre > Permanent theatres > The popularity of theatres). In 1614 The Duchess of Malfi (published 1623) was presented at the indoor Blackfriar’s theatre. These two plays are seen as establishing Webster as a great playwright.

Webster wrote a pageant, Monuments of Honour (1624), and collaborated with Middleton on Any Thing for a Quiet Life (c.1621) and with William Rowley on A Cure for a Cuckold (c.1624). Other plays are suspected to be lost.

A local setting

John Webster was born, educated, possibly studied law and wrote his plays in London. The connection with life and work in the capital is reflected indirectly in his drama. He was widely read and this also influenced his writing. Although The White Devil was set in Italy, it remained close to London in terms of its comments on the current social, political and moral issues, and reflected contemporary theatrical style.