Introduction: Finding an Appropriate Style for Webster
Webster poses the modern theatre-director formidable problems. There is much that a contemporary Jacobean audience could be assumed to know which a twentieth-century audience needs explained; Webster did not need to waste valuable stage-time on such explanations but a director today must find a way of enlightening his audiences without significantly disrupting the rhythm of the play as Webster conceived it. Many of these problems centre on social attitudes that are now alien to us: the absolute authority of a man of ducal status, his patrician sensibility recognising only the papacy as superior in command; the intricate gradations of a class-system rigidly adhered to, that made Brachiano’s pursuit of Vittoria or the Duchess’s wooing of Antonio an immediately shocking and dangerous challenge to the status quo for a Jacobean spectator, for all that in the second case Antonio is exceptionally well-educated, utterly honest and, as the opening scene shows, adept in the arts of chivalry and courtesy (both aristocratic virtues); then there is the question of a woman’s social position, whatever her status, as always subject to her father, husband or brother and quite without authority except when widowed and protecting the interests of a young heir till his coming of age (both situations allowed women of high birth to be used as pawns in dynastic scheming by their male relatives).
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