Home  »  Volume VI: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part Two  »  § 3. John Webster: periods of his literary activity

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VI. The Drama to 1642, Part Two.

VII. Tourneur and Webster

§ 3. John Webster: periods of his literary activity

The outward life of John Webster is as much a blank to us as that of Tourneur. The years of his birth and death are, alike, unknown to us. It may be conjectured, from the known dates, that he was born in the decade 1570–80; and he must have survived at least until 1624, the year of the production of the Monuments of Honor. Further than that we cannot go. It would be unsafe to accept the statement—not made until 1698, and not confirmed by the parish registers—that he was clerk of St Andrew’s, Holborn. And the one outward fact with which we are left—a fact recorded on the title-page of the Monuments of Honor—is that he was a member of the Merchant Taylors’ company. With this, we must rest content.

His literary activity falls, naturally, into three periods: the first, that of collaboration and apprenticeship (1602–7); the second, that of the two great tragedies (1610 to 1614); the third, that of the tragicomedies and, probably, of Appius and Virginia, beginning about 1620, the probable date of The Devils Law-case, and ending at a time unknown. It will be well to take each of these periods singly, and then to consider the characteristics of his genius as a whole.