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Structure of The White Devil » The structure of revenge tragedies

A conventional revenge drama?

The White Devil is often said to be a revenge tragedy. This form was very popular in Jacobean England (See The Theatre Context > Revenge Tragedy > Origins of revenge tragedy / Developments in revenge tragedy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries). The theme of revenge is obviously there, but it is very different from earlier examples, such as Shakespeare's Hamlet.

A revenge tragedy pits justified and morally upright avengers against their enemies. But the avengers in The White Devil are themselves implicated in the corruption of society:

Features of revenge tragedies

The play does, however, correspond in many ways to the established structure of the revenge tragedy and contains many of its recognisable features.

Dumb show

Murders and other horrific events are often shown through a ‘dumb show'. In Act 2 sc 2 the murders of Isabella and Camillo are enacted in dumb show through the magic of a conjuror.

Machiavellian villain

The works of the Italian writer, Machiavelli, were popular at the time. In his book The Prince, he advised kings and other rulers how to plot and use cunning in order to keep their power. Such advice was exaggerated in popular sentiment so that in The White Devil Francisco de Medici was seen to typify a Machiavellian plotter.


These are necessary, not only for advancing the plot, but also to reveal a character's state of mind. There are important soliloquies from a number of characters:


Francisco disguises himself as Mulinassar, the Moor. Lodovico and his accomplices disguise themselves as Capuchin monks. These disguises are for the purpose of carrying out their plot of revenge against Brachiano and Vittoria.

These disguises are particularly effective because:

Madness and feigned madness

As with Hamlet, The White Devil contains instances of madness both real and feigned:

Murders and corpses

There are usually a number of murders that happen both on and off-stage in revenge tragedies. In The White Devil the majority of the main characters are dead by the end of the play, most of them as a result of violence.


Ghosts of murder victims often appear to persuade family members of friends to avenge their deaths:

Physical torment

There are usually a number of murders that are often both ingenious and brutal. The murders and methods of death are often sensational and sometimes presented at length so that the suffering of the victim is seen:

Sudden reversals

Incidents such as Brachiano's revival after Lodovico and Gasparo have disclosed themselves, and Flamineo rising after acting as if he had been shot, were designed to shock the audience and maintain dramatic tension.

The revenge play or revenge tragedy was a popular genre in the Elizabethan and Jacobean period which looked to the Roman poet Seneca for its origins.
supposedly in keeping with the views of the Italian writer and politician Machiavelli (1469 - 1527)
a speech in drama where one character, alone on stage, speaks