Professor James Shapiro presents this exploration of John Webster’s life.  His background and education, and the influence of Jacobean society upon his greatest play, ‘The Duchess of Malfi’.

This documentary provides interesting observations into the staging of ‘The Duchess…’, and takes an in-depth look at the original stage at Blackfriar’s Play House.  The impact of lighting, costume and make-up are considered in the location, and compared with a recreation of an early Jacobean theatre at The Globe in London.  Several scenes are used from the BBC’s Arts at the Globe production of ‘The Duchess of Malfi’, starring Gemma Arterton (  This is recommended viewing for EN1050 students alongside this documentary.

Previous actors are interviewed on their experiences of character and dialogue, and the historical inspiration of the play is put into context.   Religious paranoia of Jacobean culture is discussed and a rendition of Webster and Johnson’s musical composition for the play is performed.

Finally, Professor Shapiro considers the problematic assertive woman, and how the Duchess’ character would have been received by the audience.  This lone female protagonist was the first of its kind, and reflects Webster’s unique approach as a playwright who was ahead of his time.

Tags: John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi, Renaissance drama, Renaissance tragedy, English Literature, BBC Arts at the Globe, Jacobean theatre, Professor James Shapiro, Renaissance theatre, staging renaissance theatre, Renaissance plays, EN1050, Shakespeare and his Contemporaries.