restricted access John Webster. An unsigned first review of The Complete Works of John Webster, ed. F. L. Lucas
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326 ] John Webster An unsigned first review of The Complete Works of John Webster, ed. F. L. Lucas. Four vols. London: Chatto and Windus, 1927. The Times Literary Supplement, 1356 (26 Jan 1928), 59 The only two modern editions of Webster’s plays are unsatisfactory and antiquated. Webster has waited long enough for an editor and fine edition , but he appears to have found them. To edit properly such a dramatist as Webster requires not only exact knowledge of the now vast field of Elizabethan scholarship but enthusiasm and literary taste, and Mr. Lucas is both scholar and man of letters.1 He has spent many years on the edition which is now published. And to those readers who do not yet know Mr. Lucas as a specialist of Elizabethan drama we may add that he has had the benefit of cooperation with Mr. H. Dugdale Sykes – one of the soundest as well as one of the most ingenious of the students of Tudor and Early Stuart drama – and that, in general, Mr. Lucas and Mr. Sykes appear to be in agreement.2 Volume I contains the bibliography, the biography and the critical introduction , with The White Devil. The second volume contains The Duchess of Malfi and The Devil’s Law-Case; the third volume A Care for a Cuckold, AppiusandVirginia,theshorterpoems,AMonumentalColumn,andMonu­ ments of Honor; the fourth and last volume contains the Characters attributed to Webster from Overbury’s collection,3 two plays in which Webster had a hand, Anything for a Quiet Life and The Fair Maid of the Inn, with the appendices and index. Each play is preceded by a critical and historical introduction and followed by extraordinarily ample and diverting notes. Theeditionisaccordinglysuchastodeservetheepithet“definitive.”Weonly regret that Mr. Lucas, though quite within his rights in omitting Sir Thomas Wyatt, as more suitably included among the works of Dekker, has not given us a short critical note on passages in that play which closely resemble passages in the authentic plays of Webster.4 Such parallels would be interesting at least for the study of Webster’s development as a poet. For instance, the lines in Sir Thomas Wyatt – [ 327 John Webster Who would wear fetters, though they were all of gold, Or to be sick, though his faint browes For a wearing nightcap, wore a crown?5 exhibit the very trick of sense and rhythm of the more famous lines from The Duchess – What would it pleasure me to have my throat cut With diamonds? or to be smothered With cassia? or to be shot to death with pearls?6 But this is a minor point; the edition is altogether admirable. Mr. Lucas has (except where it might be ambiguous) retained the original spelling; such a method demands no justification, but those who dislike it will find the case for the spelling well put in the preface.7 Similarly he has shown great restraint in dealing with the punctuation and with the text altogether. The text of The White Devil is as nearly as possible that of 1612; that of The Duchess of Malfi (but why not insist upon the old spelling “Malfy” throughout ?) that of 1628. The notes to each play are abundant. It would no doubt be easy, among their copiousness and because of the obscurity of many of the allusions in Webster’s works, to question some of them one by one. The position could hardly be otherwise. But this should be done in technical journals; we may testify to the abundance, erudition and probability of most of them. Anyone whohasreadMr. Lucas’sgeneralliteraryessayswillknowbeforehand that in the plays of Webster Mr. Lucas chose a task of scholarship not only because it needed doing but because the subject was particularly congenial to him;8 and such a reader will turn first to Mr. Lucas’s general introduction . Mr. Lucas, with his strong admiration for Mr. Housman, was already a noted amateur of pessimism.9 It is by no means a bad thing that he has what seems to us an exaggerated enthusiasm for Webster, for without such enthusiasm he could hardly have accomplished this huge work. But, on the whole, Mr. Lucas has been not only favourable but fair to a dramatist and poet who has proved, in the past, very difficult to judge. Webster usually excites either passionate admiration or violent disgust, and his critics have flown to one excess or the other. Hitherto the best criticism was, Mr. Lucas says, that of Rupert Brooke...


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