John Webster and the Culture of Cosmetics

Farah Karim-Cooper

in Cosmetics in Shakespearean and Renaissance Drama

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print July 2006 | ISBN: 9780748619931
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748652204 | DOI:
John Webster and the Culture of Cosmetics

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John Webster describes the milkmaid's beauty and charm within an anti-cosmetic context. She does not use art to make herself beautiful; instead, she is ‘decked with innocence’, and her labour provides her with the health and vitality that would draw beauty to her cheeks. In The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi, Webster constructs female characters as heroic within an atmosphere of misogynistic condemnation; these bold women, unlike his Overburian milkmaid, wear cosmetics and fashion not only their physical appearances, but also their own lives. He valorised female suffering and stages cosmetic rituals as acts of heroic resistance by framing them both within a dramatic stage picture. Women who used cosmetics were often placed in the same category as witches. The relationship between witchcraft and cosmetic practice has a material basis as well as a metaphorical one. Furthermore, Webster brilliantly captured the relationship between theatre, cosmetics and witchcraft.

Keywords: cosmetics; John Webster; Overburian milkmaid; White Devil; Duchess of Malfi; witchcraft; theatre

Chapter.  8665 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Shakespeare Studies and Criticism

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