The White Devil was first performed in early 1612, and published shortly afterwards. Its first performances were at the open-air Red Bull playhouse, where it was not particularly well-received: Webster’s own preface to the play notes that it was ‘acted in so dull a time of winter, presented in so open and black a theatre, that it wanted & a full and understanding auditory’. The Red Bull had a reputation for being ‘mostly frequented by citizens, and the meaner sort of people’ (James Wright, Historia Histrionica, 1699), and its audience was often characterized as being uncomprehending: Thomas Tomkis’s 1615 play Albumazar, for example, depicts a rustic clown who regularly frequents the Red Bull, ‘where I learn all the words I speak and understand not’ (Gurr 2004: 301, 274). Indeed, Webster described his Red Bull audience as ‘ignorant asses’ and ‘uncapable’, and in 1617, his writing was satirized by Henry Fitzjeffrey for being ‘so obscure, / That none shall understand him’. Webster was, at least, satisfied with the actors’ performances, which he commends in the play’s Epilogue — drawing particular attention to the ‘well approved industry’ of the actor Richard Perkins, who probably played Flamineo.
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