The Devil's Law-Case | Study Guide

John Webster

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Course Hero, "The Devil's Law-Case Study Guide," September 8, 2020, accessed September 25, 2021, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Devils-Law-Case/.

The Devil's Law-Case | Themes

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Webster's plays explore many themes in similar ways. Webster aggressively comments on the corrupt nature of humans and the place of law in society.

Law and Society

This play marks a distinct and apparent shift in Webster's approach to law and society. Webster has argued the rule of law can be and has been corrupted by people in his previous two plays The White Devil (1612) and The Duchess of Malfi (1623). Webster has written extensively about his belief that law and legal proceedings are social constructs created by immoral, corrupt people. As a result these corrupt entities can only be used to ensure "fairness" when it benefits those in power.

However, The Devil's Law-Case comments on the necessity for law in society. Webster still holds to the idea that law and its proceedings can be corrupted or distorted for personal gain and concedes that law is necessary to control or limit some aspects of corruption. This idea is highlighted by the "two sides of justice" Webster creates. The first side includes many characters who venture to use the laws of their society to profit or solidify their own wealth or social standing. Some of these immoral characters are corrupt lawyers seeking to use their status and knowledge against their foes. The second side is made up of lawyers who seek to uphold the law with honor and integrity. In one instance an honest lawyer stands in as judge while relieving a corrupt and devious judge. It is in this tension between the corrupt and the moral that Webster shows the need for law even though it is imperfect.

Family and Self

The struggle between family and self is obvious in The Devil's Law-Case. Many characters find themselves caught between familial responsibility and their own desires. Romelio is at the head of his family and must grant permission to a suitor before they can marry his sister. Two suitors ask for Jolenta's hand in marriage and Romelio bases his decision on who can give him the most financially or socially. He doesn't ask Jolenta or evaluate the men based on their character but rather chooses the suitor who can provide more money and power. The same sacrifice of family love and responsibility is seen in Romelio's mother Leonora. Leonora falls in love with one of Jolenta's suitors but Romelio stands in her way. The only way Leonora can marry who she wants and still have access to the family money is to lie about Romelio's father in a court of law. Leonora becomes so blinded by her own desires that she is more than willing to sacrifice her own children. The self proves to be the higher calling and the stronger pull.

Disguise

Disguise makes the many twists and turns of The Devil's Law-Case even more tangled. Throughout the play a number of characters disguise themselves in the hopes of surprising an enemy or gathering information secretly. Regardless of method each character who uses a disguise is hoping to gain personally. Contarino loves Jolenta, recovers from a near-fatal injury, and disguises himself to learn about the rumored marriage of his true love. His choice to disguise himself puts other characters at risk but Contarino does not remove his disguise. Only at the end of the play does Contarino reveal himself and hope to marry Jolenta. Crispiano is a deceitful lawyer and uses a disguise to spy on his son who is living a careless life. It's later discovered that the disguise was part of a larger scheme to gather information on Romelio for the king of Spain. Even this job of political espionage is used for personal gain.

Not only do characters disguise themselves physically but some disguise their motives and intentions. The main character Romelio enters into a number of personal agreements and business deals that are all self-serving. Those who enter the agreements with Romelio are unaware that other promises have been made and many others have entered into similar agreements. The tangled web Romelio weaves is meant for his gain alone but soon Romelio gets lost himself. Even Romelio's mother Leonora disguises her intentions when she sues Romelio and tries to prove he is illegitimate. This too proves unsuccessful and Leonora is left to pay for her sins.

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