The Renaissance courts of John Webster's tragedies swarm with assassins. The plays depict a society in which aristocratic lust and honour pursues its intrigues through murder. Hired killers are the skilled technicians of such a society, the men who do the essential but dirty job of putting inconvenient people out of the way. Such men appear not only in a number of cameo parts, but also as major characters: Flamineo and Lodovico in The White Devil, and Daniel de Bosola in The Duchess of Malfi (1614). The critical fortunes of these figures have been variable. In recent decades, their importance has been rated very highly: in 1957, a case was even made for Bosola as the central tragic figure of The Duchess of Malfi. Yet only half a century before, E. E. Stoll dismissed the same character as an empty device. In several respects, Webster was influenced by recent trends in the portrayal of the assassin: Flamineo's poverty and Bosola's melancholy are standard traits of early Jacobean killers.
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