I open with this example because it illustrates Webster’s preoccupation in The White Devil with the enchanted spectacle that results from faults in the regulation of visual experience and imagination. As this essay will contend, at key moments in this play, Webster investigates the failure of the disenchantment of the power of images, where to disenchant is “to set free from enchantment, magic, spell or illusion” (OED). Furthermore, the playwright invites his audience to explore and interrogate the uncanny, unknowable spectacle generated by such failures. The cultural instability that resulted from the religious changes of the sixteenth century makes any

such exploration highly relevant for Webster’s early seventeenth-century audience. The iconoclastic demystification of religious spectacle was a cornerstone of the Reformation in England, since reformist emphasis on the primacy of the word depended upon the denigration of devotional images as false idols: as Margaret Aston puts it, “the breaking of images was part of a breaking of beliefs.”4 For a number of reasons, however, iconoclasm could not provide certain means to destroy what reformists identified as Catholic idols. First, as several scholars have pointed out, iconoclasm generates new spectacle.5 For example, iconoclasts would often leave broken, defaced images on display.6 Moreover, Stacy Boldrick and Richard Clay explain that iconoclasm produces spectacle “even when an object is utterly erased,” since “the empty space that it once filled can connote new meanings for as long as the absent signifier is remembered.”7 Second, in the reformist view, idolatry is extremely difficult to eliminate due to its psychological nature. As Jean Calvin explains, idolatry, in which “honoures due to God are giuen to an idole,” originates in the mind of the idolater:

The minde of men, as it is full of pride and rashe boldenesse, presumeth to imagine God according to her own conceit: and as it is possessed with dullnesse, yea ouerwhelmed with grosse ignoraunce, so it conceiueth vanitie and a feigned fantasie in stede of God … Thus the minde begetteth the idole, and the hande bringeth it forth.8