John Webster was the last of the great Jacobean playwrights. Like many of his contemporaries, little of certainty is known of him. He was probably born between 1580–1590 and died between 1525–1534. A John Webster was admitted to the Middle Temple on August 1, 1598, to study law. If this is the dramatist Webster it would explain the legal bent of many of his plays, including trial scenes in The White Devil, The Devil's Law Case, and Appius and Virginia.
The earliest known records of Webster's employment as a playwright are found in the diary of impresario Philip Henslowe, who noted in 1602 payments to Webster, Anthony Munday, Thomas Middleton, Michael Drayton, “and the rest” for a play titled Caesar's Fall. Over the next decade, Henslowe's records show Webster collaborating with Dekker and Heywood, writing a prologue to Marston's Malcontent, and composing two masterpieces, The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi.
Webster's scope has been criticized as limited, as he wrote mostly about anguish and evil. But his poetry is of a high standard and holds its own with the best of Marlowe and Shakespeare.
T. S. Eliot described Webster as the poet who was “much possessed by death, and saw the skull beneath the skin.”
After The Duchess of Malfi, Webster lapsed into mostly second-rate work. His death in 1625 marked the decline of the English theater. The stage was filled with mediocre writers such as Glapthorne, Brome, Markham, Suckling, and D'Avenant, reputed to be Shakespeare's illegitimate son. Then in 1642, the Puritans closed the public theaters, and there was darkness.