• Alistair Paterson

(for John Webster)


It wasn’t well received

                 that play you wrote – 

the Italian tragedy

your tale of calumny & lies

              it wasn’t well received


being populated as it was 

with people no one could like,

with double-dealing

                   casuistry, subterfuge    


The great Duke had his reasons

& when the door was locked

did what he wanted to

                Villainy! Villainy! Ho!


But then we’re all of us no more

than what the play demands

                what Webster asked


are taken in the end alive

‘whipped with scorpions’

or like Isabella poisoned

as in those pages where

                you worked it out


Vittoria was stabbed to death –

a kind of justice but more perhaps

           than she deserved


or where the duke’s acolytes

contrived line by steady line

                scene by subtle scene

to accomplish

     everything the play required


Yes indeed, lock the doors:

              we’re none of us more

than what we say or do

    than what the play demands