The Humorous Lovers (staging)

by William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle (Mar. 1667; pub. 1677)

Dawn Lewcock omits this play from her analysis of Restoration plays, presumably on the grounds that there is a ten-year gap between the first performance and the first edition.[1] There are quibbles over authorship, with Dryden, Shadwell, or Shirley claimed by some commentators to have helped Cavendish, but as Judith Milhous & Robert Hume point out, a degree of collaboration in preparing a play for the stage was normal at the time.[2] After examining the play’s attribution, they conclude, “we are inclined to accept the title page attribution [to Cavendish] without question”.[3] Confidence in the play’s provenance is important as The Humorous Lovers provides the first definite reference to a lifting machine at LIF. As noted elsewhere on this site, it is possible that the actress delivering the prologue for Flecknoe’s Love’s Kingdom was flown in, and that the rising sun and moon, respectively, in The Play-House to be Let and The Adventures of Five Hours were dynamic special effects, but in each case there are doubts about how the intended effect was achieved. There are no doubts about The Humorous Lovers, and Lewcock’s claim, “the Duke’s Company only used ‘flying’once and then not until Cambyses on 10th January 1671”, looks a consequence of her limited remit.[4]

The lifting machine makes it appearance in 5.2, which is set intriguingly in “the Theatre”. Courtly has proposed to the foppish Sir Anthony Altalk that he gets up a private performance of a masque on the subject of Venus and Cupid to inflame the objects of their desire, the poetry loving Emilia and Lady Pleasant. All attend the theatre and after Sir Anthony has made his final arrangements the masque is performed. The stage directions concerning the stage machine are unequivocal and are worth reproducing in full: “The Mask begins, Venus and Cupid descending while the Song is singing”, “Venus and Cupid are landed on the Stage”, “A Song in the Musick Room. Venus and Cupid Ascending”.[5] Webb does not indicate the position for any lifting device in his Hall drawings, but the Salmacida Spolia plan and section, which he drew for Inigo Jones, show the cloud machine for that production positioned between the second and third wings with a winch under the stage. On the LIF stage the lifting machine for The Humorous Lovers would probably have been similarly positioned, that is, between the front curtain and the backshutters.

Another interesting feature of this play is the theatrical couching of the scene headings. Unlike the majority of headings encountered so far, interior scenes refer to stock items of scenery rather than to fictional locations. So, instead of Emilia’s house, or Furrs’s, or Hood’s we get, “A Dyning Room” or “A Chamber”, with these two settings serving the houses of all three characters. This is a form of the scenic doubling that is discussed in relation to promptbook notation in Boyle’s Guzman. In this case, however, the scenery is apparently distributed according to socio-economic status. The house of the fashionable Emilia and Lady Pleasant is represented only by the dining room; the house of the well-to-do humours character, Furrs, gets two settings – the dining room and the more homely (presumably) chamber – while the house of the old school-mistress, Hood, is represented only by the chamber. Cavendish’s part digestion of scenic dramaturgy is evident in 3.1, 4.2, and 5.1 when the fictional setting evidently changes mid-scene but no scene change is called for. In 4.2 this might be seen as admirable economy, the scenic backing of a chamber is specified for both houses (Hood’s and Furrs’s) and, as on the platform stage, the entering characters simply bring their location with them. The inverse of this is in the other two scenes when we move from Hood’s to Emilia’s and a scene change is necessary to make sense of previous scene headings. The two other settings called for by Cavendish are “Covent Garden” and “The Mulberry Garden”.

Two of the play’s settings were almost certainly stock items. A chamber could have been supplied from any number of productions, and LIF audiences may well have encountered the Covent Garden setting in Love in a Tub. Surprisingly, though, the dining room was probably new. It may seem a typical stock item but no play, so far, has specifically called for it. Indeed, according to the LION database this is the first reference in English stage directions. The Mulberry Garden is almost certainly a new item. Interestingly, a Mulberry Garden scene is specified the following year in Etherege’s She Would If She Could. The ‘theatre’ setting is undoubtedly LIF itself, as in The Play-House to be Let. While the use of this setting in The Humorous Lovers is unavoidably reflexive to a certain extent, characters in Cavendish’s play never take on the jocular, knowing tone adopted in Davenant’s. How the theatre was represented is problematic. Either the audience would have been shown a bare scenic stage with all scenes withdrawn, as I suggest occurred in Davenant’s play, or scenery congruent with the theme of Venus and Cupid would have been arranged. On balance I prefer the latter: the play is very economical in its scenic demands and the addition of masque-type scenery from stock would not have stretched resources. The play can be staged with a total of five settings – street, park, dining room, chamber, ‘theatre’ – and no act needs more than three wing settings. In the scenery plot, however, I propose that the last scene in the play set in Emilia’s house (dining room) incorporates a discovery. This is not marked, but it offers the best solution to a staging demand not seen since The Adventures of Five Hours. Cavendish’s play also requires that a sedan chair and its occupant be seen on stage, but the text does not state how the chair arrives. At the end of 5.2 (using cleared stages to mark scenes) Courtly announces that the love-sick Colonel had been “perswaded into the next Chamber”; after some short discussion all decide to go and visit him. After a marked exeunt appears the stage direction: “The Colonel in a Chair upon the Stage, and a Servant or two”.[6] Fictionally, Courtly’s party move from one room into another, but how is this staged?  In The Adventures there were clear directions for the chair to be carried on and off, here the chair just materialises. It would be perfectly possible, of course, for the chair to be carried on, as in the earlier play, but it seems to me that the most elegant method of satisfying this direction, and the fictional situation, is simply to arrange for the backshutters to open and reveal the chair; the extra requirement for a single relieve scene of a fashionable room is hardly an objection.

There are several stage directions involving doors and three of these are probably oppositional. Difficulties and ambiguities regarding ‘door’ stage directions are often resolved if one imagines a two-door forestage. From this perspective there is no ambiguity over a direction such as, “Enter the Widow at one door, Courtly at another”.[7] In a couple of scenes involving the draft-fearing Furrs, a door becomes a heated focus of stage action, but only one door is ever involved. A British Library manuscript copy of the play supplies a scene heading for 4.1 missing in the published text. This confirms that the ‘theatre’ setting from 3.2 remains in place for the new act[8].


[1] See, ‘Computer Analysis Of Restoration Staging, 1: 1661-1672’, Theatre Notebook, vol.47, no.1, p.25.
[2] Milhous & Hume, Attribution Problems, p.8.  Citing the example of Congreve’s The Old Bachelor, which Dryden is known to have ‘fixed up’, Milhous & Hume rightly state, “no one attributes that play to ‘Congreve and Dryden’” (ibid.).
[3] Ibid. p.20.
[4] Computer Analysis 1, p.26.
[5]London: Herringman, 1677, pp.28-31.
[6] Ibid. p.51.
[7] Ibid. p.50.
[8] BL Add. MSS 7367.

3 thoughts on “The Humorous Lovers (staging)

  1. Pingback: The Humorous Lovers (scenery) | Restoration Theatre

  2. Pingback: Sir Martin Mar-All (staging) | Restoration Theatre

  3. Pingback: She Wou’d If She Cou’d (staging) | Restoration Theatre

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