The Royal Shepherdess (staging)

by Thomas Shadwell (February 1669; & pub.)

Samuel Pepys attended the première on 25 February 1669 and thought Shadwell’s play to be, “the silliest for words and design, and everything that ever I saw in my whole life”.[1] Nevertheless, the première seems to have been another glittering occasion. Pepys had to get to the theatre before one o’clock to be sure of his seat as the house was “infinite full” and the performance was attended by “the King and Court”. It was still the main attraction the following day when Pepys went to see the King’s Company’s revival of John Fletcher’s The Faithful Shepherdess. However, this pastoral head to head proved a spectacular flop. Pepys reports of the revival: “But, Lord! what an empty house, there not being, as I could tell the people, so many as to make up above £10 in the whole house!”

Shadwell’s early plays reveal little interest in scenery, but he seems to have made efforts with this pastoral-tragicomedy, although the text is less than explicit. More than half the play seems to take place in some sort of palace garden, but this setting is not stated and must be inferred from various references in dialogue to ‘garden’, ‘grove’, and ‘grotto’, and a single stage direction in 1.1: “Enter Endymion from behind the Arbour”.[2] In the printed play’s preliminary material the general setting is stated to be Arcadia, suggesting that the garden scenery was possibly wilder than in other LIF productions, tending more perhaps to the “delightful Landskip” requested by Flecknoe in Love’s Kingdom.

The arbour from which Endymion steps was almost certainly represented by a wing or wings, rather than anything in the relieve area. This can be deduced from a stage direction/scene heading that effectively denotes 3.2: “Scene draws, and Shepherds and Shepherdesses are discovered lying under the Shades of Trees”.[3] As 3.2 is a relieve scene, 3.1 must be a shutter setting (unless you believe this is slight evidence for Richard Southern’s dispersed shutter hypothesis). The setting is not stated, but a clear ‘garden’ reference comes in 3.1, indicating that this is the same setting as used in 1.1. The reference occurs when Cleantha enters mid-scene; the King asks,What makes you abroad so early?”, and she replies, “To take the pleasant ayre of this Garden”.[4]

The recumbent shepherds and shepherdesses of 3.2 are discovered in a brief masque-like episode similar to those in Robert Stapylton’s plays (The Slighted Maid and The Step-mother). The King and Court have assembled onstage and the masque begins once the shutters have withdrawn. The sudden switch from the garden shutters as fictional setting to their reflexive revelation as theatrical apparatus is also found in Stapylton, but is absent in more realistic plays.

Shadwell supplies only two explicit statements of place out of a possible eleven: “The Scene changes to the Temple” in 4.2, and “Enter Neander, Geron, and Phronesia in Prison” in 5.3. Despite this lack of information the scenic structure of the play is clear. It requires five wing and shutter scenes – garden, temple, hall, prison, and courtyard – and one relieve scene of trees for the masque. With this arrangement one mid-act wing and shutter replacement would be needed in Act 5. This could be avoided by leaving the prison setting on for the execution, but a prison does not seem appropriate for a public execution in this period.

The execution is announced by a stage direction calling for a large prop: “There appears a Scaffold cover’d with Black, and Urania led between two Gentlemen in black: The King looks to see the Execution [above]”.[5] Since Urania is to be beheaded, rather than hanged, the height of the scaffold is not an issue; it could either be discovered behind the prison shutters, or thrust on from the wings. As this is only Shadwell’s second play, the ambiguity might reflect some uncertainty about theatrical realisation. In his valuable study of Restoration action within the scenic area, Lee J. Martin assumes this to be a discovery, but a simple thrusting on looks the best fit with stage directions and dialogue.[6] The brackets in the stage direction indicate that the King would have been watching from a balcony.

There is only one mention of ‘door’ in the whole play. This occurs in a stage direction that follows the oppositional pattern: after a marked ‘exeunt’, several characters are directed to “Enter at the other door”.[7]


[1] Diary, Feb. 25, 1669.
[2]London: Herringman, 1669, p.6.
[3] Ibid. p.35.
[4] Ibid. p.31.
[5] Ibid. p.71, brackets in text.
[6] See, ‘Action Within The Scene On The English Restoration Stage’, unpublished doctoral dissertation, Stanford, 1956, p.181. ‘There appears’/’appeares’ is a not an uncommon direction in pre-Restoration masques to indicate a discovery of some sort, but according to the LION database this is the only incidence of the term within the period of this study.
[7] Ibid. p.62.
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One thought on “The Royal Shepherdess (staging)

  1. Pingback: The Royal Shepherdess (scenery) | Restoration Theatre

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