The Villain (staging)

by Thomas Porter (LIF, Oct. 1662; pub. 1663)

The first post-Restoration play intended for scenic production was Thomas Porter’s The Villain produced at LIF in October 1662. The Villain is noteworthy for including a dramatic discovery scene at the end of Act 5 that features the eponymous villain, Maligni, impaled on a stake. Other notable features include a balcony scene in which two girls above are brusquely serenaded by their would-be lovers on stage below, a pathetic song sung offstage and other offstage sound effects, and no less than three scenes in which a bed or a hearse makes an appearance.[1] However, the discovery is the only scene that fully exploits the new dramaturgy. The printed play gives few scenic descriptions and there are no scene numbers beyond the first in each act. A few promptbook traces are recorded in the latter part of the play. Whilst not common there are more such traces in Restoration play texts than is generally appreciated. Here, though, the extra information is not especially illuminating, and in one case looks misleading. The word “TOWN” appears in the right-hand margin opposite a stage direction for the entrance of D’elpeche and others at the end of Act 3.[2] The obvious interpretation is that ‘town’ indicates the fictional locale of the scene. There is no difficulty with the setting as at least one ‘town’ or street scene is implied at several points throughout the play including this.[3] There is some difficulty with the positioning, however, as a scene change is highly unlikely at this point with characters remaining onstage and greeting newcomers. In terms of the printed text this note looks redundant. My interpretation is that the town street scene would already be in view, having changed from the garden scene some pages before.[4] Close reading usually determines whether a scene is set indoors or out, but not always, as with this play. Not only is it hard to allocate separate settings, it is difficult to say with any certainty how many scenes there are. Some are marked, but many are indicated only by a cleared stage. An example of this is in Act 2 where Lamarch and Boutefeu quarrel and draw swords. It would probably have been considered improper behaviour for officers to draw indoors, so this scene is more likely to be set in an exterior location, but up to this point the scene has been clearly set in Cortaux’s house with all involved in singing and dancing. To a modern reader the stage directions offer few clues; to a Restoration reader an exterior location during the quarrel may have been ‘obvious’, for the reason indicated above, but Porter does not specify where. The text reads as follows:

Very good Sir, go D’elpeche we’ll follow.
Pulls Bout. by the belt as he leads in Francibel.

I would speak with you, leave e’m.

Enter again with Boutefu.

How comes it Sir, that in a pastime you dare do
base injuries? does your brutality not let you know how you
should use your friends?

Brutality! ha! thou art a Brute to say so, draw.[5]

A clue to what happens theatrically is provided earlier in the text when Porter indicates how the officers’ party is to signify to an audience its move from the street to a room in Cortaux’s house:

Knock, knock, D’elpeche, here is the house.

Nay the door is open, enter Gentlemen, ’tis
My Lodging.


And Enter again D’elpeche, leading Mariane, Lamarch and Boutefeu, Francibell. [6]

The actors arrive at the forestage door, the entrance to the house, and exit through it. They immediately re-enter through the same door and are understood to be inside the house. This is a technique familiar from the platform stage, which I believe may have been underlined scenically by a scene change from a street setting to a chamber. (Unlike some later dramatists Porter never states that a scene is to change, even where that is clearly implied, such as in the Act 5 stage direction, “Enter Boutefeu like a Frier in the Garden”.[7])  With this technique in mind we may decipher the ‘quarrel’ direction. The officers’ party is to withdraw to the garden – “pray let’s go in and take the Ayr / of the garden”[8] – Lamarch agrees, but as all move to exit through the garden door – the forestage door opposite the ‘street’ door from which they made their entrance – Lamarch asks Boutefeu to step outside through the street door. They subsequently exit and re-enter through the same forestage door, as above. Hence, the quarrel and the flurry of swords take place on the street. The fact that this is indeed an exterior location is confirmed when the foolish Colignii arrives and exclaims, “God’s my life here they are! how luckily too! and / hard by our house!”.[9] Although we are still at a loss as to precise location, the town setting is a scenically practical suggestion.

The associated scenery plot suggests a scenically minimal production (congruent with the lack of explicit scenic information) that avoids interior-exterior anomaly. It employs two interior shutters – “The new Scene of the Hall”, specified for Governor D’Orvile’s house,[10] and a modest chamber for Cortaux’s house – two exteriors (street, garden), and one relieve scene in which Maligni’s body is displayed (in an arbour or garden extension). A fair case could be made for differentiating bedchamber scenes in Act 5. However, I prefer to use the arrangement employed in my analysis of The Adventures of Five Hours, whereby individual houses are distinguished scenically but not rooms within a house (unless plot explication is an issue). The demand for beds without discoveries being stated or implied suggests that they were thrust on, possibly from the discovery area, but more likely from the wings. The thrusting onstage of large setting props, such as beds, was standard practice in pre-Civil War plays and continued throughout the Restoration period, as a glance at Dawn Lewcock’s database tabulations will reveal.[11]

[1] The balcony is referred to as a window in the text, but these terms are often interchangeable in Restoration plays, as the stage direction “A Balcony opens…” in Boyle’s Guzman indicates (London: Henry Herringman, 1693, p.4). (See also discussion, Chaps. 6&7.)  Dawn Lewcock thinks variously the window must either be at stage level  (Computer Analysis 1, op cit p.26) or be a scenic opening (Thesis, op cit p.41). There is nothing in the text to suggest this, unless she misinterprets literally the salutation used by D’elpeche: “Tis late; Lady’s we humbly kiss your hands” (London: Herringman, 1663, p.12).
[2] Op cit p.55.
[3] The dialogue before and after “TOWN” is continuous, but within this extract the indication of a street scene comes with the penultimate line of Act 3: “come Ladies here’s the House” (ibid. p.56).
[4] At the entrance of Beaupres and Bellmont (ibid. p.51), or of Clairmont and Charlotte (ibid. p.53).
[5] Ibid. p.27.
[6] Ibid. p.23.
[7] Ibid. p.89.
[8] Ibid. p.27.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid. p.56.
[11] ‘Computer Analysis 1, 2 & 3’, Theatre Notebook, vol.47, nos.1 & 2; vol. 48, no.2.

4 thoughts on “The Villain (staging)

  1. Pingback: The Villain (t), Thomas Porter (October, 1662; pub.1663) | Restoration Theatre

  2. Pingback: The English Princess (staging) | Restoration Theatre

  3. Pingback: Tarugo’s Wiles (staging) | Restoration Theatre

  4. Pingback: The Villain (scenery) | Restoration Theatre

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