Love’s Kingdom (staging)

by Richard Flecknoe (Autumn 1663(?); pub.1664)

The title page of Love’s Kingdom pointedly declares that the published text (1664) is “Not as it was Acted at the Theatre near Lincolns-Inn, but as it was written, and since corrected By Richard Flecknoe”.[1] However, even if Flecknoe’s indignation was invoked by the staging as well as the acting, the published play presumably represents how Flecknoe thought the play should be staged at LIF and so should be considered here. Of immediate interest are two staging requirements, one for the prologue to be “spoken by Venus from the Clouds”, and the other what looks like a request for transparent scenery: “The Scene, Loves Temple surrounded with Pillars of the Dorick Order, with a Dome or Cupilo o’th’top, and the Statues or Simulacrums of Venus and Cupid on an Altar in the Midst of the Temple, all transparent”.[2] It would have been possible to deliver the prologue from behind upper shutters painted as clouds, or both cloud and actress could have descended on a machine. If we were certain that in this respect the play was staged as printed this might be the first firm indication of a lifting machine at LIF. Lifting technology was certainly available at the time of Love’s Kingdom; cloud machines had been used in English masques since the late 16th century (including several of Davenant’s), and Nicola Sabbattini’s influential Pratica (1638) offers designs for crane-type lifts.[3] Otherwise, there are very few definite calls for stage machines in LIF plays, and none in this early period. Only two plays have explicit demands: Henry Cavendish’s The Humerous Lovers (1667), and Elkanah Settle’s Cambyses (1670).

It is difficult to know exactly what Flecknoe is describing in the heading to the Love’s Temple scene. It is probably not a reference to the use of gauzes or similar effects. Transparent scenes had been used by Inigo Jones in the Court masque, and Eleanor Boswell highlights the use of varnished silk scenes for transparent effects in Crown’s Restoration masque Calisto (1675).[4] Such scenes were expensive and there is no direct reference to such a scene on the public stage until 1692.[5] Richard Southern believes that early uses of the word ‘transparent’, such as Flecknoe’s, signify pierced or cut-out shutters.[6] The playwright Samuel Tuke indicates such a shutter when he directs “A Blaze of Light appears at the Window” in Act 5 of The Adventures of Five Hours. Tuke’s is a lighting effect rather than a fully transparent scene, but Flecknoe may be alluding to such cut-outs in his stage direction. This would have been possible technically, but no reason for lighting effects is indicated in the dialogue. Indeed, the ensuing scene has no special staging requirements at all, other than the need to dispose across the stage several groups of actors and musicians taking part in a temple ceremony. The most likely interpretation of the scene heading is that Flecknoe is simply describing a shutter painting or relieve scene and using the term ‘transparent’ in the literal sense recorded in John Bullokar’s An English Expositor (1616) – “that may be seene through” – to ‘see through’ the elements he describes.[7] Although the word does not appear in Restoration stage directions until 1692, the Literature Online database records thirteen pre-Restoration occurrences, all in masques. Most of these refer to costumes, lighting effects, and transparent clouds (a significant sub-group). Only two refer to transparency in relation to backscenes. For Ben Jonson’s Oberon (1616), Jones designed a palace shutter “whose gates and walls were transparent”, but an eyewitness report of the production suggests cut-outs in the shutter through which coloured lights could be seen.[8] The only other use is by Davenant in his Middle Temple masque The Triumphs of the Prince D’Amour (1636); it is worth reproducing his descriptive stage direction in full:

The Scene wholly changing, strait was perceiv’d in a Grove of Lawrell Trees, the Temple of Apollo, being round, and transparent, of the order of Composita, the Columnes and Ornamants, being heightned with gold, his statue of gold standing in the middle of the Temple, upon a round Pedestall: behind and betweene the Columnes did appeare a prospect of Landskap.[9]

There is no suggestion in the ensuing scene that this is a transparent temple of gauze or varnished silk. Transparent here seems to mean that the backcloth – the ‘Landskap’ – could be seen through the pillars, which, together with the temple, probably comprised a scene of relieve. Flecknoe’s scene is similar; it comprises three elements: a temple surrounded by pillars, a cupola, and the statues on an altar in the centre. It is easy to imagine a temple altar being ‘seen through’ relieve pillars, but unless upper shutters were also involved it seems difficult to contrive a relieve scene in which we might also see a cupola sitting “o’th’top”. Classical temples were a common setting in Court masques. If we exclude the cupola, Flecknoe’s direction would also be satisfied by Jones’s design for a relieve temple in his Court production of the pastoral play Florimène in 1635; while a drawing labelled ‘The Temple of Apollo’ by James Corsellis for an unknown Caroline production features all but the altar.[10] Corsellis is named by Orgel & Strong as the designer of The Triumphs of the Prince D’Amour. His drawing could be for either a shutter or a relieve scene, but the temple itself is clearly two-dimensional and is again ‘transparent’ to the extent that we can see into its interior.[11] Aside from its relative scale – Corsellis’s temple is set within a landscape – this design closely matches Flecknoe’s description. The coincidence is not remarkable since fictional locations such as these figured large in 17th century art and literature. It is possible, though, that the masque-like quality of Flecknoe’s play was intended as subtle flattery of the theatre manager. Another masque by Davenant, The Temple of Love (1635), significantly also starts with an actress descending from the clouds – representing Divine Poesy rather than Venus – and features a ‘grove’, a ‘shore’ with moving waves, and not surprisingly a ‘temple’ among its scenic locations.[12] Flecknoe might not have seen Jones’s designs, but he might have read the published masque with its typically effusive scene descriptions.

Whether Flecknoe is describing a shutter or a relieve scene here is important as there is a possibility in this play that Flecknoe is calling for successive relieve scenes – an impossibility in the LIF model and unknown in other LIF play. The start of Act 4 is headed “The Scene, Love’s Temple, as before”, but the immediately preceding heading designates, “The Scene, the Cyprian Shore, a waving Sea afar off discovered, &c.”.[13] In isolation this might be a strong implication of a wave machine being revealed in the relieve space. Flecknoe would certainly have known about such machines. In his many years abroad he had had the opportunity to study various theatrical arrangements. That he was an enthusiastic proponent of changeable scenery is demonstrated by an earlier version of Love’s Kingdom  titled Love’s Dominion, “Written as a Pattern for the Reformed Stage” in 1654. Significantly, this play also calls for changeable scenery. More explicitly, his essay A short discourse of the English stage (1664) offers the following opinion:

For scenes and machines, they are no new invention, our masques and some of our plays in former times (though not so ordinary) having had as good or rather better than we have now. They are excellent helps of the imagination, most graceful deceptions of the sight and graceful and becoming ornaments of the stage…Of this curious art the Italians (this latter age) are the greatest masters, the French good proficients, and we in England only scholars and learners yet…[14]

Of course this does not prove technical knowledge, but if we take Flecknoe at his word and assume that when he expanded the scenic content of his earlier play he knew something about early Restoration theatrical practice, we are left with three possibilities: the model is wrong, only one (or neither) of these scenes is a relieve, or Flecknoe is taking advantage of his declaration that the play is “Not as it was Acted at the Theatre near Lincolns-Inn”.[15] The analyses of LIF plays on this website and elsewhere suggest the first possibility is unlikely, the third would be an effective ‘get out of jail’ card, but I believe the second is the most probable. Flecknoe had consistent problems getting his plays performed. He took this badly and expressed his frustration in several published prose and verse attacks. However, this invective is directed towards actors in general and Killigrew in particular, there is nothing to suggest he was unhappy about scenery or machines.[16] The ‘Cyprian Shore’ heading may look like a direction for a relieve scene, but again there is nothing in the subsequent action that makes such a scene necessary; a wave machine in this case would be just decorative, a ‘becoming ornament’. For other plays such a reason might suffice, but Flecknoe was not a fashionable writer, nor was this a fashionable production and expense for ornament is likely to have been spared. Flecknoe may have been thinking of a wave machine, but no LIF play of this period calls for one (although Bridges Street may have used one for Dryden’s The Rival Ladies in June 1664) and it is doubtful that one would have been specially made for a brief appearance in Flecknoe’s play.

The difficulty with these scene headings centres on Flecknoe’s use of two words: ‘transparent’ and ‘discovered’. The first is unusual, but the second provides a useful if not infallible tool when deciding whether a stage direction implies a shutter or a relieve scene. ‘Transparent’ occurs nowhere else in Flecknoe’s plays, but discovered/discover’d appears in all four available on the Literature Online database. Three of the five occurrences in his stage directions and scene headings unambiguously refer to an actor or an object being revealed. By contrast, the remaining two are both scene descriptions and are both similarly ambiguous. The heading to Act 1 of the earlier play Love’s Dominion reads, “The Scene, a Boscage, with the adjacent Prospect of a delightful Valley, here and there Inhabited, with a magnificent Temple afar off discovered”.[17] Although this is a play written to be read rather than with any expectation of production, Flecknoe may be imagining Italian scenic arrangements as his “Pattern for the Reformed Stage”. However, the use of ‘discovered’ here cannot mean a shutter discovery as it makes no theatrical or dramaturgical sense. Rather, the scene description suggests a layered arrangement, typical of a relieve scene – boscage, ‘adjacent’ valley, and ‘afar off’ temple. It is beginning to look like this may be another idiosyncratic use of language – this time ‘discovered’ to mean ‘discerned’ – and that he used the term variously when referring to a physical object being revealed, or when describing what could be discerned in a scene painting. Davenant’s usage certainly suggests the terms may have been interchangeable. In the following stage direction from Sir Francis Drake, the bride is ‘discovered’, but the Symerons are ‘likewise discerned’:

The Scene is suddenly changed […] about the Middle, it is vary’d with the discov’ry of a Beautiful Lady ty’d to a Tree, adorn’d with the Ornaments of a Bride, with her hair dishevel’d, and complaining, with her hands towards Heaven: About her are likewise discern’d the Symerons who took her prisoner.[18]

If Flecknoe’s imagined ‘reforms’ applied to physical theatre at all in the theatrically dark days of the Commonwealth, it is more probable that they encompassed only the addition of scenery to the London theatres still standing, rather than the building of grandiose, purpose-built scenic theatres capable of providing successive discoveries as in Italy. In conclusion, it seems to me that the first scene heading in Love’s Dominion does not imply a temple displayed in a relieve or discovery space, but rather one painted on the backshutters, and by extension I believe this also applies to the direction for the ‘waving sea’ in Love’s Kingdom. The use of “afar off” in both directions probably alludes to an object – a temple, a wavy sea – painted in the background of a shutter scene. John Orrell refers to such use to indicate a backscene termination: “In The Argument of the Pastorall of ‘Florimene’ for instance, the backscene of the sea is described as taking the view to its ultimate limit: ‘and a farr off, to terminate the sight, was the mayne Sea’”.[19] This argument makes the Cyprian Shore scene a shutter scene, allowing the choice of a relieve scene for the Temple as suggested. The rest of the play presents no difficulties and we may simply follow the scene headings to obtain the scenery plot. This plot assumes two wing settings: trees and a seashore setting (a temple might imply pillar wings, but Jones’s Florimène design shows they are not a necessity); five shutter settings: a landscape, a wood, the Graces’ grove, a shore, and the temple ‘precincts’; and one scene of relieve for the temple. There are no references to doors in the stage directions.


[1]London: R. Wood, 1664.
[2] Ibid. sig.A4r & p.34.
[3] Sabbattini, Pratica di fabricar scene e machine ne’ teatri [Manual for Constructing Theatrical Scenes and Machines] in Barnard Hewitt (ed.), The Renaissance Stage, Miami: University of Miami Press, 1958. Furttenbachs’s designs (1663) are also reproduced in Hewitt. Southern discusses a cloud machine in a masque from 1575 (Changeable Scenery, pp.29-31).
[4] The Restoration Court Stage, pp.208-9.
[5] Settle’s opera, The Fairy Queen, ends with a spectacular effect: While the Scene is darken’d, a single Entry is danced; Then a Symphony is play’d; after that the Scene is suddainly Illuminated, and discovers a transparent Prospect of a Chinese Garden” (London: Jacob Tonson, 1692, p.48).
[6] Edward Langhans, ‘Staging Practices in the Restoration Theatre 1660-1682’, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Yale, 1955, p.308a; Southern, Changeable Scenery, op cit p.206.
[7] London: John Leggatt [The Scolar Press, Menston, England 1969]. John Kersey’s Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum (1708) has the same definition (London: F. Wilde [The Scolar Press, Menston, England, 1969]).
[8] (i) Jonson, The Workes of Beniamin Jonson, London: Will. Stansby, 1616, p.978. (ii) “This done the rock opened discovering a great throne with countless lights and colours all shifting” (William Trumbull): Orgel & Strong, Inigo Jones: The Theatre of the Stuart Court, 2 vols., London and Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973, vol.2, p.206.
[9]London: Richard Meighen, 1635, p.11
[10] Both designs reproduced in Orgel & Strong, Inigo Jones 2, op cit p.659, 797.
[11] See ibid. vol.1, p.38 & vol.2, p.796. Orgel & Strong do not comment, but there is some indication in Corsellis’s drawing (O&S 452) that this a relieve scene comprising three separate elements: a sylvan background, a temple, and framing trees.
[12] See ibid. vol.2, pp.600-4.
[13] Op cit p.49, 44. While there is an act break between these scenes, the fact that the standing scene would have remained in view in the break precludes the possibility of a relieve change if the standing scene is itself a relieve setting. In this case there is no indication of a cover shutter or front curtain being involved.
[14] Reproduced in David Thomas (ed.), Restoration and Georgian England 1660-1788, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989, p.94.
[15] Op cit sig.A4r.
[16] Flecknoe lampoons Killigrew in a pamphlet entitled The Life of Tomaso the Wanderer (1667).  Summers describes this attack as “ill-natured and angry” within a concise account of Flecknoe’s dramatic career, see The Playhouse of Pepys, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., 1935, pp.207-12.
[17]London, 1654, p.1
[18] The Play-house to be Let in Works op cit p.98.
[19] The Human Stage, Cambridge: CUP, 1988, p.247.

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4 thoughts on “Love’s Kingdom (staging)

  1. Pingback: Love’s Kingdom (scenery) | Restoration Theatre

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  4. Pingback: Love’s Kingdom (scenery) | Restoration Theatre

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