The Comical Revenge; or, Love in a Tub (staging)

by George Etherege (March 1664; pub. 1664)

Scenic demand and Love in a Tub
Etherege was one of the circle of wits close to Charles II. This social position means that we should not dismiss lightly the large scenic demands of his first play, Love in a Tub (as it was widely known). Productions such as this were social events as much as they were theatrical occasions and were more likely to have a larger production budget than more standard fare. This view is bolstered by the LIF prompter John Downes who reports on the great success of the original production.[1] I would argue, however, that some simplification would have been necessary for a smooth fit with the LIF scenic arrangement. It should be remembered that most new plays in the early 1660s were also first plays written before the operations and hence limitations of the scenic stage were fully understood. This view is supported by the control Etherege shows in his next play, She Wou’d if She Cou’d (1668), which is a model of scenic restraint. On the other hand, there is the possibility that Davenant may have seized on the opportunity presented by this play, and by his spectacular adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII a few weeks before, to advertise to fashionable theatregoers the scenic capabilities of LIF, much as The Playhouse to be Let had done for a citizen audience in the summer of 1663. Thus, the following discussion considers both a near maximal production (following the demand as far as possible) and one more economical of scenic resources. It is best followed by reference to the associated scenery plot.

In Love in a Tub Etherege numbers all his scenes and supplies ample scenic information and stage directions, although scene headings are not complete. In all he specifies twenty-six scenes in eleven scenic locations, but seven scenes though numbered are not headed. Five of these unheaded scenes occur in Act 4, the other two are in Act 5. The concentration of unheaded scenes in Act 4 might imply a lax typesetter, but of these only 4.1 is a location not given a heading elsewhere and this is easily inferred to be Beaufort’s house. Etherege may have felt that the context made the settings obvious, as indeed they mostly are. The play has attracted much comment for literary and dramatic qualities, but in terms of staging it is largely straightforward. There are only two concerns. The first, as suggested, is its scenic demand, the other is an isolated incident of spatial ambiguity, which will be explained below. This occurs in 5.2 and results in my splitting Etherege’s scene in two: 5.2.a and 5.2.b. The scenery plot gives a full breakdown of scene numbers and locations. In play order, the individual locations are as follows:

  1. Ante-chamber at Sir Frederick’s house
  2. Bed chamber at Sir Frederick’s house
  3. Wheadle’s lodgings
  4. Lord Bevill’s house
  5. Garden at Bevill’s house
  6. Tavern
  7. Covent-Garden (street)
  8. Field
  9. Widow’s house
  10. Sir Frederick’s lodgings
  11. Lord Beaufort’s house (inferred)
  12. Lady Daubwell’s house.

Even in a maximal production it is unlikely that Etherege’s distinction between the various settings in Frederick’s house would have been reflected scenically. We can therefore reduce these locations immediately to ten. Of these, one looks like a definite relieve scene. Lord Bevil’s garden contains an arbour into which characters retreat, as a successive pair of stage direction in Act 2 demonstrate: “Aurelia and Leticia walk into an Arbour, and sing this Song in Parts”, and when the song is over the young women continue their former discussion, “Walking out of the Arbour”.[2] The arbour features again in 5.3 for the same musical purpose. This time, however, it seems to present a staging problem. Letitia has been singing to Graciana in the arbour, Graciana’s suitor Beaufort enters and is surprised:

Beauf. starting
Hark, that was Graciana’s voice

Oh Beaufort!

She calls on me, and does advance this way;
I will conceal my self within this Bower; she may
The secret causes of my grief betray.

Beaufort goes into an Arbour, and Graciana and Letitia come upon the Stage.[3]

This last stage direction raises an interesting question: if the women are in a relieve arbour where does Beaufort hide?  The model provides the answer. Beaufort enters using a wing passageway downstage of the shutter line. As he enters he hears Graciana’s voice and stops to listen. The women leave the relieve space and “come upon” the forestage looking for Beaufort. As they do so, he quickly steps back the way he came and hides behind one of the tree/bush wings – “this Bower” – standing for the garden scene.

If we count the garden as a relieve scene, this leaves nine locations to be allocated shutters. In terms both of costs and practical stage management nine shutter pairs is still a lot. A minimal staging could make do with five by merging all interiors belonging to characters of the same social rank: room (high social status), room (low status), tavern, street, and field. Cavendish’s The Humerous Lovers (1667) suggests this approach. The scene headings in this play indicate that scenery was shared according to the socio-economic status of the characters (see associated analysis). This is not the solution I adopt for The Adventures of Five Hours, but that play has fewer stated locations and using the same shutter pair to represent all houses in Tuke’s play would impair an audience’s ability to follow the complicated plot. In Etherege’s it is workable and the scenery plot shows how it could be accommodated. The only difficulty in following the plot that may arise in this arrangement is when the action shifts directly from one high social status house to another, as in 3.4, 4.6, 5.1, and 5.5. However, at the start of each of these scenes Etherege makes it easy for an audience to identify location. In what may be part of an overall strategy, Etherege ensures that if an entering character is not already identified with a particular location, that location is quickly specified in dialogue. Where the appearance of the chamber setting would follow shutters of a different type, such as 1.4 and 4.3, the scene change itself is likely to make an audience more receptive to the possibility of a change in location – in the same manner as an exeunt followed by a re-entrance on the pre-Restoration platform stage. Irrespective of this possibility, however, at the start of each of these scenes there is some indication of location. This indication is either given in dialogue – directly or by telling the audience of forthcoming events – or through association of character with place. The stylistic switches between prose (Sir Frederick’s ambit) and rhyming couplets (centred on Bevill’s house) also help to distinguish spatially the idealistic and realistic worlds that clash in this and other ‘split-plot’ tragicomedies.

As noted above, scenic economy may have been out of kilter with the social status of the original production and Davenant may have been prepared to spend more money on individual scenic items. Even if this had been the case, however, some rationalising of scenic locations would have been necessary. I have already suggested that there is nothing to be gained by using three shutters for Frederick’s house, and it is virtually certain that these locations at least would have been combined. If this reduction is self-recommending, other less obvious economies yield surprising theatrical gains. If we allow some shutter scenes to do the type of ‘double duty’ encountered in Boyle’s Guzman (see my Theatre Notebook article ‘Boyle’s Guzman at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, 1669’), we arrive at a total of seven shutter settings (unheaded scenes in italics):

  1. Chamber 1: Frederick’s house (1.1, 1.2, 3.4), Beaufort’s house (4.1)
  2. Chamber 2: Bevill’s house (1.4, 2.1, 3.6, 4.5, 5.1, 5.5)
  3. Chamber 3: Widow’s house (3.3, 4.6, 4.7 & 5.2.b), Daubwell’s house (4.3, 5.4)
  4. Wheadle’s lodgings (1.3, 4.2)
  5. Tavern: (2.3, 3.1)
  6. Street: Covent Garden (3.2, 5.2.a)
  7. Field: (3.5, 4.4)

The method used to arrive at this solution is applied in all the analyses in this blog. Principally, the scenic requirements of the play are assessed from the point of view of a conservative scene keeper whose aim is to strike a balance among the author’s demands, costs, and theatrical constraints. Unless there is a specific dramatic or theatrical need for an individual item, scenic locations within the same house or different parts of the same exterior location may usefully be combined. Priority is given to shutter scenes that make multiple specified or implied appearances, for example Bevill’s house. Settings that make fewer or single appearances are candidates for ‘double duty’, but only where there is no danger of disturbing dramatic logic, or otherwise misleading an audience. Finally, scenic doubling may be considered where it serves a useful dramatic purpose (though we should be wary of projecting an over-subtle use, discernible more in the study than the theatre). If we apply these conditions, the only locations affected are those for Frederick/Beaufort and the Widow/Daubwell. Frederick’s two specified rooms are combined since there is no particular differentiation implied in the text. A bed may be assumed in 1.1 but it is neither specified nor required. In this case, the marked exeunt after 1.1 would be sufficient to indicate to an audience that a change of interior location has occurred (though here such indication is immaterial). Both these proposed scenic mergers pair characters belonging to the same or similar social spheres, so neither dramatic nor social propriety is offended. There is also a useful, and perhaps not over-subtle, side effect in that this scenic doubling serves to underline the dramatic doubling in the play between the idealistic Beaufort and the realistic Frederick, and between real and fake Widows. The fact that the same scenery would signify the houses of both Daubwell and the Widow heightens the dramatic irony of the gulling of the aptly named Cully who is led to Daubwell’s (4.3) under the impression that he is to meet and marry the Widow, really the con-woman Grace in disguise.

[1] “The clean and well performance of this Comedy, got the Company more Reputation and Profit than any preceding Comedy” (Roscius Anglicanus, op cit p.25).
[2]London: Herringman, 1664, p.23.
[3] Ibid p.82.

8 thoughts on “The Comical Revenge; or, Love in a Tub (staging)

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