The History of Henry the Fifth (staging)

by Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrery (Aug. 1664; pub.1668)

Modern opinion of this play is likely to side with the Rev. John Genest (1832), “absurd to the last degree”, rather than Pepys, “the whole play the most full of height and raptures of wit and sense, that ever I heard”.[1] Irrespective of its literary merits the LIF prompter John Downes reported it a hit: “This Play was Splendidly Cloath’d: The King, in the Duke of York’s Coronation Suit; Owen Tudor, in King Charle[s’]: Duke of Burgundy, in the Lord of Oxford’s, and the rest all New. It was excellently Perform’d, and Acted 10 Days Successively”.[2] The production was not only a great success, it was, as we may infer from Downes, another spectacular social occasion. It may have been the last of a troika of fashionable productions in a season where Davenant pulled out all the stops to establish LIF as the premiere theatrical venue. The first of these extravagant productions was a revival of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII (December 1663), the second may have been Etherege’s Love in a Tub, and the third was Boyle’s play. What Downes says of Davenant’s personal involvement in Henry VIII – “Every part by the great Care of Sir William, being exactly perform’d” – was probably true of all major LIF productions at this time; indeed Downes repeats his praise of his manager’s attention to detail in relation to Boyle’s next play, Mustapha (April, 1665).[3] Downes’s information tells us that Henry V was an important production with a budget that was probably at least on par with other major productions. This is an important consideration as Boyle’s play like Etherege’s makes considerable scenic demands. Whereas Etherege states his demands explicitly, Boyle, unfortunately, supplies very little scenic information. Nevertheless, it is clear from his text that a large number of scenic locations are implied. It is interesting that in their next plays both Etherege and Boyle tone down their scenic demands, and Boyle in his later plays becomes adept at mobilising scenic resources. The implication is not only that both playwrights learned from their first theatrical experience, but also that whoever was responsible for allocating scenery to LIF plays was probably obliged to simplify some of the scenic demands in these plays. Although the budget was less of an issue with major productions, this task undoubtedly concerned balancing technical factors such as the manoeuvring of scenery, the number of men required to do it, and the rehearsing and managing of those men.

Unusually for its period (the 1930s), the last edition of Boyle’s complete works, by William Smith Clark II, considers matters of practical staging. Boyle supplies no scene heading or numbering in this play, so Clark applies the cleared stage principle to number the scenes and allocate fictional locations inferred from the dialogue. Clark’s scene headings represent a maximal scenic production in which each location is matched by an individual item of scenery. I reproduce them here to indicate the technical challenge posed by a production adopting this approach. The first column shows Clark’s scene numbers, the second his location, and in the third I provide a generic description of the scenery matching his locations.

1.1 The Royal Pavilion in the English Camp at Agincourt Pavilion 1
1.2 Dauphin’s Residence in a ProvincialTown Chamber 1
1.3 Audience Chamber in the RoyalPalace at Paris Stateroom 1
2.1 The Royal Pavilion in the English Camp at Agincourt Pavilion 1
2.2 Audience Chamber in the RoyalPalace at Paris Stateroom 1
2.3 Princess Katherine’s Chamber in the RoyalPalace Chamber 2
3.1 The Royal Pavilion in the English Camp at Agincourt Pavilion 1
3.2 A Lobby in the RoyalPalace at Paris Lobby 1
3.3 The Dauphin’s Chamber in the RoyalPalace at Paris Chamber 3
3.4 The Queen’s Chamber in the RoyalPalace at Paris Chamber 4
3.5 Princess Katherine’s Chamber in the Royal Palace Chamber 2
3.6 A Lobby in the RoyalPalace at Paris Lobby 1
(3.7  A Lobby in the Royal Palace at Paris Lobby 1)
3.8 Princess Katherine’s Chamber in the RoyalPalace Chamber 2
    Curtain falls
4.1 A Council Pavilion Pavilion 2
4.2 Audience Chamber in the RoyalPalace at Paris Stateroom 1
4.3 Princess Katherine’s Chamber in the RoyalPalace Chamber 2
4.4 Tudor’s Pavilion in the English Camp Pavilion 3
5.1 The Royal Pavilion in the English Camp at Agincourt Pavilion 1
5.2 Audience Chamber in the RoyalPalace at Troyes Stateroom 2
5.3 A Lobby in the Palace of the States General at Paris Lobby 2
5.4 Audience Chamber in the RoyalPalace at Troyes Stateroom 2
5.5 The Dauphin’s Pavilion in his Camp Pavilion 4
5.6 The Gates of the Royal Palace at Troyes Dropped curtain
5.7 The Hall of State in the RoyalPalace at Troyes Hall

Clark allocates a total of fourteen individual locations, comprising three main types: pavilion, public stateroom, and private chamber (his 5.6 is a special case and is discussed below). A scenically maximal production following these headings might run into technical difficulties. Act 3 has five different locations only one of which is repeated in Act 4, and none of the locations in Act 4 occurs in Act 5. In this arrangement two mid-act shutter replacements would be needed (3.1, 4.1), and all scenes would have to be replaced at the end of Acts 3 and 4. Theoretically, the LIF model could cope by employing some deft scene shuffling, but in production it might cause problems. On the other hand, a minimal production aiming to avoid the need for mid-act replacements might employ the generic scene types noted above to stage the play with just three shutter settings: pavilion, stateroom, chamber; two relieves: lobby and hall; and four wings (lobby/stateroom wings may be combined). Such a minimal production would make few technical demands, but might be difficult to follow spatially; nor does it sit that happily with Downes’s comments. Given the production’s status, a mid position between these poles would achieve a balance among implied location, visual aid to narrative, spectacle, and technical capacity. There are several arrangements that might achieve this balance; one such is shown in the scenery plot.

I have argued elsewhere that in terms of the staging of Tuke’s The Adventures of Five Hours it was important to discriminate house from house, but not necessarily rooms within a particular house. Applying that formula to Boyle’s play would reduce the scenic demand, but it might affect an audience’s ability to follow the play; there are, for example, seven scenes set in five different rooms in the Royal Palace in Paris. It is probably impracticable to match each to an individual setting, but some distinction among these rooms would aid an audience’s comprehension. Distinguishing public and private rooms within the palace is consonant with Boyle’s narrative, which exploits the public duty/ private feelings dichotomy typical of serious drama at this time. I therefore suggest the use of different shutter and wing settings for staterooms and chambers. We can immediately reduce scenic demand by combining similar locations to eliminate five. Clark’s 5.3 is brief, makes one appearance, and can usefully be combined with the other Paris ‘lobby’ scenes (3.2 & 3.6) in one item of scenery. We might also distinguish the pavilions on partisan lines – French, English – the problem is that there is only one definite French pavilion, the Dauphin’s in Act 5; it is not clear to which party Clark’s Council Pavilion belongs, maybe it is neutral, as the Duke of Burgundy is acting as negotiator. We might use a separate pavilion setting for each, but if we follow this logic we should also include another to distinguish Tudor’s from Henry’s in the English camp. In Restoration terms a pavilion setting immediately signifies a military camp. If the actors themselves do not provide sufficient indication of place, signification may be reinforced by costumes or props: actors wearing the livery of a particular character or bringing on portable properties such as flags or other insignia. Accordingly, only one pavilion setting is proposed. Finally, as the play moves among three main geographical locations – Agincourt, Paris, and Troyes – some delineation along geographical lines might assist the narrative. This is acknowledged in the simplified scenery plot, which combines geographical distinction and generic scenes to arrive at the following solution: five shutters: pavilion, chamber 1 (provincial town), chamber 2 (Paris), stateroom 1 (Paris), stateroom 2 (Troyes); four wings: pavilion, chamber, stateroom/lobby, hall; and two relieves: lobby, hall. I have used a relieve for Clark’s ‘lobby’ scenes to ensure that no mid-act shutter replacement is required (I believe this was also a period concern), and I also make the final scene in the play a relieve to match the grand effect obviously intended by Boyle: “The Curtain is drawn up./ The Curtain being lifted up, there appear the King, Princess Katherine, Queen Mother, Princess Ann, Chareloys, and all the English, and the French Nobility and Officers of State; and others according to their places”.[4]

So far, this use of the front curtain has not been encountered in new LIF plays; although its use is implied to mark off the ‘opera’ sections of The Playhouse to be Let (the first entry of Sir Francis Drake reprints the original stage direction for the curtain to rise “by degrees”).[5] Boyle uses the curtain on two other occasions in the play. At the start of Act 4 he specifies another impressive tableau:

The Curtain being drawn up, The Duke of Burgundy, the Constable, Earl of Charaloys, and the Bishop of Arras are seen sitting at one side of a Table, attended by the French Officers of State; on the other side, are seated the Duke of Exeter, Duke of Bedford, the Arch-Bishop of Canterbury, and the Earl of Warwick, attended by the English.[6]

This dramatic use of the curtain allows the actors to get into position around a large setting prop; although how the table is removed before the next scene is not indicated (probably carried off in sections), nor does Boyle mark a curtain drop at the end of the preceding scene. However, he does mark the drop before the final tableau: “The Curtain Falls. Two Heraulds appear opposite to each other in the Balconies near the Stage”.[7] The heralds then play out a curious scene from their balconies in front of the dropped curtain while the company gets into position behind it. The implication of balconies not “near the stage” in the heralds’ direction has attracted comment, but it is only a problem if one adheres to four-door theory. All commentators agree that balconies were positioned above stage doors. If we assume two forestage doors with attendant balconies, then these are self-evidently the balconies ‘near the stage’. The balconies further away from the stage are those available to the audience. From Pepys’s diary entries it is clear that there was little distinction at the time between balconies and what we would call boxes. On May 5, 1668, for example, he reports, “To the Duke of York’s playhouse; and there coming late he [Creed] and I up to the balcony-box, where we find my Lady Castlemayne and several great ladies; and there we sat with them”. From another entry it is clear that one of these ‘balcony-boxes’ close to the LIF stage, but not over it, housed the musicians. At the crowded first performance of Davenant and Dryden’s adaptation of The Tempest on November 7, 1667 he was, “forced to sit in the side balcone over against the musique-room at the Duke’s house, close by my Lady Dorset”.[8] The close relationship between Restoration audience and performers recorded in many of Pepys’s entries is demonstrated pictorially by a contemporary print of the coronation of James II that shows musicians in the ‘balcony-box’ nearest the throne of Mary of Modena, and musicians and audience mingling in the next.

Boyle’s stage direction and Pepys’s diary entries are easier to reconcile on a two-door rather than a four-door forestage. Support for this view is provided by the equivalent stage direction in several manuscript versions of the play: “A French and an English Herauld appeare in one of the Balconies without the stage or in both of them” (my italics).[9]


[1] Genest, Some Account of The English Stage, 1832, p.53; Pepys, Aug. 13, 1664.
[2] Roscius Anglicanus, p.28.
[3] “Sir William’s great Care of having it perfect and exactly perform’d, it produc’d to himself and Company vast Profit” (ibid. p.26).
[4] The History of Henry the Fifth, p.50.
[5] Davenant, Works, p.87.  The front curtain is specified to be used scenically in Robert Howard and Dryden’s The Indian Queen (Bridges St. 1664). A curtain is also called for in Howard’s The Surprisal (Vere St. 1662), but as this was produced on an essentially non-scenic stage it is highly doubtful that a front curtain is implied. Use of the curtain in this play marks the start and end of a masque and there is nothing in the text that demands anything other than a hanging across an entrance or central opening. Boyle’s use is more audacious than either of these examples.
[6] Op cit p.29.
[7] Ibid. p.49.
[8] ‘Over-against’ is common Restoration usage for ‘opposite’. See also diary entry for May 12, 1669.
[9] Clark (ed.), The Dramatic Works of Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrery, (2 vols.), Cambridge, Mass: Harvard UP, 1937, vol. 2, p.848, n.480. There are five MSS, all have similar wording in this stage direction.
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3 thoughts on “The History of Henry the Fifth (staging)

  1. Pingback: The History of Henry the Fifth (scenery) | Restoration Theatre

  2. Pingback: The Rivals | Restoration Theatre

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