The Tragedy of Mustapha (staging)

by Roger Boyle (April 1665; pub.1668)

In my PhD thesis I relate the LIF production of this play to John Webb’s surviving scene drawings that are marked up for production on his Tudor Hall stage at Whitehall. Assuming these designs best represent the type of scenery actually used in the LIF production, one would think that the evidence they provide would simplify the task of constructing a possible scenery plot for the play and clarify some vexed questions about early Restoration staging along the way. Unfortunately they do not; they raise as many questions as they answer; a situation not helped by the fact that Boyle provides only one scene heading in the play – “Solyman’s Camp and his pavillion” – at the start of Act 1.[1] The extant drawings do not record fully the scenery needed by any production of the play; there are no wing designs and Webb’s number sequence – 1, 3, 5 & 6 – is incomplete. There are two versions of the scene Webb has marked “1. Sceane”. The first (1a) shows the Turkish camp and army outside the walls of Buda: “In Releive/ The Turkish/ Camp Drawne/ up in Battalia”. A small flap covering the centre of this drawing may be lifted to reveal the alternative design (1b), which features Solyman’s pavilion. Another view of the camp and city walls is recorded as Webb’s scene 3: “A Shutter/ Buda beleagured/ the Common”. There is no point in the play that specifies or implies this particular scene, but Webb may have intended to represent the camp using both relieve and shutter scenes and this shutter design could be used wherever a general camp scene is implied. Webb’s scenes 5 and 6 are pavilion designs for Solyman and the Queen of Hungary respectively: “In Releive/ Solymans Tent” and “A Shutter/ The Queen of/ Hungaria’s Tent”.

After noting their incompleteness, the first point to make about these drawings is that aside from ‘scene 1’ Webb’s numbers do not correspond with Boyle’s play. Boyle does not number his scenes, but they are implied by stage directions calling for a cleared stage; the method William Smith Clark II uses in his Boyle edition.[2] We cannot expect a direct correlation between Webb’s numbers and unnumbered scenes in the play, but, unlike his designs for The Siege of Rhodes, there appears to be no correspondence whatsoever between Webb’s numbers and the play after the first scene. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that so many of the play’s scenes are set in various pavilions in the Turkish camp, and the number of individual backscenes depends on the extent to which these locations are differentiated scenically. The best fit between drawings and play is provided by a maximal production that allocates individual scenery to each location. In this example Webb’s scenes 1, 5, and 6 match corresponding scene numbers in the play, but we are still left with the problem of Webb’s scene 3 (Buda beleaguered), which has no possible match with the play’s third location, Mustapha’s pavilion. The best option in drawing up a potential scenery plot is probably to ignore Webb’s numbers. It is also possible that none of the drawings represents final scene designs,[3] but for the purposes of this analysis, I assume there is a close relation.

Webb shows two pavilions, one is a relieve and the other a shutter. The relieve design, Solyman’s Tent, is, unsurprisingly, remarkably similar to his relieve design for Solyman’s pavilion in the Siege of Rhodes. These designs represent Solyman’s imperial power. Both display that principal symbol of the monarch, the royal throne, and significantly both place the seat of power publicly on view; as Davenant puts it in Rhodes: “a Royal Pavilion appears display’d; Representing Solyman’s Imperial Throne; and about it are discern’d the Quarters of his Bassas, and Inferiour Officers”.[4] Such a setting is an appropriate choice to symbolise the public, imperial side of Solyman, but it cannot also represent Solyman’s private “inner tent” in which the bodies of Mustapha and Zanger are discovered in Act 5. The published text omits a stage direction that explicitly calls for this discovery, though the implication is clear enough. We know the direction has been omitted because it is present in several manuscript versions of the play, all of which offer slight variants of the British Library MS that states, “The scene opens and shows Mustapha sitting dead on a Couch: At wch sight Zanger starts back”.[5] The exterior view shown in Webb’s scene 5 does not permit an interior ‘inner tent’, but more importantly it is impossible for a relieve on the Hall stage – for which Webb drew his designs – to open up any further. Hence, two scenes are needed to represent Solyman’s tent. The second scene must also be a relieve to permit the discovery. A pair of rich hangings coupled with tent wings would be a neat method of satisfying the technical requirements. As I suggest in my commentary on Elvira, the hangings could be affixed to the rear of the backshutter frame and would draw open to reveal the inner tent and the dead bodies.

The scenic solution I suggest in the scenery plot is a near-maximal production that consolidates various locations in Solyman’s camp using a single relieve setting. It calls for four shutters: chamber, and three pavilions; one hanging for the inner tent: three wings: chamber, camp, pavilion/tent; and three relieves, two for Solyman’s pavilion plus the general camp setting indicated by Webb’s scene 1. The only technical issue concerning the use of relieves occurs in Act 4 where two separate relieves are specified. However, there are 122 lines between 4.2 and 4.4, which allow about five and a half minutes to replace the setting, so the operation is feasible. There is actually no reason why the general camp scene needs to be a relieve, though the scene Webb shows would provide the audience with an instant understanding of the situation at the start of the play, with the design immediately communicating Solyman’s power. Wing settings are simplified as usual to avoid mid-act replacements. Three are suggested: camp, chamber, and pavilion.

The use of the scenic area is self-evident when the dead brothers are discovered. However, other stage directions show that Boyle does not confine the action to the forestage. In Act 2 we find, “Enter Zanger, and Achmat, at distance from him”, where the context suggests an upstage position for Achmat rather than one to the side. In Act 5 a direction referring to Solyman’s mutes states, “They retire to the further end of the Stage”. [6] There is also another brief instance in Act 5 of the forestage representing a transit location different from that showing in the scenic area, as in Elvira. The grisly display of the ‘inner tent’ scene is in view when Roxolana enters with Haly on the forestage, but the dialogue makes it clear that she has not yet arrived at Solyman’s tent: “Haly! are you certain that my Son Is to the Sultan‘s Great Pavilion gone?”.[7] The ‘anomaly’ lasts just 14 lines, after which Boyle directs, “Roxolana goes towards the Scene, where she sees Mustapha, and Zanger with his Dagger in his hand, and then she starts back”.[8] As for doors, all three mentions in stage directions use the oppositional pattern exemplified by, “Exeunt Queen and Cleora one way, the Cardinal and Lords at the other door”.[9]


[1]London: Herringman, 1668, p.55.
[2] Clark, Dramatic Works, op cit.
[3] A conclusion reached by Clark (op cit p.781).
[4] Siege of Rhodes 1, London: Herringman, 1663, p.16.
[5] BL Add. MS 29280. Reproduced in Clark, Dramatic Works, op cit p.858.
[6] Op cit p.69.
[7] Ibid. p.116.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid. p.109.

6 thoughts on “The Tragedy of Mustapha (staging)

  1. Pingback: Mustapha (scenery) | Restoration Theatre

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