The English Princess (staging)

by John Caryll (March 1667; pub. 1667)

Caryll’s play shares characters with Shakespeare’s Richard III, principally the King himself. It is, however, not an adaptation but an original drama, which the prologue (after hits on the Spanish plot vogue, French romances, Boyle’s Mustapha, and the ‘Indian’ plays of Dryden and Howard) claims is an “English Treat of homely Fare” based on “plain Holinshead and down-right Stow”.[1] However, as Genest wryly notes, “the greater part of it […] consists of fictitious love scenes”.[2]

It is set prior to the battle of Bosworth Field and a note after the list of characters tells us “The Scenes are laid in the Head-quarters of King Richard, and the Earl of Richmond, when they are in sight of one another”.[3] The first scene heading does not appear until 3.5 – “The Scene changeth to the Earl of Richmond’s Quarters” – so the play up to this point is set in Richard’s headquarters.[4] Thereafter, Caryll provides ample scenic information as the pace of the drama quickens, and he switches among various locations including specific parts of Richard’s headquarters. This bipartite scenic structure reflects the power switch in the drama from the locus of a confident, scheming Richard who is characterised by occasional echoes of a more vital incarnation – “Through Rocks of Opposition this alone/ Pointing to his sword/ Has hew’d my Passage to the craggy Throne” – to narratives centred around the rising star of Richmond, the eponymous Princess Elizabeth, and the love-struck Charlot (Elizabeth’s rival, disguised as a boy and serving as her page).[5] The scenic structure is probably more an effect of narrative than strategy, but Caryll is certainly aware of the dramatic potential of the scenic stage.

The most dramatic scene in the play is its most theatrical. Like Boyle, Caryll directs the curtain to drop mid-act, but this time it rises not on a static tableau involving heavy props, but on a sensational reworking of Shakespeare’s eve-of-Bosworth epiphany: “The Curtain is opened. The King appears in a distracted posture, newly risen from his Bed, walking in his Dream with a dagger in his hand, and surrounded by the Ghosts of those whom he had formerly killed”.[6] The ensuing monologue is a virtuosic set piece for Betterton, with Richard swaggering around the stage confronting the ghosts of Henry VI, Clarence, Queen Ann, and the two princes. At its climax the curtain drops and Act 3 ends.

The six actors on stage, the movement implied by the text, and the intended effect of the scene militate against the use of the relieve space for this discovery. This confirms the use of the relieve area up to this point mainly for special effect discoveries (e.g. The Villain) and small-scale tableaux (The Slighted Maid), with speedy transitions (Mr. Anthony) coming later. Given the inherent drama of this effect, pioneered by Boyle and Caryll, it is surprising that mid-play use of the curtain remains comparatively rare throughout the Restoration period.

The use of the curtain in Act 4 generates two interesting stage directions that have exercised modern commentators: “Enter Catesby, and Ratcliffe at one of the Doors before the Curtain”, and four lines later, “Enter Lovel at the other Door before the Curtain”.[7] Langhans’s suggestion that these directions imply practical doors upstage of the curtain (or both entrances on the same side) is a four-door-theory red herring; these directions are perfectly explicable, natural even, on a stage equipped with one door on each side of the forestage.[8]  The one other use of ‘door’ in stage directions emphasises the point: “Enter King, and Sir W. Stan. habited like Richmond at several doors”.[9] It occurs during the Battle of Bosworth when Richard is searching for his antagonist. On a two-door forestage there is no need to state theatrically the dramatically obvious opposition demanded by this direction.

Although Caryll provides six distinct scenic locations – “Richmond’s Quarters”, “the Princess Lodgings”, “a Field”, “the King’s quarters”, “Bosworth-Field”, and “the Cloister” – once the action moves away from Richard’s headquarters in 3.5 the scene headings are by no means complete. Eleven headings are missing; of these, seven are merely a continuation of the previous scene, but the remaining four are not easy to determine. Part of the explanation for the missing headings, and indeed the quantity of scene numbers, is Caryll’s method of individuating his scenes. Unlike other plays so far discussed, where scenes are marked, or may be inferred by a cleared stage, new scenes in The English Princess occur somewhat idiosyncratically with the exits and entrances of single characters (as in the neoclassical French tradition) as well as with the familiar cleared stage.

The four problematic scenic locations are in Act 5. My scenery plot allocates scenery to these scenes based on Caryll’s stated settings and inferences from dialogue, but two of the missing locations – 5.1 and 5.4 – are contentious. In 5.1 the Stanly brothers are plotting against Richard; therefore the location is unlikely to be Richard’s headquarters. Both men are based in Richard’s camp, so a trip to Richmond’s (as in 4.3) is also unlikely, and the scene is marked to change to the princess’s lodgings in the next scene, which rules out that location. A neutral location near Richard’s camp is required; fortunately, Caryll has already specified such a neutral scene: 4.3 is set in “a Field adjoyning to Richmond’s Quarters”.[10] This setting is not stated to appear again, but it is highly unlikely to be anything other than a standard ‘field’ setting, for reasons both of fictional suitability and theatrical economy, and appears an ideal choice for 5.1.

In both 4.3 and 5.1 Richard’s downfall is plotted, a downfall that will be realised the next time a field setting is called for in 5.6. For 5.6 Caryll specifies “Bosworth-Field”, but a separate field setting is unnecessary. The use of a stock item here and in the other ‘field’ scenes yields a symbolic dividend in that its appearance becomes linked to Richard’s fate.

In 5.4, the other spatially contentious scene, Forrest and his soldiers are effectively guarding the princess’s lodgings. There is no implication of a general ‘camp’ scene, as in Mustapha, and theatrical economy militates against a single instance of such a setting for the short 5.4. The logical choice is to use the king’s headquarters setting, which is likely to be already set in one of the shutter grooves. Fictionally, we may imagine that Elizabeth’s quarters are inside or adjacent to the king’s headquarters. This reading is encouraged by the 5.4 stage direction, “A noise of Swords in the Princess Lodgings”.[11]

The proposed scenery plot preserves scenic variety and makes optimal use of existing settings and the model’s technical capacities. It requires four shutter scenes, one relieve (field), and four wing settings. The King’s HQ and the Princess’s lodgings can share the same tent wings, allowing the setting for Richmond’s HQ to be completely different with no need for any mid-act scene replacement. A curious feature of the play text, shared only by Davenant’s Siege of Rhodes 1, is that scene changes are marked to occur at the ends of acts rather than the start. Langhans suggests this may be indicative of LIF practice at the time, but a publishing or authorial quirk is probably the best explanation.[12]


[1]London: Thomas Dring, 1667, front matter.
[2] English Stage, p.74.
[3] Op cit front matter.
[4] Ibid. p.31.
[5] Ibid. p.26.
[6] Ibid. p.48.
[7] Ibid. p.47.
[8] Thesis, p.269.
[9] Op cit p.57.
[10] Ibid. p.37.
[11] Ibid. p.55.
[12] Thesis, p.309.

2 thoughts on “The English Princess (staging)

  1. Pingback: The English Princess (scenery) | Restoration Theatre

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

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