The Marriage Night (staging)

by Henry(?) Cary, Viscount Falkland (March 1667(?); pub.1664)[1]

The play was published in 1664 but there is no record of performance before Pepys’s reference to a performance on 20 March 1667 using younger members of the company.[2] The play is clearly modelled on Jacobean/Caroline tragedy and it is possible that it was written or drafted before the Restoration. There is little scenic indication in the text other than two discoveries, of which neither is fully convincing as a shutter discovery. The first (1.2) begins a new scene following a cleared stage: “A SONG/ That done, Claudilla and De Flame discovered sitting in a rich Couch; at each end a Lady waiting”; while the second (4.1) is a murder scene in which Claudilla and Dessandro, asleep in their wedding bed, are stabbed by the jealous siblings De Flame and Cleara.[3] It is announced by the direction: “[De Flame] Unlocks the dore and discovers them”.[4]

The first discovery presents no technical difficulty (it is similar to that in Siege of Rhodes 2). The couch and the four actors could be accommodated within the relieve space, and as no movement is indicated in the ensuing scene the couch might be positioned just behind the shutter line to maximise sightlines. The stage directions in this scene suggest the whole scene is to be played in the relieve area; no one leaves until a servant enters (on the forestage or from the wings), announces visitors, then all exit. If these directions were followed in the LIF production this would be the first LIF play to stage a scene wholly in the relieve area, as opposed to a brief discovery or musical interlude.[5] I am not convinced, however, that Cary was aware of the capabilities of the scenic stage at the time of writing. Rather, the play gives the impression throughout that it was conceived with the pre-Civil War playhouse in mind.

This impression is fostered by the second discovery, which, if scenically intended, is badly managed. It would be possible to stage the murder scene in the relieve space. The LIF model would allow a large bed to be used without affecting sight lines (positioned head-on with actors propped up on pillows). However, the murders are less of a problem than the staging that follows. During the stabbings Dessandro calls out and soon after three other characters enter. The dialogue indicates they do not see the bodies, so the discovery space must be closed when they enter; however, no such action is directed, and it is difficult to see how the space is concealed and revealed. The text states the discovery is performed by a door, not a shutter, but this would be difficult to contrive.

Many commentators on Restoration staging blithely refer to doors cut into the scenery, but here the area that needs to be opened so that an audience may see the action is too large for any practicable door cut into a battened canvas shutter running in grooves. It would be possible, of course, for a shutter to represent a door, but the text implies the door is lockable and solid. ‘Locking’ is easily acted, but ‘solid’ is more difficult; the actor must physically try the door, as dialogue and stage direction make clear: “The Dore is fast/ [knocks]”.

The implication here is that Cary is thinking of a large central door opening – exemplified by Jones’s design for the Cockpit, Drury Lane (but see also Gordon Higgott)– though even this might require the bed to be thrust out. After the door has been tried by the newcomers, De Flame (inside) presumably unlocks it and invites them in: a stage direction reads “op’s the dore”.[6] They might not all enter at this point, but if they did sight lines would probably suffer. However, the scene ends soon after and it would be possible to stage this part of it without the newcomers entering the relieve space.

With these reservations in mind, the scenery plot allows for the use of a shutter discovery. The play lacks scene headings and numbers but most locations are easy to infer. A scenic production would need only three wing and shutter settings all of which could be supplied from stock (from plays already discussed). These are, street, Claudilla’s house, courtroom, and a relieve for Claudilla’s house that would serve to conceal the couch in Act 1 and the bed in Act 4. However, the tone of the play with its lack of scenic awareness, its awkward discoveries, and retention of older devices such as the ceremonious procession over the stage that begins Act 4, strongly suggest that Cary was thinking in terms of platform staging.

The play does not seem to have been well thought of at the time. If the London Stage calendar is correct, Davenant sat on it for three years before granting it a limited production with junior members of the company. Neither Downes nor Langbaine mention play or playwright, and Pepys was unimpressed: “a kind of tragedy, and some things very good in it, but the whole together, I thought not”.[7]


[1] The title page of the play states, “Written by the Lord Viscount Favvlkland”; the problem, as pinpointed by Judith Milhous and Robert D. Hume, “lies in deciding which one” – the fourth Viscount Falkland, Henry, or the second, Lucius?  They plump for Lucius, whereas on most lists and indices (including the Chadwyck-Healey database), Henry gets the palm. (See, ‘Attribution Problems in English Drama, 1660-1700’, Harvard Library Bulletin, no.31, 1983, p.24).
[2] On March 21 Pepys went to LIF and was surprised to find “only the young men and women of the house act […] and the play they did yesterday, being Wednesday, was so well taken, that they thought fit to venture it publickly to-day”.
[3]London: R. Crofts, 1664, p.8.
[4] Ibid. p.41.
[5] I am not convinced The Witty Combat offers such.
[6] Ibid. p.42.
[7] Diary, March 21, 1667.
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One thought on “The Marriage Night (staging)

  1. Pingback: The Marriage Night (scenery) | Restoration Theatre

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