Sir Martin Mar-All (staging)

by John Dryden and  William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle  (August 1667; pub.1668)

This play was hugely popular with LIF audiences – Pepys saw it at least seven times – and it was chosen by the Duke’s Company to open their new theatre at Dorset Garden in 1671. The first quarto of 1668 was revised by Dryden as it was going through the press and some copies include a scene at the end of Act 1 that Dryden cut.[1] Otherwise, there are no changes affecting the staging. The staging is as masterful as the plot and, while supremely economical, makes brilliant use of the LIF resources. This is exemplified by the most memorable scene in the play in which the foolish Martin, who cannot play a note, mimes a serenade in one balcony to Millisent in the opposite. Martin silently grimaces and fumbles while his man Warner does the playing and singing behind him; the joke, of course, is that Martin who always ‘mars all’ soon gets out of synchronization and ruins the effect. The stage directions and dialogue for this scene are particularly interesting and give a clear picture of the original staging:

Warn.
Go to, you are an invincible Fool I see; get up into/ your Window, and set two Candles by you, take my Land-lords/ Lute in your hand, and fumble on’t, and make grimmaces with/ your mouth, as if you sung; in the mean time. I’ll play in the/ next: Room in the dark, and consequently your Mistress, who will/ come to her Balcone over against you, will think it to be you;/ and at the end of every Tune, I’ll ring the Bell that hangs between/  your Chamber and mine, that you may know what to / have done.
[…]

Rose.
And see, Madam, where your true Knight Sir Martin is/ plac’d yonder like Apollo, with his Lute in his hand and his Rays/ about his head. Sir Martin appears at the adverse Window, a Tune play’d; when it is done, Warner rings, and Sir Martin holds.
[…]

The Song being done, Warner rings agen; but Sir Martin continues fumbling, and gazing on his Mistress.[2]

There is no doubt that the whole point of this staging is its wonderful symmetry, with the cross-stage opposition of the balconies being fully exploited: “over against” and “adverse” both being Restoration terms for ‘opposite’.[3] Montague Summers thought three balconies were needed for this scene, but typically he does not say why.[4] One can only assume that he took Warner’s reference to “the next room” to imply another balcony. It would indeed be possible to stage the scene using three balconies, and this may have been done at Dorset Garden, but there is nothing to be gained by having Warner in view and the LIF-related text emphasises Warner’s obscurity.

We can turn to a non-theatre-related diary entry from Pepys to clear up another misconception about Restoration theatre balconies. References in play texts to balconies and windows often appear to be undifferentiated. For example, in the scene reproduced above Warner tells Martin to “get up into your Window”, while in the same speech he says that Millisent will “come to her Balcone”. On 19 May 1661, Pepys and his friend Captain Ferrers having visited a local inn made their way to Lord Sandwich’s house, where they “sat talking and laughing in the drawing room”. Ferrers tells Pepys that he dearly wants to go to sea again and the diarist (who worked in the Navy office) gives him “some hopes”, whereupon:

he grew so mad with joy that he fell a-dancing and leaping like a madman. Now it fell out that the balcone windows were open, and he went to the rayle and make an offer to leap over…I shut the doors, and W. Howe hindered him all we could; yet he opened them again, and, with a vault, leaps down into the garden.

This entry, which reads like an episode from a LIF play, should finally put the matter to rest. It is clearly the case that a drawing room of a fashionable Restoration London house might well have had large, probably shuttered (“the doors”), windows that led onto a railed balcony. It seems perfectly logical, therefore, that Restoration theatres should reflect this arrangement. The last word on this should go to the aptly named Thomas Blount whose Glossographia of 1661 states: “balcone: a bay window, much used in our new buildings, and therefore needs no further explanation”.[5]

Although Dryden provides no scene headings beyond the general setting of Covent Garden given at the end of the character list, the scenic locations are simple to infer, switching as they do between a Covent Garden street setting (as in Love in a Tub and The Humorous Lovers) and a fashionable room setting representing the house of Lady Dupe. This said, one or two scenes appear to be topographically neutral, and in these cases care needs to be taken to draw the correct inference. An example of this is 4.1, which at first sight could be set indoors or out, but a close reading reveals that the line “we are just below the Window” only makes sense if Warner and Martin are conferring on the street under Millisent’s balcony.

The oppositional stage picture brilliantly exploited by Dryden in the balcony scene is used again in 2.2, which is set in Dupe’s house. Warner is secretly conveying a message to Millisent when Martin’s rival Sir John is unexpectedly heard returning. In true farce style Millisent ushers Warner behind the opposite stage door. Of course, Sir John needs something from behind that door, but Millisent quick-wittedly comes to the rescue with a clever fib and Sir John leaves on a fool’s errand. After peeping from behind the door, Warner makes a tentative re-entrance and the pair resumes plotting only for Sir John to return on the instant having forgotten something. Pure farce plotting, but neither here nor anywhere else in the play are more than two practicable doors to be inferred. However, a street setting allows wing entrances/exits to be used in a convincingly realistic fashion – characters entering/exiting from other ‘streets’ – and Dryden appears to make full use of this at several points in the play. The clearest example comes at the end of the balcony scene quoted above. There is a “Noise within” and Millisent in the balcony with her maid asks Rose to see what the matter is. Rose replies:

’Tis Sir John Swallow pursu’d by the Bailiffs, Madam,/ according to our Plot; it seems they have dogg’d him thus late/ to his Lodging.
[…]

(Ex. Millisent, Rose.

Enter Sir John pursu’d by three Bailiffs over the Stage. [6]

The balconies and their doors have just been used to represent the houses of Martin and Lady Dupe which face each other across the stage, and Sir John has been out to find a parson. His entrance, therefore, cannot be from anywhere but the scenic area – the London streets. The sudden switch from action in the two balconies across the empty space of the stage to the dramatic entrance in its middle exemplifies Dryden’s brilliant exploitation of the LIF stage.


[1] For a full account see the California Dryden, vol.9, p.356 & pp.432-6.
[2] London: Herringman, 1668, pp.53-6.
[3] For other examples see Pepys 17 & 28 May 1661, 7 Nov 1667, 12 May 1669.
[4] Restoration Theatre, p.129.  John Styan amplifies Summer’s misconception in Restoration Comedy in Performance,Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986, p.26.
[5] Glossographia, op cit.
[6] Op cit p.56.
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4 thoughts on “Sir Martin Mar-All (staging)

  1. Pingback: Sir Martin Mar-all (scenery) | Restoration Theatre

  2. Pingback: Tarugo’s Wiles (staging) | Restoration Theatre

  3. Pingback: She Wou’d If She Cou’d (staging) | Restoration Theatre

  4. Pingback: Guzman (staging) | Restoration Theatre

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