Tarugo’s Wiles (staging)

by Thomas St. Serfe (October 1667; pub.1668)

This play is essentially a ‘Spanish plot’ play – though lighter in tone than either The Adventures of Five Hours or Elvira – with a topical satire of London coffee-house denizens inserted as its third act. It is weaker dramatically than either of its predecessors and drew from Pepys a characteristic rebuff: “the most ridiculous, insipid play that ever I saw in my life”.[1] The first four acts are easily accommodated by the LIF model, with no more than three scenic locations being implied in any. This situation changes in Act 5, which, like parts of Elvira, is in need of simplification. Throughout the play, St. Serfe supplies some scene headings and numbers, but both are erratic. Using the usual method of designating a new scene after a cleared stage, we may infer no more than five scenes in any of the first four acts, but Act 5 records a frenzied 15 of which only two are stated. Although Pepys reports he could not see the play on October 5, “the house so full”, and that the King and the Duke of York attended on October 15, Downes lists it as a play that “Expir’d the third Day”.[2]

Whatever St. Serfe’s standing with LIF, it is unlikely that the scene keepers/theatre manager would have afforded this production the luxury of the three separate ‘street’ settings called for in Act 5: “Piatza”, “the corner of Toledo-street”, and “Sophrania’s back Gate”.[3] One setting would surely have served all. St. Serfe specifies two settings in Patricio’s house – Tarugo’s chamber (5.2 scene heading), and a hall (5.6 stage direction) – another, Lavinia’s chamber, is mentioned several times in dialogue. The way the play is structured suggests that these three locations would have been individuated scenically, but it is not a straightforward matter to allocate scenery. Act 5 blurs locations in a manner that seems confused compared even to Tuke or to the brief moments of spatial fluidity in Elvira and Mustapha that seem designed to facilitate the drama. The most appropriate fictional location for 5.1a (my subdivision, see scenery plot) is Tarugo’s chamber.

Horatio has been trapped in his rival’s house, if Patricio discovers him there will be a fight. Owing to convoluted circumstances, Horatio has had to spend the night (chastly) in Liviana’s rooms (Liviana is Patricio’s sister and Horatio’s intended bride). Early that morning, Horatio was able to sneak into Tarugo’s chamber, and in 5.1a he is conversing with his friend. Mid-scene, however, Liviana is directed to enter “above”. (This is another instance of an internal balcony, as seen in The Adventures of five Hours.)  Liviana warns the men that her brother is searching the house for a reported intruder. Tarugo tells Horatio, “Get upon my bed” and “counterfeit a sound sleep”[4]. Horatio exits (fictionally to the bed) and the audience hears the offstage Patricio instructing his servants to secure all rooms. Tarugo exits and there is a momentary cleared stage, then, “Enter Patricio in a hurry, with two Servants towards Tarugo’s Chamber, where Tar. In his Gown meets ’em with his sword drawn” (5.1b)[5]. It is not entirely clear from this direction whether Tarugo meets Patricio inside or outside his chamber.

The action after this encounter, however, must take place within Tarugo’s rooms, because Horatio makes a speech from Tarugo’s bed. It is probably best, therefore, to assume that Tarugo meets Patricio outside his chamber, using the hall setting that is specified later in 5.6. Tarugo satisfies Patricio about the night’s adventures and he invites his host to have a look at Horatio on his bed: “He’s fast asleep, but that you may have a full view of his Face; I pray let’s step in quietly and satisfie my impatience./ {They both go in and peep[6]. From this point until the end of the scene the text is opaque about stage action. It is unclear where the men peep, at which point and how the bed and its occupant become visible, and what happens to the servants who started the scene (important if we are assuming cleared stages to precede scene changes).

The following explication is offered as a relatively simple solution that makes the most efficient use of available resources. First, we should assume that as there are no further directions or dialogue concerning the servants, Patricio has dismissed them a little before he exits with Tarugo to view Horatio. On the direction “They both go in and peep” the two men exit through the forestage door that Tarugo entered from and by association an audience will assign as leading to his chamber. An explicit exit is not marked, but this is a straightforward interpretation of the direction. The stage has now cleared and the chamber shutters open to discover a relieve setting representing a different part of Tarugo’s rooms (5.1c). Horatio lies on a bed set in the relieve area. The two men re-enter, either through the same forestage door, or through a wing entrance. They stay near their point of entrance, as the direction ‘peeps’ suggests, then another stage direction instructs, “Hor. Awakes, and stares about”[7]. Tarugo invites Patricio to “withdraw a little” so that Horatio is not disturbed. It is impossible to determine exactly what is meant by this implicit direction. If they are peeping by a forestage door, they might exit and re-enter after Horatio’s speech, but it would also make sense if, standing close by the wings, the men come downstage to observe from the forestage. Horatio now begins a monologue for the benefit of Patricio, whom he knows is overhearing[8]. After his speech, Horatio “puts himself to sleep agen.” and the two men confer briefly then exit.

With regards to the bed, we have no way of knowing whether St. Serfe was thinking scenically or in terms of the platform stage where the bed would simply be thrust on. Either way would work, but a discovery would be the self-recommending choice on the LIF stage. Having had to intervene to negotiate the staging of 5.1 – and intervention of some kind is imperative whatever staging is imagined – it is frustrating to see the next scene blithely advertised as “SCENE, Tarugo’s Chamber”. Of course, it makes perfect sense within this interpretation: the shutters close over the relieve and we are back in the same location I suggested for 5.1a. However, given that this heading is the only intra-act location stated in conventional format in the play, it is difficult to be entirely confident that this is also St. Serfe’s logic.

An intriguing stage direction in Act 5 refers to stage windows: “Tarugo comes to Liviana’s Chamber-window, and knocks. Enter Locura at the Window”[9]. So far in this study we have only encountered one undisputable reference to a window at standing height: the ‘blaze of light’ scene in The Adventures of Five Hours. At first sight, another low-level window is required here. That LIF had such windows is the view of many commentators, Lewcock being one of the most recent. In her Theatre Notebook survey she records six new LIF plays (but only three at Bridges St.) requiring a low-level window: The Villain, The Adventures of Five Hours, A Witty Combat, Love in a Tub, Sir Martin Mar-all, and Tarugo’s Wiles[10]. The window in The Villain turned out to be a balcony; indeed, up till now the only play where a balcony-window is definitely contraindicated is The Adventures. With regards to Tarugo’s Wiles, we saw Liviana appearing in a balcony early in Act 5. No textual explanation is offered as to the location of that balcony, and in internal scenes it is best considered as a theatrical convention. Here the street setting “in Piatza” (5.7) continues and the chamber window again looks like it refers to a balcony. This being the case, and the text not specifying upon what Tarugo knocks, there is no reason why he should not knock on the balcony railing, perhaps using his sword hilt[11].

The confusion over scenes and locations in Act 5 make it difficult to be certain, but if we follow the cleared stage principle and St. Serfe’s limited information, the act demands something like 11 changes of nine individual settings. This is close to Elvira standards and almost certainly needs simplification. However, the scenery plot shows a near maximal production with the only consolidations being that of three exterior locations in a single street setting, and the combining of Liviana’s chamber with Tarugo’s in the single scene when it is not a relieve (5.1). This solution requires a total of six shutters, five wings, and one relieve. However, even with this requirement only two mid-act backshutter replacements and one wing setting replacement (in Act 5) is required.


[1] Diary, October 15, 1677.
[2] Diary, October 5 & 15, 1677; Roscius Anglicanus, p.31.
[3]London: Herringman, 1668, p.49, 51, 52.
[4] Ibid. p.41.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid. p.43.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Op cit p.49.
[10] Computer Analysis 1, p.24.
[11] In 5.5, Patricio is said to be ‘rapping’ on a door, so perhaps there is a difference in usage between ‘knocking’ (generic) and ‘rapping’ (specific to a door).
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  1. Pingback: Tarugo’s Wiles (scenery) | Restoration Theatre

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