She Wou’d If She Cou’d (staging)

by George Etherege (February 1668; & pub.)

In terms of its dramaturgical control this play marks a considerable advance over Love in a Tub. The plot is more closely allied to LIF staging resources, there are no locational ambiguities, and it is clear from the mirrored construction of the first and last scenes that plot and staging were integrally conceived. Any discussion of the staging of this play must refer both to Holland’s subtle analysis in The ornament of action, and to Graham Barlow’s well-argued case for a two-door forestage in relation to the much cited pair of stage directions in Act 2: “The Women go out, and go about behind the Scenes to the other Door”, “Enter Courtal and Freeman. Enter the Women, and after ’em Courtal at the lower Door, and Freeman, at the upper on the contrary side”.[1] I discuss these directions in ‘“Scaenes with four Doors”: Real and Virtual Doors on Early Restoration Stages’, all I need to add here is that Barlow’s proposed staging is both detailed and perceptive. One may quibble over some minor points, but his argument that the multiple entrances and re-entrances specified in these stage directions cannot be confined to the forestage and must involve the scenic area is persuasive: “the movement [otherwise] being almost impossible figures of eight on the apron without making either choreographic or comic use of the whole scenic stage…for if the audience can anticipate the entrances in this scene the comedy is diminished considerably”.[2] Barlow’s proposed staging ends with the women being trapped mid-stage by the men in a pincer movement, one at a ‘lower door’ and the other an ‘upper on the contrary side’, as the directions state. Not only does this solution satisfy the directions it is both choreographically interesting and comically effective. It is also congruent with the hunting language used by the men throughout the play, especially prior to the women’s appearance in this scene:

Now art thou as mad upon this trail, as if
We were upon a hot scent.

Since we know the bush, why do we not start
The Game?[3]

In his scenic analysis, Holland infers another example of the doubling proposed in his analysis of Guzman and followed in my discussion of The Humorous Lovers. He believes that the dining room setting that represents Courtall’s house in 1.1 also backs the Cockwoods’ house in later scenes. As the scene headings specify “A Dining-Room” in both locations, this inference looks correct. The text also specifies “Sir Oliver’s Dining-Room” in other scene headings, but the two descriptions are likely to have been represented by a single scenic setting for reasons of theatrical economy. However, Holland goes one further and suggest tentatively that all the interior settings – two at the Cockwoods’, one at Courtall’s – might have used the same setting.[4] Strangely, this conflicts with his concern that the scenery should set up a polarity between dupes and libertines. This polarity may be preserved if we take Etherege at his word and propose two interior settings: the dining room and ‘a chamber’, or similar, whenever the Cockwood’s lodgings is specified.[5] Thus, the play’s second scene – “Sir Oliver Cockwood’s Lodgings” – is differentiated from the opening dining room scene at Courtall’s. This is the only scene in the play set at Courtall’s and once this contrast has been provided there is obviously no further occasion to distinguish the houses.

Unusually, the text calls for four specific London settings: Mulberry Garden, Spring Garden, the New Exchange, and the Bear Inn, Drury Lane. The use of specific locations builds on the example set by other London comedies such as Love in a Tub, The Humorous Lovers, and Martin Mar-all, and it is possible that recognizable representations were required. Allowing for this specificity would mean a total of six backscenes (possibly all shutters, there is no definite need for a relieve scene, but I have designated the dining room such in my scenery plot to minimise backshutter replacements). As ever, there need be fewer wing settings. The garden settings could be represented by the same tree wings, with a similar economy being used for the two interiors; thus only four wing settings would be needed. However, this would still occasion a wing setting replacement during Act 3, when the New Exchange wings (3.1) would need to make way for the inn setting in 3.3.

As Holland and others have noted, the last scene in the play mirrors the first. In both, two hiding places are needed, while one forestage door is used for exits and entrances to and from the street. In Act 5 there are no difficulties; Etherege has Freeman hiding in a closet, that is, behind one of the forestage doors, while Courtall hides under a table specifically furnished with a large tablecloth (‘carpet’). The stage direction at the start of the act flatly combines fictional and theatrical notation: “Enter Lady Cockwood, Table, and Carpet”.[6] The table provides a more genteel hiding place than the wood hole into which poor Sentry is squeezed in 1.1: “leave trembling, and creep into the Wood-hole here”.[7] As Holland wryly notes, no true gentleman would stoop to enter a wood-hole, but it raises the question of where it might be located on the LIF stage. A trapdoor is theatrically unnecessary and architecturally unrealistic: Courtall’s dining room would be on an upper storey of his fashionable town house.[8] The simplest solution is that Courtall directs Sentry to the gap between proscenium arch and first wing; the narrowness need only be fictional.

There is only one further difficulty. The New Exchange scene heading in 3.1 is followed immediately by the stage direction: “Mistriss Trinckit sitting in a Shop, People passing by as in the Exchange”. An obvious solution, perhaps, is for the New Exchange to be a relieve setting and for Trinket to be discovered in her shop. However, as much of the following dialogue takes place in the vicinity of the shop this means much of the scene would be in this upstage position. Elsewhere on this site I have advocated the full use of the stage where there are sound dramaturgical or theatrical reasons for doing so. I am not so certain such a positioning would be an advantage here. Courtall has arranged to meet Lady Cockwood “in the/ Lower-walk of the New Exchange, out of which/ We can quickly pop into my Coach”, however he is really planning another meeting with her two nieces. In 3.1 his plans go awry, but then Mrs. Gazette invites the girls to Trinckit’s shop and he asserts, “This falls out more luckily than what I had/ Contrived my self…for here/ Will they be busie just before the Door, where/ We have made our appointment”. These references to a door for his quick exit – presumably an entrance door on the ground floor – being in close proximity to Trinket’s shop, suggests the possibility that the shop is set up in a wing passageway or between proscenium arch and the first wing position. The wings for this setting would undoubtedly show other shops, so Trinket’s would not be out of place. Her counter could quickly be set in position at the start of Act 3, and this would explain the lack of a specified discovery in the initial stage direction. The ensuing dialogue and the pattern of entrances and exits also favour a position closer to the forestage.

[1] Holland, Ornament of action, pp.48-54. Barlow, ‘From tennis court to opera house’, PhD thesis, Glasgow, 1983, pp.99-111.
[2] Op cit p.110, 111.
[3]London: Herringman, 1671, p.14.
[4] Op cit p.52.
[5] This setting also appears as “Sir Oliver’s Lodgings”.
[6] Op cit p.76.
[7] Ibid. p.3.
[8] References to visitors ‘coming up’ in Restoration plays are legion.  In the next scene of She Would, set in the Cockwoods’ lodgings, Sentry says, “Hark, here is some body coming up stairs” (p.20).

4 thoughts on “She Wou’d If She Cou’d (staging)

  1. Pingback: She Wou’d If She Cou’d (scenery) | Restoration Theatre

  2. Pingback: Tryphon (staging) | Restoration Theatre

  3. Pingback: The Comical Revenge; or, Love in a Tub (staging) | Restoration Theatre

  4. Pingback: She Wou’d If She Cou’d (shutters) | Restoration Theatre

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