The Sullen Lovers (staging)

by Thomas Shadwell (May 1668; pub.1671)

Shadwell’s argumentative preface makes a virtue out of the play’s lack of scene divisions, and hence scene headings: “I have here, as often as I could naturally, kept the Scenes unbroken”.[1] Indeed there is only one explicit item of scenic information in the play, but that is very definite: “The place of the SCENE LONDON. The Time, In the Moneth of March, 1667/8”.[2] Despite, the lack of scenic information The Sullen Lovers is theatrically straightforward and well constructed. Six fictional locations may be inferred: the separate lodgings of the eponymous lovers, Stanford and Emilia, a field, a street, a hall (the “great Roome” at Oxford Kate’s), and a house in Covent Garden. [3] The last is the abode and shop of a fashionable dress maker and should not be considered humble.[4] The maximum scene allocation of six individual settings presents no problems to the LIF model. A minimal production would require four settings (by combining all house interiors), but I prefer to distinguish between the houses of the principals and propose five: Emilia’s, Stanford’s (doubling as the Covent Garden house), field, street, and hall. Four wing settings are required by this solution, which entails one wing setting – street, or field – being replaced in either of the intervals between Acts 3/4 or 4/5.

Of more interest in terms of the model is the pattern of exits and entrances in this play. The word ‘door’ features 19 times and there are some significant stage directions relating to the use of doors. Oppositional staging features again, though not as pronounced as in The Tempest, the best example being the stage direction: “Emil. and Stanf. run out at several doors, the Impertinents divided follow ’em”.[5] The ‘other door’ format occurs only once – “Enter Emilia and her Maid at one Door, Ninny and Woodcock at t’other”, but there is a pointed reference in the dialogue that confirms that fictionally at least the play admits of only two entrance points: “Heaven knows this door’s lock’d, and there’s no escaping at the other”.[6] As this line suggests, Shadwell makes great play of locking up characters in The Sullen Lovers: cognates of the word ‘lock’ occur nine times in the text in relation to an onstage door. At the start of Act 2 Emilia has locked herself in her chamber; in Act 3 she is locked in the same room against her will with her ‘sullen’ counterpart Stanford; the couple find themselves trapped by another locked door in Act 4; and in Act 5 they help lock up the idiotic Sir Positive At-all.

In the LIF model, locking a forestage door places greater emphasis on entrances and exits. Often, a case may be made for wing entrances, but the fictional restriction in Emily’s line above means that this play becomes a real test. With one door out of action the remaining forestage door must function as the sole entrance/exit point. If this cannot be demonstrated the model fails. Emily’s statement comes in Act 4, which is wholly set in her lodgings (strictly her father’s house but he is a minor character). The act is a maelstrom of activity as the text records that 14 of the play’s 17 named characters troop through Emily’s house in 42 entrances and exits. Nevertheless, the whole pattern of movements in the act is contained by the established fiction that the room has only two doors of entrance. The act is almost wholly concerned with the baiting of the over-serious pair, Emilia and Stanford, by the normative couple, Lovell and Carolina. This baiting reaches a climax when the sullen couple find themselves trapped by the whole gang of “Impertinents” led by Sir Positive who are between them and their escape route.

It is at this point that Emily tells us that the nearer door is locked. Unfortunately, Shadwell has not made it clear who locks the door and when. However, as the situation has been stage managed by Lovell and Carolina, who are also responsible for locking the couple together in the previous act, we may safely infer that they repeat the trick in this. There is ample opportunity for either to do so, and the action could be simply and effectively signalled to an audience in performance. This oversight does not affect the integrity of the model; rather this long scene in a single location confirms that two forestage doors are sufficient to cope with a complex plot with a plethora of entrances and exits. Equally important it demonstrates that when Shadwell, one of the first professional dramatists of the Restoration, came to write this satirical London comedy there is every indication that he was thinking in terms of a two-door LIF forestage.


[1]London: Herringman, 1668, front matter.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid. p.81.
[4] Emilia’s sister Caroline says, “go to my Tyre-woman in Coven-Garden, who has some Excellent new Patterns of Lace for me” (ibid. p.77). Covent Garden was also a brothel area, but Etherege allows the respectable Widow Rich to live there in Love in a Tub, and Sir John Swallow has no qualms about his fiancée Millisent lodging there in Sir Martin Mar-all.
[5] Op cit p.31.
[6] Ibid. p.47, 73.
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2 thoughts on “The Sullen Lovers (staging)

  1. Pingback: The Sullen Lovers (scenery) | Restoration Theatre

  2. Pingback: The Sullen Lovers (scenery) | Restoration Theatre

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