Guzman (staging)

By Roger Boyle (April 1669; pub.1693)


As already noted elsewhere on this site, this play is unique for including so much promptbook annotation in the published text. As such, it provides an invaluable resource for the student of Restoration staging. Most modern theatre historians have discussed the play and its additions to some extent, but no coherent account of the original staging has been offered. The tantalising nature of the promptbook information militates against definitive statements, but with this text above all others it must be possible to offer a more satisfactory account of the scenic staging than has so far been provided, and that is what I attempt here. As with the other commentaries in this study it is best read with the scenery plot to hand. We do not know who added the extra notation, but for convenience, I will refer to the annotator as the prompter.

The play may be read as an attempt by Boyle to combine elements of two of the most successful plays of the 1660s: the farce of Sir Martin Mar-all with the Spanish plot of The Adventures of Five Hours. Boyle’s volte-face from heroic tragicomedy to farce did not go unremarked. Samuel Pepys was astonished to be told by Thomas Shadwell that Boyle was responsible for the “mean” entertainment he had just seen, an attempt, according to Shadwell, to try, “what he could do in comedy, since his heroique plays could do no more wonders”.[1] On the same day, the actor Henry Harris told the diarist that the play “will not take”. The LIF prompter, John Downes, however, records the play “took very well”, and the visiting Lorenzo Magalotti seems to have been impressed by the whole experience of seeing Guzman at LIF.[2] Whoever was right, the play does not seem to have lived beyond its initial run, although the London Stage suggests a revival may be associated with the first printing in 1693.[3]

Of the play’s 19 scenes, 11 are conventionally noted by either author or prompter. Of these, nine have standard scene headings – ‘The scene X’ or ‘the scene is X’ – one (2.2) uses the older ‘Enter in X’ format, and another (2.4) is preceded by a promptbook note calling it, “The new Black Scene”. The remaining eight scenes are all headed by promptbook notes referring to five items of scenery used in the original LIF production: “The scene with the Chimny in it” (and the presumably identical, “The Chamber with the Chimney in’t”), “The Queen of Hungary’s Chamber”, “A flat Scene of a Chamber’, “The New Flat Scene”, and “The Garden in Tryphon as a Back Scene”. The references to two items of scenery used in previous Boyle productions at LIF are unlikely to be coincidental and suggest that by this time Boyle may have been working more closely with the theatre in the staging of his plays. Despite the level of staging information available in the printed text it is not clear why the prompter called for Guzman’s house to be represented by two settings – ‘the scene with the chimney’ and ‘a flat scene of a chamber’ – whilst also calling for both items of scenery to represent, respectively, the houses of Francisco and Piracco. Interestingly, this use combines the two instances of ‘double duty’ already identified, namely ‘two scenes for one location’ and ‘one scene for two locations’.

Were it not for these promptbook additions I would follow the methods adopted elsewhere on this site and allocate one item of scenery to Guzman’s house and, citing reasons of theatrical and financial economy, allow another to represent the houses of both Piracco and Francisco. It is also likely that I would not have sought to combine the requested field and grove settings, and had I done so I would have chosen either grove or field and not ‘forest’ as the prompter does. This highlights the fact that no matter how methodical and attentive to detail, any discussion of Restoration scenic practice is at best approximate. We can only draw conclusions about general working practices. We can only speculate about the LIF scene stock, the exact arrangement for most individual plays will probably always elude us. However, given the level of extra information available in this text we should be able to make a better stab at it for Guzman than with other plays.

In this respect critical commentary is disappointing. Richard Southern is over-concerned with his idea of pierced or ‘cut-scenes’. Edward Langhans does little more than summarise the facts and problems in his dissertation discussion, and his later conjectural reconstruction in Restoration Promptbooks evades full engagement with the text.[4] He assumes all the scenes are shutters, thinks the double use of scenery is a result of textual errors, and relies on a two-backshutter-position stage, a hypothesis that is contraindicated by evidence from LIF plays (see ‘Boyle’s Guzman at Lincoln’s Inn Fields 1669’, Theatre Notebook, 60.2, 2006, pp.76-93). Peter Holland describes the double use of scenery in Guzman, but his discussion of the prompter’s reasons for allocating two settings to Guzman’s house is misleading.[5] It is also unlikely that the seven settings demanded by the play “obviously stretched the Lincoln’s Inn Field’s resources” as he believes.[6] Dawn Lewcock’s suggestion that the ‘forest’ setting may have been a relieve scene follows Boyle’s editor W. S. Clark who thought that all settings not stated to be ‘flat’ must be relieves.[7] Clark’s analysis of the staging of Guzman is the fullest we have. It is detailed and perceptive, but superseded by later scholarship: like all commentators before Southern, Clark is foxed by the nature and use of relieve scenes. He and other commentators are right, however, to consider the balance of shutter and relieve scenes in the original production.

The only scene we can say with some confidence is likely to be a relieve scene is Alcanzar’s cabinet. This is one of two apparently new scenes for the première, the other being the piazza scene. The cabinet, or ‘new black Scene’, is specified three times: in 2.4, 3.1, and 4.8. The stage directions associated with these scenes are revealing. The opening direction in 2.4 reads: “The Scene opens, and Francisco appears in a Magical Habit (with his Closet painted about with Mathematical Instruments and Grotesque Figures)”.[8] This is the last scene in Act 2 and Act 3 starts with the same setting specified. After the heading, the first direction of 3.1 reads, “Enter Alcanzar in his Conjuring-habit, with Maria and Lucia drest like Good Spirits”.[9] In 4.8 the heading specifies the cabinet and the following direction reads: “Francisco in it, with his Conjuring habit, and Julia richly drest”.[10]

 The fact that the cabinet setting remains in view during the break between Acts 2 and 3 obviously means it cannot be discovered at the start of Act 3. Accordingly, the 3.1 stage direction simply calls for a standard entrance onto the stage. The other two directions, however, strongly imply that the actors are already in position and are revealed when the scene starts. The obvious way of satisfying these directions is for the actors in each sceneto be discovered by the withdrawal of a shutter pair. This looks most likely as the piazza setting that precedes 4.7 is specifically called the ‘new flat scene’, and as both Clark and Southern note this must refer to flat shutters, as opposed to layered scenes of relieve. We also know from Mustapha that there is no reason to suppose that the prompter’s setting for 2.3 (Leonora’s house) – ‘The Q. of Hungary’s chamber’ – was anything other than a shutter scene (it appears to follow a relieve in Mustapha). In sum, the case for Alcanzar’s cabinet being a relieve scene is particularly strong.

Along with this relieve we have also identified two probable shutter scenes: the piazza and Leonora’s house. By the same reasoning two more settings must also be shutters. Piracco’s house in 2.2 is represented by a “A flat Scene of a Chamber”, and the garden that is called for in 4.6 is “The Garden in Tryphon as a Back Scene” (see my discussion of Tryphon above). The prompter’s designation confirms that the shutters that comprised the backscene in Tryphon turn up with different boscage wings to form the garden setting in Guzman. We now have enough clues to suggest a possible interpretation of the prompter’s scenic notes in the play.

Act 4 has eight scenes with the prompter specifying six different settings. Assuming Alcanzar’s cabinet is a relieve there is no decisive reason why the remaining five should not all be shutters. It would simply require two shutter replacements during Act 4, not an ideal solution but workable. However, the scenic congestion could be eased by making at least one of these settings a relieve scene. Turning again to the prompter’s notes, we see he has designated three chamber scenes: a ‘flat’ one, the Queen of Hungary’s, and the scene with the chimney. The last two are specifically described and may have been specified by Boyle, whereas the designation ‘a flat scene of a chamber’ suggests that its exact composition was not important, that the point was merely to differentiate it from the other two. If all these settings were shutters it might be possible to confuse, say, the chimney chamber and the ‘flat’ one, but if one of the three were a relieve setting then the nondescript ‘flat’ chamber would simply be the shutter to be used when the other was not. This line of reasoning leads us to the possibility that the chimney chamber, the only setting whose nature has not so far been determined, might be a relieve setting. If we now re-examine the prompter’s double use of scenery with this possibility in mind it becomes more explicable.

Guzman’s house in 3.2 cannot be the chimney scene because that would mean two successive relieve settings (3.1 being Alcanzar’s cabinet), so the prompter specified the flat chamber. He could have used the Hungary chamber but that setting appears three times in the play always to represent Leonora’s house. Nominating it for this scene offers no advantage and evidently, irrespective of the present conjecture, the prompter thought it better to reserve this setting for this exclusively female household. The nondescript ‘flat’ scene was previously used to represent Piracco’s chamber (2.2), but that location is not specified again, and although the prompter may have felt he had little choice there is no reason why the house of the rich Guzman should not be represented by another setting. It may not be standard practice, but Tryphon, also by Boyle, seems to furnish a precedent (see above). When it came to Act 4, the prompter would probably have been grateful for an interior relieve setting to alleviate the scenic congestion. This would explain, therefore, why the chimney chamber is specified for Francisco’s house (4.3). If this were a relieve setting only one mid-act shutter replacement would have been needed during Act 4 instead of two.

Lewcock suggests that the forest setting may have been a relieve.[11] The prompter has allocated this setting to two headings: “a Field with Trees” and “a Grove of Trees”. A grove relieve would seem to be demanded in Tryphon, but interestingly it does not seem to have been reused here. If the prompter had specified ‘the grove from Tryphon’ or similar there would be little doubt that this was indeed a relieve setting. The lack of such designation may be significant. However, if the ‘Forest’ were a relieve setting it would also help to alleviate scenic congestion. Indeed if both the chimney chamber and the forest were relieves there would be no need for any mid-act shutter replacements; though, as there is only about 2 min. 20 sec. between 4.3 and 4.5, backstage staff would need to move quickly to set three separate relieve scenes. This is a quick change but not impossible.[12] A relieve setting for the ‘Forest’ remains a possibility, but three relieve settings within a single act of a conventional comedy seems excessive. While grove scenes are often relieves, fields are just as often shutters, and this is the option I prefer. The considerable advantage of the solution shown in the scenery plot is that it is the first to comply with and explicate the prompter’s notes.

The scenery for this play might, therefore, have comprised five shutter settings, two relieves, and three wing settings. All the houses belong to characters of a similar social class and there is no need to differentiate the wings used to represent them, we need only add a set of boscage wings for garden and forest, and wings for the piazza or street setting. We know from one of the opening lines of the play that Alcanzar’s cabinet is located within Francisco’s house, so if this is a relieve setting, it need only be represented upstage in the relieve space with the house wings in view. A full set of special wings would have been expensive and of little value as a stock item. However, Boyle may have insisted and there is no doubt that black wings would add to the impact of Alcanzar’s cabinet.

Most of the prompter’s notes relate primarily to the business of getting actors and props on and off stage. However, there is an interesting sequence at the end of Act 2 that contributes to the forestage door debate (see ‘“Scaenes with Four Doors”: Real and Virtual Doors on Early Restoration Stages’, Theatre Notebook, 65.2, 2011, pp.62-81).At the first appearance of Alcanzar’s cabinet in 2.4, when Francisco is discovered in his ‘magical habit’, the direction ends: “[Francisco] Knocks with his Foot, and four Boys appear within the Scene”.[13] On their next summoning by Francisco, however, Boyle directs: “the Boys appear at several Doors in hideous Dresses…”.[14] As there is every reason for the boys to repeat their first manoeuvre on their second entrance and appear from wing passages, it is highly interesting to note Boyle’s equivalence between ‘doors’ and ‘within the scene’.

[1] Diary, April 16, 1669.
[2] Roscius Anglicanus, p.28; Magalotti: see London Stage, p.159.
[3] Ibid. p.412.
[4] ‘Staging Practices in the Restoration Theatre, 1660-1682’, unpublished doctoral thesis, Yale, 1955, p.312-9; Restoration Promptbooks, Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1981, pp.44-50.
[5] Holland says the use of two settings – one a “living-room” and the other a “bedchamber” – “keeps the scenery in more precise harmony with the action”, but his argument is tenuous as both settings are described in the text as ‘chambers’ (see Ornament of action, p.48).
[6] Ibid. pp.47-8.
[7] See Lewcock, Thesis, p.96; Clark, Dramatic Works, p.801.
[8] London: Herringman, 1693, p.13.
[9] Ibid. p.17.
[10] Ibid. p.43.
[11] Thesis, pp.95-6.
[12] Settle calls for a relieve change of around 1min. 20 sec. in Act 5 of Cambyses (LIF, 1671). However, Cambyses was a spectacular machine play rather than a run-of-the-mill comedy and one imagines the scene-handlers would have been working flat out to ensure success.
[13] Ibid. p.13.
[14] Ibid. p.15.


2 thoughts on “Guzman (staging)

  1. Pingback: Guzman (scenery) | Restoration Theatre

  2. Pingback: The Siege of Rhodes and scenic staging | Restoration Theatre

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