Sir Salomon (staging)

By John Caryll (April 1670; pub.1671)

In terms of the LIF repertoire, Caryll’s play is the exception that proves the rule. Like its main model, Molière’s L’École des Femmes, the play gives no indication of scenery, and the text implies a fluid, continuous staging that does not distinguish locations, whether exterior or interior. Examples may be chosen at will from any act; Peter Holland cites an episode at the start of Act 2 when the Arnolphe character, Sir Salomon, interviews his intended bride, Betty, at the secret address he has provided for her.[1] Caryll begins the act by using the device of Sir Salomon pointing out Betty’s house to a servant who is then dismissed to fetch parson and license. Having established the location for the audience, Caryll then directs “Sir Salomon knocks at Mrs. Bettys Lodging”, leaving no doubt that fictionally the character is still outside on the street.[2] There then follows some comic business involving Betty’s servants, a balcony, and a practical front door. The comic turn concluded, Sir Salomon calls for a chair, dismisses the servants, and proceeds to interview Betty. In the text there is no indication whatsoever, theatrical or fictional, that Sir Salomon enters the house, but clearly by this point the location has shifted fictionally from the street to a room in the house.

The play is by no means diluted Molière; it is an excellently contrived comedy transliterated to a London setting with an original sub-plot. However, Caryll has not attempted a similar transliteration of Molière’s staging conventions, which are largely left unaltered. Whereas in plays such as Elvira and Love In A Tub there are isolated examples of interior/exterior fluidity or scenic disparity, in Sir Salomon these episodes permeate the play to the extent that it is impossible to specify fictional locations consistently.

Again, in the manner of the French original, there are no scenic directions beyond the general indication – “The Scene LONDON” – on the dramatis personae page, nor does Caryll supply any scene breaks. On the other hand, he does not observe exactly the convention of liaisons de scènes (linking scenes by avoiding stage clearances), since at several points he calls for a momentarily cleared stage. However, this use is too inconsistent to imply separate scenes or locations.

The fluidity of staging together with the lack of scenic information precludes any discussion of scenery (or provision of a scenery plot). If this text bears the same relationship to its original staging that we have found elsewhere, we may well conclude this is a one-set play. The allocation of separate settings, indicating various possible fictional locations, cannot be made without continual, if minor, textual intervention. This is not to say that this did not occur, various editions of another Molière adaptation – Betterton’s The Amorous Widow – suggest such a possibility (see my commentary on that play).

It is possible that the published text of Sir Salomon represents an intermediate stage between translation and theatre production, or it may have been conceived primarily as a reading version, as the following extract suggests (Peregrine is reading an important document):

 Ah Heaven! I did not want

                                         [Meaning the Writing

this farther Evidence to let me see from what State of happiness
I’m fall’n into the bottom of despair.[3]

The presence of the non-theatrical stage direction can only be for the benefit of readers (the document would be clearly in sight for audiences and its presence would almost certainly be underlined by an actor’s deictic gesture on “this”). The LIF production may, therefore, have used a theatrically modified version of Caryll’s text, in which case several settings representing, for example, the houses of Sir Salomon, Wary, and Betty would have alternated with a general setting of a London street. Such an arrangement would conform to the pattern for other London comedies discussed here. Alternatively, the text may be an accurate reflection of the staging, in which case a single setting, that of a London street, would have stood throughout the play in much the same way proposed by Colin Visser for The Adventures Of Five Hours; indeed it is strange that he does not refer to this play in his influential article on that play.[4]

The text may not include scenic information but it does supply some interesting stage directions absent in Molière. Caryll would seem to be particularly interested in stage position. There are six references to ‘stage’ in his directions and four of these, taken in context with dialogue, allow reasonable inference of the actors’ positions: “Sir Salomon takes several turnes upon the Stage, and takes no notice of Timothy, who follows him from side to side”; “Sir Salomon goes off the Stage the other way, and at the Door meets Peregreen coming in”; “He run’s to the end of the Stage, and then turns back”; “Enter Single and Julia at the Corner of the Stage”.[5]

If Holland, J. L. Styan and others are correct in arguing for a generic distinction in the staging of tragedies and comedies, with action in the latter more or less confined to the forestage, it is odd that this comedy, which is apparently unconcerned with realistic scenic representation, does not support their case. Instead, like most LIF plays at this time, it treats the scenic area as a necessary acting space. The third direction describes a hasty retreat by the foolish Sir Arthur. He runs as if to exit and just before he does so he “turns back” to deliver a short speech to the audience. In the context of the stage action this makes little sense if it refers to an exit through a forestage door. Similarly, it is difficult to argue that a forestage door, even one of four, could be described as being positioned in the “Corner of the Stage”.

The directions become clearer if we relate them to the likely stage picture, which may well have matched Mahelot’s description for L’Ecole des Femmes – “Théâtre est deux maisons sur le devant et le reste une place de ville” – the two forestage doors and proscenium walls represent the exteriors of the houses of Sir Salomon and Wary, while the shutter and wings show a street scene.[6]Unless characters are specifically entering or exiting the downstage houses, all entrances and exits must logically be made through wing passages and the whole stage is in use. Caryll’s otherwise ambiguous terms in these directions make perfect sense if we understand they relate to the use of wing passages close to the shutter line.

  •  There is no scenery plot for this play for the reasons stated above.

[1] See, Ornament of action, p.47.
[2] London: Herringman, 1671, p.17.
[3]  Ibid. p.93.
[4] ‘The Anatomy of the Early Restoration Stage’, Parts 1&2, Theatre Notebook, vol.29, nos.2 & 3, 1975.
[5] Ibid. p.65, 76, 86, 89.
[6] From Le Mémoire de Mahelot in T. E. Lawrenson, The French Stage and Playhouse in the 17th Century, New York: AMS Press, 1986, p.162.

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One thought on “Sir Salomon (staging)

  1. Pingback: The Amorous Widow (staging) | Restoration Theatre

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