The Women’s Conquest (staging)

By Edward Howard (Spring? 1670; pub. 1671)

Virtually no concern with scenery is evident in either of Howard’s LIF plays (The Six Days’ Adventure being the other). Howard’s interests are elsewhere; both plays are furnished with critical prefaces that deserve to be better known. Both also appear on first view to foreground women’s rights. However, the issue is raised only to be mocked and both plays end with an unequivocal endorsement of the Carolean status quo. As Howard tells us in the preface to The Six Days’ Adventure, his purpose is “to confirm the judgement and practice of the world in rendring them more properly the weaker Sex”.[1]

Only one scenic direction is provided in The Women’s Conquest: “Musick plays a while, after which the masque begins; the Scene a Grove, in which Diana is beheld sleeping, having at one of the sides next the Stage a Rock, from which—Enters Arethusa habited like a Water-Nymph”.[2] As in Stapylton’s plays, this masque, inserted in Act 1, has only a tenuous connection with the plot. The wording of the direction strongly suggests that Diana is discovered sleeping, rather than the actress entering and then lying down. Within the context of the scene – an onstage Royal entertainment – it would be possible for the masquers to set portable scenery and for Diana to get into position while the music plays “a while”. However, there is no doubt that using a shutter discovery to reveal actress and rock would be the more elegant and, by this time, more standard solution.

More problematic is the fact that at this point in the play the whole court has gathered on stage in a choreographically challenging series of arrivals and subsequent positioning – 13 named characters, plus four Court ladies, guards and attendants – and according to one stage direction the Queen, at least, is sitting, presumably on a throne of state.[3] If the scene were not followed by a discovery the best place for the throne would be an upstage, central position, but in this position the Queen and her courtiers would mask the discovery area. Edward Langhans does not acknowledge practical considerations when he suggests that the masque could be presented in the downstage scenic area in the vicinity of the first wing.[4] Such positioning would provide plenty of room for the masque and subsequent dance, but would crowd the forestage, potentially blocking the view of audience members.

The best solution would be to use the whole stage length, as follows. A group of six female petitioners positioned on the forestage await the arrival of the queen who enters with her entourage through wing passages on both sides of the stage. Half the Court line one side of the scenic area downstage of the shutters, with the other half and the throne (brought on and positioned by attendants) on the other side. The women then move centre stage in the scenic area to petition the queen. The petition being dismissed, the women also move to one side of the stage while simultaneously the queen’s general and two officers enter on the forestage and take the just vacated centre stage position to be interviewed by the queen. The masque is announced and while the music plays the soldiers in their turn move to vacant spaces on one side of the stage. This leaves a clear view of the subsequent discovery, masque, and dance, which now has room to take place centre stage in either the scenic area or forestage. This is the only staging difficulty in the play.

Although there are no scenic headings it is clear from the dialogue that at least two scenic settings are required – a neutral chamber of state for scenes set in the Scythian court, and a general camp with tent wings for scenes set in the camps of the opposing Amazon and Scythian armies. The Scythian court scenes alternate between the public main plot, and a more domestic sub-plot. Scenes from both plots are spatially neutral and could be located anywhere in the palace. One setting could serve both, but a scenic contrast would provide variety and help to separate the plots. Stage clearances are marked at the points I propose a scene change. There is little to be gained, however, by scenically distinguishing the camps of the opposing armies; one imagines the sexual differentiation would prove sufficient. The suggested scenic requirement is thus three sets of wings and shutters – two palace rooms, a camp – and one relieve scene of a grove for the masque.

[1] London: Herringman, 1671, sig.A3v. [2] Ibid. p.15. [3] The direction reads: “Enter Parisatis the Queen led by Tysamnes, Andrages and Foscaris, Alv. Tox. Arax. Attendants and Guards: being sate Clarina delivers the Petition” (p.12). [4] See Thesis, pp.319-20.

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One thought on “The Women’s Conquest (staging)

  1. Pingback: The Women’s Conquest (scenery) | Restoration Theatre

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