The Forc’d Marriage (staging)

By Aphra Behn (September 1670; pub.1671)

Dawn Lewcock and Lee J. Martin offer detailed analyses of the staging of this play. In an important Theatre Survey article Martin focuses on scenery, while Lewcock examines Behn’s dramaturgy in relation to narrative and audience reception.[1] Martin’s assertion that Behn was “anything but an innovator, and her stage directions are most probably the reflection of what she saw in use on the stage of her time” highlights the general lack of overt staging information in most published plays.[2] His judgement seems harsh, but it is impossible to disprove on the basis of Behn’s two LIF plays (The Amorous Prince being the other). The scanty evidence of staging in most play texts may provide a distorting mirror of actual practice, and as a tyro playwright it certainly seems possible that Behn would be following stage fashions in her first staged play, rather than leading them. Yet, the impression gained from the tone and detail of her ample stage directions is quite the opposite. Indeed, Lewcock argues that Behn exploits the dramaturgy of the play to manipulate likely audience reception, suggesting that even at this early stage Behn was remarkably assured in her control of dramatic and theatrical resources.[3]

Curiously, however, two stage directions in this play seem to reveal apparent indecision or lack of confidence (less probably in her own abilities than in relation to LIF stage management): “He strangles her with a Garter, which he snatches from his Leg, or smothers her with a Pillow”; “the Dance done, they lay them [emblematic symbols] at his feet, or seem to do so, and go out”.[4] These directions suggest that Behn, as we might expect at this early stage, had less influence over LIF production than more established playwrights such as Dryden and Boyle. However, Dryden and Boyle are likely to have been exceptions to a rule, and Behn’s case is probably more representative of LIF playwrights as a whole in this regard. However, her apparent hesitancy over what hand props actors may have available in these two directions does not devalue scenic and staging information elsewhere in The Forc’d Marriage.

An unusual feature of the play text is that while Behn provides only nine explicitly located scene headings (plus two implicitly stated) she numbers all 28 of her scenes. The lack of scene headings may again reflect some uncertainty about LIF stage management in her first production, or, more likely, she generally does not restate a heading once supplied. Behn’s nine explicit scene headings specify five individual settings. These comprise three shutter scenes: a bedchamber, the court gallery, a room decorated in black; and two relieves: an extension to the gallery scene (“at the Chamber door of Erminia”), and a chamber (Erminia’s). These settings account for the majority of the locations. The scene keeper had only to supply one setting not accounted for, namely a formal stateroom for some neutral scenes within the general setting of a palace.[5]

There is one further stated location that does not form the setting for any of the numbered scenes. Behn represents the wedding ceremony (of the titular marriage) by an elaborate and large-scale tableau set in a temple. This tableau forms a prelude to Act 2 and it is worth reproducing the stage direction in full as it indicates both the detail of Behn’s stage directions and her intended control over the theatrical presentation (no matter how conventional):

The REPRESENTATION of the WEDDING.

The Curtain must be let down; and soft Musick must play: the Curtain being drawn up, discovers a Scene of a Temple: The King sitting on a Throne, bowing down to joyn the Hands of Alcippus and Erminia, who kneel on the steps of the Throne; the Officers of the Court and the Clergy standing in order by, with Orgulious.

This within the Scene.

Without on the Stage, Phillander with his sword half-drawn, held by Gallatea, who looks ever on Alcippus: Erminia still fixing her eyes on Phillander; Pisaro passionately gazing on Gallatea: Aminth on Fallatio, and he on her; Alcander, Isillia, Cleontius, in other several postures, with the rest; all remaining without motion, whilst the Musick softly plays; this continues a while till the Curtain falls; and then the Musick plays aloud till the Act begins.[6]

In his Behn edition, Summers designates fictional headings for all those scenes lacking such.[7] His allocation is sensitive to the text and I differ in only one. It seems more appropriate in 1.2 and 1.3 for the distraught Erminia to retire to her own chambers rather than those of the Princess Gallatea. This is also a more appropriate location for her puzzled father’s bluff entrance and subsequent interview of Erminia in 1.3. Martin presents Summers’s designations as if they were Behn’s own and does not interrogate them. His analysis also suffers because it follows Southern’s dispersed-shutter theory. Rightly, however, he draws attention to Behn’s carefully controlled use of shutter and relieve scenes (though following Southern he designates them as shallow and deep).

As with other plays, the 14 or so fictional locations in this play would need to be reduced to a more theatrically manageable number. Following the hint from Behn’s own generic scene headings – “a Bed-Chamber”, “a Chamber” – we can reduce the settings to seven: the six named above, plus a temple setting. The scenery plot shows how these settings are accommodated within the LIF model. As all the fictional chambers are rooms within the same palace and the explication of plot is not at issue in this play, as it is in The Adventures of Five Hours, there seems little point in adding to these seven settings. The presence of a particular character together with the dialogue provides sufficient indication of place in this play. I have allocated a relieve setting to Erminia’s chamber because such a scene is implicitly demanded in 4.4 and 4.6 and, as noted above, it seems sensible to use the same setting for 1.2 and 1.3. A bed in 4.6 provides theatrical difference between the two discovery scenes 4.4 & 4.6, which represent rooms in Erminia’s apartments;[8] thus, fictionally, we understand Erminia and Philander to have moved from one room to another following Erminia’s request to her lover that he “retire into this inner room”.[9]

Behn’s use of discovery scenes is a distinctive feature of the play’s dramaturgy. It is the first LIF play to make more than an isolated use of discoveries as a means of speeding up the stage action. An excellent example of this occurs in 2.6: “Draws off, discovers Phillander and Alcander with Musick at the Chamber door of Erminia, to them Pisaro who listens whilst the Song is sung”.[10] In the preceding scene Pisaro has announced his intention to gather intelligence about the night’s comings and goings at Court. He exits and the immediate discovery allows the onstage music to begin straight away, rather than having to pause while the musicians get into position (they may even be playing before the end of 2.5).

The only difficulty is that this discovery tends to stretch perceived spatial locations. Erminia’s chamber door would seem to be located by the 2.6 discovery as being within the relieve area (note the door does not need to be practical, in fact it need not even be represented at this stage; the song need only be directed offstage to the side of the relieve area). However, at the start of 4.3 Philander returns to the same fictional location – “Calls at the Lodgings of Erminia” – and although a forestage door is not stated it would clearly help to signify place.[11] Later, a practical door for the same location is evidently called for when Erminia’s husband Alcippus arrives (4.5): “he knocks./ Alcander looks out at the door”. Unless the musicians at the start of 2.6 immediately rush into position in front of the designated forestage door before they start playing, it looks like Behn was not shy of invoking a little spatial anomaly for the sake of fluid staging. However, with the temporal separation between 2.6 and 4.3/5, it is doubtful that an audience would register this as anomalous. It seems to me that this is a highly effective theatrical cheat of a type similar to those encountered in Elvira, Mustapha, and Juliana.

The implied use of doors in this play does not present a problem for the two-door model. Specifically, the multiple use of practical doors – the key contra-indicator – is never implied.

The final scene heading in the play is unusual: “Discovers a room hung with Black, a Herse standing in it with Tapers round about it”.[12] Perhaps this was an opportunity to make use of that curious black scene used in Guzman, albeit with its astrological symbols painted over.

[1] Martin, ‘A Study of Restoration Staging Techniques’, Theatre Survey, vol.4, 1963, pp.3-28; Lewcock, Aphra Behn Stages the Social Scene, Cambria2008, 198-201, and Thesis, op cit pp.97-103. Also, Derek Hughes’s perceptive account of the play makes an interesting point about the staging (English Drama 1660-1700, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996, p.164-5).
[2] Op cit p.24.
[3] See, Lewcock, Thesis, op cit pp.97-103.
[4] London: J. Magnus, 1671, p.63, 78.
[5] The general setting is found in its usual position at the foot of the dramatis personae page: “Scene within the Court of FRANCE”.
[6] Op cit p.18.
[7] The Works of Aphra Behn, New York: Phaeton Press, 1967 (reprint of 1915 ed.)
[8] The stage directions/ headings for these scenes are consecutively: “Draws off
, discovers Erminia sitting in a dishabit to her Phillander, who falls at her feet on his knees”, “They go into the Scene which draws over
” (4.4, p.58 & 59); “The Court Gallery” (4.5, p.59); “a Bed Chamber./ Discovers Erminia, Phillander sitting on the Bed, to them Isillia, a Sword and Hat on the Table” (4.6, p.60)
[9] Op cit p.59.
[10] Ibid. p.33.
[11] Ibid. p.68.
[12] Ibid. p.82.

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One thought on “The Forc’d Marriage (staging)

  1. Pingback: The Forc’d Marriage (scenery) | Restoration Theatre

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