The Amorous Widow (staging)

By Thomas Betterton (November? 1670; pub.1706)

Betterton’s play, an artful reworking of Molière’s Georges Dandin, is recorded on a Lord Chamberlain’s list as being performed in November 1670, though it is not certain that this was the première.[1] The 1706 preface lists performances at LIF, Drury Lane, Dorset Garden, and the Queen’s Theatre, Haymarket. In other words, the play followed the career of its actor-adapter from theatre to theatre, but Betterton seems to have been reluctant to publish until 1706. The late publication date, the list of theatres, and a cast list in the first edition that reflects production closer to 1706 than 1670, raise doubts about its LIF provenance; hence the abbreviated analysis below. However, the play’s popularity resulted in five editions in the period 1706-55 and the differences in scene headings and stage directions among these editions may throw some light on production practices in general, and on another Molière adaptation, Caryll’s Sir Salomon, in particular.

The texts of both plays are hazy about fictional locations. Although The Amorous Widow is not as ambiguous as Caryll’s play, it has one moment of spatial anomaly that is Salomon-like. It occurs in Act 3 when the location appears to shift from a clearly stated street – “SCENE, a Street before a Glass-shop” – to an interior with neither scene change nor cleared stage specified.[2] In any production this ambiguity would need to be clarified because two dialogic references to the “next room” and a servant’s announcement that dancers “wait without” are nonsensical if spoken on the street.[3]

While the second edition (Q2, 1710, also appended to Gildon’s Life of Betterton[4]) and third (octavo, 1714) are basically reprints, the fourth edition printed in Dublin in 1725 makes some significant changes. The preface to this edition claims the play was “never ’till now in Print, tho’ a false surreptitious copy crept into the world, and was annex’d by Mr. Gildon, to Betterton’s Life, differing very much from this”.[5]

The difference that concerns us is a change in stated location for Act 3, which becomes “A Glass Shop”. In other words, the whole scene is set indoors eliminating the ambiguity in the original.[6] Whatever the veracity of the Dublin edition’s claim, the point is that by 1725, at the latest, spatial ambiguity of the type discussed on this site was a concern and is manifestly not a chimera born of modern sensibilities. This lends weight to my argument that the published text of Sir Salomon may be a reading edition that does not fully represent the LIF production, which probably provided the scenic variety to which audiences had become accustomed.

The Dublin edition of The Amorous Widow eliminates spatial anomaly and also simplifies Betterton’s staging. The original text specifies an interesting discovery in 4.2 that speeds up the stage action in a filmic manner. The Dublin version, and most subsequent editions, replace this discovery with a series of exits and entrances. This obviously requires fewer theatrical resources and makes the play more suitable for touring.[7]

  •  No scenery plot currently available for reasons stated, but can be supplied on request

[1] See London Stage, p.176.
[2] London: W. Turner, 1706, p.24.
[3] Ibid. p.35, 39, & 40.
[4] See Charles Gildon, The life of Mr Thomas Betterton the late eminent tragedian, London: Robert Gosling, 1710.
[5] Dublin: S. Powell, 1725, Sig.A2r.
[6] Ibid. p.18.
[7] Interestingly another Dublin edition of 1755, which relates to production at the well-equipped Smock Alley theatre, restores the discovery.

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