By Aphra Behn (February 1671; pub. 1671)
Behn’s second LIF play may have been written before The Forc’d Marriage. The prologue to The Amorous Prince says of the play, “T’was born before its time, and such a whelp,/ As all the after-lickings could not help”.1 This is the view taken by Dawn Lewcock who suggests that the play, “was written before Behn was familiar with the technical possibilities of the theatre”.2 This may well be the case, but there is no doubt that despite the prologue’s modest protestations this play has been very well licked into shape for a scenic stage.
As a glance at the scene plot will confirm, Behn’s second LIF play is scenically more economical and efficient than her first. Compared to the 28 scenes of the earlier play with its 14 or so fictional locations, the corresponding figures for the later are 20 and 11, and Behn makes do with a single discovery rather than the three called for in The Forc’d Marriage.3 The resulting plot maintains scenic variety, but makes less work for the scene handlers. Again, Behn numbers all her scenes but supplies few scene headings: in this case six out of a possible 20. It would seem that once she has indicated a scenic setting it is not restated. Behn’s headings do not cover all the fictional locations, there are at least three others; however, these are implied by the dialogue, as are most of the other unheaded locations. In his Behn edition, Summers supplies all the implicit headings and makes sensible suggestions for the others. I follow Summers here and the scene plot.
The play works perfectly in the LIF model; one might even suggest it seems designed for it! Even with a maximal production – a setting for every location – no act exceeds the model’s static maximum of three shutters and no mid-act scene replacement is required. It might also be argued that the purpose of the discovery scene is to make the most efficient use of theatrical facilities. It serves no obvious dramatic purpose, other than a slight speeding up of the action, but it efficiently and smoothly exploits available scenic resources. Scenically, a maximal production would call for 11 different settings, but such a number is dramatically superfluous. There is no dramatic need to differentiate the grove of 1.2 & 5.2 and the wood of 3.3; either setting would serve all three (a grove is chosen in the scene plot). Similarly, the six or so fine chamber shutters (as opposed to the rustic setting for Cloris in Act 1) that are either stated or implied may be boiled down to two.
In a minimal production one would probably suffice, but it is interesting to note in this play that Behn never calls for more than two such chamber shutters in any act. This point, which stands out in the scenery plot but otherwise might be missed, contributes to the argument I make in other commentaries that in many cases it was probably considered desirable or necessary only to differentiate between similar locations in an act, rather than to provide a separate scenic setting for each fictional location in the play. Here using just two shutter pairs we may differentiate the chambers of Frederick and Antonio in Acts 2 & 4, and Laura and Curtius in Act 5. Again, following earlier arguments, such differentiation need only be provided by the shutters; one wing setting of a fine chamber setting would stand for all, thus reducing backstage manoeuvrings (and subsequent noises-off). Such a solution maintains scenic variety and plot readability, whilst boosting theatrical efficiency and economy.
As in her previous LIF play, Behn often provides surprisingly detailed stage directions. These may not only explicate stage action, as in the description of a dance scene in act 5, but several specify (or describe) acting details, these include: “Looks on him, he gazes with a half smile”, “Comes up to him and tells him so in a menacing tone”, “He advances sowerly looking”.4 Elsewhere, the scenic area is exploited in the wood scene (3.3) when Cloris (and presumably Guilliam) “Goes behind a Bush”: as in earlier plays, the bush was almost certainly painted on a wing flat.5 The architectural solidity of one of the balconies is exploited in Act 4 when Lorenzo needs to effect a surreptitious escape. Behn directs, “Isab[ella] this while fastens the sheets, which are supposed from the bed, to the Balcone” and “Lor. gets down by the sheets”.
- London: Thomas Dring, 1671, front matter.
- Thesis, op cit p.170.
- As Behn provides fewer headings than fictional locations, it is difficult to state the exact number of locations in either play. Generally, locations may be inferred from dialogue, but not in all cases.
- Op cit p.36, 38, 53 respectively.
- Ibid. p.43.
- Ibid. p.62.