Herod and Mariamne (staging)

By Samuel Pordage (August 1673?; pub.1673)

The play was printed in 1673, two years into the Duke’s Company’s occupation of Dorset Garden, but the prologue printed with the play tells us it was “Spoken at the Theatre in Lincolns-Inn-Fields”, and that the play was “first writ, a dozen years agoe”.[1] Using evidence from the prologue the London Stage assigns this play to September 1671. However, this date does not sit happily with the stage directions, which imply at the least a larger discovery area than suggested by any other LIF play. Act 3.3, for example, is headed “A Dining-Room, in which is discover’d sitting at Supper/ Tyridates, Pheroras, Alexas, Attendants”.[2] Unless there are missing curtain directions this must be a shutter discovery. Three people sitting at a table being served is possible, but in the course of the scene three other characters enter, and near the end we find the direction, “Enter on the other side with drawn Swords, Alexas and Souldiers”.[3] The scene is not long (57 lines), but it is unusual for shutter discovery scenes in LIF plays to include so much dialogue and action, and there is no obvious opportunity for the actors to move downstage.  The implied stage width when the soldiers enter is greater than the maximum of eight feet available in the LIF model but may well have been possible at Dorset Garden.

In their re-examination of the evidence, Milhous and Hume reassign this play to circa August 1673, a date followed by Pierre Danchin.[4] This date gives a time lapse of around six months between production and publication, which Milhous and Hume establish was standard at the time. The reassigning to Dorset Garden concurs with my analysis of the stage directions, as outlined above. The stage directions and headings in this play are, nevertheless, highly interesting.  If the prologue is correct in stating that the play was already old when it was first performed – and there is no reason to doubt this – the stage directions and headings were almost certainly added later. The mix of fictionally assigned locations (e.g. “Herod’s Pallace”) and generic theatrical ones (“a Castle”) together with the implied technical demands of some stage directions suggest theatrical, possibly promptbook, annotation.  For the reasons outlined above, this play is not included in the overall scenic analysis of LIF plays.

[1] London: William Cademan, 1673, preliminary matter.
[2] Ibid. p.30.
[3] Ibid. p.31.
[4] See Judith Milhous and Robert D. Hume, ‘Dating Play Premières from Publication Data, 1669-1700′, Harvard Library Bulletin, no.22, 1974, p.386.

  • There is no scenery plot for this play

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