Henry the Third of France (staging)

By Thomas Shipman (June? 1672; pub. 1678)

There are doubts about this play’s provenance. The epilogue refers to the fire that burned down the Bridges Street theatre in January 1672 and forced the King’s Company to move to the recently vacated LIF, but the play was not printed until 1678 (possibly after a revival). The title page states “Acted at the Theatre-Royal”; however, this is a generic appellation that in 1672 referred to LIF. It is possible that Henry III was written before the fire and with theatrical arrangements at Bridges Street in mind.[1] Nevertheless, nothing in the play exceeds the limits of the LIF model, nor any stage broadly similar to Webb’s Hall. Although a conjuring scene in Act 2, which calls for multiple flying and a large trapdoor, and the apparent use of special effect shutters in Act 5 do demand analysis.

The Act 5 shutters are described in the dialogue as “two grand Scenes of horrour and of bliss […] painted new” and are used by a Jesuit priest to inflame a young zealot to assassinate King Henry III.[2] The obvious solution on a scenic stage would be to use shutter pairs to represent these scenes, revealing them in succession. Had this been the case in the original production, Act 5 would have called for five shutter scenes in total with two mid-act replacements required. While this demand could be accommodated by the model – there is enough time to make the replacements behind the shutter in view before each new scene is required – there remains an awkward question: if the shutter used in the convent scene is withdrawn to make way for the scenes of heaven and hell, what is painted on the convent shutter?  I would hazard that even to a Restoration eye it would look extremely odd to withdraw a shutter pair painted with a realistic representation of fictionally solid walls, cloisters, or similar.[3] A painted shutter door or curtain would get round the problem, but if we accept this point then it would be even more reasonable to use a real rather than a painted curtain.

The solution I propose for this play is thus similar to that for Elvira and Mustapha. A plain pair of curtains rigged just downstage of the first shutter position is used in the convent scene (5.2). The wings, which represent the convent’s walls, remain in place as first the curtains are withdrawn to reveal the scene of heaven and then the heaven shutters open to reveal hell. The curtains stay in their offstage, fully opened position when the scene then changes from the convent to the camp in 5.3. This solution fully satisfies technical and fictional demands and only one mid-act shutter replacement is required.

With the exception of Cambyses the flying and trap scenes in 2.2 are more demanding than any LIF play analysed so far. The scene is headed “The Cave in the Wood” but unlike Stapylton’s The Step-mother there is no real need for this to be a relieve scene, although such a staging would add more depth to this fantastical scene of conjured spirits and visions. The stage directions seem to demand that the action takes place over the full stage area, from forestage to shutter line and perhaps beyond. The two main directions are reproduced below:

The Planets descend with Musick, th’ Astral Spirit crosses the Stage, follow’d by th’ Apparitions of Henry the Third crown’d, holding a Cypress branch: Navar Crown’d holding a Lawrel one. Guise a Ducal Crown, a Sword drawn. Soon as they have past the Stage, the Sphears ascend with Musick.

[…]

The Earthy Spirit then clear rises, with Rebellion and Murder on each side, three Spirits on one side of the stage, and three on the other. They dance. Then the Earthy Spirit beckens, and there cross the stage these apparitions, 1. Henry the Third pale, a bloody Dagger in’s hand. 2. Navar Crown’d with Lawrels, a bloody Dagger in’s hands. 3. Guise holding a Sword drawn, when half o’r the stage, he returns—the Spirits dance again and descend, as th’Earthy Spirit is descending—(stops at the Fryar’s words) and Murder and Rebel.[4]

The Astral Spirit in the first direction was flown in a little earlier – “descending leasurely”[5] – therefore the Planets (Venus, Mars, and Jupiter) would probably have descended upstage or downstage of that flying plane. Note that the Planets do not leave their machine (unlike the Spirit) and are directed to ascend as soon as the Apparitions have crossed the stage. For the apparitions to appear suitably unworldly it would probably be best if they crossed the stage in the scenic area, either wing-to-wing downstage of the shutters or behind in the relieve space. Overall, a good solution would be for the Spirit to descend downstage of the shutters nearer the conjuror (the Duke of Guise and his brother), the Planets to descend in the relieve area, and the Apparitions to cross the stage wing-to-wing downstage of the shutters, though other solutions are of course possible. The point to note in the second direction is the requirement for a central trap (probably in the scenic area rather than the forestage) large enough to lift three actors; the spirits that appear at both sides of the stage would make their entrances through the wings.

[1] This was certainly the case with Boyle’s Herod The Great. The play was scheduled to be performed at Bridges Street in 1672, but the production became a casualty of the fire and there is no evidence of performance before the first edition of 1694 (see Clark (ed.), Dramatic Works, pp. 586-7 & 812).

[2] London: Heyrick (et al), 1678, p. 61.

[3] Such discoveries do feature in the masque-within-play episodes of Shadwell’s Royal Shepherdess and Stapylton’s The Slighted Maid, but these are pastoral tragicomedies in which the fantastic was a generic expectation. Aside from the set-piece spectacle of Act 2, Henry III is a realistic drama within which the scenes of heaven and hell are acknowledged to be paintings, so a scenic solution similar to that used in Stapylton’s and Shadwell’s looks out of place here.

[4] Op cit p. 23 & 24.

[5] Ibid. p. 22. Whether this direction reflects LIF or Bridges St. practice, there is a striking similarity to the leisurely descents in The Humerous Lovers (LIF, 1667).

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2 thoughts on “Henry the Third of France (staging)

  1. Pingback: Henry the Third of France (scenery) | Restoration Theatre

  2. Pingback: Amboyna(staging) | Restoration Theatre

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