An Actor’s ‘Part’

While we cannot be certain that Restoration stage directions record exactly what happened on stage, there is certainly a close relationship between the published plays and theatrical texts used by practitioners. This is not to say that Restoration actors learned new roles from published texts or even authorial manuscripts. The working method at this time, as in Shakespeare’s day, was to learn a role from individual ‘parts’ (or ‘sides’ as they later became known). An actor’s part would typically be copied from a manuscript of the whole play and comprised all a particular character’s speeches together with short cues and necessary stage directions. The part would be handwritten on separate strips of paper which were then pasted together to form a continuous roll. Only one Restoration part has survived, that for the character Trico in George Ruggle’s Latin play Ignoramus (1615), which was presented by the Duke’s Company in an English translation at Whitehall in 1662. It is difficult to draw conclusions from a single example, a non-Restoration play at that, but it is interesting to note that the part does include some stage directions and hints about stage business.[1] In performance, however, actors were reliant on the prompter to cue entrances, scene changes and other theatrical interventions from the promptbook of the play (the prompter was consequently far more of a practitioner than the term suggests today). The promptbook was a full version of the play replete with necessary theatrical annotation. For new plays the base for the promptbook was likely to be an authorial manuscript or copy of such, but for stock older plays published editions were a convenient alternative.

[1] For instance, the stage direction ‘pockets ye sugar’ in a manuscript of the 1662 translation, is abbreviated to the mnemonic ‘sugar’ in the actor’s part ( see Edward A. Langhans, ‘A Restoration Actor’s Part’, Harvard Library Bulletin, 23 (1975), p. 181).

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Trouble with Pictures 2: the ‘Playhouse’ drawing

Section of a theatre, Codrington Library, AS, II.81

This sectional drawing of a theatre labelled simply ‘Play House’ has attracted much comment. Many theatre historians believe there is connection between it and Thomas Killigrew’s Drury Lane theatre of 1674, but surprisingly few have analysed it in detail. Among non-specialists there is widespread, uncritical acceptance of the drawing as being both of Drury Lane and representing a model for all Restoration theatres. Such misapprehensions are fostered by its ubiquitous reproduction in textbooks with often loose or even misleading attributions.[1] Since the drawing was rediscovered in 1913 among the papers of Sir Christopher Wren it has come to exert an influence beyond the bare facts of the primary evidence it represents. There are, however, some difficulties with the attribution to the 1674 Drury Lane theatre. First, the drawing has been torn through twice, which suggests it may be a rejected study. It is unsigned and undated and, aside from tradition, the only support for Wren as the architect of Drury Lane is Colley Cibber’s autobiography of 1740, which refers to an event 66 years in the past when Cibber was three years old.[2] The main difficulty, however, is that the scenic arrangement shown in the drawing is incomplete. One of the staples of Restoration dramaturgy was the backshutter discovery. Such a discovery was effected by withdrawing the backshutters to reveal or ‘discover’ upstage a farther part of the stage complete with its own scenic backing.[3] As the drawing does not show any scenic element upstage of what most commentators interpret as backshutters – the final three vertical lines upstage of the proscenium pilasters – a stage built to such a design would be incapable of staging many plays known to have been performed at Drury Lane. Most new plays written for Drury Lane demand at least one discovery, and several call for a discovery to be followed immediately by another.[4] Such successive discoveries imply a minimum of two farther scenic elements upstage of the shutters shown in Wren’s drawing: another pair of shutters and a final backscene.[5] The lack of scenic information in the drawing has led to many different interpretations of the layout and function of scenic elements at Drury Lane and Restoration theatres in general. The drawing is a vital piece of primary evidence and should not be dismissed; however, care needs to be exercised when citing it in support of conjectural reconstructions of Restoration staging.


[1] See for example, J. L. Styan, Restoration Comedy in Performance, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986, pp.20-1.
[2] An Apology For The Life Of Mr. Colley Cibber, Comedian, London: John Watts, 1740, p.338.
[3] Early Restoration discoveries were also occasionally effected by means of the front curtain, or a curtain at the shutter line (see Lewcock, ‘Computer Analysis Of Restoration Staging, 1: 1661-1672’, Theatre Notebook, vol.47, no.1, 1993, p.26).
[4] The first successive or double discovery at Drury Lane was in Nathaniel Lee’s Sophonisba in 1675. In that year six new plays were performed at Drury Lane, of which only two do not demand a discovery. However, the other four demand 19 (Francis Fane’s Love in the Dark, calls for eight), and two plays demand successive discoveries (see Lewcock, ‘Computer Analysis, 2’, Theatre Notebook, vol.47, no.2, 1993, p.144).
[5] I use the term ‘backscene’ to refer to the final scenic element in view and to avoid defining at this stage whether it was a backcloth, a drop, or another shutter. However, in period usage the term applied to the backshutters. A stage direction in Boyle’s Guzman (1669), for example, reads “The Garden in Tryphon as a Back Scene”, where it is clear that the reference is to the shutters alone.

The Siege of Rhodes and scenic staging

The two parts of Davenant’s The Siege of Rhodes launched the new theatre at LIF in June 1661. The first part had been published and performed as one of Davenant’s recitative ‘operas’ in the 1650s, but part two may have been receiving its premiere. Part two was first published in 1663 along with a revised version of part one; however, it appeared on the Stationers’ Register on May 30, 1659, and the published text may have no LIF connection.[1] Nevertheless, it is instructive to compare the scenic demands of this text not only with those in the first part of Rhodes, but also with those in at least two of Thomas Killigrew’s pre-Restoration plays, Bellamira and Thomaso. Both future patent holders are visualising potential production on a scenic stage. Davenant’s vision in Rhodes 2 is conservative, there are no major advances in staging over Rhodes 1, but there are suggestions in the text that Davenant is thinking of a scenic stage with more flexible arrangements than those available for the Commonwealth productions of Rhodes 1. In general, though, the scenic resources called for in Rhodes 2 are of the same type, if not dimensions, as those supplied by Inigo Jones and his assistant John Webb for Davenant’s masque Salmacida Spolia in 1640. In Bellamira 2, however, we encounter something new. This play was written in Venice in the early 1650s during Killigrew’s exile, perhaps with little thought of realisation, but its stage directions suggest sophisticated, Italian scenic arrangements, rather than anything that would be found on simpler English stages in the 1660s. For example, the discovery scene in 3.1 implies an area upstage of the backshutters deeper than that available in the limited relieve spaces of any stage design by Jones or Webb. The associated stage direction reads:

The Scene opens and discovers a Prison, where Pollidor and Phillora appear next the Stage chained to a Ring fastned to the ground [;] upon the other side of the Prison, and in a darker part of the Scene lies Palantus chained behinde them in the dark, Bellamira chained, and afar off in prospective other Prisoners and dead Carcases.[2]

This direction with its assumed depth, layered arrangement of actors, and perspective scenery would be difficult to accommodate in either the 7 feet 7½ inches behind the Hall shutters, or in the 8 feet 2½ inches of Graham Barlow’s LIF model, but it would present fewer problems on the highly flexible stage of the Teatro SS. Giovanni e Paolo, Venice (1639).[3] A plan of this theatre, with its several shutters dispersed along the length of the stage, may be found in Allardyce Nicoll’s The Development of the Theatre.[4] Looking at the plan with Bellamira in mind it is surprising that Killigrew, who presumably had ample opportunity to visit this theatre, did not become the greater scenic innovator of the two patent holders.[5] Bellamira may have been written as a closet drama, but its scenic implications anticipate Restoration staging of the 1670s, rather than anything Killigrew achieved in the 1660s. By contrast, Davenant’s The Siege of Rhodes 2 anticipates exactly the kind of scenic staging he was to produce in 1661. While the text cannot be used to infer resources at LIF, it does not call for anything that could not be realised on a basic scenic stage. However, two stage directions in particular suggest an advance on the Rutland House production: “Enter Ianthe and her two women at the other Door”, and:

The Scene is Chang’d./ Being wholly fill’d with ROXOLANA’S Rich Pavilion, wherein is discern’d at distance, IANTHE sleeping on a Couch; ROXOLANA at one End of it, and HALY at the other; Guards of Eunuchs are Discover’d at the wings of the Pavilion; ROXOLANA having a Turkish Embroidered Handkerchief in her left hand, and a naked Ponyard in her right.[6]

Taken in relation to the earlier play, which makes no reference to doors in the stage directions, and which was staged throughout with fixed wings, the first of these directions may imply forestage doors, and “wholly fill’d” in the second hints at the use of changeable wings. As Ann-Mari Hedbäck suggests, the two references to doors in part two may indicate that the printer’s copy was a manuscript connected with a pre-Restoration performance (albeit one for which no record exists).[7] However, they may also suggest that by 1659, or thereabouts, Davenant had already decided on the form of his future scenic stage (if he had not done so already for his aborted Fleet Street theatre of 1639). If we accept that the second suggestion is plausible, these two directions may be seen as indicating the nature of the future LIF stage: a forestage with doors of entrance, fully changeable scenery, and a separate discovery or relieve space (Ianthe “discern’d at a distance”).

The contrast between the depths of Killigrew’s imagined discovery space and Davenant’s carefully delimited area – one actor on a couch and one at either end – suggests another index we may use to check the universality of the proposed LIF model. An exact measurement of the LIF relieve/discovery space is of course impossible, but figures for other stages may be used as a guide. To add to the figures noted above for the Hall stage and Barlow’s model, the relieve area on the larger Salmacida Spolia stage, for example, had a total depth of 8 feet 7 inches (in each case the relieve area is approximately one third the depth of the whole scenic stage).[8] Sightlines obviously determine the extent to which an audience member would be able to see into such a relieve area. At best, the view is a rectangle bounded by the rearmost wing edges and the background scenic element; at worst, in a side seat, one of the corners would be lopped off. For the purposes of this study I assume the optimal viewpoint. It is helpful at this point to recall the two other indices of universality for my LIF model: no more than two forestage doors in any one scene may be indicated as practical, and discovery/relieve scenes cannot occur successively; also to restate the main scenic specification, the model allows the loading of three wing settings and four backscenes (three backshutter pairs and one relieve), but additional settings may be accommodated by replacement (removal) during act breaks. Should more than three wing settings or four different backscenes be required mid-act, settings may be replaced at scene changes, but there are obvious practical limitations involved should multiple changes be demanded. The evidence from Restoration promptbooks is that while scene keepers may have simplified an author’s demands depending on their scene stock, it was standard practice to match as far as possible appropriate scenery to locations stated or implied in the play text[9].


[1] Alfred Harbage suggests part two may have been premiered during the Commonwealth, but the only evidence to support this is the entry in the Stationer’s Register for 1659 (see Cavalier Drama, New York: Russell & Russell, 1964 [1936], p.212). If it did receive a Commonwealth performance the two female roles may have presented a problem for there were few, if any, trained boy actors at the time, as the prologue to the King’s Company production of Othello (Vere St., 1660) testifies: “For (to speak truth) men act, that are between/ Forty and fifty, Wenches of fifteen” (Pierre Danchin, The prologues and epilogues of the Restoration 1660-1700, Nancy: Publications Université de Nancy, 1981-88, part 1, vol.1, p.56).
[2] Comedies and Tragedies, London: Henry Herringman, 1663, p.542. Act 2.1 of Killigrew’s Thomaso (p.326) calls for the backshutters to open and discover a piazza and several practical balconies.
[3] The Hall figure is stated on Webb’s plan (see Orrell, The Theatres of Inigo Jones and John Webb, p.174). Barlow places his backcloth approximately 10 feet 3 inches from the rear wall of the theatre, the relieve depth stated above is therefore the gap between the shutter frame and the backcloth. Barlow does not provide a specific reason for placing the backcloth where he does, but the relieve depth is in proportion both to this stage and to the other stages discussed here (see ‘From tennis court to opera house’, unpublished PhD thesis, University of Glasgow, 1983, vol. 3, fig. 16).
[4] London: Harrap, 1966 (5th ed.), p.169.
[5] Killigrew had a semi-official position in Venice as Charles Stuart’s Resident, but as Alfred Harbage suggests he probably “found ample time for his own diversions”, including writing Bellamira (Thomas Killigrew, New York: Benjamin Blom, 1967 [1930], p.94).
[6] Hedbäck, ‘The Siege of Rhodes: A critical edition’, Studia Anglistica Upsaliensia, 14, Uppsala, 1973, p.56, 80.
[7] See ibid. p.xxiii.
[8] On the Salmacida plan Webb has marked two dimensions in the relieve area: 3ft 10in from the backshutters to the front of the vertical support for the cloud machine, and 3ft 9in from the rear of this support to the backcloth or board. He has also marked 1ft as the width of the support giving a total of 8ft 7in. This last figure may also be obtained by scaling from Webb’s stated measurements; hence Richard Southern errs when he states this space to be “nearly 7 ft. deep” (Changeable Scenery, London: Faber & Faber, 1952, p.69). The best reproductions of the Salmacida plan and section are to be found in Stephen Orgel & Roy Strong, Inigo Jones: The Theatre of the Stuart Court, 2 vols., London and Berkeley: Sotheby Parke Bernet and University of California Press, 1973, pp.738-41.
[9] See also my analysis of Guzman on this blog and Peter Holland’s discussion in The Ornament of action (Cambridge University Press, 1979, pp.45-6).

Trouble with pictures 1: Joe Haines’s Epilogue

Here are two prints of comedian Joe Haines delivering an epilogue on an ass (click on either to upscale). One is artistically superior to the other, but does this mean that it is superior historically? The print on the left prefaces a probably unperformed play A Fatal Mistake (published 1692) but has no other connection to it.[1] The other image of what appears to be the same performance is included in the 1720 edition of Thomas Brown’s Works, where it is entitled “Joe Haines Epilogue”.[2] The epilogue in question is for Thomas Scott’s tragedy The Unhappy Kindness, which was probably first performed at Drury Lane in 1696. Although printed in 1720, the ‘superior’ print cannot refer to the Drury Lane stage after 1700, because Haines’s last season at Drury Lane was in 1700 and he died in 1701.[3] (The difference between the women’s hairstyles in the prints suggests that the later artist was imagining a contemporary performance.)

If contrasted at all, the prints are usually reproduced as if the earlier was a crude version of the later, implying that play, stage, and date are the same. This may be the case, but it is not certain. If the theatre is Drury Lane, both prints show a square stage front, rather than the “Semi-oval Figure” described by Colley Cibber in his autobiography.[4] A curved stage is shown in the Ariadne print, and may be implied in the ‘Wren’ section (sectional drawing of a playhouse attributed to Sir Christopher Wren) by a dotted line just upstage of the solid line at the end of the forestage (under the third pilaster, but difficult to see in reproductions). Cibber is describing the original Drury Lane stage before the then manager Christopher Rich modified it. According to Cibber, Rich cut back and squared the forestage to increase seating capacity in the pit. Cibber’s is the only account of this modification and he does not provide a date. According to his recollection it occurred “about forty Years ago”.[5] Cibber is vague, but if we count back from the date of publication of Cibber’s autobiography (1740) and allow for him writing that passage a few years earlier, we arrive at a range bounded by Haines’s last season in 1700 and Rich’s takeover as manager of Drury Lane in December 1693. The editors of The London Stage argue that The Unhappy Kindness was performed at Drury Lane in the summer of 1696 or 1697, with the earlier date the more likely.[6] If we accept this, 1696 would seem to be the best date for Rich’s modification. If both prints show the Drury Lane stage, both must clearly date from after the alteration. However, as noted above, the earlier print prefaces A Fatal Mistake published in 1692. The online catalogue of the British Library provides the most likely answer to this discrepancy. It states that the print is a later insertion, though it is ambiguous about which editions contain it. It may be unique to the Library’s 1692 copy, as it is not in the Harvard Library copy of the same edition, nor does it appear in either of the two British Library copies of a 1696 edition.


[1] The play is ascribed to Haines on the title page, but Gildon (1710) states he is not the author (see Philip H. Highfill, Jr., Edward A. Langhans, and Kalman A. Burnim, eds., A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers, and Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800, Illinois: Carbondale and Edwardsville, 1973, vol.7, p.16).
[2] See The Works of Mr Thomas Brown, (5 vols.) London: Sam Briscoe, 1719-20, vol.5, facing p.233.
[3] See Biographical Dictionary, op cit pp.7-17.
[4] Cibber, Apology, 338.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Van Lennep et alLondon Stage, 1: 463.

The prologue to Tuke’s The Adventures of Five Hours (1663)

Prologue (1663)

Prologue (1663)

Several commentators have suggested that the prologue to the original LIF production was delivered in front of the street scene used to represent Seville. This suggestion is prompted by the public prologue printed in the 1663 folio. Unusually, this is headed “THE FIRST SCENE IS THE CITY OF SEVIL”, and the prologue states:

…I dare boldly say,
The English Stage ne’er had so New a Play;
The Dress, the Author, and the Scenes are new.
This ye have seen before ye’l say; ’tis true;
But tell me, Gentlemen, who ever saw
A deep Intrigue confin’d to Five Hours Law.

John Freehafer interprets these lines to mean that the prologue is saying that play, author, costumes, and other scenes are new, but you have seen ‘this’ scene of Seville.[1] If this interpretation is correct it contradicts the usual Restoration practice of delivering the prologue in front of a lowered front curtain. It is possible that as The Adventures is an early play ‘usual’ practices had not yet been established, but Summers can record only two instances in the whole period – “altogether exceptional circumstances” – where a prologue was given after the curtain was drawn: Fletcher’s Wit Without Money staged by the King’s company at LIF in 1671, and The Indian Queen by Robert Howard and Dryden (Bridges St. 1664).[2] In F (1663) the heading and LIF prologue appear on sig. A3 recto. There is no scenic heading to the Court prologue which appears on the verso. A4 recto is headed “DRAMATIS PERSONAE” and at the foot of this page is the general location “THE SCENE/ SEVIL”; the verso has a printer’s errata notice. The next page, B1 recto, is headed “The First Act/ THE SCENE/ DON HENRIQUE’s/ HOUSE”. Thus, there are three pages between the prologue heading and the first scene heading.

Of course, this page layout has no bearing on performance – first scene immediately follows prologue – but the prologue heading is intended for the reader not an audience. No attempt is made to establish for the reader either that a putative scenic backing to the prologue continues through to the first scene proper, or that it changes before the first scene. Instead, all the reader has to go on is the sequence ‘Seville’, ‘Seville’, ‘House’. Without the benefit of an actor’s gesture on ‘this’, the reader, if he or she registers it at all, is unlikely to view the prologue heading as referring to anything more than the general location of the play, which the dramatis personae page repeats before the play starts in Henrique’s house. If Tuke intended the printed prologue to reflect an important piece of scenic information the result is ambivalent. To clarify such intentions all he had to do was to add a marginal note to the effect that the actor points to the scenery. He provides two ample glosses of this kind in the margin of his Court prologue for the reader’s benefit. The second of these refers specifically to how the prologue is to be delivered, “He looking up and seeing the King starts. He kneels. He rises”. The LIF prologue itself starts with a stage direction “The Prologue Enters with a Play-Bill in his hand, and reads”, yet Freehafer’s ‘this’ is passed by without comment. It should also be noted that Court performances, which almost certainly used the same scenery, apparently had no need of a scenic backing to the prologue.

The prologue heading appears again in a 1664 quarto (Q1) reprint of F, and again it is followed by the Court prologue, which eschews any scenic reference. On the following dramatis personae page ‘SEVIL’ is stretched almost to the full width of the page, the reader here would be in no doubt, but in Q2, Tuke’s 1671 revision, a new public prologue is added and the heading is omitted.

I do not believe the heading in F refers to an actual item of scenery. Holland lists three Restoration meanings of the word ‘scene’: (i) part of an act, (ii) scenery, and (iii) the scenic stage area.[3] However, the preliminary pages of many plays alert us to another meaning, as mentioned above, that of ‘scene’ as a general location or setting for the play. Several examples could be adduced to demonstrate this further, but I have chosen Flecknoe’s Love’s Kingdom (LIF?, 1663) as its preliminary pages make an interesting fictional/theatrical distinction and it includes a further gloss on place terminology. The Act 1 scene heading to this play notes, “The Scene, a delightful Landskip or Paisage”, but on the frontispiece we find “The Scene, Cyprus…”[4] While scenery is clearly the meaning in Flecknoe’s heading, the meaning on the frontispiece is of ‘scene’ as a general location of setting – country, area, or region. Consequently I do not believe the LIF prologue heading means anything more than that the play is set in Seville: the meaning in Q2.

I think the prologue heading in F is a mistake, which Tuke, with the textual care I have been arguing for, corrects in his revision. However, Freehafer’s suggestion does not rest on any prologue heading, it relies on the actor performing the prologue gesturing to the scenery on the word ‘this’. I am not convinced this was likely. For the prologue, the novelty of Tuke’s play lies less in the fact that costumes, author, and scenery are new, but that in addition it conforms to the neo-classical unity of time – the ‘confining’ of the plot to five hours. ‘This’ – the whole (non-gestural) package – is what has not been seen before, and why “The English Stage ne’er had so New a Play”. The other novelties had most likely been presented at LIF less than three months previously at the premiere of Porter’s first play The Villain on October 18, 1662. Promptbook annotation included in the 1663 edition of Porter’s play tells us that the play featured at least one new scene, “The new Scene of the Hall”. At the time of The Villain, LIF had been open for not much more than a year and was almost certainly in the process of building a basic scene stock, as the hall heading indicates. There is no evidence relating to costumes in The Villain, but as it was the only completely new play of 1662, and we know it received at least some new scenery, it seems plausible that it should also be deemed worthy of new costumes, at this time still the most important visual element of theatrical production.[5] The excitement The Villain generated at its premiere certainly implies an elaborate production. It was recommended to Pepys on three separate occasions before he saw it on October 20, two days after it opened. He reports that these recommendations were in such a manner “as if there never had been any such play come upon the stage”. Moreover, Downes’s comment that the play was “well perform’d […] It Succeeded 10 Days with a full House, to the last” suggests a carefully prepared production that would not baulk at expenditure on new costumes.[6]

Freehafer goes on to suggest that the street scene used in the original production of The Adventures was designed by Inigo Jones for a production of The Cid at the Cockpit-In-Court in 1639.[7] Irrespective of whether 24-year old scenery would be fit to present at such a prestigious occasion, this scene was originally used behind the relatively small central opening in the permanent frons scenae at the Cockpit. Orrell calculates Jones’s designs for the Cockpit as being 6 ft wide by just less than 9 ft tall, and according to Webb a pair of back shutters at the Hall measured 15 ft wide by 11 ft tall.[8] Given these measurements, it seems unlikely that this single piece of scenery could be disposed on the LIF stage in the manner that Freehafer proposes.


[1] See ‘Perspective Scenery And The Caroline Playhouses’, Theatre Notebook, vol. 27, no. 3, 1973, p. 111. Visser footnotes Freehafer’s suggestion (Visser, p. 68, n. 15) as it supports his hypothesis of the street scene standing throughout The Adventures until the garden scene, 3.2.
[2] Any search relies on play texts that note the occurrence. However, unusual performance practices are often recorded, whereas standard procedures are usually ignored. Summers also believes Tuke’s prologue was delivered in front of a street scene, though he does not include the play in his examples. See, The Restoration Theatre, London: Kegan Paul, Trench & Trubner, 1934, pp. 120-1 &  p. 213.
[3] The ornament of action, op cit p. 32.
[4]London: R. Wood, 1664. The full frontispiece text is “The Scene Cyprus, with all the Rules of Time and Place so exactly observ’d, as whilst for Time ’tis all compriz’d in as few hours as there are Acts; for Place, it never goes out of the view or prospect of Loves Temple”. Interestingly, Flecknoe uses the nomenclature of the stock item of scenery for his heading, reserving relative specificity for his description of the fictional ‘Place’.
[5] Downes or Pepys are both more informative about costumes than scenery.
[6] Roscius Anglicanus, op cit, p. 54.
[7] See op cit p. 111.
[8] The shutter frames are marked as 12ft 6in, the lower groove height is marked 8in and the overlap of the border is 9in. This indicates a shutter height of somewhere between 11ft 1in and 12ft 6in, but lead additions show an increased border overlap and a note in Webb’s hand has “11 fo” next to the shutters. So I take a shutter height of 11 ft as a conservative measurement. These additions are barely perceptible in reproductions. For the size of Cockpit scenes see, Orrell, The Theatres of Inigo Jones and John Webb, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985, p. 111.

Samuel Pepys and the ‘altered’ stage at Lincoln’s Inn Fields

On October 21, 1661 four months after the opening of Sir William Davenant’s theatre at Lincoln’s Inn Fields (hereafter LIF), Samuel Pepys notes in his diary that the scenic arrangement at the theatre had changed: “To the Opera which is now newly begun to act again, after some alteracion of their scene, which do make it very much worse; but the play ‘Love and Honour’ […] well done”. Pepys’s entry suggests that any model of the LIF stage derived from analysis of post-‘alteration’ LIF plays, my own included, may not be applicable to the first LIF productions. Discussion of this first period of production must, therefore, consider a possible earlier version of the LIF stage arrangement. Edward Langhans speculates that the alteration was the addition of additional grooves upstage “for the benefit of deep vistas”.[1] My analysis of LIF plays reveals no clear indication of demand for such vistas; however, Langhans is almost certainly correct in thinking that Davenant made a structural change of some kind to the LIF stage.[2] The exact nature of this change will remain a mystery unless new evidence is found, but I believe it is possible to glean more from the evidence that we do have. The following is, as far as I know, the first attempt to examine this evidence with the aim of inferring the first scenic arrangement at LIF.

Langhans makes some interesting speculations about the nature of the changes, but it is possibly more productive to begin by asking why the changes were made at this particular time, rather than suggesting a possible form. It is curious that the alterations arrive when they do. Although records are by no means complete the London Stage has no record of any LIF performances between September 11 and October 21, a gap of 40 days. There was also a hiatus of 35 days after the initial off-season run of The Siege of Rhodes. However, it is easier to view the earlier production as a special case – Rhodes generated much needed cash and put LIF on the map ready for its first season after the summer holiday.[3] The stutter in LIF’s post-alteration production might suggest teething problems at the new theatre, but there is no indication of this in either Pepys’s dairy or in John Downes’s account of Restoration theatre production, Roscius Anglicanus. Admittedly, Downes, who was the prompter at LIF and later with Betterton throughout his career (he retired in 1706), was writing retrospectively, but while his dates may be occasionally faulty, his memory of events at this exciting time in his life is particularly vivid.[4] Pepys has nothing but praise for Rhodes and two out of three other productions that he attended before the alterations[5]. Of Rhodes he says, “the scene opened; which indeed is very fine and magnificent” (July 2); The Wits he pronounces, “a most excellent play, and admirable scenes” (August 15); similarly Hamlet was “done with scenes very well” (August 24); we do not know what he thought of Twelfth Night because he was so conscience-struck for attending that he “took no pleasure at all in it” (September 11). Not only was Davenant’s new venture artistically successful it was evidently making money: Pepys reports that he saw a King’s company production during the initial run of Rhodes and remarked how strange it was to find the Vere Street theatre “that used to be so thronged, now empty since the Opera begun” (July 4). Downes gleefully reports that Rhodes “continu’d Acting 12 days without interruption with great applause”; that The Wits was performed eight days successively; that Hamlet was the company’s most profitable tragedy; and that Twelfth Night “had mighty Success”.[6] None of these reports suggests a theatre with technical problems. The closure and subsequent alterations may, therefore, have been planned. Davenant was a careful and patient manager, he did not rush his actresses into performance before they had been properly trained, and he did not convert Lisle’s tennis court hastily. He first leased the court in March 1660 and by January 1661, deciding, as he put it, “there wanted room for the depth of scenes in the ground belonging to the said Tennis Court”, he leased further ground to build a scene store, which he had already started building by March.[7] If in January 1661 he had a fair idea of how big his scene store should be it seems out of character that he would miscalculate so badly the size of his scenic stage, especially as he seems to have given himself ample time in which to make the conversion. It is beginning to look likely that a closure at some point was planned by Davenant. Lack of cash could well be the reason why he opened with what he did, and excellent box-office receipts the reason why he closed when he did. He might have planned to make the final alterations when he had the cash, and the financial success of his opening productions enabled him to make the necessary alterations at an earlier date. Alternatively, he might have planned the closure date from the start. Either way, Davenant’s financial situation may well have been the determining factor. Cash flow is a problem at the start of any venture, and then as now the building of a theatre is a risky and costly investment. Hotson records Davenant’s underhanded attempt to secure the position (hence, revenues) of Master of the Revels in Ireland, his persistent evasion of the license-fee claims of the English Master, Sir Henry Herbert, and his selling of a number of Duke’s Company shares.[8] All these activities suggest that finances were tight, and in the matter of the shares Nicoll concludes that Davenant’s hand was forced: “Within a few months expenses were accumulating so steadily that in June further shares were disposed of and some more followed the following year”.[9] Given this financial situation, and the fact that he already had in store scenery for The Siege of Rhodes and for his Commonwealth ‘operas’ The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru and The History of Sir Francis Drake (plus, perhaps, some pre-Civil War items), it would make sense if Davenant had planned to open his new theatre with a production for which he already had scenery, and with old plays that made few scenic demands, while he slowly built up a new scenery stock and improved his cash flow. [10] By opening his new theatre with both parts of The Siege of Rhodes he was not only making a personal artistic statement he was also extracting further use from old scenery, and thereby saving money.

Having considered the question of Davenant’s timing, we may now turn to the form of the alterations. There is an obvious observation to make about the idea of using old scenery from Rhodes 1 on the LIF stage – it was designed for a smaller stage, was therefore smaller in dimensions, and made use of only three pairs of fixed wings. This very fact, however, might explain Davenant’s need to alter his scenic arrangement at some point. As John Orrell has shown, John Webb’s design for the Rhodes frontispiece records two sets of dimensions (ink and lead) that correspond to the original production at Rutland House and subsequent production at the Cockpit, Drury Lane.[11] The scenic opening is constant in height, about nine feet, but Orrell shows that the width, 18ft 4in in the elevation, was later modified to 16ft 10in.[12] The proscenium opening at LIF was certainly larger, Graham Barlow proposes an opening roughly 25ft square.[13] If the original Rhodes frontispiece was used at LIF, the stage must have been dressed with large amounts of curtain ruches to the top and sides to render it visually acceptable. Acceptable, but not perfect, as the prologue to Rhodes 2 suggests. The prologue apologises for the stage’s “narrow Place” that compared to Continental examples must seem like a mere “Chess-board”.[14] Here, I think Peter Holland is only half right when he states, “None of the editions [of The Siege of Rhodes] in 1663 or later provide any evidence of the staging of The Siege at Lincoln’s Inn Fields”.[15] This may well apply to the play proper, but Davenant’s prologue refers to backstage actresses – “our Women” – quivering with “bashfull fear” of the wits in the audience.[16] As no women would have acted in any pre-Restoration performance of this play it seems likely that the prologue is directly connected to the LIF production. In which case, the prologue’s references to “this narrow Place” make perfect sense. It must have embarrassed Davenant that he was not yet in a position to exploit the available height and width of his new theatre. Far from being ‘unnecessary’ as Holland believes, Davenant’s comments may refer to the temporary stage set up for Rhodes on the larger LIF stage but not to the LIF stage itself.

There is another dimension to consider – the stage depth. The Rhodes stage at The Cockpit, Drury Lane was approximately 16 feet deep, measured from backcloth to frontispiece.[17] The corresponding figure for Barlow’s LIF model is 28 feet, a difference of 12 feet. If Davenant was using old scenery to save money it is unlikely that he would have added to his costs by requesting another wing position to make use of the extra stage depth. Even had he wanted to do so it is difficult to see where the additional wings would have been positioned. An extra rear or mid pair would have distorted perspectives; an extra front pair would have required a new frontispiece. To maintain visual coherence, use of the old scenery would have demanded use of the original positioning and perspectives. However, as noted above, Rhodes 2 implies changeable wings, a flexibility that appears to question my suggestion of a limited staging for the opening LIF productions. Adding just one more wing pair in each position would have near doubled the original scenery costs. Davenant may not have been able to afford changeable wings at this time, but on the other hand he may have felt such expenditure was artistically necessary. Either way, it would not have affected the adaptation of the old scenery to the LIF stage; this modification would not have altered the original scale and perspective. There is little doubt that Davenant was financially hard pressed at the opening of his new theatre. In this respect the appeal for money in the Rhodes 2 prologue may be more specific to future developments at LIF than has so far been recognised:

Oh Money! Money! If the WITTS would dress,
With Ornaments, the present face of Peace;
And to our Poet half the Treasure spare,
Which Faction gets from Fools to nourish Warr;
Then his contracted Scenes should wider be,
And move by greater Engines…[18]

I suggest that the success of the opening productions enabled Davenant to be as good as his word and that once he had made his modifications, LIF scenes were indeed ‘wider’ and moved in necessarily ‘greater’ grooves. Significantly, there are no records of the first part of Rhodes being performed after the alterations, but the London Stage lists several subsequent performances of the second part, the last being at Dorset Garden on March 24, 1677.[19] It may not have been technically difficult to accommodate Rhodes 1 on the altered LIF stage, but reverting to the cramped staging necessitated by the old scenery would certainly have looked odd and it may no longer have been considered appropriate for the fashionable venue that LIF had become by the mid-1660s. In contrast, post-alteration revivals of Rhodes 2 may well have been presented with the fuller staging suggested by the text. Whatever changes were made by Davenant to the LIF stage it is important to recall that they did not affect Pepys’s enjoyment of the play and he makes no further mention of it in his diary (even though he attended three performances of Love and Honour in October 1661).

In conclusion, if Davenant was short of money after converting Lisle’s tennis court, as seems likely, it would have made sense for him to have opened the new theatre with a tried and tested production and a scenic arrangement that required minimal outlay. However, restaging the Cockpit production of The Siege of Rhodes for both parts of the play (with minor modifications) would not have exploited the full stage space available at LIF. Pairs of single, fixed-wing scenes at three wing positions would have positioned the backcloth around 12 feet closer to the audience in comparison to any likely future arrangement. Therefore, when in September-October, 1661 Davenant subsequently altered his scenic stage to allow the use, if I am correct, of new, custom-built scenery, the backscenes would have been positioned further upstage.[20] A more distant positioning of the backscenes might well explain Pepys’s initial and probably naïve aversion to Davenant’s alterations – the scenery had less initial impact because it was further off. This suggestion has the advantage of fitting the available evidence such that the nature of Davenant’s changes, their timing, and Pepys’s reaction may be seen as related and explicable.


[1] Langhans, ‘Staging Practices in the Restoration Theatre 1660-1682’, unpublished PhD thesis, Yale (1955 ) p.289.
[2] Keenan, ‘Early Restoration staging: play production at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, 1661-1674’, unpublished PhD thesis, London (2006).
[3] The London Stage notes that the theatrical season remained fairly constant during the 40 years from 1660-1700: the “schedule prevailed from October to June, with less frequent acting from June through September” (op cit introduction lxvii).
[4] As well as being the Duke’s Company’s prompter, Downes made his acting debut at the premiere of  The Siege of Rhodes. Unfortunately, the presence of the King and his nobles had a debilitating effect: “the sight of that August presence, spoil’d me for an actor” (Roscius Anglicanus, op cit p.34).
[5] Although both parts of Rhodes were initially performed at LIF, most of Pepys’s references to Rhodes are to part two.
[6] Op cit pp.21-3. There is no evidence to show how scenery was allocated to these old plays, but it was likely  to have been minimal judging by a promptbook for a later LIF revival, Shirley’s The Witty Faire One, which was allocated only three settings (see Langhans, Restoration Promptbooks, op cit p.43).
[7] See Hotson, Commonwealth and Restoration Stage, op cit pp.124-5.
[8] Ibid. pp.220-1.
[9] History, op cit, p.301.
[10] John Freehafer refers to the possibility of pre-Restoration scenery in his ‘Perspective Scenery And The Caroline Playhouses’ (Theatre Notebook, 1973, vol.27, no.3, p.111), though it is doubtful that any such scenery could have been used at LIF without modification.
[11] See Theatres, op cit pp.68-74.
[12] Ibid. The height of the frontispiece is 11ft but this includes a 2ft architrave. Surprisingly the narrower opening was required to fit the otherwise larger Cockpit space.
[13] See Thesis, op cit vol.3, Fig. 16.  
[14] Danchin, Prologues 1.1, op cit p.67
[15] Holland, Ornament of action, op cit p.257, n.65.
[16] Danchin, Prologues 1.1, op cit p.67.
[17] Webb shows 18ft but this includes approximately 2ft behind the backcloth.
[18] Danchin, Prologues 1.1, op cit p.67.
[19] The London Stage editors list a performance of the first part in May 1667, their evidence being a Lord Chamberlain’s list of royal performances for this period (reproduced by Nicoll, History, op cit p.346),  but the LC entry records only the play title not the part and is therefore inconclusive.  Further alterations to the scenery must have been made for the DorsetGarden revivals.
[20] The London Stage calendar records no performance at LIF from September 11 to October 21, though records are by no means complete.  If this is anywhere near accurate, the theatre was closed for at least a month.  Judging by the Warrants for carpentry work at Court theatres (See Boswell, Restoration Court Stage, op cit p.236) this would have been more than enough time for some major restructuring, if required.

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