Amboyna (staging)

By John Dryden (May? 1672; pub.1673)

While we cannot be sure whether the text of Shipman’s Henry III relates to its LIF production, the theatrical simplicity of Dryden’s pot-boiler may well reflect the position in which the King’s Company found itself following the Bridges Street fire. It might also reflect the political desire of Thomas Clifford (Lord High Treasurer, dedicatee of Amboyna, and Dryden’s patron) for the theatre to drum up support for the unpopular Dutch War of 1672. Whether the play is a makeshift political contrivance, or a scenic bricolage resulting from the King’s Company’s destitution – as suggested by Colin Visser – in terms of its dramatic worth there is little to add to the verdict of Dryden’s dedicatory epistle: “[it] will scarcely bear a serious perusal; it being contrived and written in a month, the subject barren, the persons low, and the writing not heightened with many laboured scenes”. [1]

As Visser notes, the scenic demands of this play are unremarkable. Three shutter settings – castle exterior, castle chamber, wood – four wing settings (adding a bedchamber), and three relieve scenes – bedchamber, wood, prison – would match fictional locations to scenery, and require only one groove replacement – wood wings for castle or bedchamber in the pause between Acts 3 and 4. Dryden states only two fictional locations, but aside from 3.2 there is little difficulty following his stage directions.

The problem in 3.2 is that fictionally it would be odd for Towerson’s enemies, The Fiscal and Harman Junior, to remain onstage in Towerson’s bedchamber (a relieve scene) while all the others leave, and for Captain Perez to enter and meet them there (Perez had previously entered the house to murder Towerson but had changed his mind). A return to somewhere in the vicinity of the castle, by having the castle exterior shutter close over the relieve space, would be the logical choice at this point.

Unfortunately, no such change is indicated by Dryden and there is no stage clearance, either marked or implied. We could posit an error here, but the consequences of the fictional setting remaining in Towerson’s bedchamber for the remaining 31 lines of the scene are not scenically disastrous. It would not be my preferred solution, but as Dryden is usually so theatrically efficient, I suggest this is simply a pragmatic, if inelegant, theatrical cheat.

[1] The Dramatic Works of John Dryden, vol.5, ed. George Saintsbury, Edinburgh: William Paterson, 1882, p.8. Colin Visser, ‘John Dryden’s Amboyna at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, 1673’, Restoration and Eighteenth Century Theatre Research, vol.15, no.1, Loyola University of Chicago, 1976, pp.1-11

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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).

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

Juliana, or The Princess of Poland (staging)

By John Crown (June 1671; pub. 1671)

According to the Literature Online database only 15 plays first performed in the period 1660-1700 begin with a song, and this is the first.[1] Three authors – Behn, Crown and Nathaniel Lee – had a particular liking for the device. Crown uses it in two other plays, but Lee takes the palm with four.

While Juliana has been criticised from Langbaine onward for the absurdities of its plot, it is highly interesting from a staging point of view. The play is scenically varied with only two of its 20 scenes not provided with a scene heading, and the stage directions suggest that the LIF production made extensive use of the full stage area.

Altogether, 12 fictional locations are specified with a further two implied. In production these would likely have been reduced, and in the scenery plot I have used a total of 11 settings: nine shutter pairs, one standard relieve setting, and a combined shutter/relieve setting for the ‘hollow rock’ called for in Act 4. It is also likely that Crown intended shutters for one setting to be used with wings from another in two of his scenes (2.5 and 5.2). In terms of accommodating these settings in the LIF model, only Act 2 demands a mid-act scene replacement.

At the start of Act 2 the model would be preloaded with palace, street, and hall shutters, with grove relieve rows sitting behind. At the end of 2.2 the street shutters and wings would be replaced by grove wings and shutters showing a palace exterior. These two elements are combined in 2.5. This seems the most economical way of satisfying Crown’s scene heading, which states: “The Scene a Garden, at the one end a Palace”.[2] This solution only requires a shutter pair representing a view of the palace to close over the relieve space; the garden/grove wings from the earlier scene remain in place.

A similar solution would serve 4.3-4.4 where the garden tree wings would be backed by a composite shutter and relieve setting of a ‘hollow rock’ or cave, and would also satisfy Crown’s curiously worded scene heading to 5.2. The heading reads, “The Scene a Palace to the Street”, but the words ‘palace’ and ‘street’ have possibly been printed in the wrong order.[3] The ensuing scene takes place wholly outside a locked palace gate, so, assuming that what is required here is a street leading to such a gate, I have used the town wings last seen in 3.2 together with a new shutter pair representing a large gate or door fronting a palace exterior. The scene does not require the gate to be practical and it may be played centre stage with the offstage porter standing either directly behind it unseen, or behind one of the final wings.

The scene immediately before this poses a different problem. Crown’s heading for 5.1 states, “The Scene a Hall”, yet fictionally the opening speech is clearly delivered from a location outside the landlord’s hall. There can be no doubt that the landlord’s hall, used previously in 2.3, is the required setting here, so how can this spatial anomaly be explained? The short answer is that it is brief, serves a dramatic purpose, and does not affect our understanding of the rest of the scene. The speech in question is just three lines long and is used simply to link the narrative at the end of Act 4 to that directly following in Act 5. In a modern play there might well be no gap in the action, but on the LIF stage several minutes of Act music would have split the narrative at this point. At the start of Act 5 the scenery for the landlord’s hall replaces that of the ‘hollow rock’ and Battista hurriedly arrives. She tells the audience “this is our Lodging”, and that from a close vantage point she can “see the persons coming out of the house”, she then exits to keep watch. The anomaly involved is an effective theatrical cheat that immediately sets up the ensuing scene. It is anomalous, but it is a controlled anomaly of a few seconds duration, a world apart from that proposed by other commentators on Restoration staging.

Elsewhere in the play it is clear from stage directions that Crown is using the whole stage, forestage and scenic area. In 2.4, the Landlord’s party on the forestage observe the escaping Princess Juliana being led across the upstage area:

Enter Sharnofsky conducting Juliana, followed by Hypolita, Emilia, Francisca,
the Women all Vizarded.

Lad.
Ha! what is’t I see? It is a Vision; Count Sharnofsky conducting
a Lady out of yonder Monastery, she and her Train all Mask’t… [4]

We know that Juliana’s party is escaping through the Landlord’s gardens because Crown had previously given a long-winded speech to the Landlord fully describing the local topography.[5]

In 5.3 the masque sequence would be difficult to stage without using the whole stage. The relieve area is used for two scenes, the Landlord’s garden and the previously mentioned ‘hollow rock’. This is evidently a cave or grotto with a separate shutter pair and is used to display the Cardinal’s body not once but twice, in scenes 4.3 and 4.4. This double discovery of the same sight is surely one of the theatrical ‘slips’ to which Crown refers (quoted by Langbaine), “there are few Authors but have had those slips from their Prune, which their riper thoughts…had reason to be asham’d of”.[6]

[1] http://lion.chadwyck.co.uk.

[2] London: William Cademan & William Birch, 1671, p.21.

[3] Ibid. p.49.

[4] Ibid. p.20.

[5] See ibid. pp.16-17.

[6] Gerard Langbaine, An Account of the English Dramatic Poets, Oxford: 1691, p.96 [Scolar Press reprint, 1971].

The Town-Shifts, or The Suburb Justice (staging)

By Edward Revet (March 1671; pub. 1671)

Genest’s evaluation of Revet’s nostalgic (or simply old-fashioned) comedy is about right: “it has no particular fault, but the plot is slight, and the dialogue insipid”.[1] Summers calls it an Elizabethan “throw-back”, but notes its “realistic scenes of middle-class life and manners”.[2] In terms of staging, the play is uncomplicated apart from some scenic confusion in Act 5. Indeed, in terms of the LIF model, ‘regular’ would be an apt description with no prior act implying more than three shutter settings and one relieve.

The difficulty in Act 5 is in aligning implicit fictional locations with the dialogue. Five different settings appear to be indicated in this act, four of them not seen before, which seems excessive. An additional problem is that Revet’s indications of place are ambiguous. A prime example of this occurs in 5.2. The scene begins with the direction, “Enter Gammer Fells, Clowt, and Mold the Sexton”. We know that Fells and Clowt have journeyed specifically to interrogate Mold. Given this and the fact that the time has been stated to be around five o’clock in the morning,[3] Mold’s house would seem to be the fictional location, with an interior representing a room in the house the theatrical solution. However, mid-way in the scene arrive the eloping quartet of Lovewell and Leticia, and Friendly and Fickle:

Love[well].

Now, my dear Mistress, we are safe from all our fears;

this is the Sexton’s House, there wee’le repose a little, then to

Church.

Fells.

Are you come, i’faith, Sir; Seize on him, Mr. Constable…[4]

Lovewell’s gestic “there” seems to preclude the interior setting suggested above; indeed, as it stands, the speech only makes sense if Lovewell’s party are outside Mold’s house. Now there is nothing in the preceding dialogue of 5.2 that demands an interior setting, in which case the setting might well be an exterior. This solution satisfies the dialogue, but it requires a certain interpretation of fictional events. We know the early hour and we also know that Mold had been up drinking the previous night. If this is an exterior setting – presumably a graveyard – we must, therefore, accept that Mold is up and about his work and has been intercepted at this early hour by Fells and Clowt as the scene starts. This interpretation of the fictional action does not necessarily present any difficulties, especially for a period audience used to early rising, but it is not exactly fluent theatrically.

The comedy in this scene is partly visual. Mold is a put-upon character who is never allowed to have his say. He is silent during the whole scene, yet he is repeatedly asked direct questions. One imagines the fun of the scene might arise from seeing poor old Mold repeatedly cut off by the two chatterboxes, Fells and Clowt, just as he is about to speak. This gag would be underlined if Mold was a pathetic figure hovering around in his nightshirt. This may seem a highly subjective interpretation, but were it not for Lovewell’s “there” it would be an obvious theatrical solution. Indeed the reader, lacking visual clues, will assume that the scene is set in Mold’s house until the point at which Lovewell enters. If then we omitted one letter and amended Lovewell’s ‘there’ to ‘here’, the scene would play perfectly well as set in Mold’s house. For the scene plot, however, I have decided on the line of least intervention and have allocated an exterior setting.

Whatever we decide, we can be in no doubt that Revet fully intended the use of scene changes in this act. Any appeal to Visser’s model of an unchanging setting with interior scenes being played against an exterior backing is immediately quashed when at the end of this scene we read, “Exeunt, The Scene alters./ Enter again, at Frump’s House”.[5] Here as with other LIF plays there can be no doubt that this play was written with the variety of scene changes in mind. I greatly suspect that the implied scenic demands in Act 5 of this minor play would have been simplified in production. As it stands, the scenery indicated in the plot would demand two mid-act replacements of shutter settings not otherwise seen in the play, even allowing for one relieve setting (in this case the field). I suspect that the LIF scene keeper would not have differentiated between the setting for Pett’s Hackney house seen elsewhere in the play and his London house fictionally demanded here.

[1] Op cit p.120.

[2] Playhouse Of Pepys, op cit pp.387-8.

[3] “we shall be there [Mold’s house] by five a Clock” (The Town-Shifts, op cit p.50).

[4] Ibid. p.51.

[5] Ibid. p.53.

The Six Days’ Adventure (staging)

By Edward Howard (March 1671; pub. 1671)

As with The Women’s Conquest, Howard provides little information about scenery or settings in this play. There are three vague scene headings (to 4.1, 4.2, & 5.1). The first two specify a staging feature – two pillars in one, a bed in the other – and the last is cryptic: “The Scene resembles a Tribunal of Love”.[1] From the dialogue it is clear that the pillars appear in a street. The 4.1 heading reads, “The Scene opens with two Pillars with decrees on them on both sides the Stage”, and in reference to the pillars one character says, “’Tis a Decree fix’d here, and in most Streets”.[2] A street would also best fit the preceding scene, 3.1. This is a busy scene in which most of the cast make an appearance. The freedom with which characters exit and enter and the lack of any dialogic clues to the contrary suggest an exterior setting. A street, which stays onstage for 4.1, is the logical choice. Most likely, the pillars, which are not practical, would have been represented by a special pair of wings in the first position (nearest the audience). These could be loaded into the wing frames during the musical interval at the end of Act 3.

The heading for the next scene specifies a relieve setting: “The Scene opens and discovers a Bed”. Although not stated, it would make sense if the street wings (and pillars) were replaced at this point by those representing a chamber. The wings for Meredith’s lodgings used in Act 1 would suffice, though a separate setting would be perfectly possible.[3] The bed is obviously set in the relieve area. This is a bed-trick scene. Sir Solymour has been led to believe he is to enjoy a liaison with the fashionable gentlewoman, Celinda. Instead, the bed’s occupant is, “A Blackamoor Boy disguiz’d like a Woman”.[4] From the text it is clear that Sir Solymour and the boy act in the relieve area while various other characters gather on the forestage to surprise and humiliate him.

The last heading is particularly vague. There are no clues as to how “A Tribunal of Love” might have been represented, but an interior setting is likely. Howard’s lack of interest in scenery might suggest the same interior used for Meridith’s lodgings; however, I think the same diffidence might also suggest that when a heading is provided it is significant. I believe this heading calls for a different setting and one more public than previous scenes set in private houses. The scenery plot, therefore, specifies a stateroom of the kind seen in previous LIF plays. Thus, the play can be served by three shutter scenes – lodgings, street, stateroom – a relieve to represent Celinda’s lodgings, and wing settings to match the three shutters (with additional pillars). Alternatively, a separate set of wings could be used for Celinda’s lodgings, requiring the wings for Meredith’s to be replaced at the end of Act 2 or 3.

Up to nine chairs are needed in Act 1 for a council meeting. As Howard directs stools to be brought on in Act 2, the chairs are also likely to have been brought on by servants from the wings and set either in the scenic area or on the forestage. There are subsequent forestage entrances, so the scenic area is probably the best position for the chairs. The stool scene in Act 2 – a women’s meeting – is a parody of the Act 1 council meeting. Howard’s direction reads, “Enter a man with Stools and Table”.[5] Six women are to be seated, the fact that one man is directed to bring on all the furniture – note stools, not chairs as for the men– suggests a comic effect may have been intended.

[1] London: Thomas Dring, 1671, p. 68.

[2] Ibid. p. 47, 49.

[3] That Act 1 is set in Meredith’s house is clear when a page boy reports to Meredith, “Some of the Chief Magistrates of Utopia, Desire admittance” (p.9). There are no such clues for Act 2, but an interior is indicated and there is no compelling reason why the Act 1 setting should be replaced.

[4] Ibid. front matter (Dramatis Personae).

[5] Ibid. p. 27.

The Indian Queen (staging)

By Robert Howard and John Dryden (January 1664; pub. 1665)

The following is best read in conjunction with the associated scenery plot and shutter diagram. It is also closely related to my staging analysis of The Indian Emperour (sic).

For all its relative scenic innovation The Indian Queen is still a very early new play, only the fourth such in Killigrew’s new scenic theatre at Bridges Street. Nevertheless, the play offers fresh dramaturgical thinking and shows the effects of commercial competition, even under a duopoly. Killigrew’s company had undoubtedly been getting used to technical aspects of the new stage, playing catch up with their rivals at Lincoln’s Inn Fields who had been using scenery since 1661, but The Indian Queen raises the stakes by offering scenic spectacle on a new scale. Both Pepys and Evelyn were impressed. Pepys thought it ‘a most pleasant show, and beyond my expectation’, while the meticulous Evelyn declared it to be ‘so beautiful with rich scenes as the like has never been seen here, or haply (except rarely) elsewhere on a mercenary theatre.’[1]

Innovation in the play is present from the very start when the prologue is delivered from the scenic stage by actors wholly in character, rather than by the usual practice of actors speaking from the forestage in front of a dropped curtain as themselves, or as a character at least partly divorced from the role they are about to play: ‘As the Musick plays a soft Air, the Curtain rises softly, and discovers an Indian Boy and Girl sleeping under two Plantain-Trees; and when the Curtain is almost up, the Musick turns into a Tune expressing an Alarm, at which the Boy wakes and speaks.’[2]

The Indian Queen is also the first new Restoration play to fly in actors, or indeed to use a trapdoor.[3] More significantly, however, it features no less than four discovery scenes. The first two present spectacular tableaux, the third reveals a character in a prison, while the last, which opens Act 5, is a striking coup de theatre: ‘The Scene opens, and discovers the Temple of the Sun all of Gold, and four Priests in habits of white, and red Feathers attending by a bloody Altar, as ready for sacrifice.’ Aside from these discoveries the staging of the play is straightforward and is easily accommodated in the LIF model, as I will show.

By reading the scene headings and stage directions of The Indian Queen in the light of those from The Indian Emperour, which was specifically written to reuse the earlier play’s scenery, we are in a position to decide probable shutter and relieve settings. Discussing the scenery in the order in which it appears, the curtain probably rose to disclose open country backshutters matched with tree wings. The open country setting is named ‘Indian Country’ in the later play and we can make an opening assumption that it is a backshutter pair by reference to its use in both plays where it precedes a known discovery scene at least once in each play; moreover, in The Indian Queen it likely separates the prison and temple relieve settings used in Acts 4 and 5.

The next scene though not marked would seem to be set in the Mexican camp from its martial atmosphere and its references in dialogue and a stage direction to soldiers shouting; such a setting is also demanded in The Indian Emperour. Period camp settings are shown in Webb’s designs for Mustapha. The relieve setting and its variant (scenes 1a and 1b) would be matched by wings depicting tents of the same design, so forming a composite and symmetrical picture with the relieve design. In the Indian plays the format would have been similar (of course the design of the tents would have reflected the American setting), but in this case the stage picture would likely have been terminated by backshutters because the camp setting follows a known discovery scene in each play, and in The Indian Queen it also precedes the discovery that opens Act 3.

Following the return of the Indian Country setting for the start of Act 2 – not stated, but a logical choice – the next scenic setting is the scene 2 discovery in which, ‘Zempoalla appears seated upon a Throne’. This must be a relieve setting, but of what? There are no clues in the dialogue, though the spectacle of this and the later discovery (Act 3.1) perhaps suggests that Zempoalla is in her palace, rather than the Mexican camp as the California editors propose.[4] More helpful are scene headings in The Indian Emperour which stipulate a Chamber Royal setting for three scenes in the city of Mexico. The structural and diegetic similarities between the plays and the fact that we know that the later play reused scenery from the earlier combine to suggest that Zempoalla’s appearances must also have been made within a relieve setting depicting a Chamber Royal. Although a locale is not stated for the last scene in Act 2, the reference to Montezuma’s prisoners being forced from his tent (lines 42-3) suggests the Camp setting was reused here.

So far, the staging of the play has followed a sequence we would expect using the LIF model: Indian country (shutters), Camp (shutters), Indian country (shutters), Chamber Royal (relieve) and Camp (shutters). Shutter scenes have followed successively, but not relieve scenes. This sequence is continued by the spectacular discovery which opens Act 3: ‘Zempoalla appears seated upon her Slaves in Triumph, and the Indians as to celebrate the Victory, advance in a warlike Dance; in the midst of which Triumph, Acacis and Montezuma falls in upon them’.[5] The intruders are overpowered and brought before Zempoalla who ‘descends from her triumphant Throne.’

Although stage action is dramatic there are no indications of any scene change until we come to the direction ‘Ismeron asleep in the Scene’.[6] This direction and the ensuing dialogue with its reference to Ismeron’s ‘dismal cell’ leave no doubt that, although unmarked, this is both a new scene and a new scenic setting (unmarked scenes are a regular occurrence in Restoration plays). Ismeron is described by the character list as ‘a Conjuror’ and his role in this scene is to raise a spirit to interpret Zempoalla’s dreams. Structurally and scenically there is a direct comparison here with Act 2.1 in The Indian Emperour where a high priest summons several spirits for Montezuma. In that play a scene change is stated by a heading that reads ‘SCENE, The Magitians Cave’, so, reading back, a cave setting is the logical choice for the parallel scene in The Indian Queen.

Confirmation is unnecessary in this case, but it is interesting to note that an eighteenth-century edition of Purcell’s semi-operatic version of the play includes the following stage direction, ‘Zempoalla at the Cave of Ismeron’, which indicates a stage tradition for the opera at least.[7] There is no indication in The Indian Emperor that the cave needs to be anything other than a shutter setting. In that play, Montezuma and the High Priest are directed to enter the scene and the action is focussed on the priest’s conjurations of no less than five spirits using probably three trapdoors on the main scenic stage. A relieve setting of a cave in The Indian Emperor would be possible, its single appearance follows an act break, but it is not specifically indicated. In The Indian Queen, however, the direction for a character to be ‘asleep in the Scene’ and the lack of a stated entrance for him suggest, on first view, a disclosure brought about by a shutter discovery; a possibility that needs to be examined in some detail.

The simplest solution to this first difficulty with the LIF model’s operation is to suggest that Ismeron is offstage behind the wings when Zempoalla enters at the start of the scene. She gestures to his ‘dismal cell’ offstage and summons him with her calls and stamps, as directed, and Ismeron enters sleepily on his first line. This solution, while perfectly practicable does, however, work on the assumption that there is a missing entrance for Ismeron. Ordinarily I would be loath to make such an assumption; while exits go astray fairly regularly in early modern playbooks, missing entrances are rarer.[8] The published text of The Indian Queen is, however, not free from some surprising omissions and other oddities in its stage directions.

One very pertinent omission is a missing entrance (or rather omission from a stated tableau) that occurs at the very start of the scene in question. Zempoalla’s general, Traxalla, and her captives the Ynca and his daughter Orazia are not included in the stage direction that heads Act 3.1, yet they must be present because they all have lines in the ensuing dialogue. Moreover, in Act 4.2 a stage direction ‘Orazia comes back’ is repeated on the same page, once in its correct position according to the action and 15 lines earlier. This may be a simple error, or it may be that the typesetter confused a promptbook ‘ready’ call for Orazia with her subsequent entrance and repeated the stage direction.[9]

This raises the possibility that ‘Ismeron asleep’ is promptbook connected (a reminder to the prompter perhaps, rather than a ready call) certainly it does not follow the usual wording for a discovery usually indicated by ‘discovers’, ‘appears’, ‘draws off’, ‘scene opens’ or their variants, as seen elsewhere in this play and many others. There is perhaps, though, a better reason why the conjuration scene might not have started with a discovery. As noted above, the focus in this scene is on action downstage of the shutter line with Ismeron’s conjuration of the God of Dreams and singing spirits. Opening the scene with a discovery provides no dramaturgical advantage; in fact its effect would be precisely the opposite. In the very next scene a backshutter discovery of a sleeping figure is specifically called for when at the start of Act 4 ‘The Scene opens and discovers Montezuma sleeping in Prison.’ This is the first use of a prison setting and the dramatic effect of seeing the play’s hero incarcerated could only be lessened by the clumsy repetition of a scenic effect seen a short while before. For these reasons I am unwilling to accept that the stage direction at the start of Act 3.2 offers firm evidence for successive discovery scenes.[10]

Whatever the nature of the cave setting, the interval at the end of Act 3 permits any necessary scenic reshuffling and Act 4 begins with the prison relieve. It would not be necessary, though, to go to the expense of a complete setting. Instead of specially made prison wings (costlier than a backscene), the cave wings from the previous scene could remain standing. The combination of rocky wings and gloomy recess would furnish a more than sufficient representation of a prison in a non-European, hence savage, country.

The prison relieve is now followed by the Indian Country shutters and Act 4 ends. The interval permits the prison relieve to be struck and replaced with the final and most spectacular setting of the whole play and Act 5 duly opens with a discovery of ‘the Temple of the Sun all of Gold.’ In sum, there are no further difficulties after Ismeron’s entrance and the play ends with a sequence easily handled by the LIF model: two relieve scenes separated by a shutter scene.

The associated shutter change diagram provides a visual representation of the staging solution discussed. (The purpose of this diagram is to show how the play could be staged using the LIF model; neither this nor similar diagrams are proffered as recoveries of original stagings.) The table is structured according to scenic demand per act and scene; thus the first column shows the two scenes in Act 1, the second the three scenes in Act 2 and so on; note that the last column shows the last two acts. The arrangement of backshutters and relieve settings are shown for each scene.

In this simplified diagram the audience is to be imagined south looking north towards the backscene area, which comprises three backshutter grooves downstage of a relieve/discovery space. Dashed lines represent individual shutter settings; these are either closed over the scene (continuous line) or withdrawn to each side (broken lines). Wavy lines represent the potentially more complex relieve settings.[11] To make it easier to read, in each scene the scenery currently in view is shown in red. This and other similar diagrams show only backscene changes. Here and elsewhere I argue for the use of generic wings on grounds of cost and practical stage management. Nevertheless, similar operations are to be imagined for the management of wing changes.

[1] Pepys, Diary, 1 Feb 1664; Evelyn, Diary and Correspondence (1620-1704), ed. William Bray, 1 vol. (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1948) [1818], p. X  (5 Feb 1664 )

[2] Robert Howard, Four New Plays (London: H. Herringman, 1665), p. 140.

[3] Flecknoe’s Love’s Kingdom has a prologue ‘Spoken by Venus from the Clouds’ (sig. A4v). This does not necessarily demand flying but the point is perhaps moot as the 1664 edition bears a title page defiantly declaring the play to be “Not as it was Acted at the Theatre near Lincoln’s-Inn, but as it was written and since corrected”. Certain pre-Restoration plays, notably Hamlet, which received Restoration revivals demand trapdoors. Flying was probably not seen at LIF until November 1664 (ten months after The Indian Queen) when the prompter John Downes records that Davenant’s adaptation of Macbeth was staged complete with ‘flyings for the Witches’ (Roscius Anglicanus, p. 71).

[4] California Dryden, vol. 8, p. 315.

[5] Indian Queen, p. 153.

[6] Indian Queen, p. 157.

[7] Henry Purcell, The Indian Queen (London: B. Goodison, 1790), p. 28.

[8] Getting actors onstage at the appropriate time is theatrically more important than getting them off; once on, actors will know when they must exit. Missing entrances are rare, but there are three for instance in the first edition of James Shirley’s The Maid’s Revenge (London: W. Cooke, 1639, sigs. C4r, D4v, G1r).

[9] This would be short warning, but the promptbook for Edward Howard’s The Change of Crowns (BS 1667) has a similar 15 line warning (see Langhans, Restoration Promptbooks, p. 122).

[10] Or to propose an unmarked closure of suitable shutters mid-way through Act 3.1, e.g. after the exeunt of all but the Queen and her son after line 57.

[11] In practice this could also be a simple discovery of actors with no additional scenery downstage of the backcloth.

The Indian Emperour (staging)

By John Dryden (March? 1665; pub.1667)

The following is best read in conjunction with the associated scenery plot and shutter diagram, and after reading my analysis of The Indian Queen.

There are no particular staging problems with the first three acts of The Indian Emperour (sic). Referring to the scenery plot the scenes follow in an expected order. Act 1 uses the ‘Indian Country’ (shutter) and ‘Temple’ (relieve) scenes discussed in the Indian Queen pages. Act 2 uses three shutter scenes: ‘The Magitian’s Cave’, a camp and the ‘Indian Country’ again. Of these only the camp setting is not specified in the play. There is no particular need for a camp here; the only need is to distinguish this locale from the battle scene (scene 3).

Cydaria (Montezuma’s daughter) is attempting to prevent a battle between her father’s forces and the Spanish invaders led by Cortez. Cortez is in love with Cydaria and has agreed to meet her in this unspecified locale. For obvious reasons it cannot be the Indian Country, the setting specified for the battle. The full camp setting – wings and backshutters – would also be odd for similar reasons, but a combination of the two settings would present an ideal solution. The camp shutters, therefore, can be used with the Indian Country wings to suggest a locale near both the Mexican camp and the battlefield. For the next scene, therefore, the wings will remain standing while the backshutters change.

The sequence in Act 3 is ‘Chamber Royal’ (relieve), ‘A Camp’ (shutter), Indian Country (shutter). As argued on another page, the chamber setting, while not specified in The Indian Queen, fits that play well where it would have to be a relieve. Dryden and Killigrew would have been seeking to reduce expenditure in the follow-up, so its use here is logical and causes no difficulties. I argue below that Dryden’s experimentation did demand some new scenery, including a shutter setting of the chamber that could alternatively be used here, but using a relieve setting in this act avoids the need for a mid-act backshutter replacement, which is the preferred option.

The passage involving Orbellan in Cortez’s tent (lines 21–46) demonstrates how stage action can be realistically integrated with the scenery, despite some commentators’ claims to the contrary. The wings represent tents, Cortez invites the fleeing Orbellan to hide in his tent – that is, to exit via a wing passageway and stand offstage – and when Orbellan’s pursuers have exited, Cortez invites him back on to the stage.

The last scene is an exterior setting somewhere in the city of Mexico. Taking a cue from The Adventures of Five Hours and other plays specifying urban exteriors, some kind of street setting would be a good fit here. If so, this would need to be a new scene as there is no similar setting used in The Indian Queen and a setting of a European street would be out of kilter with the evident production values. This is the fourth wing setting in the act, so the chamber wings would be replaced with street wings earlier, while the camp (and/or country) settings were in view, all that would be needed would be to ensure that one or both of those settings were in more forward positions in the grooves.

Act 4 is where difficulties arise. Initially scenic demand in the act seems moderate. It calls for three settings: a prison, a Royal chamber and a woodland grotto. On closer inspection, however, the demand is not so straightforward. The first scene is stated to be ‘A Prison’, but it is difficult to determine its nature. The first stage direction is for two characters to enter talking, but a few lines later directly after the line ‘See where he sleeps’ there is a second direction, ‘Cortez appears Chain’d and laid asleep.’[1] The fact that the actor playing Cortez both ‘appears’ and is ‘asleep’ strongly suggests that this is a discovery, similar in fact to the prison discovery in the earlier play involving Montezuma. The alternative of thrusting on a bed with the sleeping Cortez is not in keeping with the tenor of the scene and the level of technical accomplishment demonstrated elsewhere in the play.

If the discovery occurs on the relevant line, as would appear to be the case, what then was the scenery at the start of the act? There are two possibilities: either, unusually, the Mexico (street) shutters remain standing at the start of the act and open on the direction, or the act starts with a different set of shutters. Neither of these options is immediately attractive: the former involves disparity between fictional and theatrical locations; while the latter would involve a financial investment for a new shutter setting that would stand for five lines. [2] Cost, however, would be less of an issue if there were opportunities to reuse such a new prison shutter later in the play. We can return to this point after examining further scenic demand in the act.

The next piece of scenic information comes at the end of the prison scene. Cortez is alone on stage, downstage of the backshutter line. We know that because after a short soliloquy there is the stage direction, ‘Goes in and the Scene closes upon him.’ In other words, after his monologue he turns and walks upstage into the relieve area and the backshutters close over him. This seems straightforward enough, but the second scene in Act 4 is specified as ‘Chamber Royal’, which previously we determined was a relieve setting. Again, there are two possibilities: either a new shutter setting of a Royal chamber closes over Cortez, or something like a prison door shutter closes momentarily over the scene before the next scene starts. This latter solution is favoured by Holland who posits that at this juncture Cortez ‘literally and symbolically re-enters prison’.[3] While this is a nice point, Holland does not fully work through the mechanics of his suggested staging. However, were we to take up this suggestion by showing a prison door closing, we would have another instance of the momentary use of a shutter scene to perform a kind of scenic tidying-up. Again, however, we need to ask the question whether the extra expense would be justified in a production that is seeking to gain as much profit as possible from its reuse of scenery from another play. Already we have identified the need for an extra shutter setting of a Mexican street and what must be a shutter version of the chamber setting; would another shutter setting be justified? We cannot answer that question, so the best way to proceed is to offer two staging solutions for different budgets, with and without extra shutters.

The third scene of Act 4 is a dramatically superfluous discovery that nevertheless offers an opportunity for spectacle and a musical interlude: ‘A pleasant Grotto discover’d: in it a Fountain spouting; round about it Vasquez, Pizarro, and other Spaniards lying carelesly un-arm’d, and by them many Indian Women, one of which Sings the following Song.’[4] This tableau would fill the relieve area to its limit, depending on how one interprets the size of the fountain and the number of supernumeraries. Actually a packed relieve area works to the model’s advantage for I propose that the grotto scene would be another composite setting. This time the prison relieve setting plus the Indian Country wings, at least two of which represented trees, as explained at the start of the Indian Queen analysis.

The rationale for this choice attends both to theatrical contingencies and to a description of the grotto in the previous scene when a messenger reports that the Spaniards ‘securely lye’ about ‘cool Grottoes’ shaded by ‘Bowers’.[5] This solution presupposes that the prison relieve has no associated scenery, it is simply a gloomy recess whose character is determined by its partnering wings, properties and of course stage action: cave wings and chains in the prison scenes, and tree wings, fountain, singing and dancing in the grotto scene. The fountain, might have been a working prop using real water – the song draws attention to its ‘Murmuring sound’ – but if not the illusion could be created.6[6] Whether working or not this large property would be best flown in or rise and descend via a trapdoor mechanism. For reasons that will become clear later I am opting for the latter. The tableau containing the fountain and the actors must be prepared behind some covering scene. I have already suggested that the production would need a shutter setting of a Royal chamber and, in the LIF model at least, this discovery would seem to confirm its use in the second scene.

Now follows what appears to be the most problematic of any stage direction in either ‘Indian’ play. Directly following the grotto discovery is another that opens the fourth scene: ‘A Prison./ Cortez discovered, bound by one Foot, Almeria talking with him.’[7] This apparent successive discovery would indeed be insoluble had we not explored the act’s scenic structure sequentially and in detail in relation to the LIF model. By using the prison relieve for the grotto setting the prison in scene four is essentially already on stage and may be discovered by one of two means. If we suppose that the production budget ran to a separate prison shutter to be used momentarily for covering purposes then this is another ideal opportunity for its use. Alternatively, we could propose something radically different to anything so far encountered and suggest that the fountain itself acts as a screen that has concealed Cortez and Almeria all the way through the third scene. At the end of the grotto scene the stage is cleared (following the stage direction ‘Exeunt Omnes’), the wings change to the cave setting and the fountain descends via a trapdoor, discovering Cortez, Almeria and the prison setting as it does so.

This solution, together with the related options noted above – the Mexican Street remaining on stage at the start of the act and chamber shutters closing over Cortez – has a cost advantage and is highly efficient with theatrical resources, but it is nowhere hinted at in the text. The use of what we might call a cover shutter, however, has been hinted at on two occasions – the start of Act 4.1 with its delayed discovery and at the end of the same scene when the backshutters close over Cortez. In addition such a scenic cover would provide an excellent means of effecting the successive discoveries of the grotto and the prison, as I have noted. This is the solution recorded in the scenery plot, but the simpler alternative may also be viewed on this site (to be added).

All in all, while the proposed scenic operations for Act 4 are complicated, the actual scenic demand is less than might be expected. Following the above solution, the act needs only two shutter scenes (prison and chamber), three wing scenes (cave, chamber, country) and one relieve (prison). Act 5 demands only two settings, the ‘Chamber Royal’ shutters and the ‘Prison’ relieve, but it is not without difficulties. The first occurs at the start of the act and its scene heading: ‘The Chamber Royal, an Indian Hamock discover’d in it.’ Were this to be yet another relieve scene there would be a problem, because the next scene, set again in the prison, probably uses large properties in the relieve area. So far in this play, the Chamber Royal relieve setting from The Indian Queen has not been used, and I see no reason why it should be here. At the start of the act the chamber shutters close over the prison relieve, which has been left open during the act break, and a hammock is flown in quickly and easily from the flies. The hammock appears to be in the scene purely for aesthetic reasons, there is no further reference to it, nor is it involved in stage action.

The last scene in the play returns us to the prison and its instruments of torture. The wording of the scene heading may suggest a discovered tableau: ‘A Prison./ Montezuma, Indian High Priest bound, Pizarro, Spaniards with Swords drawn, a Christian Priest.’ What seems likely is that the racks used to torture Montezuma and the High Priest would be set prior to the start of the scene in the relieve space, but as the Spanish soldiers are commanded by Pizarro to tie the prisoners to the racks and they evidently move towards them, as is indicated by the stage direction, ‘They fasten them to the racks, and then pull them’, the heading may also mark a simple entrance, probably from a wing passageway.

The last spatio-scenic aspect of the play that needs to be discussed does not involve scenery, but rather the use of a balcony and a forestage wall. Montezuma has been freed from the rack and his daughter Cydaria has been removed to a nearby tower (in the castle) by Cortez for her protection. There is now much action involving a balcony, representing the tower, and its associated door. Fictionally the action has removed to the tower, its entrance and the area immediately around it; theatrically all that is required is for the actors to move downstage from the scenic area onto the forestage. The prison relieve, its racks and the cave wings remain standing and there is no need for any scene change.

[1] Indian Emperour, p. 37.

[2] In Act 1.1 Mexico is described as ‘The City on the Lake’ (p. 2) and in Act 3.4 the prison is described as being in ‘the Castle on the Lake’ (p. 36). Fictionally, then, the prison may be within the city and the street setting might not be as anomalous as it first appears. In any case, there is no doubt that what would be perceived nowadays as spatial disparity or anomaly was tolerated by Restoration audiences. There is a danger of dwelling on things in the study not readily noticed in performance and this solution remains a possibility.

[3] Peter Holland, Ornament of Action, p. 37.

[4] Indian Emperour, p. 45.

[5] Indian Emperour, p. 43.

[6] Indian Emperour, p. 45. For possible use of real water see Derek Forbes, “Water Drama” in Performance and Politics in Popular Drama: Aspects of Popular Entertainment in Theatre, Film and Television, 1800-1976, ed. David Bradby et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), p. 91. The theatre architect Nicolo Sabbatini shows a method for reproducing the effect of real water in his Pratica di fabricar scene e machine ne’ teatri (1638); see Barnard Hewitt, The Renaissance Stage: Documents of Serlio, Sabbattini and Furtenbach (Florida: University Of Miami Press, 1958), pp. 145-6.

[7] Indian Emperour, p. 47.

The Amorous Prince (staging)

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”.

  1. London: Thomas Dring, 1671, front matter.
  2. Thesis, op cit p.170.
  3. 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.
  4. Op cit p.36, 38, 53 respectively.
  5. Ibid. p.43.
  6. Ibid. p.62.

Cambyses (staging)

By Elkanah Settle (January 1671; pub. 1671)

Of all the plays in the first period of LIF production this is the most complex in terms of its demand on theatre resources. In comparison with his rival, Killigrew, Davenant appears to have been reluctant to use stage machinery: there is little recourse to it before Cambyses (Davenant died in 1668).[1] Aside from some special effects, the scenery in Cambyses is varied without demanding anything other than stock settings. The play is notable, however, for its use of spectacle. Despite Settle’s apparent heavy reliance on scenes and machines there was a production of this fashionable new play at a scenically impoverished university venue at Oxford in July, 1671. Settle’s prologue for this occasion, “Spoken by Betterton in a riding habit”, wittily draws attention to the lack of theatrical resources:

But then our House wants ornament and Scene,
Which the chief grandeur of a Play maintain,
But to excuse this want, we must confess,
We are but Travellers in a riding dress.[2]

Despite the lack of ‘ornaments’ on this occasion, it would seem that the play was still the thing for a university audience.

Scenically the most distinctive feature of the play is the use of the relieve space. There are no less that six discoveries in the play, more than any production by either company until 1673 (one uses the front curtain).[3] Three of these are for special effect, revealing, in order, a dead body, a spectacular dream sequence (curtain), and the descent of flying spirits. This use of discoveries and special effects marks a change from standard LIF practice and points to future spectacle at Dorset Garden. Demanding as it is, however, the play does not require anything qualitatively different from resources demanded by other LIF plays.

Although calling for a minimum of seven different settings the scenery plot is relatively straightforward. Indeed, although Settle’s stage directions are ample and descriptive, they reveal an economy of means. Only Act 3 calls for more than three shutter settings. In the LIF model all this requires is for the palace of 3.1 to be replaced with the walk or garden of 3.3 while the camp shutters of 3.2 are in view. Similarly, the discovery in 2.2 moves the action swiftly on (like a film edit), allowing Settle to reveal a well populated stage without having to wait for the actors to get into position: “The Scene open’d appears Smerdis seated on a Throne, attended by Guards, and other Attendants”.[4]

Perhaps, though, the best example of this theatrical acumen has previously been misread. Settle directs the curtain to fall at the end of Act 3, but there is no corresponding direction for it to be raised at the start of Act 4. Langhans suggests that Settle made an error in including this curtain direction, but if we consider the disposition of the stage at this point a likely solution emerges. What the scenery plot makes very clear is that Act 3 ends with a discovery scene in view and Act 4 starts with another. The sequence of events is as follows. The 3.4 discovery reads, “The Scene opens, and on a Table appears the Body of Osiris, beheaded; & an Executioner with the suppos’d head in a vessel of blood”.[5] There then follows sixty or so lines of dialogue and the act ends with the direction, “The Curtain Falls”.[6]

Act 4 starts as follows. The Scene drawn, Cambyses is discover’d seated in a Chair sleeping: The Scene representing a steep Rock, from the top of which descends a large Cloud, which opening, appear various shapes of Spirits seated in form of a Councel, to whom a more glorious Spirit descends half way, seated on a Throne; at which, the former Spirits rise and Dance: In the midst of the Dance arises a Woman with a Dagger in her hand; at which the Scene shuts.[7]

If we follow Langhans and assume the curtain direction is erroneous, two sets of shutter grooves become necessary because the next stage direction evidently still has Cambyses onstage: “Cambyses rises from his Chair, as newly waking, and seems disorder’d”.[8] This solution (two shutter positions) is precisely Langhans’s thesis, so he does not seek alternative explanations. However, the whole sequence is explicable in the LIF model if we take the playwright at his word.

In this simpler interpretation, the curtain falls at the end of 3.4 on an exposed discovery scene with the shutters still open. During the Act music, Cambyses gets into position sitting in his chair on the scenic stage but, crucially, downstage of the shutters. Meanwhile, the stagehands set a backcloth scene picturing the steep rock described in the stage direction (obviously, this is the final scenic element) and clear the rest of the space behind the shutters to allow freedom of movement for the descending machines in the dream sequence. Thus, at the start of Act 4 the curtain rises on Cambyses who is sitting downstage of the shutter line with the steep rock scenery far upstage in the relieve area, and the dream scene begins. At the end of the dream, the shutters close leaving Cambyses alone on stage. While this fully explains the general sequence of events, there are still some details to clear up.

First, as noted, the opening direction of Act 4 does not state that the front curtain rises. However, it may be that because it is so obvious that the curtain needs to rise at the start of the act it was omitted. There are such omissions of obvious stage directions elsewhere in LIF plays. In The Adventures of Five Hours, for example, Tuke omits a direction for actors to exit a balcony, providing only a direction for them to re-enter. There is a slight suggestion that “The Scene drawn” may refer to the front curtain, because in four of the six discoveries Settle refers to the scene ‘opening’. However, this is not true of 5.1, which also uses ‘draws’, and is unlikely to refer to a curtain. Either way, then, some kind of textual slip is implied. However, as the scene works so well on the much simpler LIF model, I would argue that a direction is more likely to have been omitted, rather than added in error.

The second detail is the question of where the spirits and the armed woman dance. Langhans thinks on the stage, but as no exit is provided for the dancers, I imagine that what was witnessed at LIF was more likely to have been stately gyrations on the flying machine. Although this may seem a surprising suggestion, the use of flying machines both here and in Act 5 is remarkably similar to the flying sequences in Davenant and Jones’s Caroline masque Salmacida Spolia. In that production, it will be recalled, no less than ten masquers descended on a great cloud. There does not need to be so many in Cambyses, and it would be perfectly possible for the council members to rise and start some gentle movements to music before a crouching actor rises in their midst.

It is clear from both flying sequences that two lifting machines were used. Langhans finds evidence in Bridges Street plays for two types of machine, heavy and light, or as Dryden’s The Rival Ladies (BS, 1664) puts it: “Venus and Ceres descend in the slow Machines; Ceres drawn by Dragons, Venus by Swans. After them Phoebus and Mercury descend in swift Motion.” [9]

That LIF had a heavy/slow machine is evident from stage directions in The Humerous Lovers (1667), including, “Venus and Cupid descending while the Song is singing”.[10] Significantly, three verses are needed to cover this action and later four verses while they ascend. Langhans observes that Bridges Street was a step ahead of LIF in terms of machines. The only other possible uses of lifting/flying machines at LIF before The Humerous Lovers are not certain and could be scenic effects – a rising sun in The Play-house to be Let, and a rising moon in The Adventures of Five Hours – or might not have been performed as stated in the text: Venus speaking the prologue “from the Clouds” in Love’s Kingdom. Compared to Killigrew, Davenant seems to have eschewed spectacle and machines, and it is perhaps significant that Cambyses, the most spectacular of LIF plays, was not produced until three years after Davenant’s death. With Cambyses the new LIF management seems to have been determined to trounce Killigrew on his own ground.

Applying the heavy/light machine hypothesis to Cambyses it would make sense in Act 4 for the council members to be flown on a heavy lifting machine, and the glorious spirit on a lighter machine behind the plane of the first. A similar arrangement of heavy and light machines is indicated later. In Act 5 a solitary spirit first descends and speaks, there is passage of covering dialogue and music while the spirit ascends, then two more spirits appear: “Here two glorious Spirits descend in Clouds”. The interval between the appearances of these two sets of spirits may suggest that the same machine was used, but it would not allow much time for the new spirits to get into position, nor crucially for the clouds (presumably lacking in the first sequence) to be affixed. Instead, I suggest that the first spirit is flown in on the light machine. The covering dialogue is then for the heavy machine, which is presumably slower and takes time to descend. In a further display of spectacle, a bloody cloud is flown down to mask these two spirits, while actors representing two ghosts take their places:

The Song ended, the Musick turns into an Alarm, at which a bloody Cloud interposes between the Audience and the Spirits; and being immediately remov’d, the Ghosts of Cambyses, and the true Smerdis appear in the seats of the former Spirits.[11]

This play pushes LIF facilities to the limits and the space behind the shutters must have been quite cramped. The whole spirits sequence starts with a discovery scene (5.3): “The Scene open’d, appears a Temple of the Sun, uncover’d according to the Antient Custome, with an Altar in the middle, bearing two large burning Tapers; and on each side a Priest standing”. Some lines later we get the descending spirit sequence discussed above. This means that we may divide the relieve area into at least three planes: first, nearest the shutters, the altar and priests, next the plane of the light flying machine, then the heavy machine plane nearest the backcloth. The cloud is simply a scenic item and would be flown in using the light machine for it to interpose between altar and spirits. Alternatively, there is a possibility that it could have been a drop curtain, which would make this the first example of such on the public stage.

Two final points remain. It is likely that the ‘private walk’ called for at 3.3 also doubled as the garden in 4.3 and 4.4, there being no need to differentiate theatrically between the two settings. This play is notable for the number of times acting is specifically directed in the scenic area. This raises the probability of lights affixed to available positions within the scenic area, such as to sconces on the rear of wing frames.

[1] See Langhans, ‘Notes on the Reconstruction of the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre’, Theatre Notebook, vol.10, no.4, 1956, p.114; and Lewcock, Computer Analysis 1, op cit pp.26-7.
[2] Ibid. pp.418-19.
[3] In 1673 Settle outdoes himself by offering no less than eight discoveries in his Dorset Garden play The Empress of Morocco. As this play includes one of the first examples of a double, or successive, discovery, one longs to know whether it was performed in its published state at its première at Court on the Hall stage. It was probably simplified as the Oxford prologue to the earlier play suggests.
[4] London: William Cademan, 1671, p.18.
[5] Ibid. p.47.
[6] Ibid. p.48.
[7] Ibid p.49.
[8] Ibid.
[9] See Langhans, Thesis, op cit pp.77-8; Rival Ladies, London: Herringman, 1664, p.34.
[10] London: Herringman, 1677, p.28.
[11] Ibid. p.75.