Sir Martin Mar-All (staging)

by John Dryden and  William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle  (August 1667; pub.1668)

This play was hugely popular with LIF audiences – Pepys saw it at least seven times – and it was chosen by the Duke’s Company to open their new theatre at Dorset Garden in 1671. The first quarto of 1668 was revised by Dryden as it was going through the press and some copies include a scene at the end of Act 1 that Dryden cut.[1] Otherwise, there are no changes affecting the staging. The staging is as masterful as the plot and, while supremely economical, makes brilliant use of the LIF resources. This is exemplified by the most memorable scene in the play in which the foolish Martin, who cannot play a note, mimes a serenade in one balcony to Millisent in the opposite. Martin silently grimaces and fumbles while his man Warner does the playing and singing behind him; the joke, of course, is that Martin who always ‘mars all’ soon gets out of synchronization and ruins the effect. The stage directions and dialogue for this scene are particularly interesting and give a clear picture of the original staging:

Warn.
Go to, you are an invincible Fool I see; get up into/ your Window, and set two Candles by you, take my Land-lords/ Lute in your hand, and fumble on’t, and make grimmaces with/ your mouth, as if you sung; in the mean time. I’ll play in the/ next: Room in the dark, and consequently your Mistress, who will/ come to her Balcone over against you, will think it to be you;/ and at the end of every Tune, I’ll ring the Bell that hangs between/  your Chamber and mine, that you may know what to / have done.
[…]

Rose.
And see, Madam, where your true Knight Sir Martin is/ plac’d yonder like Apollo, with his Lute in his hand and his Rays/ about his head. Sir Martin appears at the adverse Window, a Tune play’d; when it is done, Warner rings, and Sir Martin holds.
[…]

The Song being done, Warner rings agen; but Sir Martin continues fumbling, and gazing on his Mistress.[2]

There is no doubt that the whole point of this staging is its wonderful symmetry, with the cross-stage opposition of the balconies being fully exploited: “over against” and “adverse” both being Restoration terms for ‘opposite’.[3] Montague Summers thought three balconies were needed for this scene, but typically he does not say why.[4] One can only assume that he took Warner’s reference to “the next room” to imply another balcony. It would indeed be possible to stage the scene using three balconies, and this may have been done at Dorset Garden, but there is nothing to be gained by having Warner in view and the LIF-related text emphasises Warner’s obscurity.

We can turn to a non-theatre-related diary entry from Pepys to clear up another misconception about Restoration theatre balconies. References in play texts to balconies and windows often appear to be undifferentiated. For example, in the scene reproduced above Warner tells Martin to “get up into your Window”, while in the same speech he says that Millisent will “come to her Balcone”. On 19 May 1661, Pepys and his friend Captain Ferrers having visited a local inn made their way to Lord Sandwich’s house, where they “sat talking and laughing in the drawing room”. Ferrers tells Pepys that he dearly wants to go to sea again and the diarist (who worked in the Navy office) gives him “some hopes”, whereupon:

he grew so mad with joy that he fell a-dancing and leaping like a madman. Now it fell out that the balcone windows were open, and he went to the rayle and make an offer to leap over…I shut the doors, and W. Howe hindered him all we could; yet he opened them again, and, with a vault, leaps down into the garden.

This entry, which reads like an episode from a LIF play, should finally put the matter to rest. It is clearly the case that a drawing room of a fashionable Restoration London house might well have had large, probably shuttered (“the doors”), windows that led onto a railed balcony. It seems perfectly logical, therefore, that Restoration theatres should reflect this arrangement. The last word on this should go to the aptly named Thomas Blount whose Glossographia of 1661 states: “balcone: a bay window, much used in our new buildings, and therefore needs no further explanation”.[5]

Although Dryden provides no scene headings beyond the general setting of Covent Garden given at the end of the character list, the scenic locations are simple to infer, switching as they do between a Covent Garden street setting (as in Love in a Tub and The Humorous Lovers) and a fashionable room setting representing the house of Lady Dupe. This said, one or two scenes appear to be topographically neutral, and in these cases care needs to be taken to draw the correct inference. An example of this is 4.1, which at first sight could be set indoors or out, but a close reading reveals that the line “we are just below the Window” only makes sense if Warner and Martin are conferring on the street under Millisent’s balcony.

The oppositional stage picture brilliantly exploited by Dryden in the balcony scene is used again in 2.2, which is set in Dupe’s house. Warner is secretly conveying a message to Millisent when Martin’s rival Sir John is unexpectedly heard returning. In true farce style Millisent ushers Warner behind the opposite stage door. Of course, Sir John needs something from behind that door, but Millisent quick-wittedly comes to the rescue with a clever fib and Sir John leaves on a fool’s errand. After peeping from behind the door, Warner makes a tentative re-entrance and the pair resumes plotting only for Sir John to return on the instant having forgotten something. Pure farce plotting, but neither here nor anywhere else in the play are more than two practicable doors to be inferred. However, a street setting allows wing entrances/exits to be used in a convincingly realistic fashion – characters entering/exiting from other ‘streets’ – and Dryden appears to make full use of this at several points in the play. The clearest example comes at the end of the balcony scene quoted above. There is a “Noise within” and Millisent in the balcony with her maid asks Rose to see what the matter is. Rose replies:

’Tis Sir John Swallow pursu’d by the Bailiffs, Madam,/ according to our Plot; it seems they have dogg’d him thus late/ to his Lodging.
[…]

(Ex. Millisent, Rose.

Enter Sir John pursu’d by three Bailiffs over the Stage. [6]

The balconies and their doors have just been used to represent the houses of Martin and Lady Dupe which face each other across the stage, and Sir John has been out to find a parson. His entrance, therefore, cannot be from anywhere but the scenic area – the London streets. The sudden switch from action in the two balconies across the empty space of the stage to the dramatic entrance in its middle exemplifies Dryden’s brilliant exploitation of the LIF stage.


[1] For a full account see the California Dryden, vol.9, p.356 & pp.432-6.
[2] London: Herringman, 1668, pp.53-6.
[3] For other examples see Pepys 17 & 28 May 1661, 7 Nov 1667, 12 May 1669.
[4] Restoration Theatre, p.129.  John Styan amplifies Summer’s misconception in Restoration Comedy in Performance,Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986, p.26.
[5] Glossographia, op cit.
[6] Op cit p.56.

The Humorous Lovers (staging)

by William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle (Mar. 1667; pub. 1677)

Dawn Lewcock omits this play from her analysis of Restoration plays, presumably on the grounds that there is a ten-year gap between the first performance and the first edition.[1] There are quibbles over authorship, with Dryden, Shadwell, or Shirley claimed by some commentators to have helped Cavendish, but as Judith Milhous & Robert Hume point out, a degree of collaboration in preparing a play for the stage was normal at the time.[2] After examining the play’s attribution, they conclude, “we are inclined to accept the title page attribution [to Cavendish] without question”.[3]

Confidence in the play’s provenance is important as The Humorous Lovers provides the first definite reference to a lifting machine at LIF. As noted elsewhere on this site, it is possible that the actress delivering the prologue for Flecknoe’s Love’s Kingdom was flown in, and that the rising sun and moon, respectively, in The Play-House to be Let and The Adventures of Five Hours were dynamic special effects, but in each case there are doubts about how the intended effect was achieved. There are no doubts about The Humorous Lovers, and Lewcock’s claim, “the Duke’s Company only used ‘flying’ once and then not until Cambyses on 10th January 1671”, looks a consequence of her limited remit.[4]

The lifting machine makes it appearance in 5.2, which is set intriguingly in “the Theatre”. Courtly has proposed to the foppish Sir Anthony Altalk that he gets up a private performance of a masque on the subject of Venus and Cupid to inflame the objects of their desire, the poetry loving Emilia and Lady Pleasant. All attend the theatre and after Sir Anthony has made his final arrangements the masque is performed. The stage directions concerning the stage machine are unequivocal and are worth reproducing in full: “The Mask begins, Venus and Cupid descending while the Song is singing”, “Venus and Cupid are landed on the Stage”, “A Song in the Musick Room. Venus and Cupid Ascending”.[5] Webb does not indicate the position for any lifting device in his Hall drawings, but the Salmacida Spolia plan and section, which he drew for Inigo Jones, show the cloud machine for that production positioned between the second and third wings with a winch under the stage. On the LIF stage the lifting machine for The Humorous Lovers would probably have been similarly positioned, that is, between the front curtain and the backshutters.

Another interesting feature of this play is the theatrical couching of the scene headings. Unlike the majority of headings encountered so far, interior scenes refer to stock items of scenery rather than to fictional locations. So, instead of Emilia’s house, or Furrs’s, or Hood’s we get, “A Dyning Room” or “A Chamber”, with these two settings serving the houses of all three characters. This is a form of the scenic doubling that is discussed in relation to promptbook notation in Boyle’s Guzman. In this case, however, the scenery is apparently distributed according to socio-economic status. The house of the fashionable Emilia and Lady Pleasant is represented by the dining room; the house of the well-to-do humours character, Furrs, gets two settings – the dining room and the more homely (presumably) chamber – while the house of the old school-mistress, Hood, is represented by the chamber.

Cavendish’s part digestion of scenic dramaturgy is evident in 3.1, 4.2, and 5.1 when the fictional setting evidently changes mid-scene but no scene change is called for. In 4.2 this might be seen as admirable economy, the scenic backing of a chamber is specified for both houses (Hood’s and Furrs’s) and, as on the platform stage, the entering characters simply bring their location with them. The inverse of this is in the other two scenes when we move from Hood’s to Emilia’s and a scene change is necessary to make sense of previous scene headings. The two other settings called for by Cavendish are “Covent Garden” and “The Mulberry Garden”.

Two of the play’s settings were almost certainly stock items. A chamber could have been supplied from any number of productions, and LIF audiences may well have encountered the Covent Garden setting in Love in a Tub. Surprisingly, though, the dining room was probably new. It may seem a typical stock item but no play, so far, has specifically called for it. Indeed, according to the LION database this is the first reference in English stage directions. The Mulberry Garden is almost certainly a new item. Interestingly, a Mulberry Garden scene is specified the following year in Etherege’s She Would If She Could. The ‘theatre’ setting is undoubtedly LIF itself, as in The Play-House to be Let. While the use of this setting in The Humorous Lovers is unavoidably reflexive to a certain extent, characters in Cavendish’s play never take on the jocular, knowing tone adopted in Davenant’s play.

How the theatre was represented is problematic. Either the audience would have been shown a bare scenic stage with all scenes withdrawn, as I suggest occurred in Davenant’s play, or scenery congruent with the theme of Venus and Cupid would have been arranged. On balance I prefer the latter: the play is very economical in its scenic demands and the addition of masque-type scenery from stock would not have stretched resources. The play can be staged with a total of five settings – street, park, dining room, chamber, ‘theatre’ – and no act needs more than three wing settings. In the scenery plot, however, I propose that the last scene in the play set in Emilia’s house (dining room) incorporates a discovery. This is not marked, but it offers the best solution to a staging demand not seen since The Adventures of Five Hours.

Cavendish’s play also requires that a sedan chair and its occupant be seen on stage, but the text does not state how the chair arrives. At the end of 5.2 (using cleared stages to mark scenes) Courtly announces that the love-sick Colonel had been “perswaded into the next Chamber”; after some short discussion all decide to go and visit him. After this marked exeunt appears the stage direction: “The Colonel in a Chair upon the Stage, and a Servant or two”.[6] Fictionally, Courtly’s party move from one room into another, but how is this staged?  In The Adventures there were clear directions for the chair to be carried on and off, here the chair just materialises. It would be perfectly possible, of course, for the chair to be carried on, as in the earlier play, but it seems to me that the most elegant method of satisfying this direction, and the fictional situation, is simply to arrange for the backshutters to open and reveal the chair; the extra requirement for a single relieve scene of a fashionable room is hardly an objection.

There are several stage directions involving doors and three of these are probably oppositional. Difficulties and ambiguities regarding ‘door’ stage directions are often resolved if one imagines a two-door forestage. From this perspective there is no ambiguity over a direction such as, “Enter the Widow at one door, Courtly at another”.[7] In a couple of scenes involving the draft-fearing Furrs, a door becomes a heated focus of stage action, but only one door is ever involved. A British Library manuscript copy of the play supplies a scene heading for 4.1 missing in the published text. This confirms that the ‘theatre’ setting from 3.2 remains in place for the new act[8].


[1] See, ‘Computer Analysis Of Restoration Staging, 1: 1661-1672’, Theatre Notebook, vol.47, no.1, p.25.
[2] Milhous & Hume, Attribution Problems, p.8.  Citing the example of Congreve’s The Old Bachelor, which Dryden is known to have ‘fixed up’, Milhous & Hume rightly state, “no one attributes that play to ‘Congreve and Dryden’” (ibid.).
[3] Ibid. p.20.
[4] Computer Analysis 1, p.26.
[5]London: Herringman, 1677, pp.28-31.
[6] Ibid. p.51.
[7] Ibid. p.50.
[8] BL Add. MSS 7367.