The English Princess (staging)

by John Caryll (March 1667; pub. 1667)

Caryll’s play shares characters with Shakespeare’s Richard III, principally the King himself. It is, however, not an adaptation but an original drama, which the prologue (after hits on the Spanish plot vogue, French romances, Boyle’s Mustapha, and the ‘Indian’ plays of Dryden and Howard) claims is an “English Treat of homely Fare” based on “plain Holinshead and down-right Stow”.[1] However, as Genest wryly notes, “the greater part of it […] consists of fictitious love scenes”.[2]

It is set prior to the battle of Bosworth Field and a note after the list of characters tells us “The Scenes are laid in the Head-quarters of King Richard, and the Earl of Richmond, when they are in sight of one another”.[3] The first scene heading does not appear until 3.5 – “The Scene changeth to the Earl of Richmond’s Quarters” – so the play up to this point is set in Richard’s headquarters.[4] Thereafter, Caryll provides ample scenic information as the pace of the drama quickens, and he switches among various locations including specific parts of Richard’s headquarters. This bipartite scenic structure reflects the power switch in the drama from the locus of a confident, scheming Richard who is characterised by occasional echoes of a more vital incarnation – “Through Rocks of Opposition this alone/ Pointing to his sword/ Has hew’d my Passage to the craggy Throne” – to narratives centred around the rising star of Richmond, the eponymous Princess Elizabeth, and the love-struck Charlot (Elizabeth’s rival, disguised as a boy and serving as her page).[5] The scenic structure is probably more an effect of narrative than strategy, but Caryll is certainly aware of the dramatic potential of the scenic stage.

The most dramatic scene in the play is its most theatrical. Like Boyle, Caryll directs the curtain to drop mid-act, but this time it rises not on a static tableau involving heavy props, but on a sensational reworking of Shakespeare’s eve-of-Bosworth epiphany: “The Curtain is opened. The King appears in a distracted posture, newly risen from his Bed, walking in his Dream with a dagger in his hand, and surrounded by the Ghosts of those whom he had formerly killed”.[6] The ensuing monologue is a virtuosic set piece for Betterton, with Richard swaggering around the stage confronting the ghosts of Henry VI, Clarence, Queen Ann, and the two princes. At its climax the curtain drops and Act 3 ends.

The six actors on stage, the movement implied by the text, and the intended effect of the scene militate against the use of the relieve space for this discovery. This confirms the use of the relieve area up to this point mainly for special effect discoveries (e.g. The Villain) and small-scale tableaux (The Slighted Maid), with speedy transitions (Mr. Anthony) coming later. Given the inherent drama of this effect, pioneered by Boyle and Caryll, it is surprising that mid-play use of the curtain remains comparatively rare throughout the Restoration period.

The use of the curtain in Act 4 generates two interesting stage directions that have exercised modern commentators: “Enter Catesby, and Ratcliffe at one of the Doors before the Curtain”, and four lines later, “Enter Lovel at the other Door before the Curtain”.[7] Langhans’s suggestion that these directions imply practical doors upstage of the curtain (or both entrances on the same side) is a four-door-theory red herring; these directions are perfectly explicable, natural even, on a stage equipped with one door on each side of the forestage.[8]  The one other use of ‘door’ in stage directions emphasises the point: “Enter King, and Sir W. Stan. habited like Richmond at several doors”.[9] It occurs during the Battle of Bosworth when Richard is searching for his antagonist. On a two-door forestage there is no need to state theatrically the dramatically obvious opposition demanded by this direction.

Although Caryll provides six distinct scenic locations – “Richmond’s Quarters”, “the Princess Lodgings”, “a Field”, “the King’s quarters”, “Bosworth-Field”, and “the Cloister” – once the action moves away from Richard’s headquarters in 3.5 the scene headings are by no means complete. Eleven headings are missing; of these, seven are merely a continuation of the previous scene, but the remaining four are not easy to determine. Part of the explanation for the missing headings, and indeed the quantity of scene numbers, is Caryll’s method of individuating his scenes. Unlike other plays so far discussed, where scenes are marked, or may be inferred by a cleared stage, new scenes in The English Princess occur somewhat idiosyncratically with the exits and entrances of single characters (as in the neoclassical French tradition) as well as with the familiar cleared stage.

The four problematic scenic locations are in Act 5. My scenery plot allocates scenery to these scenes based on Caryll’s stated settings and inferences from dialogue, but two of the missing locations – 5.1 and 5.4 – are contentious. In 5.1 the Stanly brothers are plotting against Richard; therefore the location is unlikely to be Richard’s headquarters. Both men are based in Richard’s camp, so a trip to Richmond’s (as in 4.3) is also unlikely, and the scene is marked to change to the princess’s lodgings in the next scene, which rules out that location. A neutral location near Richard’s camp is required; fortunately, Caryll has already specified such a neutral scene: 4.3 is set in “a Field adjoyning to Richmond’s Quarters”.[10] This setting is not stated to appear again, but it is highly unlikely to be anything other than a standard ‘field’ setting, for reasons both of fictional suitability and theatrical economy, and appears an ideal choice for 5.1.

In both 4.3 and 5.1 Richard’s downfall is plotted, a downfall that will be realised the next time a field setting is called for in 5.6. For 5.6 Caryll specifies “Bosworth-Field”, but a separate field setting is unnecessary. The use of a stock item here and in the other ‘field’ scenes yields a symbolic dividend in that its appearance becomes linked to Richard’s fate.

In 5.4, the other spatially contentious scene, Forrest and his soldiers are effectively guarding the princess’s lodgings. There is no implication of a general ‘camp’ scene, as in Mustapha, and theatrical economy militates against a single instance of such a setting for the short 5.4. The logical choice is to use the king’s headquarters setting, which is likely to be already set in one of the shutter grooves. Fictionally, we may imagine that Elizabeth’s quarters are inside or adjacent to the king’s headquarters. This reading is encouraged by the 5.4 stage direction, “A noise of Swords in the Princess Lodgings”.[11]

The proposed scenery plot preserves scenic variety and makes optimal use of existing settings and the model’s technical capacities. It requires four shutter scenes, one relieve (field), and four wing settings. The King’s HQ and the Princess’s lodgings can share the same tent wings, allowing the setting for Richmond’s HQ to be completely different with no need for any mid-act scene replacement. A curious feature of the play text, shared only by Davenant’s Siege of Rhodes 1, is that scene changes are marked to occur at the ends of acts rather than the start. Langhans suggests this may be indicative of LIF practice at the time, but a publishing or authorial quirk is probably the best explanation.[12]


[1]London: Thomas Dring, 1667, front matter.
[2] English Stage, p.74.
[3] Op cit front matter.
[4] Ibid. p.31.
[5] Ibid. p.26.
[6] Ibid. p.48.
[7] Ibid. p.47.
[8] Thesis, p.269.
[9] Op cit p.57.
[10] Ibid. p.37.
[11] Ibid. p.55.
[12] Thesis, p.309.
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A Witty Combat (staging)

by T.P. (Thomas Porter) (premiere 1663? pub.1663)

If this curious dramatic sketch is by Thomas Porter he did well partially to disguise his name for it shows every sign of being a hastily written piece. The provenance and performance date are problematic. The London Stage notes a copy with a manuscript cast list indicating Duke’s Company actors, but a later authority, Pierre Danchin, gives the place of production (if any) as “private”.[1] Irrespective of the quality of the play, there are some interesting stage directions not the least of which is the only one I know of with first-person content: “Mr. King and his Wife go off and bring Young Carleton and his mother in, the sence of his gross error did transport me”.[2] Ernest Bernbaum has suggested that the play was co-authored by Mary Moders, the real life subject of the play, in which case the second clause of the direction may be an authorial note that crept into the printer’s copy.[3] On April 15, 1664, Pepys reports going to see a play on the same subject, and indeed acted by Moders herself, called The German Princess. Genest had “no doubt” this was the same play as The Witty Combat, but Milhous and Hume are dismissive.[4] This mystery aside, the play has only one explicit scenic direction: “The Scaene of a Cellar is discovered, wherein sits the Cellarman, by him a little Table, with a lighted Candle, and several sorts of Pots about it”.[5] No other settings are stated, though the play makes several uses of the ‘enter as from X’ format familiar from the pre-Civil War stage. The scenes are numbered and the action skips among various locations. A minimal scenic staging that sought to differentiate these locations would need five different settings, namely: a tavern, King’s house (used for different rooms in that house), Carleton’s house, a street, and a cellar (relieve). However, no individual act requires more than three settings and the stated discovery scene is easily accommodated in the model’s relieve space.

The 1.2 dialogue initially seems to place the entering characters, the Parson and Moders, outside the tavern used for 1.1 (scene divisions mine). The Parson has suggested a “Glass of Malligo” and he then seems to notice the tavern, “look ye yonder,/ there is a door open to Comers surely”.[6] No subsequent exit or re-entrance is marked but the pair apparently enter and hail the landlord. This brief episode may exemplify the use of the forestage as a scenically neutral area unrelated to the background. There is the possibility of other two such uses, in 5.4 and 5.9. In the former, a group of clerks act as a crude choric device, they have no connection with the plot, and their brief appearance is fictionally and theatrically unlocated. In 5.9 two Gentlemen perform a similar plot function. In this case there is a stage direction marking their entrance that provides locational information, albeit couched in pre-Restoration usage: “Enter two Gentlemen as from the Sessions house”.[7] If scenery is intended here, the “as from” direction makes a street setting a logical choice. This would also work well for 5.4, but one must doubt whether this play was conceived with scenic production in mind. There are rare instances in other plays where the forestage may have been used as a transitory, utopic bridge (see staging analyses for Elvira, Mustapha and Juliana). In these cases, however, the point that should be stressed is that spatial anomaly solves a specific staging problem, and lasts only for a few lines. The possible use in Witty Combat is less convincing. If, as I suspect, the play was not written with scenic production in mind, the single scenic stage direction would have been added as an afterthought.

Returning to the tavern scene, Moders and the Parson enter without an accompanying stage direction, the Parson asks for a private room, and surprisingly a stage direction is supplied to the effect that the pair “Exeunt./ And enter again at the other end of the Stage, where there is a Table and Stooles set forth”.[8] This direction and the subsequent dialogue may imply that the scene shifts to the relieve area: “A very pretty close convenient Roome this is assuredly”.[9]This would be a logical supposition, but the need for free access for four actors and the setting props and more importantly the length of the scene inclines me to suggest that it be positioned on the opposite side to the previous tavern scene, possibly further upstage in the scenic area, but downstage of the shutters. It is unlikely in this period that a whole scene would take place in the relieve area. The only other LIF play where this is possibly indicated is another where there are strong doubts about the LIF provenance of the text, namely The Marriage Night (LIF 1667?).


[1] (i) See Restoration Promptbooks William Van Lennep (et al, eds.), The London Stage 1660-1800: A Calendar of Plays, Entertainments, and Afterpieces, five parts, Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1960-68, Part 1, p.55; (ii) Pierre Danchin, The prologues and epilogues of the Restoration 1660-1700, Nancy: Publications Université de Nancy, 1981-88, Part 1, vol.1, p.133.
[2]London: Thomas Roberts, 1663, sig.E3v.
[3] Bernbaum, The Mary Carleton Narratives 1663-1673, Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1914, p.26. Bernbaum’s theory is supported by Mary Jo Kietzman in ‘Defoe Masters the Serial Subject’, English Literary History, 1999, vol.66, no.3, pp.677-705.
[4] Rev. John Genest, Some Account of The English Stage, From The Restoration In 1660 To 1830 (10 vols.), vol.1, Bath: H. E. Carrington, 1832, p.51. Judith Milhous and Robert D. Hume, ‘Attribution Problems in English Drama, 1660-1700’, Harvard Library Bulletin 31 (1983), 38.
[5] Op cit sig.D3r.
[6] Ibid. sig.B3v.
[7] Ibid. sig.F2v.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.