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

Advertisements

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.