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view before each new scene is required – there remains an awkward question: if the shutter used in the convent scene is withdrawn to make way for the scenes of heaven and hell, what is painted on the convent shutter?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 The wings, which represent the convent’s walls, remain in place as first the curtains are withdrawn to reveal the scene of heaven and then the heaven shutters open to reveal hell.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).


Tryphon (staging)

by Roger Boyle (December, 1668; pub.1669)

After Mustapha, Boyle’s next play was The Black Prince produced by Killigrew’s company at Bridges Street in October 1667. Both The Black Prince and Tryphon demonstrate Boyle’s growing exploitation of the scenic stage. In contrast to most plays from this period, Tryphon provides complete scene headings, putting it in a select club with She Would If She Could and The Adventures of Five Hours. The scene headings and stage directions indicate a greater control over stage resources. For example, the 2.3 heading, “The Scene a Garden and a Grove of Trees” (discussed below), does not just indicate a fictional setting, it also signifies the theatrical means by which the setting is to be achieved: garden wings, together with a tree relieve. The fascination with tableaux continues, but this time Boyle pares down the effect in his single example and uses a shutter rather than the front curtain to reveal his static group. This is both slicker and more surprising, because an audience cannot predict the effect. In Act 5 the scene headings do not conform to the expected pattern. At first it seems there must be some mistake; Act 4 has played in front of a shutter scene of Nicanor’s Palace, but the opening heading and stage direction to Act 5 reads:

The Scene is Nicanors Pallace.

The Scene opens.

Tryphon Demetrius Stratonice and Irene. Demetrius from behind Tryphon fixes his Eyes on Stratonice, folds his Armes the one Within the other, Sighs and goes out still gazing on her.[1]


This is the tableau mentioned above, but if it is a shutter discovery, as the direction indicates, there must be another setting, a relieve, representing the same fictional location. We might postulate that the ‘scene opens’ merely states that the act begins – a variant of the opening stage direction in The Play-House to be Let – and that the actors should enter in dumb show. However, there are two manuscript copies of the play in the Bodleian Library, and one (Ms. Malone 11) clarifies the published direction. Following the scene heading the direction reads: “The Scene opens where is discover’d Triphon…”.[2] As Nicanor’s palace is already in view the new scene must, therefore, be a relieve representing the same location: the inverse of the one-scene-for-two-places use we have observed elsewhere. There is no need for the wings to change of course.

For the garden scene 2.3, the shutters representing Nicanor’s Palace withdraw to reveal a grove of trees, while simultaneously the palace wings are changed for those of the garden, last seen in 2.1. We may infer from its position between two relieve scenes in Act 5 that the garden setting must be a shutter scene, but there is also supporting evidence. The printed text of Boyle’s Guzman, which includes promptbook annotation, adds “The garden in Tryphon as a Back Scene” to the 4.6 scene heading “The Scene a Garden”.[3]

There are two other matters of note in Act 5. A stage direction in the last scene set in Tryphon’s Palace seems to indicate that the actor should retire into the relieve area: “Tryphon goes to an elevated place like a Throne, seats himself in it, then draws a Ponyard…”.[4] After a speech Tryphon stabs himself, then his faithful servant Arcas “runs to Tryphon, takes the Bloody Poniard which lay by him, and with it stabs himself”, and, “He fals dead at Tryphons feet”[5]. This is essentially a repeat of the Mustapha/Zanger suicides in Mustapha. In that play, however, the bodies are carefully positioned in the relieve area, here that is unlikely. If Boyle had intended the deaths to take place behind the shutter line he could have removed the bodies from sight simply by directing that a shutter should close at that point. Instead, after everyone on stage has followed the direction “They all goe towards the dead Body” (of Tryphon), Stratonice asks the Captain of the Guards, Sir, let his Body be from hence convey’d”, a request that would be redundant if the corpses could be hidden by the shutters.

Thanks to Dryden’s witty epilogue to Tyrannick Love, written for Nell Gwyn, we know that ‘dead’ bodies in Restoration tragedies could be removed by employing bearers to carry them off, and that might have been the case in the original LIF production.[6] However, an additional stage direction in both Bodleian MSS suggests another solution: “A Curtaine is drawne afore the dead bodyes”.[7] This is an interesting piece of evidence in the light of my suggestions elsewhere for the use of a traverse curtain in other LIF productions. Although, we do not know whether such a method was used in production, it was clearly considered a potential solution at the time, most probably by Boyle if the source text for these MSS is authorial, as W. S. Clark believes.[8]

The concern to minimise wing changes indicated by Boyle’s 2.3 heading, and implied by the use of two different backscenes (but not wing settings) to represent Nicanor’s Palace, adds weight to the hypothesis that the LIF scenic system had only three wing grooves at each position. Conservatism regarding wing groove replacements is inevitable given the wholly manual system of scenery changes employed in England at this date. It is for this reason that I believe a maximal scenic production is contraindicated. Although such a production would call for only seven separate settings, it would necessitate awkward wing and shutter groove replacements in Acts 3 and 4, as can be seen in the scenery plot. A fully minimal production might differentiate between categories of interior scenes rather than between the fictional owners of the rooms. This was probably the case for She Would If She Could. In such an arrangement ‘palace’ and ‘apartment’ shutters would serve all scenes where those interiors were required. Using one apartment shutter scene makes sense as ‘Demetrius’s apartment’ is specified only once, but allowing separate shutters for the two palaces would aid clarity.

A diegetic reading of the text would allow different wing settings for the garden and the ‘obscure grove’, but shared wings are probably the best theatrical interpretation of the scene headings. As with Nicanor’s palace, differentiation is provided by the contrast between shutter and relieve settings. These compromises eliminate awkward groove shuffling – only one mid-act replacement is required – but maintains the differentiation and novelty expected of a socially significant production by an aristocratic author.

[1]London: Herringman, 1669.
[2] My italics. See, Clark, Dramatic Works, p.886.
[3] Guzman, London: Francis Saunders, 1693, p.37. For 17th century use of ‘backscene’ see Timothy Keenan, Thesis, London, p.4, n.9, and Lewcock, Thesis, op cit pp.95-6.
[4] Op cit p.53.
[5] Ibid. p.54.
[6] “Epilogue Spoken by Mrs. Ellen, when she was to be/ carried off dead by the Bearers” (London: Herringman, 1670).
[7] Mal. 11 & Ms. Rawl. poet. 39 substitutes, “…before Tryphon & Arcas” (Clark, Dramatic Works, op cit p.890).
[8] See Ibid. p.872.

John Webb: Mustapha (1665) scene drawings

John Webb: 'Mustapha' Scene 1 (a)

John Webb: ‘Mustapha’: Relieve, Scene 1 (a): ‘The Turkish camp’

John Webb: 'Mustapha' Scene 1 (b)

John Webb: ‘Mustapha’: Relieve, Scene 1 (b): ‘The Turkish camp and Solyman’s pavillion’

John Webb: ‘Mustapha’: Shutter, ‘Buda beleaguered’

John Webb: ‘Mustapha’: Relieve, Solyman’s tent

John Webb: ‘Mustapha’: Shutter, Queen of Hungary’s tent

The Tragedy of Mustapha (staging)

by Roger Boyle (April 1665; pub.1668)

In my PhD thesis I relate the LIF production of this play to John Webb’s surviving scene drawings that are marked up for production on his Tudor Hall stage at Whitehall. Assuming these designs best represent the type of scenery actually used in the LIF production, one would think that the evidence they provide would simplify the task of constructing a possible scenery plot for the play and clarify some vexed questions about early Restoration staging along the way. Unfortunately they do not; they raise as many questions as they answer; a situation not helped by the fact that Boyle provides only one scene heading in the play – “Solyman’s Camp and his pavillion” – at the start of Act 1.[1] The extant drawings do not record fully the scenery needed by any production of the play; there are no wing designs and Webb’s number sequence – 1, 3, 5 & 6 – is incomplete. There are two versions of the scene Webb has marked “1. Sceane”. The first (1a) shows the Turkish camp and army outside the walls of Buda: “In Releive/ The Turkish/ Camp Drawne/ up in Battalia”. A small flap covering the centre of this drawing may be lifted to reveal the alternative design (1b), which features Solyman’s pavilion. Another view of the camp and city walls is recorded as Webb’s scene 3: “A Shutter/ Buda beleagured/ the Common”. There is no point in the play that specifies or implies this particular scene, but Webb may have intended to represent the camp using both relieve and shutter scenes and this shutter design could be used wherever a general camp scene is implied. Webb’s scenes 5 and 6 are pavilion designs for Solyman and the Queen of Hungary respectively: “In Releive/ Solymans Tent” and “A Shutter/ The Queen of/ Hungaria’s Tent”.

After noting their incompleteness, the first point to make about these drawings is that aside from ‘scene 1’ Webb’s numbers do not correspond with Boyle’s play. Boyle does not number his scenes, but they are implied by stage directions calling for a cleared stage; the method William Smith Clark II uses in his Boyle edition.[2] We cannot expect a direct correlation between Webb’s numbers and unnumbered scenes in the play, but, unlike his designs for The Siege of Rhodes, there appears to be no correspondence whatsoever between Webb’s numbers and the play after the first scene. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that so many of the play’s scenes are set in various pavilions in the Turkish camp, and the number of individual backscenes depends on the extent to which these locations are differentiated scenically. The best fit between drawings and play is provided by a maximal production that allocates individual scenery to each location. In this example Webb’s scenes 1, 5, and 6 match corresponding scene numbers in the play, but we are still left with the problem of Webb’s scene 3 (Buda beleaguered), which has no possible match with the play’s third location, Mustapha’s pavilion. The best option in drawing up a potential scenery plot is probably to ignore Webb’s numbers. It is also possible that none of the drawings represents final scene designs,[3] but for the purposes of this analysis, I assume there is a close relation.

Webb shows two pavilions, one is a relieve and the other a shutter. The relieve design, Solyman’s Tent, is, unsurprisingly, remarkably similar to his relieve design for Solyman’s pavilion in the Siege of Rhodes. These designs represent Solyman’s imperial power. Both display that principal symbol of the monarch, the royal throne, and significantly both place the seat of power publicly on view; as Davenant puts it in Rhodes: “a Royal Pavilion appears display’d; Representing Solyman’s Imperial Throne; and about it are discern’d the Quarters of his Bassas, and Inferiour Officers”.[4] Such a setting is an appropriate choice to symbolise the public, imperial side of Solyman, but it cannot also represent Solyman’s private “inner tent” in which the bodies of Mustapha and Zanger are discovered in Act 5. The published text omits a stage direction that explicitly calls for this discovery, though the implication is clear enough. We know the direction has been omitted because it is present in several manuscript versions of the play, all of which offer slight variants of the British Library MS that states, “The scene opens and shows Mustapha sitting dead on a Couch: At wch sight Zanger starts back”.[5] The exterior view shown in Webb’s scene 5 does not permit an interior ‘inner tent’, but more importantly it is impossible for a relieve on the Hall stage – for which Webb drew his designs – to open up any further. Hence, two scenes are needed to represent Solyman’s tent. The second scene must also be a relieve to permit the discovery. A pair of rich hangings coupled with tent wings would be a neat method of satisfying the technical requirements. As I suggest in my commentary on Elvira, the hangings could be affixed to the rear of the backshutter frame and would draw open to reveal the inner tent and the dead bodies.

The scenic solution I suggest in the scenery plot is a near-maximal production that consolidates various locations in Solyman’s camp using a single relieve setting. It calls for four shutters: chamber, and three pavilions; one hanging for the inner tent: three wings: chamber, camp, pavilion/tent; and three relieves, two for Solyman’s pavilion plus the general camp setting indicated by Webb’s scene 1. The only technical issue concerning the use of relieves occurs in Act 4 where two separate relieves are specified. However, there are 122 lines between 4.2 and 4.4, which allow about five and a half minutes to replace the setting, so the operation is feasible. There is actually no reason why the general camp scene needs to be a relieve, though the scene Webb shows would provide the audience with an instant understanding of the situation at the start of the play, with the design immediately communicating Solyman’s power. Wing settings are simplified as usual to avoid mid-act replacements. Three are suggested: camp, chamber, and pavilion.

The use of the scenic area is self-evident when the dead brothers are discovered. However, other stage directions show that Boyle does not confine the action to the forestage. In Act 2 we find, “Enter Zanger, and Achmat, at distance from him”, where the context suggests an upstage position for Achmat rather than one to the side. In Act 5 a direction referring to Solyman’s mutes states, “They retire to the further end of the Stage”. [6] There is also another brief instance in Act 5 of the forestage representing a transit location different from that showing in the scenic area, as in Elvira. The grisly display of the ‘inner tent’ scene is in view when Roxolana enters with Haly on the forestage, but the dialogue makes it clear that she has not yet arrived at Solyman’s tent: “Haly! are you certain that my Son Is to the Sultan‘s Great Pavilion gone?”.[7] The ‘anomaly’ lasts just 14 lines, after which Boyle directs, “Roxolana goes towards the Scene, where she sees Mustapha, and Zanger with his Dagger in his hand, and then she starts back”.[8] As for doors, all three mentions in stage directions use the oppositional pattern exemplified by, “Exeunt Queen and Cleora one way, the Cardinal and Lords at the other door”.[9]

[1]London: Herringman, 1668, p.55.
[2] Clark, Dramatic Works, op cit.
[3] A conclusion reached by Clark (op cit p.781).
[4] Siege of Rhodes 1, London: Herringman, 1663, p.16.
[5] BL Add. MS 29280. Reproduced in Clark, Dramatic Works, op cit p.858.
[6] Op cit p.69.
[7] Ibid. p.116.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid. p.109.

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.