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before each new scene is required – there remains an awkward question: if the shutter used in the convent scene is withdrawn to make way for the scenes of heaven and hell, what is painted on the convent shutter?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 The wings, which represent the convent’s walls, remain in place as first the curtains are withdrawn to reveal the scene of heaven and then the heaven shutters open to reveal hell.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


The Royal Shepherdess (staging)

by Thomas Shadwell (February 1669; & pub.)

Samuel Pepys attended the première on 25 February 1669 and thought Shadwell’s play to be, “the silliest for words and design, and everything that ever I saw in my whole life”.[1] Nevertheless, the première seems to have been another glittering occasion. Pepys had to get to the theatre before one o’clock to be sure of his seat as the house was “infinite full” and the performance was attended by “the King and Court”. It was still the main attraction the following day when Pepys went to see the King’s Company’s revival of John Fletcher’s The Faithful Shepherdess. However, this pastoral head to head proved a spectacular flop. Pepys reports of the revival: “But, Lord! what an empty house, there not being, as I could tell the people, so many as to make up above £10 in the whole house!”

Shadwell’s early plays reveal little interest in scenery, but he seems to have made efforts with this pastoral-tragicomedy, although the text is less than explicit. More than half the play seems to take place in some sort of palace garden, but this setting is not stated and must be inferred from various references in dialogue to ‘garden’, ‘grove’, and ‘grotto’, and a single stage direction in 1.1: “Enter Endymion from behind the Arbour”.[2] In the printed play’s preliminary material the general setting is stated to be Arcadia, suggesting that the garden scenery was possibly wilder than in other LIF productions, tending more perhaps to the “delightful Landskip” requested by Flecknoe in Love’s Kingdom.

The arbour from which Endymion steps was almost certainly represented by a wing or wings, rather than anything in the relieve area. This can be deduced from a stage direction/scene heading that effectively denotes 3.2: “Scene draws, and Shepherds and Shepherdesses are discovered lying under the Shades of Trees”.[3] As 3.2 is a relieve scene, 3.1 must be a shutter setting. The setting is not stated, but a clear ‘garden’ reference comes in 3.1, indicating that this is the same setting as used in 1.1. The reference occurs when Cleantha enters mid-scene; the King asks,What makes you abroad so early?”, and she replies, “To take the pleasant ayre of this Garden”.[4]

The recumbent shepherds and shepherdesses of 3.2 are discovered in a brief masque-like episode similar to those in Robert Stapylton’s plays (The Slighted Maid and The Step-mother). The King and Court have assembled onstage and the masque begins once the shutters have withdrawn. The sudden switch from the garden shutters as fictional setting to their reflexive revelation as theatrical apparatus is also found in Stapylton, but is absent in more realistic plays.

Shadwell supplies only two explicit statements of place out of a possible eleven: “The Scene changes to the Temple” in 4.2, and “Enter Neander, Geron, and Phronesia in Prison” in 5.3. Despite this lack of information the scenic structure of the play is clear. It requires five wing and shutter scenes – garden, temple, hall, prison, and courtyard – and one relieve scene of trees for the masque. With this arrangement one mid-act wing and shutter replacement would be needed in Act 5. This could be avoided by leaving the prison setting on for the execution, but a prison does not seem appropriate for a public execution in this period.

The execution is announced by a stage direction calling for a large prop: “There appears a Scaffold cover’d with Black, and Urania led between two Gentlemen in black: The King looks to see the Execution [above]”.[5] Since Urania is to be beheaded, rather than hanged, the height of the scaffold is less of an issue; it could either be discovered behind the prison shutters, or thrust on from the wings. As this is only Shadwell’s second play, the ambiguity might reflect some uncertainty about theatrical realisation. In his valuable study of Restoration action within the scenic area, Lee J. Martin assumes this to be a discovery, but a simple thrusting on looks the best fit with stage directions and dialogue.[6] The brackets in the stage direction indicate that the King would have been watching from a balcony.

There is only one mention of ‘door’ in the whole play. This occurs in a stage direction that follows the oppositional pattern: after a marked ‘exeunt’, several characters are directed to “Enter at the other door”.[7]

[1] Diary, Feb. 25, 1669.
[2]London: Herringman, 1669, p.6.
[3] Ibid. p.35.
[4] Ibid. p.31.
[5] Ibid. p.71, brackets in text.
[6] See, ‘Action Within The Scene On The English Restoration Stage’, unpublished doctoral dissertation, Stanford, 1956, p.181. ‘There appears’/’appeares’ is a not an uncommon direction in pre-Restoration masques to indicate a discovery of some sort, but according to the LION database this is the only incidence of the term within the period of this study.
[7] Ibid. p.62.

The Step-mother (staging)

by Robert Stapylton (October 1663; p.1664)

Stapylton’s fascination with the scenic possibilities of the masque continues in this play, which like The Slighted Maid features three such episodes. Again, however, his fascination does not extend to a fully scenic dramaturgy and these episodes are largely superfluous dramatically. Stapylton also continues in his use of the whole stage space and even more action is placed within the scenic area. This is most readily seen in the discovery and masque scenes, but there are also strong implications that characters both advance from and retreat into scenes set in the relieve area. An example of this is the Act 5 scene set “In the Bards Cave”. This scene description is not stated to be a discovery and could be a complete setting – shutters and wings – but it would be more economical to reuse the Bard’s cave relieve scene called for in Act 2. Economy aside, this interpretation also makes best sense of the text. On the opening stage direction, “Enter Tetrick as the Conjurer; and Fromund with the Bard’s Beard in his hand”, the specified actors enter in the relieve area, advance onto the main scenic stage, share 20 lines of dialogue, and when another character appears Tetrick retreats into the relieve space (“within”) and Fromund hides behind a bush wing:[1]

As I live,                [Enter Brianella.
Thy Mistris, coming hither, do thou slip
Behind these Bushes; as I promis’d thee,
I’l dispatch thy love business, if w’have time.
[Exit Fromund.

Within there?

Who’s without there?[2]

Although Stapylton provides more explicit scenic information in this play – nine descriptions compared to four in The Slighted Maid – locations are harder to discern (there are also several textual oddities[3]). Settings are largely exterior, mostly set in various woods and groves. A minimal scenic staging using just one wooded setting might be feasible, though this would likely affect dramatic clarity. Such a minimal staging would employ three shutter scenes, two wing settings, and two relieves. However, it would require several large setting props to be thrust on: a possible solution, but ponderous in this case. The number of sylvan locations allows one set of wings to be used for all such exteriors, thus radically reducing scenery costs.[4] This saving allows scenic variety – more shutters – to be achieved relatively cheaply. The scenery plot thus employs five shutter scenes (garden, woods/cave, woods, grove, palace), three relieves (arbour, cave, grove), and two wing settings (boscage, palace). The ‘extra’ shutters enable us to distinguish among three important locations specifically mentioned in the dialogue, namely the wood by the bard’s cave, the meeting place by the “Mark-Beech”, and the “Lime-tree Grove”; it would also be possible to use individual wing settings for these locations, but shutters are simpler.[5]

There are multiple references to the bard’s cave, which is clearly a relieve scene: “In the Bard’s cave is discovered a man with a grey beard”.[6] Yet this direction occurs in the middle of 2.1, a scene for which the location is also explicit: “Enter Sylvanus, Filamor, and Violinda in the Woods”.[7] The shutters that open to reveal the cave, therefore, cannot solely depict the entrance to that cave, they must also serve to represent the woods. A pair of shutters showing a cave entrance framed by trees is easily imagined and could serve all scenes set in the wood near the cave; they must certainly be used in scenes in which the bard’s cave is discovered. If we then were to limit a production of the play to a single wooded shutter scene, it would have to be the one just described which would look very odd in the other sylvan locations. Hence, the ‘extra’ wood shutters in the suggested scenery plot are not there just to provide scenic variety they also clarify the narrative. Accordingly, I propose one shutter pair to depict the wood/cave, one for the ‘lime grove’, and one for the specially noted “Mark-Beech” meeting place: “This is th’appointed place; there’s the Mark-Beech”.[8]

Only two relieve scenes are indicated in the text: the Bard’s cave discussed above and an arbour discovered in the garden scene (1.2). I have added a third for the two masque scenes set in a grove (3.2 & 4.2). This grove relieve setting is added to speed up the action by allowing large setting props (trees) to be discovered, rather than thrust on during performance. These prop trees are a distinctive feature of both masques. For the first, Stapylton specifies “Apollo’s Mask./ The Scene, a Grove, in which is a Lawrell Tree, and three Poplar Trees”.[9] The Poplar trees could be painted but an actress must appear ‘in’ the laurel: “The Laurell opens, and in it appears Daphne”.[10] The subsequent action rules out the use of a pair of ‘laurel’ backshutters, the tree is clearly a practical prop of the kind suggested for The Adventures of Five Hours, with the difference that this one had a built-in practical opening that revealed the actress, or at least her head. The poplar trees also hide actresses, but openings are not specified; in this case, I believe the actresses are simply expected to stand behind the trees, stepping out when required.[11] The trees with their attendant actresses would be pre-set behind the shutters of the earlier scene. The poplars could be painted relieve elements, but separate prop trees would permit reuse of this grove setting for the other woodland masque. The model’s (visible) relieve space dimensions of approximately 8ft x 8ft would allow the laurel tree to be set on one side and the three poplar trees to be staggered, say two feet apart, on the opposite side. The masque proper starts mid-scene (3.2) and, although there is no stated discovery, the onstage audience have been told to assemble at this fictional point in the woods to attend the masque. It would be perfectly feasible to reveal this setting after the cleared stage which precedes 3.2 (there is a marked exeunt 32 lines before the masque proper begins).

As noted, the same relieve setting may be reused for Diana’s masque later in the play. This masque also demands use of a practical tree – “Violinda, as Philomel, appears in the Hawthorn, & sings”[12] – but as the actress needs only appear in its branches, the type of tree discussed for use in The Adventures Of Five Hours would be suitable here, and perhaps it was the same one.

As well as large setting props, this play also demands a remarkable variety of hand props including miniature portraits, a harp, and a set of large compasses. It also makes use of a balcony for an overhearing scene (1.2), but doors are specified in stage directions only once: “Enter Brianella at one door: at another Fromond like a witch”.[13]

[1]London: F. Streater, 1664, p.79.
[2] Ibid. p.80.
[3] There are two significant errors: Caesarina is instructed to enter the balcony on p.7 when she must be onstage, and an important exeunt is omitted on p.82.
[4] The more wing positions the greater the cost; on a four-position perspective stage, as in the LIF model, the total area of the wings is more than double that of a shutter pair.
[5] There are two references to the ‘Mark-Beech’ (op cit p.21 & 36), and four to the lime grove (p.45, p.50 (twice), & p.51).
[6] Op cit, p.22.
[7] Ibid. p.17.
[8] Ibid. p.36.
[9] Ibid. p.42.
[10] Ibid. p.43.
[11] Dawn Lewcock suggests the use of a machina versatilis for these arborial revelations (Sir William Davenant, the Court Masque, and the English Seventeenth-Century Scenic Stage, c1605-c1700. Cambria Press. 2008. p.137)
[12] Ibid. p.60.
[13] Ibid. p.36.

The Slighted Maid (staging)

by Robert Stapylton (February 1663; pub. 1663)

Dryden’s jibe – “there is no Scene in the first Act, which might not by as good reason be in the fifth” – is more witty than true, but it must be admitted The Slighted Maid is at times confusing to read.[1] Despite Dryden, however, and despite Pepys’s judgement – “not very excellent” – it probably played better than it reads.[2] The plot may be overly intricate, but at its best the play is theatrically diverting and makes intriguing use of stock romance devices; not the least being that the eponymous heroine (believed dead) should spend so much of the play in a position of some power disguised as her vengeful and apparently vicious brother. The text numbers acts but not scenes (my numbers below) and Stapylton provides little explicit scenic information; however, he consistently uses a cleared stage to mark scene divisions, there are ample stage directions, and for the majority of scenes the dialogue provides clear indication of locale. This clarity enables a fairly confident reconstruction of the scenery plot.

A notable feature of the play is the interjection of three, brief masque scenes. These generate most of the explicit scenic information in the play, though only the third is integral to the drama. The first in 3.1 is set probably in a garden or grove as the directions following the Act 3 heading indicate: “Enter Decio and Arviedo./ By a Lawrel-Tree is set a Shepheards Hook, a Pipe, and a Wreath of Lawrel”.[3] The tree is not practical and was likely painted on a wing; the props, though, are probably practical as a little later Decio – the heroine Ericina in disguise – refers to them in concrete terms. Decio is rehearsing a theatrical scene and has invited Arviedo to view “The sweetest Prospect Naples has”. Stage directions and dialogue merge at this point and are best given in full:

The Scene is discovered, over which in Capital Letters is writ CAMPI ELYSII.

Decio describes it thus.

Th’Elysian Fields my Hyacinthus sees,
Those Walks are Jessamine and Orange-trees,
Beneath, a Chrystal River cuts the Plain,
Wherein you see those fair Trees o’re again,
Close by the Flow’ry Bank, a Flock of Sheep
Feeds in a Mead; the Shepheards fast asleep;
The Shepheardesses lying arm in arm.[4]

As several commentators have noted, it is difficult to decide what exactly is being shown here: a painted shutter, a relieve scene, or a relieve scene with live actors?  Indeed, given the flickering, uncertain quality of the original lighting Arviedo probably speaks for the LIF audience when he asks, “Is’t Life? Or Art”.[5] The answer appears to be both, for two lines later Decio commands, “Rise, dull Sleepers” and the bucolic lovers, “dance and go off”.[6] Almost certainly then, the scene is a composite of painted relieve elements and reclining actors, exploiting, as in the Caroline masque, the discovery’s potential for charm. On cue the actors then arise, dance on the main scenic stage, and exit through the wings. More puzzling is the position of the scenic surtitle. It obviously cannot be painted on the backshutters, because the surtitle appears at the same time as the scene is discovered. There are four possibilities: it might have been painted on the backcloth, on a relieve element, on an upper backshutter, or on a border. Visibility is the limiting factor here. Although any legend painted on the backcloth probably could be illuminated by lights offstage or fixed to the closest relieve element, the text would perhaps be too distant to make the impact implied by the stage direction. The term ‘over which’ implies separation and this certainly could be achieved by changing the final border for one bearing the legend (at the same time as the discovery). However, visibility would again be an issue, as borders cannot be seen by all; as Richard Southern puts it, they exist “only for the benefit of the spectators in the lower and nearer parts of the house”.[7] In addition, there is no evidence for changeable borders in this period. The same difficulty arises with upper shutters, as the only LIF play where the use of upper shutters may be a possibility is the much later Cambyses (1671). Moreover, using upper shutters to reveal a surtitle smacks of the sledgehammer approach to a nut, which leaves the possibility of a sign in the relieve area. This seems the best solution as there would be plenty of time to get it into position and it could be attached to the top of the first relieve, or if, as seems likely here, that was not possible, it could simply hang from an attachment at or above the rear of the backshutter frame.

The second masque episode is non-scenic. It largely comprises a dance involving Jack-a-Lantern and a group of reapers and is discussed in my article  “Scaenes with four Doors”: Real and Virtual Doors on Early Restoration Stages. The third episode is the most interesting: it is dramatically integral and inverts the fatal consequences of the Jacobean masque-in-a-play trope. Scenically it begins with another surtitle, this time less puzzling as the legend can be painted on the backshutters: “The Scene Vulcan’s Court, over it is writ, Foro del Volcane”.[8] The discovery occurs several pages later: “Iberio and Pyramena discover’d lying on a Bed, at the Bed’s feet sits Cupid weeping”; again this is a carefully composed static, indeed emblematic, picture.[9] This is a tragicomedy, however, and the couple are merely drugged. They wake up, are unbound, and bidden to witness the final discovery, that of the Slighted Maid herself: “Decio puts of his Night-gown, & discovers himself to be a Woman”.[10] ‘Follow that!’ might be a contemporary response to such a direction, but there is one final scenic point to be made. In 3.2 occurs the following dialogue and stage direction: “Diacelia: Patience, Madam,/ I may mistake, believe your eyes,/ That Pillar will obscure you./ Menanthe: Good, good Girl./ Menanthe stands behind the Pillar and Peeps”.[11] As with the tree in the previous scene, a wing is almost certainly being used here. Unlike on some earlier stages, the Globe being the obvious example, there were no stage pillars supporting the heavens to hide behind at LIF. Again, there is no need here for a practical pillar to bear weight, and thrusting on scenic prop pillars in the brief interval of a cleared stage between 3.1 and 3.2 would be ludicrous. The setting is the con-woman Menanthe’s house, which seems unusual, as Menanthe is not of the social class habituated to pillars in its domestic arrangements; however, the point is explicitly made early in the play that Menanthe is not only vicious, she is a social climber. When asked by old Filomarini where his son met her, his friend Gioseppe replies, “At Church, with the Greek Cheater cursed Mother,/ That passes here for an illustrious Lady;/ The Vice-Roy heard she was a Grecian Princess”.[12] The pillar/wing not only furnishes a handy place from which to peep, it also signifies Menanthe’s would-be status; note also the use of the scenic stage for acting purposes. The quality of furniture and fittings in Menanthe’s house is emphasized by a stage direction whose import may escape modern readers: “Wax Lights on the Table”.[13] Wax lights offered the clearest and highest quality light and were considerably more expensive than other forms of lighting.[14]

[1] Preface to Troilus and Cressida (Swedenberg H. T., et al (eds.), The Works of John Dryden, (20 vols.), Berkeley: California UP, 1956-90, vol.13, p.230). [Hereafter, California Dryden.]
[2] Diary, Feb. 29, 1663. On July 28, 1668 Pepys saw it again and thought it “but a mean play”, but he was troubled with his eyes at this time and not disposed to much enjoyment.
[3]London: Thomas Dring, 1663, p.33.
[4] Ibid. p.34.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Changeable Scenery, London: Faber & Faber, 1952, p.155.
[8] Op cit p.80.
[9] Ibid. p.85.
[10] Ibid. p.88.
[11] Ibid. p.41.
[12] Ibid. p.2.
[13] Ibid. p.56.
[14] A little later in the play these wax lights (probably white wax, the highest quality) are used as an index of social status when one character compares them to the taper she holds: “The Taper better suits my Fortune, Sir” (Ibid. p.58). Eleanor Boswell reproduces a Lord Steward’s account (The Restoration Court Stage, New York: Benjamin Blom, 1965 [1932], p.97, n.3) that shows how lighting was apportioned in a Court theatre production. The King’s Presence and Privy chambers receive white wax lights, a privilege also accorded the branches and sconces in the auditorium, the ‘scenes’ and musicians receive yellow wax, while the Gentlemen Ushers, Yeomen of the Guard, grooms, and porters make do with torches and tallow.