The Marriage Night (scenery)

CLICK TO ENLARGE Key c = comedy, t = tragedy, tc = tragicomedy s = backshutters, w = wings, r = relieves

c = comedy, t = tragedy, tc = tragicomedy
s = backshutters, w = wings, r = relieves


The Marriage Night (staging)

by Henry(?) Cary, Viscount Falkland (March 1667(?); pub.1664)[1]

The play was published in 1664 but there is no record of performance before Pepys’s reference to a performance on 20 March 1667 using younger members of the company.[2] The play is clearly modelled on Jacobean/Caroline tragedy and it is possible that it was written or drafted before the Restoration. There is little scenic indication in the text other than two discoveries, of which neither is fully convincing as a shutter discovery. The first (1.2) begins a new scene following a cleared stage: “A SONG/ That done, Claudilla and De Flame discovered sitting in a rich Couch; at each end a Lady waiting”; while the second (4.1) is a murder scene in which Claudilla and Dessandro, asleep in their wedding bed, are stabbed by the jealous siblings De Flame and Cleara.[3] It is announced by the direction: “[De Flame] Unlocks the dore and discovers them”.[4]

The first discovery presents no technical difficulty (it is similar to that in Siege of Rhodes 2). The couch and the four actors could be accommodated within the relieve space, and as no movement is indicated in the ensuing scene the couch might be positioned just behind the shutter line to maximise sightlines. The stage directions in this scene suggest the whole scene is to be played in the relieve area; no one leaves until a servant enters (on the forestage or from the wings), announces visitors, then all exit. If these directions were followed in the LIF production this would be the first LIF play to stage a scene wholly in the relieve area, as opposed to a brief discovery or musical interlude.[5] I am not convinced, however, that Cary was aware of the capabilities of the scenic stage at the time of writing. Rather, the play gives the impression throughout that it was conceived with the pre-Civil War playhouse in mind.

This impression is fostered by the second discovery, which, if scenically intended, is badly managed. It would be possible to stage the murder scene in the relieve space. The LIF model would allow a large bed to be used without affecting sight lines (positioned head-on with actors propped up on pillows). However, the murders are less of a problem than the staging that follows. During the stabbings Dessandro calls out and soon after three other characters enter. The dialogue indicates they do not see the bodies, so the discovery space must be closed when they enter; however, no such action is directed, and it is difficult to see how the space is concealed and revealed. The text states the discovery is performed by a door, not a shutter, but this would be difficult to contrive.

Many commentators on Restoration staging blithely refer to doors cut into the scenery, but here the area that needs to be opened so that an audience may see the action is too large for any practicable door cut into a battened canvas shutter running in grooves. It would be possible, of course, for a shutter to represent a door, but the text implies the door is lockable and solid. ‘Locking’ is easily acted, but ‘solid’ is more difficult; the actor must physically try the door, as dialogue and stage direction make clear: “The Dore is fast/ [knocks]”.

The implication here is that Cary is thinking of a large central door opening – exemplified by Jones’s design for the Cockpit, Drury Lane (but see also Gordon Higgott)– though even this might require the bed to be thrust out. After the door has been tried by the newcomers, De Flame (inside) presumably unlocks it and invites them in: a stage direction reads “op’s the dore”.[6] They might not all enter at this point, but if they did sight lines would probably suffer. However, the scene ends soon after and it would be possible to stage this part of it without the newcomers entering the relieve space.

With these reservations in mind, the scenery plot allows for the use of a shutter discovery. The play lacks scene headings and numbers but most locations are easy to infer. A scenic production would need only three wing and shutter settings all of which could be supplied from stock (from plays already discussed). These are, street, Claudilla’s house, courtroom, and a relieve for Claudilla’s house that would serve to conceal the couch in Act 1 and the bed in Act 4. However, the tone of the play with its lack of scenic awareness, its awkward discoveries, and retention of older devices such as the ceremonious procession over the stage that begins Act 4, strongly suggest that Cary was thinking in terms of platform staging.

The play does not seem to have been well thought of at the time. If the London Stage calendar is correct, Davenant sat on it for three years before granting it a limited production with junior members of the company. Neither Downes nor Langbaine mention play or playwright, and Pepys was unimpressed: “a kind of tragedy, and some things very good in it, but the whole together, I thought not”.[7]

[1] The title page of the play states, “Written by the Lord Viscount Favvlkland”; the problem, as pinpointed by Judith Milhous and Robert D. Hume, “lies in deciding which one” – the fourth Viscount Falkland, Henry, or the second, Lucius?  They plump for Lucius, whereas on most lists and indices (including the Chadwyck-Healey database), Henry gets the palm. (See, ‘Attribution Problems in English Drama, 1660-1700’, Harvard Library Bulletin, no.31, 1983, p.24).
[2] On March 21 Pepys went to LIF and was surprised to find “only the young men and women of the house act […] and the play they did yesterday, being Wednesday, was so well taken, that they thought fit to venture it publickly to-day”.
[3]London: R. Crofts, 1664, p.8.
[4] Ibid. p.41.
[5] I am not convinced The Witty Combat offers such.
[6] Ibid. p.42.
[7] Diary, March 21, 1667.

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.