The Rivals (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 Rivals (staging)

by William Davenant (September 1664; pub.1668)

This play is an adaptation of The Two Noble Kinsmen by Fletcher & Shakespeare first published in 1668. There is no evidence, bibliographical or otherwise, of it having been written or performed before the Restoration. Dawn Lewcock excludes it from her Theatre Notebook survey, presumably because it is an adaptation, but it is largely, if diffusely, scenically conceived. The scenes are unnumbered and only three from a minimum of six possible scenic locations are stated. However, only one scene, the very first, is difficult to locate. The stage direction – “Enter Arcon, Polynices, and Souldiers as from Victory” – and the ensuing dialogue would arguably best fit an exterior location, but there is very little to go on. Hence, to avoid a location that cannot be inferred anywhere else in the play, I set this scene in a stateroom in Arcon’s palace; a location I infer at three other points in the play.[1] This economy results in a proposed staging with five shutter scenes: Arcon’s palace, the citadel terrace (stated by Davenant), Heraclia’s chamber in Arcon’s palace, the palace garden (stated), and a wood (stated). There is sufficient suggestion in the text to indicate that the rustic theatricals that start Act 4 should be allocated scenery different from the general wood setting that is stated to precede it. Arcon and his fellow hunters have just witnessed a country-dance and the party is invited to see more:

1. Coun[try man].
If that your Highness Worship think it good
To saunter but a little in the Wood.
Good Sir, be pleas’d to raise your self and go forth
To hear the Horns, then see the Hunt, and so forth.

Since you are Master of the Hunt, we’l take
Our stand, where you appoint us: lead the way.
We’le change the Scene a while to see your Sports:
Princes for pleasure may remove their Courts.
[Ex. Omnes.

The Fourth Act.

Enter Arcon, Polyn. Herac. Attendants and Countrey-Poet.

Let man of might sit down in dainty Arbor,
Where trees are trim’d as Perriwig is by Barbor;
[Ex. Poet.
Well! we will be directed:
This Wood has various places of delight,
It can afford both privacy and pleasure.[2]

In the scenery plot I assume that the “dainty Arbor” that affords Arcon such delight justifies the use of a relieve scene. It is also possible that Arcon’s party follow the implied stage directions and “sit down” on preset benches in the relieve area to witness the country entertainment on the main scenic stage; the inverse of the arrangement I infer for The Slighted Maid. The arbour setting continues with the same tree wings, which are also used to furnish the garden scene. Other wing settings match the three remaining shutter scenes: stateroom, chamber, and terrace. Following my argument for Henry V, I differentiate between the public and private environments within Arcon’s palace with complete scene changes. My scene numbers follow the cleared stage pattern as used elsewhere and may be seen in the scenery plot.

If 1.1 is difficult to locate fictionally, this is as nothing compared to one of the most puzzling stage directions in the LIF repertoire: “Enter Philander, and Theocles, (as in the Balcone, walking in the Palace-Garden)” (2.3.14). The parenthetical phrases appear mutually incompatible, but it seems to me that there are two viable solutions to this puzzle: (i) we consider the balcony to be related to the garden (a building in the garden), or to be a part of the citadel that overlooks the garden; [3] (ii) there is a printing error and the second phrase anticipates the next stage direction, “Enter Heraclia, and Cleone, in the Garden”; indeed, if we omit the second phrase everything is explicable. The two men are in a balcony and at the next direction the women enter in the scenic area. From the dialogue it is clear that Theocles cannot see the women. After several exchanges in which Theocles becomes aware that his friend is not attending to their conversation he exclaims:

Cosin! Cosin? How d’ye?

Never till now was I a pris’ner.

Why, What’s the matter?

Behold and Wonder! She is not mortal sure!


From this I infer that the actor playing Philander is standing upstage of Theocles and is looking down into the scenic area. The actor playing Theocles is standing facing his fellow and the audience and does not see Heraclia until he is invited to turn around and gaze upon her. This is the most textual intervention I have suggested in the LIF plays considered up to this point, but I believe it is justified to reconcile the stage directions with the dialogue.[5]

The words ‘balcony’ and ‘window’ are used interchangeably in this play as in other LIF plays. This may be seen a little later in the balcony scene when Philander threatens Theocles: “Put thy head,/ Once more without this Window, and I’ll nail thy life”. A balcony in its ‘window’ incarnation is specified earlier in the play in 1.2: “Enter Celania and Leucippe as at a Window”.[6] In this scene, in which it is the men who are being overheard, it is clear that the balcony is also fitted with a curtain:

This Window, Madam, looks into the Tarras
Where they are walking, you may over-hear
All their discourse (the Curtain being clos’d)
Without discovery.[7]

Most commentators have used passages such as this to conjecture that the balconies were permanently fitted with windows and curtains. I suspect it is more likely that such features would be rigged according to production requirements.

I am interpreting the direction for Heraclia to enter ‘in’ the garden (above) as indicating use of the scenic area. On its own this would merely be slight suggestion, but in conjunction with the balcony directions and dialogue (Theocles not immediately seeing Heraclia) the supposition becomes firmer. Furthermore, this would not be the only example of acting within the scenic area in the play. When Philander is living rough in the forest there are two interesting directions concerning him: “Enter Philander out of a bush”, and “Enter Philander, (as from a Bush)”. As with similar directions in The Step-Mother, these are best explained by entrances from behind tree wings.

[1] William Cademen: London, 1668, p.1.
[2] Ibid. pp.36-7.
[3] Later in the scene (17) Philander states “This is the Palace-Garden”. The meaning of ‘this’ is of course dependent on gesture and could refer to balcony, scenic area, or conceivably both.
[4] Ibid.p.14.
[5] I think Langhans misinterprets the stage directions here; he believes they imply that both men and women are acting at stage level. His suggestion that the men might walk behind a low railing or balustrade inserted into one of the shutter grooves is ingenious but unnecessary (See Staging Practices in the Restoration Theatre 1660-1682, unpublished PhD thesis, Yale, 1955 p.308-9).
[6] Op cit p.7.
[7] Ibid. I note a similar concern with antithetical stage directions in Dryden and Davenant’s adaptation of The Tempest (‘Adapting the Adaptors: staging Davenant and Dryden’s Restoration Tempest’, 71-3)