Cambyses (scenery)

Part 1 CLICK TO ENLARGE Key c = comedy, t = tragedy, tc = tragicomedy s = backshutters, w = wings, r = relieves

Part 1
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Part 2 CLICK TO ENLARGE Key c = comedy, t = tragedy, tc = tragicomedy s = backshutters, w = wings, r = relieves

Part 2
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Key
c = comedy, t = tragedy, tc = tragicomedy
s = backshutters, w = wings, r = relieves

The Indian Queen (staging)

By Robert Howard and John Dryden (January 1664; pub. 1665)

The following is best read in conjunction with the associated scenery plot and shutter diagram. It is also closely related to my staging analysis of The Indian Emperour (sic).

For all its relative scenic innovation The Indian Queen is still a very early new play, only the fourth such in Killigrew’s new scenic theatre at Bridges Street. Nevertheless, the play offers fresh dramaturgical thinking and shows the effects of commercial competition, even under a duopoly. Killigrew’s company had undoubtedly been getting used to technical aspects of the new stage, playing catch up with their rivals at Lincoln’s Inn Fields who had been using scenery since 1661, but The Indian Queen raises the stakes by offering scenic spectacle on a new scale. Both Pepys and Evelyn were impressed. Pepys thought it ‘a most pleasant show, and beyond my expectation’, while the meticulous Evelyn declared it to be ‘so beautiful with rich scenes as the like has never been seen here, or haply (except rarely) elsewhere on a mercenary theatre.’[1]

Innovation in the play is present from the very start when the prologue is delivered from the scenic stage by actors wholly in character, rather than by the usual practice of actors speaking from the forestage in front of a dropped curtain as themselves, or as a character at least partly divorced from the role they are about to play: ‘As the Musick plays a soft Air, the Curtain rises softly, and discovers an Indian Boy and Girl sleeping under two Plantain-Trees; and when the Curtain is almost up, the Musick turns into a Tune expressing an Alarm, at which the Boy wakes and speaks.’[2]

The Indian Queen is also the first new Restoration play to fly in actors, or indeed to use a trapdoor.[3] More significantly, however, it features no less than four discovery scenes. The first two present spectacular tableaux, the third reveals a character in a prison, while the last, which opens Act 5, is a striking coup de theatre: ‘The Scene opens, and discovers the Temple of the Sun all of Gold, and four Priests in habits of white, and red Feathers attending by a bloody Altar, as ready for sacrifice.’ Aside from these discoveries the staging of the play is straightforward and is easily accommodated in the LIF model, as I will show.

By reading the scene headings and stage directions of The Indian Queen in the light of those from The Indian Emperour, which was specifically written to reuse the earlier play’s scenery, we are in a position to decide probable shutter and relieve settings. Discussing the scenery in the order in which it appears, the curtain probably rose to disclose open country backshutters matched with tree wings. The open country setting is named ‘Indian Country’ in the later play and we can make an opening assumption that it is a backshutter pair by reference to its use in both plays where it precedes a known discovery scene at least once in each play; moreover, in The Indian Queen it likely separates the prison and temple relieve settings used in Acts 4 and 5.

The next scene though not marked would seem to be set in the Mexican camp from its martial atmosphere and its references in dialogue and a stage direction to soldiers shouting; such a setting is also demanded in The Indian Emperour. Period camp settings are shown in Webb’s designs for Mustapha. The relieve setting and its variant (scenes 1a and 1b) would be matched by wings depicting tents of the same design, so forming a composite and symmetrical picture with the relieve design. In the Indian plays the format would have been similar (of course the design of the tents would have reflected the American setting), but in this case the stage picture would likely have been terminated by backshutters because the camp setting follows a known discovery scene in each play, and in The Indian Queen it also precedes the discovery that opens Act 3.

Following the return of the Indian Country setting for the start of Act 2 – not stated, but a logical choice – the next scenic setting is the scene 2 discovery in which, ‘Zempoalla appears seated upon a Throne’. This must be a relieve setting, but of what? There are no clues in the dialogue, though the spectacle of this and the later discovery (Act 3.1) perhaps suggests that Zempoalla is in her palace, rather than the Mexican camp as the California editors propose.[4] More helpful are scene headings in The Indian Emperour which stipulate a Chamber Royal setting for three scenes in the city of Mexico. The structural and diegetic similarities between the plays and the fact that we know that the later play reused scenery from the earlier combine to suggest that Zempoalla’s appearances must also have been made within a relieve setting depicting a Chamber Royal. Although a locale is not stated for the last scene in Act 2, the reference to Montezuma’s prisoners being forced from his tent (lines 42-3) suggests the Camp setting was reused here.

So far, the staging of the play has followed a sequence we would expect using the LIF model: Indian country (shutters), Camp (shutters), Indian country (shutters), Chamber Royal (relieve) and Camp (shutters). Shutter scenes have followed successively, but not relieve scenes. This sequence is continued by the spectacular discovery which opens Act 3: ‘Zempoalla appears seated upon her Slaves in Triumph, and the Indians as to celebrate the Victory, advance in a warlike Dance; in the midst of which Triumph, Acacis and Montezuma falls in upon them’.[5] The intruders are overpowered and brought before Zempoalla who ‘descends from her triumphant Throne.’

Although stage action is dramatic there are no indications of any scene change until we come to the direction ‘Ismeron asleep in the Scene’.[6] This direction and the ensuing dialogue with its reference to Ismeron’s ‘dismal cell’ leave no doubt that, although unmarked, this is both a new scene and a new scenic setting (unmarked scenes are a regular occurrence in Restoration plays). Ismeron is described by the character list as ‘a Conjuror’ and his role in this scene is to raise a spirit to interpret Zempoalla’s dreams. Structurally and scenically there is a direct comparison here with Act 2.1 in The Indian Emperour where a high priest summons several spirits for Montezuma. In that play a scene change is stated by a heading that reads ‘SCENE, The Magitians Cave’, so, reading back, a cave setting is the logical choice for the parallel scene in The Indian Queen.

Confirmation is unnecessary in this case, but it is interesting to note that an eighteenth-century edition of Purcell’s semi-operatic version of the play includes the following stage direction, ‘Zempoalla at the Cave of Ismeron’, which indicates a stage tradition for the opera at least.[7] There is no indication in The Indian Emperor that the cave needs to be anything other than a shutter setting. In that play, Montezuma and the High Priest are directed to enter the scene and the action is focussed on the priest’s conjurations of no less than five spirits using probably three trapdoors on the main scenic stage. A relieve setting of a cave in The Indian Emperor would be possible, its single appearance follows an act break, but it is not specifically indicated. In The Indian Queen, however, the direction for a character to be ‘asleep in the Scene’ and the lack of a stated entrance for him suggest, on first view, a disclosure brought about by a shutter discovery; a possibility that needs to be examined in some detail.

The simplest solution to this first difficulty with the LIF model’s operation is to suggest that Ismeron is offstage behind the wings when Zempoalla enters at the start of the scene. She gestures to his ‘dismal cell’ offstage and summons him with her calls and stamps, as directed, and Ismeron enters sleepily on his first line. This solution, while perfectly practicable does, however, work on the assumption that there is a missing entrance for Ismeron. Ordinarily I would be loath to make such an assumption; while exits go astray fairly regularly in early modern playbooks, missing entrances are rarer.[8] The published text of The Indian Queen is, however, not free from some surprising omissions and other oddities in its stage directions.

One very pertinent omission is a missing entrance (or rather omission from a stated tableau) that occurs at the very start of the scene in question. Zempoalla’s general, Traxalla, and her captives the Ynca and his daughter Orazia are not included in the stage direction that heads Act 3.1, yet they must be present because they all have lines in the ensuing dialogue. Moreover, in Act 4.2 a stage direction ‘Orazia comes back’ is repeated on the same page, once in its correct position according to the action and 15 lines earlier. This may be a simple error, or it may be that the typesetter confused a promptbook ‘ready’ call for Orazia with her subsequent entrance and repeated the stage direction.[9]

This raises the possibility that ‘Ismeron asleep’ is promptbook connected (a reminder to the prompter perhaps, rather than a ready call) certainly it does not follow the usual wording for a discovery usually indicated by ‘discovers’, ‘appears’, ‘draws off’, ‘scene opens’ or their variants, as seen elsewhere in this play and many others. There is perhaps, though, a better reason why the conjuration scene might not have started with a discovery. As noted above, the focus in this scene is on action downstage of the shutter line with Ismeron’s conjuration of the God of Dreams and singing spirits. Opening the scene with a discovery provides no dramaturgical advantage; in fact its effect would be precisely the opposite. In the very next scene a backshutter discovery of a sleeping figure is specifically called for when at the start of Act 4 ‘The Scene opens and discovers Montezuma sleeping in Prison.’ This is the first use of a prison setting and the dramatic effect of seeing the play’s hero incarcerated could only be lessened by the clumsy repetition of a scenic effect seen a short while before. For these reasons I am unwilling to accept that the stage direction at the start of Act 3.2 offers firm evidence for successive discovery scenes.[10]

Whatever the nature of the cave setting, the interval at the end of Act 3 permits any necessary scenic reshuffling and Act 4 begins with the prison relieve. It would not be necessary, though, to go to the expense of a complete setting. Instead of specially made prison wings (costlier than a backscene), the cave wings from the previous scene could remain standing. The combination of rocky wings and gloomy recess would furnish a more than sufficient representation of a prison in a non-European, hence savage, country.

The prison relieve is now followed by the Indian Country shutters and Act 4 ends. The interval permits the prison relieve to be struck and replaced with the final and most spectacular setting of the whole play and Act 5 duly opens with a discovery of ‘the Temple of the Sun all of Gold.’ In sum, there are no further difficulties after Ismeron’s entrance and the play ends with a sequence easily handled by the LIF model: two relieve scenes separated by a shutter scene.

The associated shutter change diagram provides a visual representation of the staging solution discussed. (The purpose of this diagram is to show how the play could be staged using the LIF model; neither this nor similar diagrams are proffered as recoveries of original stagings.) The table is structured according to scenic demand per act and scene; thus the first column shows the two scenes in Act 1, the second the three scenes in Act 2 and so on; note that the last column shows the last two acts. The arrangement of backshutters and relieve settings are shown for each scene.

In this simplified diagram the audience is to be imagined south looking north towards the backscene area, which comprises three backshutter grooves downstage of a relieve/discovery space. Dashed lines represent individual shutter settings; these are either closed over the scene (continuous line) or withdrawn to each side (broken lines). Wavy lines represent the potentially more complex relieve settings.[11] To make it easier to read, in each scene the scenery currently in view is shown in red. This and other similar diagrams show only backscene changes. Here and elsewhere I argue for the use of generic wings on grounds of cost and practical stage management. Nevertheless, similar operations are to be imagined for the management of wing changes.

[1] Pepys, Diary, 1 Feb 1664; Evelyn, Diary and Correspondence (1620-1704), ed. William Bray, 1 vol. (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1948) [1818], p. X  (5 Feb 1664 )

[2] Robert Howard, Four New Plays (London: H. Herringman, 1665), p. 140.

[3] Flecknoe’s Love’s Kingdom has a prologue ‘Spoken by Venus from the Clouds’ (sig. A4v). This does not necessarily demand flying but the point is perhaps moot as the 1664 edition bears a title page defiantly declaring the play to be “Not as it was Acted at the Theatre near Lincoln’s-Inn, but as it was written and since corrected”. Certain pre-Restoration plays, notably Hamlet, which received Restoration revivals demand trapdoors. Flying was probably not seen at LIF until November 1664 (ten months after The Indian Queen) when the prompter John Downes records that Davenant’s adaptation of Macbeth was staged complete with ‘flyings for the Witches’ (Roscius Anglicanus, p. 71).

[4] California Dryden, vol. 8, p. 315.

[5] Indian Queen, p. 153.

[6] Indian Queen, p. 157.

[7] Henry Purcell, The Indian Queen (London: B. Goodison, 1790), p. 28.

[8] Getting actors onstage at the appropriate time is theatrically more important than getting them off; once on, actors will know when they must exit. Missing entrances are rare, but there are three for instance in the first edition of James Shirley’s The Maid’s Revenge (London: W. Cooke, 1639, sigs. C4r, D4v, G1r).

[9] This would be short warning, but the promptbook for Edward Howard’s The Change of Crowns (BS 1667) has a similar 15 line warning (see Langhans, Restoration Promptbooks, p. 122).

[10] Or to propose an unmarked closure of suitable shutters mid-way through Act 3.1, e.g. after the exeunt of all but the Queen and her son after line 57.

[11] In practice this could also be a simple discovery of actors with no additional scenery downstage of the backcloth.

The Indian Emperour (staging)

By John Dryden (March? 1665; pub.1667)

The following is best read in conjunction with the associated scenery plot and shutter diagram, and after reading my analysis of The Indian Queen.

There are no particular staging problems with the first three acts of The Indian Emperour (sic). Referring to the scenery plot the scenes follow in an expected order. Act 1 uses the ‘Indian Country’ (shutter) and ‘Temple’ (relieve) scenes discussed in the Indian Queen pages. Act 2 uses three shutter scenes: ‘The Magitian’s Cave’, a camp and the ‘Indian Country’ again. Of these only the camp setting is not specified in the play. There is no particular need for a camp here; the only need is to distinguish this locale from the battle scene (scene 3).

Cydaria (Montezuma’s daughter) is attempting to prevent a battle between her father’s forces and the Spanish invaders led by Cortez. Cortez is in love with Cydaria and has agreed to meet her in this unspecified locale. For obvious reasons it cannot be the Indian Country, the setting specified for the battle. The full camp setting – wings and backshutters – would also be odd for similar reasons, but a combination of the two settings would present an ideal solution. The camp shutters, therefore, can be used with the Indian Country wings to suggest a locale near both the Mexican camp and the battlefield. For the next scene, therefore, the wings will remain standing while the backshutters change.

The sequence in Act 3 is ‘Chamber Royal’ (relieve), ‘A Camp’ (shutter), Indian Country (shutter). As argued on another page, the chamber setting, while not specified in The Indian Queen, fits that play well where it would have to be a relieve. Dryden and Killigrew would have been seeking to reduce expenditure in the follow-up, so its use here is logical and causes no difficulties. I argue below that Dryden’s experimentation did demand some new scenery, including a shutter setting of the chamber that could alternatively be used here, but using a relieve setting in this act avoids the need for a mid-act backshutter replacement, which is the preferred option.

The passage involving Orbellan in Cortez’s tent (lines 21–46) demonstrates how stage action can be realistically integrated with the scenery, despite some commentators’ claims to the contrary. The wings represent tents, Cortez invites the fleeing Orbellan to hide in his tent – that is, to exit via a wing passageway and stand offstage – and when Orbellan’s pursuers have exited, Cortez invites him back on to the stage.

The last scene is an exterior setting somewhere in the city of Mexico. Taking a cue from The Adventures of Five Hours and other plays specifying urban exteriors, some kind of street setting would be a good fit here. If so, this would need to be a new scene as there is no similar setting used in The Indian Queen and a setting of a European street would be out of kilter with the evident production values. This is the fourth wing setting in the act, so the chamber wings would be replaced with street wings earlier, while the camp (and/or country) settings were in view, all that would be needed would be to ensure that one or both of those settings were in more forward positions in the grooves.

Act 4 is where difficulties arise. Initially scenic demand in the act seems moderate. It calls for three settings: a prison, a Royal chamber and a woodland grotto. On closer inspection, however, the demand is not so straightforward. The first scene is stated to be ‘A Prison’, but it is difficult to determine its nature. The first stage direction is for two characters to enter talking, but a few lines later directly after the line ‘See where he sleeps’ there is a second direction, ‘Cortez appears Chain’d and laid asleep.’[1] The fact that the actor playing Cortez both ‘appears’ and is ‘asleep’ strongly suggests that this is a discovery, similar in fact to the prison discovery in the earlier play involving Montezuma. The alternative of thrusting on a bed with the sleeping Cortez is not in keeping with the tenor of the scene and the level of technical accomplishment demonstrated elsewhere in the play.

If the discovery occurs on the relevant line, as would appear to be the case, what then was the scenery at the start of the act? There are two possibilities: either, unusually, the Mexico (street) shutters remain standing at the start of the act and open on the direction, or the act starts with a different set of shutters. Neither of these options is immediately attractive: the former involves disparity between fictional and theatrical locations; while the latter would involve a financial investment for a new shutter setting that would stand for five lines. [2] Cost, however, would be less of an issue if there were opportunities to reuse such a new prison shutter later in the play. We can return to this point after examining further scenic demand in the act.

The next piece of scenic information comes at the end of the prison scene. Cortez is alone on stage, downstage of the backshutter line. We know that because after a short soliloquy there is the stage direction, ‘Goes in and the Scene closes upon him.’ In other words, after his monologue he turns and walks upstage into the relieve area and the backshutters close over him. This seems straightforward enough, but the second scene in Act 4 is specified as ‘Chamber Royal’, which previously we determined was a relieve setting. Again, there are two possibilities: either a new shutter setting of a Royal chamber closes over Cortez, or something like a prison door shutter closes momentarily over the scene before the next scene starts. This latter solution is favoured by Holland who posits that at this juncture Cortez ‘literally and symbolically re-enters prison’.[3] While this is a nice point, Holland does not fully work through the mechanics of his suggested staging. However, were we to take up this suggestion by showing a prison door closing, we would have another instance of the momentary use of a shutter scene to perform a kind of scenic tidying-up. Again, however, we need to ask the question whether the extra expense would be justified in a production that is seeking to gain as much profit as possible from its reuse of scenery from another play. Already we have identified the need for an extra shutter setting of a Mexican street and what must be a shutter version of the chamber setting; would another shutter setting be justified? We cannot answer that question, so the best way to proceed is to offer two staging solutions for different budgets, with and without extra shutters.

The third scene of Act 4 is a dramatically superfluous discovery that nevertheless offers an opportunity for spectacle and a musical interlude: ‘A pleasant Grotto discover’d: in it a Fountain spouting; round about it Vasquez, Pizarro, and other Spaniards lying carelesly un-arm’d, and by them many Indian Women, one of which Sings the following Song.’[4] This tableau would fill the relieve area to its limit, depending on how one interprets the size of the fountain and the number of supernumeraries. Actually a packed relieve area works to the model’s advantage for I propose that the grotto scene would be another composite setting. This time the prison relieve setting plus the Indian Country wings, at least two of which represented trees, as explained at the start of the Indian Queen analysis.

The rationale for this choice attends both to theatrical contingencies and to a description of the grotto in the previous scene when a messenger reports that the Spaniards ‘securely lye’ about ‘cool Grottoes’ shaded by ‘Bowers’.[5] This solution presupposes that the prison relieve has no associated scenery, it is simply a gloomy recess whose character is determined by its partnering wings, properties and of course stage action: cave wings and chains in the prison scenes, and tree wings, fountain, singing and dancing in the grotto scene. The fountain, might have been a working prop using real water – the song draws attention to its ‘Murmuring sound’ – but if not the illusion could be created.6[6] Whether working or not this large property would be best flown in or rise and descend via a trapdoor mechanism. For reasons that will become clear later I am opting for the latter. The tableau containing the fountain and the actors must be prepared behind some covering scene. I have already suggested that the production would need a shutter setting of a Royal chamber and, in the LIF model at least, this discovery would seem to confirm its use in the second scene.

Now follows what appears to be the most problematic of any stage direction in either ‘Indian’ play. Directly following the grotto discovery is another that opens the fourth scene: ‘A Prison./ Cortez discovered, bound by one Foot, Almeria talking with him.’[7] This apparent successive discovery would indeed be insoluble had we not explored the act’s scenic structure sequentially and in detail in relation to the LIF model. By using the prison relieve for the grotto setting the prison in scene four is essentially already on stage and may be discovered by one of two means. If we suppose that the production budget ran to a separate prison shutter to be used momentarily for covering purposes then this is another ideal opportunity for its use. Alternatively, we could propose something radically different to anything so far encountered and suggest that the fountain itself acts as a screen that has concealed Cortez and Almeria all the way through the third scene. At the end of the grotto scene the stage is cleared (following the stage direction ‘Exeunt Omnes’), the wings change to the cave setting and the fountain descends via a trapdoor, discovering Cortez, Almeria and the prison setting as it does so.

This solution, together with the related options noted above – the Mexican Street remaining on stage at the start of the act and chamber shutters closing over Cortez – has a cost advantage and is highly efficient with theatrical resources, but it is nowhere hinted at in the text. The use of what we might call a cover shutter, however, has been hinted at on two occasions – the start of Act 4.1 with its delayed discovery and at the end of the same scene when the backshutters close over Cortez. In addition such a scenic cover would provide an excellent means of effecting the successive discoveries of the grotto and the prison, as I have noted. This is the solution recorded in the scenery plot, but the simpler alternative may also be viewed on this site (to be added).

All in all, while the proposed scenic operations for Act 4 are complicated, the actual scenic demand is less than might be expected. Following the above solution, the act needs only two shutter scenes (prison and chamber), three wing scenes (cave, chamber, country) and one relieve (prison). Act 5 demands only two settings, the ‘Chamber Royal’ shutters and the ‘Prison’ relieve, but it is not without difficulties. The first occurs at the start of the act and its scene heading: ‘The Chamber Royal, an Indian Hamock discover’d in it.’ Were this to be yet another relieve scene there would be a problem, because the next scene, set again in the prison, probably uses large properties in the relieve area. So far in this play, the Chamber Royal relieve setting from The Indian Queen has not been used, and I see no reason why it should be here. At the start of the act the chamber shutters close over the prison relieve, which has been left open during the act break, and a hammock is flown in quickly and easily from the flies. The hammock appears to be in the scene purely for aesthetic reasons, there is no further reference to it, nor is it involved in stage action.

The last scene in the play returns us to the prison and its instruments of torture. The wording of the scene heading may suggest a discovered tableau: ‘A Prison./ Montezuma, Indian High Priest bound, Pizarro, Spaniards with Swords drawn, a Christian Priest.’ What seems likely is that the racks used to torture Montezuma and the High Priest would be set prior to the start of the scene in the relieve space, but as the Spanish soldiers are commanded by Pizarro to tie the prisoners to the racks and they evidently move towards them, as is indicated by the stage direction, ‘They fasten them to the racks, and then pull them’, the heading may also mark a simple entrance, probably from a wing passageway.

The last spatio-scenic aspect of the play that needs to be discussed does not involve scenery, but rather the use of a balcony and a forestage wall. Montezuma has been freed from the rack and his daughter Cydaria has been removed to a nearby tower (in the castle) by Cortez for her protection. There is now much action involving a balcony, representing the tower, and its associated door. Fictionally the action has removed to the tower, its entrance and the area immediately around it; theatrically all that is required is for the actors to move downstage from the scenic area onto the forestage. The prison relieve, its racks and the cave wings remain standing and there is no need for any scene change.

[1] Indian Emperour, p. 37.

[2] In Act 1.1 Mexico is described as ‘The City on the Lake’ (p. 2) and in Act 3.4 the prison is described as being in ‘the Castle on the Lake’ (p. 36). Fictionally, then, the prison may be within the city and the street setting might not be as anomalous as it first appears. In any case, there is no doubt that what would be perceived nowadays as spatial disparity or anomaly was tolerated by Restoration audiences. There is a danger of dwelling on things in the study not readily noticed in performance and this solution remains a possibility.

[3] Peter Holland, Ornament of Action, p. 37.

[4] Indian Emperour, p. 45.

[5] Indian Emperour, p. 43.

[6] Indian Emperour, p. 45. For possible use of real water see Derek Forbes, “Water Drama” in Performance and Politics in Popular Drama: Aspects of Popular Entertainment in Theatre, Film and Television, 1800-1976, ed. David Bradby et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), p. 91. The theatre architect Nicolo Sabbatini shows a method for reproducing the effect of real water in his Pratica di fabricar scene e machine ne’ teatri (1638); see Barnard Hewitt, The Renaissance Stage: Documents of Serlio, Sabbattini and Furtenbach (Florida: University Of Miami Press, 1958), pp. 145-6.

[7] Indian Emperour, p. 47.

Cambyses (staging)

By Elkanah Settle (January 1671; pub. 1671)

Of all the plays in the first period of LIF production this is the most complex in terms of its demand on theatre resources. In comparison with his rival, Killigrew, Davenant appears to have been reluctant to use stage machinery: there is little recourse to it before Cambyses (Davenant died in 1668).[1] Aside from some special effects, the scenery in Cambyses is varied without demanding anything other than stock settings. The play is notable, however, for its use of spectacle. Despite Settle’s apparent heavy reliance on scenes and machines there was a production of this fashionable new play at a scenically impoverished university venue at Oxford in July, 1671. Settle’s prologue for this occasion, “Spoken by Betterton in a riding habit”, wittily draws attention to the lack of theatrical resources:

But then our House wants ornament and Scene,
Which the chief grandeur of a Play maintain,
But to excuse this want, we must confess,
We are but Travellers in a riding dress.[2]

Despite the lack of ‘ornaments’ on this occasion, it would seem that the play was still the thing for a university audience.

Scenically the most distinctive feature of the play is the use of the relieve space. There are no less that six discoveries in the play, more than any production by either company until 1673 (one uses the front curtain).[3] Three of these are for special effect, revealing, in order, a dead body, a spectacular dream sequence (curtain), and the descent of flying spirits. This use of discoveries and special effects marks a change from standard LIF practice and points to future spectacle at Dorset Garden. Demanding as it is, however, the play does not require anything qualitatively different from resources demanded by other LIF plays.

Although calling for a minimum of seven different settings the scenery plot is relatively straightforward. Indeed, although Settle’s stage directions are ample and descriptive, they reveal an economy of means. Only Act 3 calls for more than three shutter settings. In the LIF model all this requires is for the palace of 3.1 to be replaced with the walk or garden of 3.3 while the camp shutters of 3.2 are in view. Similarly, the discovery in 2.2 moves the action swiftly on (like a film edit), allowing Settle to reveal a well populated stage without having to wait for the actors to get into position: “The Scene open’d appears Smerdis seated on a Throne, attended by Guards, and other Attendants”.[4]

Perhaps, though, the best example of this theatrical acumen has previously been misread. Settle directs the curtain to fall at the end of Act 3, but there is no corresponding direction for it to be raised at the start of Act 4. Langhans suggests that Settle made an error in including this curtain direction, but if we consider the disposition of the stage at this point a likely solution emerges. What the scenery plot makes very clear is that Act 3 ends with a discovery scene in view and Act 4 starts with another. The sequence of events is as follows. The 3.4 discovery reads, “The Scene opens, and on a Table appears the Body of Osiris, beheaded; & an Executioner with the suppos’d head in a vessel of blood”.[5] There then follows sixty or so lines of dialogue and the act ends with the direction, “The Curtain Falls”.[6]

Act 4 starts as follows. The Scene drawn, Cambyses is discover’d seated in a Chair sleeping: The Scene representing a steep Rock, from the top of which descends a large Cloud, which opening, appear various shapes of Spirits seated in form of a Councel, to whom a more glorious Spirit descends half way, seated on a Throne; at which, the former Spirits rise and Dance: In the midst of the Dance arises a Woman with a Dagger in her hand; at which the Scene shuts.[7]

If we follow Langhans and assume the curtain direction is erroneous, two sets of shutter grooves become necessary because the next stage direction evidently still has Cambyses onstage: “Cambyses rises from his Chair, as newly waking, and seems disorder’d”.[8] This solution (two shutter positions) is precisely Langhans’s thesis, so he does not seek alternative explanations. However, the whole sequence is explicable in the LIF model if we take the playwright at his word.

In this simpler interpretation, the curtain falls at the end of 3.4 on an exposed discovery scene with the shutters still open. During the Act music, Cambyses gets into position sitting in his chair on the scenic stage but, crucially, downstage of the shutters. Meanwhile, the stagehands set a backcloth scene picturing the steep rock described in the stage direction (obviously, this is the final scenic element) and clear the rest of the space behind the shutters to allow freedom of movement for the descending machines in the dream sequence. Thus, at the start of Act 4 the curtain rises on Cambyses who is sitting downstage of the shutter line with the steep rock scenery far upstage in the relieve area, and the dream scene begins. At the end of the dream, the shutters close leaving Cambyses alone on stage. While this fully explains the general sequence of events, there are still some details to clear up.

First, as noted, the opening direction of Act 4 does not state that the front curtain rises. However, it may be that because it is so obvious that the curtain needs to rise at the start of the act it was omitted. There are such omissions of obvious stage directions elsewhere in LIF plays. In The Adventures of Five Hours, for example, Tuke omits a direction for actors to exit a balcony, providing only a direction for them to re-enter. There is a slight suggestion that “The Scene drawn” may refer to the front curtain, because in four of the six discoveries Settle refers to the scene ‘opening’. However, this is not true of 5.1, which also uses ‘draws’, and is unlikely to refer to a curtain. Either way, then, some kind of textual slip is implied. However, as the scene works so well on the much simpler LIF model, I would argue that a direction is more likely to have been omitted, rather than added in error.

The second detail is the question of where the spirits and the armed woman dance. Langhans thinks on the stage, but as no exit is provided for the dancers, I imagine that what was witnessed at LIF was more likely to have been stately gyrations on the flying machine. Although this may seem a surprising suggestion, the use of flying machines both here and in Act 5 is remarkably similar to the flying sequences in Davenant and Jones’s Caroline masque Salmacida Spolia. In that production, it will be recalled, no less than ten masquers descended on a great cloud. There does not need to be so many in Cambyses, and it would be perfectly possible for the council members to rise and start some gentle movements to music before a crouching actor rises in their midst.

It is clear from both flying sequences that two lifting machines were used. Langhans finds evidence in Bridges Street plays for two types of machine, heavy and light, or as Dryden’s The Rival Ladies (BS, 1664) puts it: “Venus and Ceres descend in the slow Machines; Ceres drawn by Dragons, Venus by Swans. After them Phoebus and Mercury descend in swift Motion.” [9]

That LIF had a heavy/slow machine is evident from stage directions in The Humerous Lovers (1667), including, “Venus and Cupid descending while the Song is singing”.[10] Significantly, three verses are needed to cover this action and later four verses while they ascend. Langhans observes that Bridges Street was a step ahead of LIF in terms of machines. The only other possible uses of lifting/flying machines at LIF before The Humerous Lovers are not certain and could be scenic effects – a rising sun in The Play-house to be Let, and a rising moon in The Adventures of Five Hours – or might not have been performed as stated in the text: Venus speaking the prologue “from the Clouds” in Love’s Kingdom. Compared to Killigrew, Davenant seems to have eschewed spectacle and machines, and it is perhaps significant that Cambyses, the most spectacular of LIF plays, was not produced until three years after Davenant’s death. With Cambyses the new LIF management seems to have been determined to trounce Killigrew on his own ground.

Applying the heavy/light machine hypothesis to Cambyses it would make sense in Act 4 for the council members to be flown on a heavy lifting machine, and the glorious spirit on a lighter machine behind the plane of the first. A similar arrangement of heavy and light machines is indicated later. In Act 5 a solitary spirit first descends and speaks, there is passage of covering dialogue and music while the spirit ascends, then two more spirits appear: “Here two glorious Spirits descend in Clouds”. The interval between the appearances of these two sets of spirits may suggest that the same machine was used, but it would not allow much time for the new spirits to get into position, nor crucially for the clouds (presumably lacking in the first sequence) to be affixed. Instead, I suggest that the first spirit is flown in on the light machine. The covering dialogue is then for the heavy machine, which is presumably slower and takes time to descend. In a further display of spectacle, a bloody cloud is flown down to mask these two spirits, while actors representing two ghosts take their places:

The Song ended, the Musick turns into an Alarm, at which a bloody Cloud interposes between the Audience and the Spirits; and being immediately remov’d, the Ghosts of Cambyses, and the true Smerdis appear in the seats of the former Spirits.[11]

This play pushes LIF facilities to the limits and the space behind the shutters must have been quite cramped. The whole spirits sequence starts with a discovery scene (5.3): “The Scene open’d, appears a Temple of the Sun, uncover’d according to the Antient Custome, with an Altar in the middle, bearing two large burning Tapers; and on each side a Priest standing”. Some lines later we get the descending spirit sequence discussed above. This means that we may divide the relieve area into at least three planes: first, nearest the shutters, the altar and priests, next the plane of the light flying machine, then the heavy machine plane nearest the backcloth. The cloud is simply a scenic item and would be flown in using the light machine for it to interpose between altar and spirits. Alternatively, there is a possibility that it could have been a drop curtain, which would make this the first example of such on the public stage.

Two final points remain. It is likely that the ‘private walk’ called for at 3.3 also doubled as the garden in 4.3 and 4.4, there being no need to differentiate theatrically between the two settings. This play is notable for the number of times acting is specifically directed in the scenic area. This raises the probability of lights affixed to available positions within the scenic area, such as to sconces on the rear of wing frames.

[1] See Langhans, ‘Notes on the Reconstruction of the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre’, Theatre Notebook, vol.10, no.4, 1956, p.114; and Lewcock, Computer Analysis 1, op cit pp.26-7.
[2] Ibid. pp.418-19.
[3] In 1673 Settle outdoes himself by offering no less than eight discoveries in his Dorset Garden play The Empress of Morocco. As this play includes one of the first examples of a double, or successive, discovery, one longs to know whether it was performed in its published state at its première at Court on the Hall stage. It was probably simplified as the Oxford prologue to the earlier play suggests.
[4] London: William Cademan, 1671, p.18.
[5] Ibid. p.47.
[6] Ibid. p.48.
[7] Ibid p.49.
[8] Ibid.
[9] See Langhans, Thesis, op cit pp.77-8; Rival Ladies, London: Herringman, 1664, p.34.
[10] London: Herringman, 1677, p.28.
[11] Ibid. p.75.