Side-shutter (wing) changes

It would have been in the interest of theatre managers and scene keepers to limit the number of side-shutter (wing) changes in a production. Assuming four wing positions, as in my LIF model and in various stage designs by John Webb and Inigo Jones (see the Hall stage),  the total area of the wing scenes would be more than twice that of a backshutter pair. This and the fact that painting wing scenes was a specialised art – especially if the setting required strict optical alignment, as in a scene of perspective – meant that a set of wing scenes was likely to be more expensive and time consuming to paint than a backshutter pair. Moreover, changing the wings in a manual system, as at LIF and most likely Bridges Street, would have required one man per position per side. Synchronizing wing changes with backscene changes must also have been difficult. When we take these factors into account, plus others such as noise and the increased likelihood of mechanical issues, it seems likely that authors would have been encouraged to limit the number of wing changes required in a play to three or less per Act (matching the available grooves in the LIF model, though Jones’s Salmacida Spolia stage has four). This could be achieved by making wing scenes more generic than backscenes. So, a set of tree wings, for example, could be matched to various backscenes depicting forests, woods, groves, gardens and the like; and a set of chamber wings might do for all interior scenes in a play. In these cases, if any specificity or distinction was required, it would be provided by the backscene.

The Indian Emperor (shutters)

The 'Indian Emperour' reused scenery from 'The Indian Queen'










Read this diagram in conjunction with the associated scenery plot.

The Indian Emperor was designed to reuse scenery from The Indian Queen

The Humorists (staging)

By Thomas Shadwell (December 1670; pub.1671)

Shadwell’s first version of this play was withdrawn before it reached the stage or printer. However, it was preserved in a manuscript that was published in 1975 edited by Richard Perkin. It seems that Shadwell had intended to continue the vein of personal satire exploited in The Sullen Lovers but his intended targets forced him to abandon the plan (Perkin suggests they included the King’s mistress, Lady Castlemaine.[1])  In his preface to the printed version Shadwell mounts a spirited defence of his “mangled, persecuted Play” in which he affects surprise that the Town should be so malicious as to “believe that every thing I write, is too nearly reflecting upon persons”.

As far as this website is concerned the existence of two different versions of any play is potentially of great interest. In this case, although the differences relating to physical staging are not revelatory, the stage directions in the MS are often more detailed and help to clarify the stage action. For example in 4.4 the fools Crazy and Drybob scale a garden wall, but only the MS notes when each man leaps down.

As usual, Shadwell supplies little scenic information in either text. Three locations are stated explicitly – a tavern, a garden, and a cellar – of which the last is probably not a scenic setting. However, the other three locations in the play are clear enough. Action in two of these is preceded by stage directions that seem to follow the pre-Civil War pattern in providing locational clues by means of costume or properties: “Enter Crazy in a Night-Gown and Cap”, and “Enter Crazy with a Ladder”[2]. From the respective contexts it is clear that the action takes place in Crazy’s house in the former, and on the street outside Lady Loveyouth’s in the latter.

A minimal scenic production could make do with one chamber setting – to represent the lodgings of Crazy and Lady Loveyouth – a street, a tavern, and most likely a relieve for the garden. In this solution only one wing scene replacement is required: the tavern wings being replaced with garden wings immediately after the tavern scene, 4.1. Providing specific shutters for Crazy’s lodgings in Act 1, while not necessary for plot clarity, would be a simpler matter, they could be replaced easily during any of the first three act breaks.

The most problematic section of the play occurs in Act 4. From 4.2 the action is centred on Lady Loveyouth’s house and quickly moves from the street just outside – balcony and door much involved – through various parts of the house, including a cellar, to the garden and a garden wall. The interesting thing to note, however, is that all these micro changes of location, as it were, are preceded by stage directions that call for a cleared stage. Shadwell specifies a garden and a cellar, but otherwise the cleared stage and subsequent dialogue clarify the situation for an audience if not always for a reader – a cleared stage will always register with an audience, but a reader may not notice the associated direction(s).

Although a cellar is specified a scenic change is unnecessary. It could be supplied by replacing the street shutters after 4.2, but there is no great advantage to be gained by the effort. The cellar scene (4.6) is specified when Crazy and Drybob seek refuge from the pursuing household servants. This is a fictional dark scene and the comedy arises from watching the two dupes stumble about on the relatively bright forestage trying to escape from the locked cellar. The servants then appear in a balcony with lights (another instance of an internal balcony) and discover the dupes. Later when things have calmed down the pair are summoned for judgement. As the various exits and entrances in these Act 4 scenes follow a logical pattern in their use of fictional door assignations, there should be no need to distinguish the cellar scenically.

Only two forestage doors are required for Loveyouth’s house in Act 4. One fictionally leads to the garden, its opposite to the cellar. Entrances and exits from/to elsewhere in the house should be made through wing passageways. Once this pattern is established, the stage action becomes perfectly explicable. Internal changes of location within Lady Loveyouth’s house are marked either by a cleared stage or by clear locational clues in the dialogue, for example “Come Madam, while your Aunt is seeing the fire quench’d on the back-side, let us escape at the fore-door”[3]. The garden is distinguished scenically, but the various parts of Lady Loveyouth’s house are represented by a single setting, a principle familiar from The Adventures Of Five Hours.

No spatial anomaly is implied for the cellar scene. Unlike in Elvira, where I believe the forestage and the scenery must represent briefly different parts of the same house simultaneously, the action in the cellar scene is played against a general chamber setting, which stands for the house. As far as an audience is concerned, the forestage simply becomes the cellar during 4.6. The staging of this scene is easily managed using the LIF model.

As in Act 5 of The Adventures of Five Hours, the duo enter from the wings, grope about, discover the locked door and exit through another wing passageway. The text provides several hints that such a staging is not only possible, but also expected. Theatrically the audience sees two forestage doors; fictionally there is only one, the one through which they originally entered and which has subsequently been locked. However, directions for a cleared stage precede and follow this scene allowing all fictional door assignations to be reset. Feasibly, therefore, Crazy and Drybob could enter from either forestage door without breaking the established stage logic.

A more elegant solution, however, would be for the pair to enter from one of the wing passageways. This way attention need not be drawn either to a fictionally invisible door, or to a door that they are later to declare to be locked. As if in confirmation of this solution, Shadwell has the pair exit the scene with Crazy proposing “We’ll see if we can get out at the Window”[4]. This is a fictional rather than a theatrical exit and is not evidence for a low-level window in the scenery. (Indeed, the only LIF play where such a facility is indicated is in Tuke’s Adventures.)  The speculative window is located fictionally in a supposed part of the cellar that the audience cannot see. Shadwell is using Crazy’s suggestion as a fictional means of getting his actors physically offstage without using either forestage door. That Crazy and Drybob are still trapped as far as the plot is concerned becomes clear a few lines later when Loveyouth’s servants bring the pair onstage (fictionally hauled up from the cellar) for judgement. That such an interpretation springs so organically from the text and the stage action lends weight to the LIF model proposed in these pages.

A two-door forestage with a wing and shutter chamber setting caters for the bustling sequence of entrances and exits in the major part of Act 4. The fictional door assignations in this act are different from other acts where Loveyouth’s chamber appears and where a more central part of the house is implied. However, this is one of the great advantages of Restoration dramaturgy and one should not be surprised when such an advantage is exploited by Restoration dramatists.

The last stage action to be accounted for is the use of the garden wall. It would be possible, if clumsy and counter-intuitive, to stage the play using a balcony as a wall. However, as there is no reason why the garden scene should not be a relieve setting, a practical wall could easily be set in the relieve area just behind the shutter line. The stage directions lend themselves to this interpretation. Both men are instructed to enter frontally, “looking over the Wall”; they then immediately scale the wall and leap down: “Now for my leap of honour” declares Drybob. As no other relieve scene is required in the play a practical wall could be pre-set upstage of the shutter line before the play began. This solution presents no staging difficulties and offers several theatrical advantages.

[1] Shadwell’s The Humorists, Dublin: Laurel House Press, 1975, pp.2-4.
[2] London: Herringman, 1671, p.1, 47.
[3] Ibid. p.59.
[4] Ibid. p.58.

The Forc’d Marriage (staging)

By Aphra Behn (September 1670; pub.1671)

Dawn Lewcock and Lee J. Martin offer detailed analyses of the staging of this play. In an important Theatre Survey article Martin focuses on scenery, while Lewcock examines Behn’s dramaturgy in relation to narrative and audience reception.[1] Martin’s assertion that Behn was “anything but an innovator, and her stage directions are most probably the reflection of what she saw in use on the stage of her time” highlights the general lack of overt staging information in most published plays.[2] His judgement seems harsh, but it is impossible to disprove on the basis of Behn’s two LIF plays (The Amorous Prince being the other). The scanty evidence of staging in most play texts may provide a distorting mirror of actual practice, and as a tyro playwright it certainly seems possible that Behn would be following stage fashions in her first staged play, rather than leading them. Yet, the impression gained from the tone and detail of her ample stage directions is quite the opposite. Indeed, Lewcock argues that Behn exploits the dramaturgy of the play to manipulate likely audience reception, suggesting that even at this early stage Behn was remarkably assured in her control of dramatic and theatrical resources.[3]

Curiously, however, two stage directions in this play seem to reveal apparent indecision or lack of confidence (less probably in her own abilities than in relation to LIF stage management): “He strangles her with a Garter, which he snatches from his Leg, or smothers her with a Pillow”; “the Dance done, they lay them [emblematic symbols] at his feet, or seem to do so, and go out”.[4] These directions suggest that Behn, as we might expect at this early stage, had less influence over LIF production than more established playwrights such as Dryden and Boyle. However, Dryden and Boyle are likely to have been exceptions to a rule, and Behn’s case is probably more representative of LIF playwrights as a whole in this regard. However, her apparent hesitancy over what hand props actors may have available in these two directions does not devalue scenic and staging information elsewhere in The Forc’d Marriage.

An unusual feature of the play text is that while Behn provides only nine explicitly located scene headings (plus two implicitly stated) she numbers all 28 of her scenes. The lack of scene headings may again reflect some uncertainty about LIF stage management in her first production, or, more likely, she generally does not restate a heading once supplied. Behn’s nine explicit scene headings specify five individual settings. These comprise three shutter scenes: a bedchamber, the court gallery, a room decorated in black; and two relieves: an extension to the gallery scene (“at the Chamber door of Erminia”), and a chamber (Erminia’s). These settings account for the majority of the locations. The scene keeper had only to supply one setting not accounted for, namely a formal stateroom for some neutral scenes within the general setting of a palace.[5]

There is one further stated location that does not form the setting for any of the numbered scenes. Behn represents the wedding ceremony (of the titular marriage) by an elaborate and large-scale tableau set in a temple. This tableau forms a prelude to Act 2 and it is worth reproducing the stage direction in full as it indicates both the detail of Behn’s stage directions and her intended control over the theatrical presentation (no matter how conventional):


The Curtain must be let down; and soft Musick must play: the Curtain being drawn up, discovers a Scene of a Temple: The King sitting on a Throne, bowing down to joyn the Hands of Alcippus and Erminia, who kneel on the steps of the Throne; the Officers of the Court and the Clergy standing in order by, with Orgulious.

This within the Scene.

Without on the Stage, Phillander with his sword half-drawn, held by Gallatea, who looks ever on Alcippus: Erminia still fixing her eyes on Phillander; Pisaro passionately gazing on Gallatea: Aminth on Fallatio, and he on her; Alcander, Isillia, Cleontius, in other several postures, with the rest; all remaining without motion, whilst the Musick softly plays; this continues a while till the Curtain falls; and then the Musick plays aloud till the Act begins.[6]

In his Behn edition, Summers designates fictional headings for all those scenes lacking such.[7] His allocation is sensitive to the text and I differ in only one. It seems more appropriate in 1.2 and 1.3 for the distraught Erminia to retire to her own chambers rather than those of the Princess Gallatea. This is also a more appropriate location for her puzzled father’s bluff entrance and subsequent interview of Erminia in 1.3. Martin presents Summers’s designations as if they were Behn’s own and does not interrogate them. His analysis also suffers because it follows Southern’s dispersed-shutter theory. Rightly, however, he draws attention to Behn’s carefully controlled use of shutter and relieve scenes (though following Southern he designates them as shallow and deep).

As with other plays, the 14 or so fictional locations in this play would need to be reduced to a more theatrically manageable number. Following the hint from Behn’s own generic scene headings – “a Bed-Chamber”, “a Chamber” – we can reduce the settings to seven: the six named above, plus a temple setting. The scenery plot shows how these settings are accommodated within the LIF model. As all the fictional chambers are rooms within the same palace and the explication of plot is not at issue in this play, as it is in The Adventures of Five Hours, there seems little point in adding to these seven settings. The presence of a particular character together with the dialogue provides sufficient indication of place in this play. I have allocated a relieve setting to Erminia’s chamber because such a scene is implicitly demanded in 4.4 and 4.6 and, as noted above, it seems sensible to use the same setting for 1.2 and 1.3. A bed in 4.6 provides theatrical difference between the two discovery scenes 4.4 & 4.6, which represent rooms in Erminia’s apartments;[8] thus, fictionally, we understand Erminia and Philander to have moved from one room to another following Erminia’s request to her lover that he “retire into this inner room”.[9]

Behn’s use of discovery scenes is a distinctive feature of the play’s dramaturgy. It is the first LIF play to make more than an isolated use of discoveries as a means of speeding up the stage action. An excellent example of this occurs in 2.6: “Draws off, discovers Phillander and Alcander with Musick at the Chamber door of Erminia, to them Pisaro who listens whilst the Song is sung”.[10] In the preceding scene Pisaro has announced his intention to gather intelligence about the night’s comings and goings at Court. He exits and the immediate discovery allows the onstage music to begin straight away, rather than having to pause while the musicians get into position (they may even be playing before the end of 2.5).

The only difficulty is that this discovery tends to stretch perceived spatial locations. Erminia’s chamber door would seem to be located by the 2.6 discovery as being within the relieve area (note the door does not need to be practical, in fact it need not even be represented at this stage; the song need only be directed offstage to the side of the relieve area). However, at the start of 4.3 Philander returns to the same fictional location – “Calls at the Lodgings of Erminia” – and although a forestage door is not stated it would clearly help to signify place.[11] Later, a practical door for the same location is evidently called for when Erminia’s husband Alcippus arrives (4.5): “he knocks./ Alcander looks out at the door”. Unless the musicians at the start of 2.6 immediately rush into position in front of the designated forestage door before they start playing, it looks like Behn was not shy of invoking a little spatial anomaly for the sake of fluid staging. However, with the temporal separation between 2.6 and 4.3/5, it is doubtful that an audience would register this as anomalous. It seems to me that this is a highly effective theatrical cheat of a type similar to those encountered in Elvira, Mustapha, and Juliana.

The implied use of doors in this play does not present a problem for the two-door model. Specifically, the multiple use of practical doors – the key contra-indicator – is never implied.

The final scene heading in the play is unusual: “Discovers a room hung with Black, a Herse standing in it with Tapers round about it”.[12] Perhaps this was an opportunity to make use of that curious black scene used in Guzman, albeit with its astrological symbols painted over.

[1] Martin, ‘A Study of Restoration Staging Techniques’, Theatre Survey, vol.4, 1963, pp.3-28; Lewcock, Aphra Behn Stages the Social Scene, Cambria2008, 198-201, and Thesis, op cit pp.97-103. Also, Derek Hughes’s perceptive account of the play makes an interesting point about the staging (English Drama 1660-1700, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996, p.164-5).
[2] Op cit p.24.
[3] See, Lewcock, Thesis, op cit pp.97-103.
[4] London: J. Magnus, 1671, p.63, 78.
[5] The general setting is found in its usual position at the foot of the dramatis personae page: “Scene within the Court of FRANCE”.
[6] Op cit p.18.
[7] The Works of Aphra Behn, New York: Phaeton Press, 1967 (reprint of 1915 ed.)
[8] The stage directions/ headings for these scenes are consecutively: “Draws off
, discovers Erminia sitting in a dishabit to her Phillander, who falls at her feet on his knees”, “They go into the Scene which draws over
” (4.4, p.58 & 59); “The Court Gallery” (4.5, p.59); “a Bed Chamber./ Discovers Erminia, Phillander sitting on the Bed, to them Isillia, a Sword and Hat on the Table” (4.6, p.60)
[9] Op cit p.59.
[10] Ibid. p.33.
[11] Ibid. p.68.
[12] Ibid. p.82.