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Shadwell’s first version of this play was withdrawn before it reached the stage or printer.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 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 Sullen Lovers (staging)

by Thomas Shadwell (May 1668; pub.1671)

Shadwell’s argumentative preface makes a virtue out of the play’s lack of scene divisions, and hence scene headings: “I have here, as often as I could naturally, kept the Scenes unbroken”.[1] Indeed there is only one explicit item of scenic information in the play, but that is very definite: “The place of the SCENE LONDON. The Time, In the Moneth of March, 1667/8”.[2] Despite, the lack of scenic information The Sullen Lovers is theatrically straightforward and well constructed. Six fictional locations may be inferred: the separate lodgings of the eponymous lovers, Stanford and Emilia, a field, a street, a hall (the “great Roome” at Oxford Kate’s), and a house in Covent Garden. [3] The last is the abode and shop of a fashionable dress maker and should not be considered humble.[4] The maximum scene allocation of six individual settings presents no problems to the LIF model. A minimal production would require four settings (by combining all house interiors), but I prefer to distinguish between the houses of the principals and propose five: Emilia’s, Stanford’s (doubling as the Covent Garden house), field, street, and hall. Four wing settings are required by this solution, which entails one wing setting – street, or field – being replaced in either of the intervals between Acts 3/4 or 4/5.

Of more interest in terms of the model is the pattern of exits and entrances in this play. The word ‘door’ features 19 times and there are some significant stage directions relating to the use of doors. Oppositional staging features again, though not as pronounced as in The Tempest, the best example being the stage direction: “Emil. and Stanf. run out at several doors, the Impertinents divided follow ’em”.[5] The ‘other door’ format occurs only once – “Enter Emilia and her Maid at one Door, Ninny and Woodcock at t’other”, but there is a pointed reference in the dialogue that confirms that fictionally at least the play admits of only two entrance points: “Heaven knows this door’s lock’d, and there’s no escaping at the other”.[6] As this line suggests, Shadwell makes great play of locking up characters in The Sullen Lovers: cognates of the word ‘lock’ occur nine times in the text in relation to an onstage door. At the start of Act 2 Emilia has locked herself in her chamber; in Act 3 she is locked in the same room against her will with her ‘sullen’ counterpart Stanford; the couple find themselves trapped by another locked door in Act 4; and in Act 5 they help lock up the idiotic Sir Positive At-all.

In the LIF model, locking a forestage door places greater emphasis on entrances and exits. Often, a case may be made for wing entrances, but the fictional restriction in Emily’s line above means that this play becomes a real test. With one door out of action the remaining forestage door must function as the sole entrance/exit point. If this cannot be demonstrated the model fails. Emily’s statement comes in Act 4, which is wholly set in her lodgings (strictly her father’s house but he is a minor character). The act is a maelstrom of activity as the text records that 14 of the play’s 17 named characters troop through Emily’s house in 42 entrances and exits. Nevertheless, the whole pattern of movements in the act is contained by the established fiction that the room has only two doors of entrance. The act is almost wholly concerned with the baiting of the over-serious pair, Emilia and Stanford, by the normative couple, Lovell and Carolina. This baiting reaches a climax when the sullen couple find themselves trapped by the whole gang of “Impertinents” led by Sir Positive who are between them and their escape route.

It is at this point that Emily tells us that the nearer door is locked. Unfortunately, Shadwell has not made it clear who locks the door and when. However, as the situation has been stage managed by Lovell and Carolina, who are also responsible for locking the couple together in the previous act, we may safely infer that they repeat the trick in this. There is ample opportunity for either to do so, and the action could be simply and effectively signalled to an audience in performance. This oversight does not affect the integrity of the model; rather this long scene in a single location confirms that two forestage doors are sufficient to cope with a complex plot with a plethora of entrances and exits. Equally important it demonstrates that when Shadwell, one of the first professional dramatists of the Restoration, came to write this satirical London comedy there is every indication that he was thinking in terms of a two-door LIF forestage.

[1]London: Herringman, 1668, front matter.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid. p.81.
[4] Emilia’s sister Caroline says, “go to my Tyre-woman in Coven-Garden, who has some Excellent new Patterns of Lace for me” (ibid. p.77). Covent Garden was also a brothel area, but Etherege allows the respectable Widow Rich to live there in Love in a Tub, and Sir John Swallow has no qualms about his fiancée Millisent lodging there in Sir Martin Mar-all.
[5] Op cit p.31.
[6] Ibid. p.47, 73.