In this chapter I turn away from the model and its application in individual staging solutions to focus on the plays themselves. What can they tell us as a corpus about the development of scenic dramaturgy over the period? While most of the analysis in this study is necessarily textually based, as use of the term corpus would suggest, these plays were first and foremost a theatrical repertoire, or more accurately the new component of the patent companies’ separate repertoires, the bulk of which was pre-Restoration plays. While I have noted some theatrical distinctions between LIF and Bridges Street plays in earlier chapters, these appear to be more a question of house style than major dramaturgical differences that point to dissimilar staging arrangements. If I am correct in my view of Dryden’s scenic dramaturgy, some of his early plays strain the technical limits of a Hall-type stage, but they do not exceed them. Appropriately for this study, ‘repertoire’ emphasises the theatrical over the literary and what I attempt here is an overview of theatrical development at the one theatre that hosted both companies over the period and so in this sense defines it – namely, LIF. At the start of the Restoration, English scenic practice, let alone scenic dramaturgy, can barely be said to have existed. The last court masque, Davenant’s Salmacida Spolia, had been performed 20 years earlier and the only recent developments had been Davenant’s experimental and necessarily small-scale ‘operas’ in the 1650s. In 1660, then, Davenant was the doyen of scenic production, so it is perhaps unfortunate that in terms of English theatre history he is mostly remembered now for The Siege of Rhodes, an ‘opera’ whose scenic requirements were largely determined by the spatial limitations of the original venue. Dryden tells us that Rhodes influenced the development of the heroic play, but its effect on scenic dramaturgy has been overplayed.1 Much has been written about the symbolic use of scenery in the play, but Davenant’s many apologies for theatrical compromises in his pre-LIF productions argue that Rhodes was
not representative of his theatrical aims and should not be interpreted as a template for future production.2 Indeed, Davenant starts his ‘opera’ period by apologising for his ‘Cup-board-Scene’.3 He then compares the ‘contracted trifle’ of Rhodes 1 to the lives of ‘the Caesars carved upon a pin’ and refers to ‘the narrowness of the Room’ at Rutland House.4 He continues in the same vein even after he has moved from that venue, and in the prologue to Rhodes 2 he complains about ‘this narrow Place’ that reduces the production to a ‘Chess-board’.5 While allowing for the scenic vision of Inigo Jones, we gain a better appreciation of Davenant’s understanding of scenic practice by reference to his pre-Civil War masques, such as The Temple of Love and Salmacida Spolia, than by the under-financed ‘operas’: Rhodes, The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru and The History of Sir Francis Drake. Unfortunately, the administrative workload involved in establishing his new theatre probably prevented Davenant from exploiting the scenic potential of LIF himself, and his unaided post-Restoration work is scenically efficient rather than innovative. The same or less is true of other early LIF productions. Not surprisingly, there is little sense of an integrated scenic dramaturgy in early LIF plays. By ‘integrated’ I mean a scenic dramaturgy that incorporates technical aspects of the new stage within the drama such that they seem interdependent rather than separate and distinct components. What we find instead are old-fashioned plays with scenic additions: The Villain (1662), The Marriage Night (1667), The Humorous Lovers (1667); plays where the author seems spellbound by scenic novelty: The Slighted Maid (1663), The Step-mother (1663); and plays that exhibit little understanding or are over-optimistic of scenic resources: Love in a Tub (1664), Elvira (1664), The History of Henry the Fifth (1664), Tarugo’s Wiles (1667). With other plays one senses a technical understanding of the new stage but no conception of a new dramaturgy. In The English Princess (1667), Caryll grasps the opportunity provided by the front curtain for an innovative and dramatic discovery scene, but otherwise scene changes simply follow the narrative, which alternates scenes in Richard’s and Richmond’s camps; they are not used to shape audience response. Boyle’s Mustapha (1665) is more assured dramatically and scenically than his first LIF play, Henry the Fifth (1664), offering a dramatically effective use of the discovery space, but it is theatrically more conservative than his later plays. The Adventures of Five Hours (1663) and Sir Martin Mar-all (1667) come closest of the early plays to scenic integration, albeit in different ways. Both are scenically efficient, minimalist even, certainly neither adds scenery for the sake of it. Scenery aids the narrative in The Adventures, and Sir Martin demonstrates a technical mastery of the mechanics of the new stage, exemplified by the brilliant balconies scene. Both plays, however, seem
constrained by their respective generic ties: convoluted plotting in the former and farcical clowning in the latter.6 It is probably only where generic expectations were looser, or where spectacle allowed scenic experimentation, that moves towards an integrated scenic dramaturgy could be instigated. The ideal vehicle was tragicomedy, especially more lavish productions. However, the first LIF play to suggest the development of a new dramaturgy, Davenant and Dryden’s The Tempest (1667), is scenically economical rather than spectacular. While the average LIF play calls for at least four shutter and wing settings (see Table 4.3), The Tempest only needs three of each. Disappointingly, this economy also extends to scenic information in the play, with only four stage directions related to scenery. In this case, however, fictional locations are easily inferred and economy may be viewed as an index of control: this is emphatically not a platform stage play in scenic disguise. Unlike other Davenant Shakespearean reworkings, The Tempest is neither a minimal adaptation with scenic additions (Hamlet, Macbeth), a chimera born of repertoire shortage (The Law Against Lovers derived from Much Ado About Nothing and Measure for Measure) nor a recasting in Caroline tragicomic mode (The Rivals from The Two Noble Kinsmen). Instead, The Tempest is reconceived as a Restoration exploration of governance and Hobbesian ‘natural’ states within a dramaturgy that interweaves narrative, staging and intellectual ideas to an extent unmatched by any other LIF play. However, the main concern of early Restoration plays is not ideas, of course, but entertainment. If The Tempest is the intellectual high-water mark of early Restoration drama, it was not recognised by Pepys who saw the play eight times between November 1667 and January 1669 and was full of praise, but mostly for its ‘good variety’.7 It is difficult to detect dramaturgical turning points in LIF repertoire. Even the 18-month dark period enforced by the plague does not mark any definite change; instead, there is patchy development over the period. All we can say is that by the early 1670s plays are generally more theatrically assured than they were in the early 1660s. This development is neither linear nor as well defined as some surveys imply or state. There are several possible reasons for this. First, many surveys, my own included, do not take into account the bulk of dramatic production at the time, namely scenic revivals of pre-Restoration plays. Such productions would have provided schooling for both theatre companies in practical and technical aspects of scenic staging, but because the problems presented to the scenic adaptor by platform stage plays would have been broadly similar – the challenges of retrofitting – they were unlikely to have provided an impetus for dramaturgical development. Second, such revivals must have blurred or diluted any sense of dramaturgical development in new plays. Pepys’s
diary covers the years 1660-69, a large chunk of the period considered here, yet Pepys rarely makes direct reference to theatrical developments.8 He often notes new plays, especially if there is a fashionable frisson about them, but old and new plays alike are evaluated on the same critical grounds and using the same terms. At best, he only ever hints that he is aware of anything that we might think of as a distinct Restoration dramaturgy. The nearest he gets to direct comment is his evaluation of the wit dialogue of Etherege and Sedley as largely ‘silly’. There was ‘nothing extraordinary’ in Sedley’s The Mulberry Garden (BS 1668), for example, except ‘here and there an independent sentence of wit’, and he reports that the pit’s general opinion of Etherege’s She Wou’d if She Cou’d (1668) was that it was ‘a silly, dull thing, though there was something very roguish and witty’.9 Pepys and other playgoers, such as the reluctant but informed Evelyn (and his wife, Mary) are alert to some stylistic innovations, such as rhymed heroic couplets, but largely one looks in vain in these sources for specific reference to developments in scenery and staging.10 Third, the 1660s are a special case. With few models of scenically conceived plays and few professional playwrights, plays over the period display a wide variety of styles. In 1671, for example, Settle’s dramaturgically innovative Cambyses shared the LIF stage with Edward Howard’s awkwardly contrived The Six Days’ Adventure and Revet’s old-fashioned The TownShifts. Following The Tempest, if there is a pattern to LIF production it is one of scenically efficient (and usually undemanding) comedies and slightly more ambitious tragicomedies. The exceptions in the Duke’s Company’s repertoire are all first (or only) plays – The Forc’d Marriage (1670), Cambyses, Juliana and The Town-Shifts (all 1671) – the last two more lacking in control than specifically demanding. The King’s Company LIF repertoire is more muted, as one might expect following the 1672 fire, with only Henry the Third (1672) standing out in terms of scenic ambition. It is difficult to trace an emerging scenic dramaturgy in the LIF repertoire, but we can detect its arrival in two contrasting plays: The Tempest and Cambyses. Dramatically the two are worlds apart. While The Tempest uniquely integrates ideas, politics and dramaturgy, ideas in Cambyses are not at a premium; rather, this is the most technically demanding and spectacular of LIF productions; it pushes LIF resources to the limit but is brilliantly crafted so as not to exceed those limits. In terms of scenic dramaturgy these are the twin peaks of the LIF repertoire, but other plays contribute to overall development, as the following discussion explores.