This book is about staging at the first Restoration theatres, 1661-74. Its purpose is twofold: to propose a new conceptual model of Restoration staging and to demonstrate how this model can change our understanding of period dramaturgy. The dates above delimit a distinct ‘early’ Restoration period – as far as drama is concerned – marked by small theatres with relatively limited theatrical resources. Although not completely ignored by critics, this period has often been dismissed as a transitional phase before the development of ‘characteristic’ Restoration drama and theatrically accomplished production in the mid-1670s. Consequently, criticism has traditionally been inclined to skip over the first 15 years of Restoration theatre production to get to The Country Wife (1675) and The Man of Mode (1676).1 Now it would be absurd to propose that many, or indeed any, early Restoration plays are ‘great’ by traditional measures (though I think several are better than the press they have received). I do contend, however, that it is short-sighted to continue to dismiss dramaturgical and theatrical development over this period as simply transitional. After all, this was an immensely exciting time in English theatre, when female actors and changeable scenery were introduced to the public stage. It was a period of innovation as playwrights and practitioners experimented with the resources of the new scenic stage and audiences learned how to read those experiments. But we look in vain for much indication, let alone celebration, of this in standard theatre histories that tend to view the early period through the lens of later perspectives and do not take into account its unique theatrical conditions, thus reinforcing the notion that it is inherently uninteresting. There is a wider problem here. For some time now, Restoration theatre studies has been perceived to be moribund, and as a consequence there has been little new work on early Restoration theatre and drama.2 Earlier work has become, so to speak, set in stone, and is rarely challenged. Furthermore, there is a circular tendency fostered by these attitudes to think that it remains unchallenged because all the questions have
been answered. This book would not have been possible without classic studies and influential articles by such historians as Richard Southern, Edward A. Langhans and Peter Holland, but as important as these remain, there can be no doubt that new methods of analysing the plays made possible and necessary by the introduction in the early to mid-2000s of such research tools as Literature Online (LION) and Early English Books Online (EEBO) means that we are now in a position, more so than ever before, to build on, refine and where necessary overturn the conclusions of earlier researchers. These comprehensive databases and their associated search engines have transformed the way we do theatre history. As well as enabling the analysis of far more textual data (so leading to greater statistical reliability) and almost instantaneous keyword searches, the more we use these powerful electronic resources the more that use refines our searches and suggests new research questions to ask.3 This book is a product of such enquiry and methodological innovation. Its aim is to expand understanding of early Restoration dramaturgy and staging practices by offering empirically based conclusions drawn from analyses of all extant plays known to have debuted at the first two public scenic theatres in England: William Davenant’s Lincoln’s Inn Fields (hereafter LIF ) (1661) and Thomas Killigrew’s Bridges Street (1663). Uniquely, then, this book celebrates early Restoration staging, arguing that a lack of theatrical understanding has obscured the achievements of playwrights who were pioneering techniques and methods that would become the mainstay of theatre production in England for the next 200 years. The first decade or so of the Restoration saw nothing less than a revolution in the way plays were performed on the public stage. The change from the platform stages of Shakespeare and Jonson to the scenic dramas of John Dryden and Aphra Behn affected every aspect of theatre production. Over the course of the decade, playwrights sought to assimilate the technical features and resources of the new stage. Some were more successful than others, but towards the end of the 1660s we can detect the emergence of a new kind of theatre writing in which the operations of changeable scenery are starting to be exploited for their dramatic potential in what might be called an integrated scenic dramaturgy. Playwrights such as Behn, Dryden and Elkanah Settle began to use spatial and scenic resources to heighten dramatic tension and to alter an audience’s perception of the fictional world on stage, rather than just providing spectacular additions or decorative backscenes that could be admired for their own sake. The rapidity of change in the period is demonstrated by the work of Roger Boyle, an aristocratic amateur whose plays were briefly fashionable in the 1660s. A comparison of stage directions in The General (early 1660s) with those in one of his later plays, such as The Black Prince (1667), reveals precisely
the move outlined above, from the relatively bare resources of the platform stage to an exuberant exploitation of changeable scenery and technical effects. Such changes in staging demand are fascinating, not just for what they say about physical theatre arrangements, but also for what they imply about changes in the perception and experience of theatrical performance. Unfortunately, there are very few historical artefacts (textual or pictorial) from this period relating directly to theatrical production. What this book will show, however, is that it is possible by means of a close reexamination of those artefacts and of existing commentary to arrive at a practicable model of early Restoration staging. The fact that there is very little direct evidence – architectural drawings, illustrations (of stage fittings or scenes in performance), records of stage dimensions, etc. – concerning theatrical production in the Restoration period has resulted in an overreliance on what has survived. The so-called ‘Wren section’ (see Figure 1.1) is a case in point. This drawing is widely thought to relate to the Drury Lane theatre of 1674. In itself this is a harmless conjecture, but what can be harmful, I will argue, is the widespread idea of a generic Restoration stage based (consciously or unconsciously) on this drawing. Fortunately, the play texts themselves inscribe and encode information related to physical staging. When considered collectively, these data – which we can think of as indirect evidence of physical staging – may be used to supplement the meagre direct evidence to enable more useful models (conceptual as much as virtual or physical models) of specific stages to be constructed. This textual evidence takes the form of stage directions, scene headings, implied stage directions in dialogue and embedded theatrical information in prologues and epilogues, prefaces and the like. Such data are plentiful (albeit somewhat thinly distributed), but one must be careful with their use. There is a tendency for commentators to generalise from selected, sometimes anachronistic, examples. Furthermore, inferring performance from play texts is often not a straightforward task. Even seemingly explicit stage directions can be, and often are, misinterpreted; an outcome that could be avoided by a better understanding of the theatrical contexts that formed them. This book demonstrates the necessity of considering contexts such as the play itself (as surprising as it may seem, stage directions are often considered in isolation from the sequence of actions of which they are part); other plays written for the same theatre in the same period; and, most importantly, stage arrangements at the individual theatres themselves: in the case of this book, LIF and Bridges Street. In other words, instead of the widespread notion of a generic Restoration stage – which takes no account of architectural and technical differences between theatres, particularly between early and later theatres – we need to establish the dramaturgical relationships between
bodies of plays and the specific theatres for which they were written to arrive at meaningful models of stages and staging. Given the lack of direct evidence, establishing this theatrical context requires specific methodologies. These will be explicated as the need arises, but the main method of this book may be summarised as follows: we start with existing stage models, test them against the staging demand in the plays and, should they fail, use the demand to shape a new model. For this process to be methodologically valid, we need to consider all the evidence pertaining to a specific stage, not just a selection that happens to fit a certain hypothesis. Indeed, it is the bits that do not fit that may help to shape an appropriate and practicable model. Consequently, this book considers all extant plays written for LIF and Bridges Street in the period 1661-74. It argues that the play texts, when considered as corpora centred on production at specific theatres, can yield more information about staging practices than has hitherto been recovered. The purpose of the first chapter is to outline problems in interpreting primary source evidence related to physical staging in the Restoration period and to propose a methodology that mitigates these problems. It begins by examining the extant iconography relating to scenic theatre production from the late 1650s to the first decade of the eighteenth century. This discussion of ‘facts’ delineates the range of staging possible in the period, while the ‘fictions’ section concerns critical misinterpretations, demonstrating how a misunderstanding of physical staging may lead to depreciation of the plays themselves. The chapter ends by arguing that the plays cannot be understood fully if we divorce them from their theatrical contexts, or apply generic (and ahistorical) models of physical staging. It proposes, instead, the development of practicable models appropriate to specific bodies of plays. Given the dearth of pictorial evidence, Chapter 2 considers information related to physical staging embedded within Restoration play texts, particularly stage directions and scene headings. It argues for the reliability of this information as evidence of physical staging when considered within certain methodological approaches that enable meaningful interpretation and, hence, the construction of a practicable model of early Restoration staging. After evaluating two influential models in detail, the chapter ends by proposing that a new conceptual model of Restoration staging may be derived from John Webb’s 1665 designs for the scenic stage in Whitehall. Chapter 3 argues the case that Webb’s drawings show a basic stage arrangement that was common to both LIF and Bridges Street. It focuses on the LIF theatre and its productions to demonstrate how this new model of Restoration staging might have operated in practice. This involves a detailed re-examination of primary and secondary source evidence related
to the dimensions and properties of the LIF stage and period tennis courts. The chapter concludes by proposing a modified version of Webb’s stage as a practicable model for Davenant’s LIF, and its overall arrangement as the conceptual ‘LIF model’. The next two chapters test this model rigorously against staging demand in new plays first performed at both LIF and Bridges Street. Chapter 4 takes a wide view, examining all LIF plays to draw statistical conclusions about physical stage arrangements and staging practices. In contrast, Chapter 5 focuses on four plays with exceptional staging demand. It examines two key aspects of the LIF model to demonstrate how it works in practice and to extend its range to Bridges Street plays. Robert Howard and John Dryden’s The Indian Queen (BS 1664) and Dryden’s follow-up, The Indian Emperour (BS 1665) offer the sternest challenges in the corpus to the model’s scenic operations, while different kinds of stage action in Thomas Shadwell’s The Sullen Lovers (LIF 1667) and George Digby’s Elvira, or the Worst Not Always True (LIF 1665) test the capacity of a stage equipped with two forestage doors to cope with multiple entrances and exits. Chapter 6 reverses the principle of earlier chapters by assuming the operations of the model and applying it as a tool to offer solutions to two long-standing critical problems associated with theatrical production in the period. The first part demonstrates how the model simplifies apparently bewildering stage directions in Samuel Tuke’s The Adventures of Five Hours (LIF 1663); the second provides the first coherent explication of conflicting layers of staging information embedded in the published text of Roger Boyle’s Guzman (LIF 1669). The final chapter draws conclusions about specific dramaturgical features of early Restoration plays and the development of scenic dramaturgy over the period. It explores various aspects of such development, showing how playwrights and theatre managers were becoming increasingly sophisticated in using scenic staging to structure narrative and alter an audience’s experience of the theatrical event. The book ends by highlighting under-investigated areas that are thrown into relief by this research and suggests further applications of its methodologies.