At the start of this book I underlined the point that our understanding of Restoration drama is compromised by the lack of pictorial and other primary evidence relating to theatre production at the time. Moreover, I argued that this unfortunate starting position has been aggravated by a long history of negative criticism on moral and literary grounds; a received background that, I suggested, made it easy to slip into the assumption that the plays were also technically deficient. Modern commentary is not immune to such slippage and is sometimes too quick to suggest authorial or publishing errors when a particular Restoration play does not fit a particular critical viewpoint. Some plays do indeed have manifest errors, as I have pointed out in these chapters. I am certainly not proposing infallibility in this regard. However, a recurring theme throughout my analyses of plays in this study and elsewhere has been that we can usually infer more probable and likely stage action if we start by taking the staging demands of the plays at face value, rather than too quickly assuming error or incompetence on the part of author or printer. Existing models of Restoration staging may also impede understanding. They are either too general – assuming similar conditions at different theatres over long periods – or they are based on too small a sample of plays and consequently may prove to be idiosyncratic. Of these two paradigms I believe that generalisation – the widespread notion of a universal Restoration stage – is more detrimental. It acts as a barrier to new theatrical readings of the plays, promoting a vicious circle in which the lack of new readings contributes to the assumption that there are no new readings because standard models are correct. We cannot, for example, test the hypothesis that Restoration play texts encode more information about their own performance, or indeed make any meaningful contribution to our understanding of period staging and dramaturgy, if we assume arbitrary staging conditions a priori. While several commentators have expressed dissatisfaction with standard models and proposed their
own, none has tested any new model or demonstrated the unserviceability of existing ones sufficiently rigorously. While Langhans and Lewcock, for example, offer wide and useful theatrical surveys of Restoration plays throughout the whole period, the very scope of their work prohibits rigorous testing. By contrast, the scope of the present study concerns only early Restoration staging and is centred on production at one theatre – Davenant’s Lincoln’s Inn Fields – in the first period of its operation, 1661-74. This tight focus is a necessary expression of my foundational premise that to understand how plays work dramatically and theatrically we need to understand the relationship between the plays and the theatres for which they were written. Hence, the establishment in this book of a practicable model of early Restoration staging based on the LIF repertoire. As I explained, ‘practicable’ here means a conceptual model that acknowledges and accounts for the practicalities of theatrical production and stage management. Such practicality is important: there is not much to be gained from over-complex models that would tax theatrical resources or cause physical problems in any real theatrical space. The model proposed in this study is both flexible and practical. It works exceptionally well for the body of plays that were written for or received their premiere in Davenant’s theatre and, as I argued, it can legitimately be extended to the King’s Company repertoire at Bridges Street. In calling for models specific to particular theatres and criticising universalising notions, I am aware that this extension may be viewed as contradictory. This, however, is the conclusion suggested by the plays’ own staging demands. Moreover, it should be recalled that the central LIF corpus includes eight King’s Company plays produced during Killigrew’s tenancy of LIF, a fact that inherently widens the model’s applicability beyond a mere expression of Duke’s Company ‘house style’. Early in this study I emphasised the pragmatic nature of the methodologies employed. The testing and establishment of the LIF model was a two-way process. Webb’s arrangement for the Hall Theatre was the necessary starting point, but the plays were not forced to fit. Testing flowed both ways: from the model to the plays, but equally as important from the plays to the model. Even with particularly challenging plays, such as those discussed in Chapter 5, staging solutions arose from a dialogue between specific staging demand and the operations of the model within the argued bounds of early Restoration staging practice. In most cases, however, the model accommodated staging demand relatively easily, almost as if, one might say, the plays were designed for it. While the LIF model accommodates staging demand from the majority of early Restoration plays, there must have been physical differences in staging arrangements between a converted tennis court and a purpose-built
theatre. It also stands to reason that there must have been some physical changes – improvements or modifications – made to each theatre over the time covered by this study. Indeed, we know there were because Pepys makes several references to such. The one most germane to this study is his diary entry for 21 October 1661, four months after LIF ’s opening: ‘To the Opera which is now newly begun to act again, after some alteracion of their scene, which do make it very much worse; but the play “Love and Honour” [. . .] well done.’1 This entry suggests that the LIF model’s scenic arrangement did not necessarily apply to the first LIF productions, which significantly do not include any of the new plays covered in this study. Pepys also reports that modifications were made to the Bridges Street theatre: ‘walked to the King’s play-house, all in dirt, they being altering of the stage to make it wider’.2 Pepys’s comments have implications for material or virtual reconstructions of LIF and Bridges Street, but they need not affect the way we think about the model, which refers only to a type of scenic stage with a certain staging arrangement. In addition to physical changes, the theatre companies themselves would have been experimenting to a greater or lesser extent with staging and scenic operations over the period. The differences in house style mentioned in Chapter 2 point to different approaches to the use of scenery and spectacle by Davenant and Killigrew (differences that diminished after Davenant’s death in 1668). Individual playwrights were also experimenting, none more so than Dryden, who at Bridges Street seems deliberately to have been pushing scenic resources to the limit in the mid-1660s. Intriguingly, as I note in Chapter 5, Dryden’s experiments of this type peak with The Indian Emperour in 1665. Perhaps, having discovered the limits, he felt he did not need to push any more; perhaps the Company itself objected; or perhaps the cessation is linked to the modifications noted by Pepys. We may never know, but the fact that we are aware of the question is testament to the utility of the model and its associated methodologies. While arguing for a relatively simple model of early Restoration staging, I also acknowledged in Chapter 2 that more complex models, such as Langhans’s ‘two-position’ arrangement, may be capable of providing staging solutions that could satisfy theatrical demands – in theory if not necessarily in practice. However, while it would be perfectly possible to stage all LIF plays on stages with greater theatrical resources – as indeed must have been the case when LIF plays were revived after 1674 – I invoke the principle of ‘Occam’s razor’ and suggest that as far as the original productions are concerned, one should give precedence to the simpler model. The LIF model is not only fully serviceable in relation to theatrical demand in early Restoration plays; its application can also
clarify stage action and reveal a greater level of dramaturgical sophistication than has previously been acknowledged. Examples of clarification include the last act of The Adventures of Five Hours (see Chapter 6), the locked door passage in The Sullen Lovers (Chapter 5) and the explication of promptbook additions in Guzman (Chapter 6). Examples of increasing dramaturgical sophistication on a stage with limited scenic resources include the increasingly flexible use of discovery scenes towards the end of the LIF period, the occasional and controlled use of spatial or scenic anomaly and the scenic integration exhibited by such plays as The Tempest and Cambyses (all discussed in Chapter 7). In short, the LIF model not only fits the plays better than any other, it also shows them to their best advantage. The model and its associated methodologies were applied in Chapter 6 to produce coherent solutions to thorny problems concerning physical staging, but might there be application beyond such material considerations? The scope of this book prohibits a full discussion, and the value of an accurate staging model is not dependent on such applications; nevertheless at several points within these chapters it is clear that a fuller understanding of how individual plays may have been staged results in a greater appreciation of their structure and how they might have been received. Staging analyses of plays such as The Indian Emperour, The Amorous Widow or Dryden and Davenant’s The Tempest, on the lines of those performed in this study, can only deepen our admiration for the playwrights and the sophistication of their dramaturgical grasp. What might ensue were broader criticism to start from the position that early Restoration playwrights knew what they were about, rather than the usual assumptions freighted in such terms as ‘transitional’, ‘naive’ or ‘crude’? I am not in a position to say, but I would eagerly read the outcomes. What this study reveals is that there is much yet to investigate and much old ground that would benefit from fresh revisiting. Clearly new work needs to be done on Dorset Garden and Drury Lane plays, relating their staging demand more closely to likely theatrical arrangements at those theatres. Is there, for example, any exact relation between the ubiquitous ‘playhouse’ drawing (Figure 1.1) and Drury Lane plays? Do any of these plays unequivocally demand four forestage doors? A corpus approach analysing the first 40 or so plays produced at this theatre would go a long way towards providing an answer. Ideally, such textual investigations would be performed within a revivified field of Restoration Studies in which broader issues were being investigated. The use of scenery, for example, raises a host of questions about visual perception, onstage spatial dynamics and an emergent scenic semiotics – how did audiences read scenery? Did it mean the same to connoisseurs like Evelyn and laymen such as Pepys? How did actors relate to
it spatially? Certainly questions such as these, if asked at all, have tended to produce wildly different, sometimes contradictory critical responses. I would suggest that such responses are symptomatic of unstable historiographic foundations, pointing to the need for re-evaluations of the physical arrangements of individual performance spaces, as provided by this study.