Copyright
William John Lawrence.

The Elizabethan playhouse and other studies online

. (page 15 of 22)
Online LibraryWilliam John LawrenceThe Elizabethan playhouse and other studies → online text (page 15 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


opening scene of Mrs. Centlivre's The Beau s Duel; or a
Soldier for the Ladies (1702), the fiddlers evidently enter for
the serenade when addressed by Sir William Mode, but no
stage-direction occurs to that effect. At the close of the
scene he says, " here music, strike up a merry ramble and
lead to my Lodgings." As with song, so with dance ; the
music was generally played on the stage, not in the orchestra.

1 Cf. The Elizabethan Playhouse and other Studies (First Series), pp. 162-164. For
view of the music loft at the Duke's in Dorset Gardens, see the illustration from The
Empress of Morocco, now reproduced. A further proof that this elevated room was used
by the musicians is that its carved base was adorned with musical emblems.




SCENE FROM THE EMPRESS OF MOROCCO.

(Duke's Theatre, 1673). [To face p. 160.



The Persistence of Elizabethan Conventionalisms 1 6 1

Examples abound, but two will suffice. One will be found
at the close of Shadwell's Bury Fair (1689), and the other
at the close of Congreve's The IVay of The World (1700).
In the latter, the entrance of the musicians was led up to
by the dramatist, who made Sir Wilful express a desire for
a dance. "With all my heart, dear Sir Wilful]," replies
Mirabell, " What shall we do for music ? " On which Foible
interrupts with, "O, Sir, some that were provided for Sir
Rowland's entertainment are yet within call." Evidently
they then came on, but the direction says simply " a dance "}
That the musicians in 1699 figured on occasion on both
sides of the curtain is brought home to us by an extraordinary
warrant sent in February of that year by the Lord Chamber-
lain to the patentees of both companies : —

Several persons of quality having made complaint to me that the
musick belonging to your theatre behave themselves disrespectfully
towards them by wearing their hats on, both in the Playhouse and
upon the Stage : these are therefore to require you to give orders that
for the future they take care to be uncovered during the time they
are in the House. 2

We come now to some consideration of the persistence
of one or two well-worn conventions of dramatic construc-
tion, notably, the introduced masque and the visualization
of dreams. Mostly the resource of the private-theatre
playwright, the introduced masque was of two kinds, the
dramatic and the non-dramatic. By this attempt at classifica-
tion one does not mean that one kind was germane and the
other not ; each had its measure of illusion, because both gave
a more or less faithful picture of contemporary manners. But
whereas the non-dramatic masque, 3 while often deftly inter-
woven and occasionally lending itself, as in Love 's Labour s
Lost, to the rapier-play of wit, in nowise forwarded the
action, and was merely introduced to delight the audience

1 Cf. All Mistaken, or The Mad Couple (1667), as cited in Cunningham's The
Story of Nell Gtvyn (1903), p. 65 5 also Cibber's The Double Gallant (1707), and The
Rival Fools (1709), at end of both.

* H. C. de Lafontaine, The King's Musick, p. 488.

3 For examples, see The Tempest, iv. 1 ; Timon of Athens, Act 1 ; The Gentleman
Usher, ii. 1 5 May Day, v. 1 ; The Widows Tears, iii. 2 ; Women Pleased, v. 3 3 A Wife
for a Month, ii. 6 ; The Maid's Tragedy, i. 1.

M



1 62 The Persistence of Elizabethan Conventionalisms

with a dainty or eccentric dance executed by a number of
fantastically arrayed people; on the other hand, the dramatic
masque 1 more fullyjustified itself by leading up to a sharply
contrasted theatrical surprise which hastened the catas-
trophe. One is at first disposed to see in these two divisions
the fruits of technical evolution, to jump at the conclusion
that the dramatic masque was the perfected form of the non-
dramatic. Colour is given to this specious theory by the
fact that Shakespeare, while dovetailing the masque into
the action with the hand of a master craftsman, never makes
it the means of a coup de theatre. When he desires to arrive
at an effect of this order he employs the play within a play,
or bye-play, as it was called in his day. Further bolstering
is given to the theory by the fact that in Caroline times the
dramatic masque preponderates in the current scheme of
dramaturgy, the non-dramatic kind having been largely

1 superseded by the terminal dance. But all theorizing ofthis
order falls to the ground when we find that some of the
earliest introduced masques were of the dramatic order.
Take the example afforded by the Pre-Shakespearean King
Richard II, a play which belongs to circa 1592. Here we find
the King and his retinue riding down to Plassy, disguised as
masquers, with the intention of carrying off Woodstock.
In the midst of the revels danger is scented and an alarm
given ; too late, however, for their purpose is effected.
Marston, in The Malcontent (a Blackfriars play of 1 603), put
the intercalated masque in the fifth act to analogous use.

t/For the most part, however, the dramatist of the strictly
Shakespearean era either confined himself to the non-
dramatic masque or, if he made resort to the dramatic, failed
to squeeze the last drop of stage effect out of its potentialities.
None rose to the melodramatic heights of Middleton in
Women Beware Women. Recall how Guardiano in the fifth
act devises a scheme of wholesale slaughter in the midst
of the ducal revels, how Isabella and Livia are poisoned by
the fumes of a subtly-prepared censer, how Hippolito is

1 Cf. The Dutch Courtezan, iv. I ; The Lover's Melancholy, iii. 3 ; The Constant Maid,
iv. 3 j The Cardinal, iii. 25 No Wit, No Help Like a Woman's, iv. 2.



The Persistence of Elizabethan Conventionalisms 163

mortally wounded by the mock Cupid's envenomed arrow,
and how Guardiano himself, by a swift retribution, breaks
his neck in falling through a trap-door prepared for another.
The great days of the Court Masque ended with the
Civil War, 1 and as a picture of contemporary manners the
introduced masque had less and less right of existence after
the Restoration. But while there can be little doubt that the
reiteration of the device in the last half of the century was
due to the opportunities it afforded for spectacular display, it
needs to be noted that in the beginning its revival was matter
of pure convention. The last introduced masque written for
performance on the obsolescent platform-stage was the one
seen at Vere Street on 25 April, 1 662, in the third act of Sir
Robert Howard's tragi-comedy of The Surprisal. 2 In Pre-
Restoration days, and more especially in the private theatre,
some of the charms of the Court Masque were reflected by
its abbreviated ectype. But the platform-stage was better
adapted for the reproduction of its poetic and terpsichorean
characteristics than of its pictorial. Lyric beauty is the domi-
nant' quality of the introduced masques in The Tempest and
The Maid's Tragedy. As in the latter play, some attempts were
occasionally made at suggesting an elaborate background,
mainly by the use of "properties", or what we now call
" set-pieces " ; and the normal machinery of" the Heavens"
permitted of the realization of the common masque-effect
of the God out of the car. 3 But the last word in Pre-Restora-
tion spectacular display is said by Middleton's No Wit^ No
Help like a Woman s^ and compared with the scenic glories
of the introduced masque on the early picture-stage, it is at
best a feeble whispering. To reproduce the magic surprises
of visual scenic transformations was clearly impossible on
a stage devoid of an enclosed front. In this respect the

1 Beyond Evelyn's records of masques at court on 2 July, 1663, and 18 February,
1 666-7, we have no further trace of attempts to renew the old glories at Whitehall until
15 Dec, 1674, when Calisto was first performed. But Crowne's production was more of
an opera in the reigning French style than a masque. See Herbert Arthur Evans, English
Masques (Warwick Series), Introd. pp. liv-lv.

2 For the date, see Sir Henry Herbert's list as given in Malone's Shakespeare (Dublin,
1794), ii. p. 224.

3 Cf. The Tempest, iv. 1 5 A Wife for a Month, ii. 6 ; The Widows Tears, ii. 2.

4 See the Masque of the Elements in Act iv, Scene 2.



1 64 The Persistence of Elizabethan Conventionalisms

picture-stage had the advantage, but it is important to note
that the first introduced masques seen upon it, so far from
being prolongations of the old convention, were not, strictly-
speaking, masques at all, and owed their existence to the
dominating influence of Franco-Italian court opera. This
serves to emphasize the fact that the menace to the well-
being of poetic drama in Restoration times was not from
mere excess of spectacular display, but from the tendency
to indulge in florid operatic interspersements. The first new
introduced masques seen at the Duke's Theatre in Lincoln's
Inn Fields were those included in The Slighted Maid and The
Stepmother, two melanges by that arch spectacle-monger, Sir
Robert Stapylton, both produced with acceptance in 1663.
Beyond dazzling the eye and charming the musical sense
none had any raison d'etre. In The Slighted Maid the masque
of Vulcan's Smithy, with its dance of Cupids and Cyclops,
formed the terminal scene of the piece. One readily divines
the source of inspiration when one reads in the book that
over the scene was inscribed, "Foro del Volcane." In The
Stepmother, a slightly later play, two masques of a wholly
extrinsic order were introduced, and for these vocal and
instrumental music had been written by Matthew Lock.

There was no revival of the old masque convention until
Dryden's tragi-comedy of The Rival Ladies was produced
at the Theatre Royal on 4 August, 1 664. Although bearing
indications of the influence of Stapylton's methods, the
masque of "The Rape of Proserpine," introduced in the
third act, ended with a dramatic surprise binding it closely
to the main embroilment. Less relevant, but more elaborate
in spectacular display, was the masque seen at the opening
of the second act of Lord Orrery's tragedy, The Black Prince,
when produced at the Duke's theatre on 1 9 October, 1667.
As the question whether the curtain was regularly lowered
between the acts in the first picture-stage theatre 1 has
immediate bearing on several important points, such, for
example, as the origin of tableaux-endings, it is worthy of

1 Already discussed in the First Series of these Studies, pp. 174-5. Something
more will be said about it later.



The Persistence of Elizabethan Conventionalisms 165

note that in the quarto of this play, published in 1669, we
have the following sequence :

The End of the First Act. The Curtain falls.

Act II
The Curtain being drawn up, King Edward the Third, King John
of France, and the Prince of Wales appear, seated on one side of the
Theater ; waited on by the Count of Guesclin, the Lord Latymer,
the Lord Delaware, and other Lords, with the King's Guards. On
the other side of the Theater are seated Plantagenet, Alizia, Cleorin,
Sevina, and other ladies. The Scene opens ; two Scenes of Clouds
appear, the one within the other; in the hollow of each cloud are
women and men richly apparell'd, who sing in Dialogue and Chorus,
as the Clouds descend to the Stage; then the Women and Men enter
upon the Theater and dance ; afterwards return into the clouds,
which insensibly rise, all of them singing until the Clouds are ascended
to their full height ; then onely the Scene of the King's magnificent
Palace does appear. All the Company rise. 1

If it had been usual at this period to drop the curtain
between the acts, the directions here at the close of the first
act and the opening of the second would surely have been
superfluous. This point has bearing on a matter subse-
quently to be discussed, but the citation has otherwise been
given at length to indicate the highly elaborate nature of the
introduced masques of the period. It is noteworthy that
as the claims of spectacle grew more imperative there was
a weakening of the pretence that the introduced masque
was performed for the amusement of the mock audience.
Settle has a pertinent masque 2 of the dramatic order in his
sensational farrago, The Empress of 'Morocco (167 3), but as the
principal characters in his play take part in the masque, and
are not endowed with the uncommon faculty of Sir Boyle
Roche's bird, we have the anomaly of an entertainment
being presented to vacancy. Once the illusive pretence
became thoroughly ignored, the introduced masque showed
a tendency to develop into elaborate intermedii^ as in

1 For an equally elaborate masque, but a vision conjured up by a magician, see
Crowne's History of Charles the Eighth of France (1672), v. 3.

2 Notable as the only introduced masque of the seventeenth century of which we
have an authentic illustration. See the original quarto.



1 66 The Persistence of Elizabethan Conventionalisms

Ravenscroft's comedy of The Anatomist; or The Sham Doctor,
which, as performed at Lincoln's Inn Fields in November,
1696, was combined with Motteux's masque of The Loves
of Mars and Venus, given in instalments between the acts by
way of providing amusement for the dramatis personae !
Thus it was that in one guise or another the introduced
masque persisted until at least the second decade of the
eighteenth century, eventually providing an exemplar for
the serious section of the curiously composite scheme of
English Pantomime.

Unlike the introduced masque, to which as a dramatic
expedient it was somewhat akin, the bye-play had no
particular vogue in Post-Restoration times. While it was
an easy matter to stage a play within a play in days when
movable scenery was not employed, it proved a difficult
matter on the early picture-stage, where, by logical develop-
ment, it became a question of showing a theatre within a
theatre. Shadwell's attempt to solve the problem in 1678
in A True Widow proved so disastrous that subsequent
dramatists fought shy of the convention, and but for its
preservation through the perennial popularity of Hamlet, it
might have disappeared altogether from the wide scheme
of dramaturgy. 1 Shadwell's failure was due to lack of
concentration. There was a curious sequence of scenes
showing the arrival of the spectators at the theatre, the
beginning of the bye-play, its interruption by rowdies, and
some frolicking behind the scenes. In a note prefixed to
the quarto of his play, published in 1679, Shadwell made
comment on the fiasco. After referring to some printer's
errors in the book, he goes on —

But the greatest mistake was not printing the Play in the Play in
another character, that that might be known in reading which a
great many do not find in the acting of it; but take notice, two
lovers, Wife and Husband are all that speak in that.

In the action many doubted which belonged to the farce in the
Play, and which to the Play itself, by reason of promiscuous speaking,

1 For latter-day examples, see New Sbakespcareana, iii, 1904, No. 4, pp. 126-7,
my article on "Plays within Plays."



tfhe Persistence of Elizabethan Conventionalisms 167

and I found by venturing on that new thing, I ran a great risk. For
some, I believe, wished the Play like that part of a farce in it ; others
knew not my intention in it, which was to expose the style and plot
of farce-makers to the utter confusion of damnable farce and all its
wicked and foolish adherents. But I had rather suffer by venturing
to bring new things upon the stage than go on like a mill-horse in
the same round.

The persistence on the picture-stage of the old conven-
tion of the visualization of dreams was due to the same
reason as the preservation of the incidental masque. Both
were eminently grateful to the spectacle-monger. While it
seems not unlikely, judging by their close inter-relationship
in Elizabethan drama, that the visualized dream developed
out of the dumb-show, the evidence to hand does not wholly
justify that conclusion. We have early examples in which
the portent of the dream is expressed in pure dumb-show, 1
and we have equally early examples in which speech, even
dialogue, is employed. 2 Unless one could arrive at the
archetype it would be dangerous to predicate concerning
origins. What is more material now is for us to note that
early in the seventeenth century the visualized dream dis-
associated itself with dumb-show, and assumed some of the
trappings of the intercalary masque. For a good example
we need not look beyond Cymbeline, v. 4, with its striking
effects of the descending god and the thunderbolt. Even
more masque-like in character is the vision scene in
The Rebellion (circa 1638), 3 with Love speaking in mid-air
and Death emerging to drive him away. On the early
picture-stage all these spectacular characteristics were over-
accentuated until the vision was given a prominence out of
all proportion to its importance. The most flagrant example
of this occurs in Otway's tragedy, Alcibiades^ as performed
at Dorset Gardens in 1675. In Act v. 2, cc adarken'dTent",
Timandra is discovered asleep on a couch. After two Spirits
have indulged in a brief vocal dialogue (an obvious parody

1 The Death of Robert, Earl of Huntington (1598), Act 1 ; If you know Not me, you
know Nobody, Pt. I (1605), Act ii.

2 Grim the Collier of Croydon (1599), i. 1 ; Alphonsus, King of Arragon (1599), iii- 2j
King Richard III, Act v. 3 Act iii. 3.



1 68 The Persistence of Elizabethan Conventionalisms

on one of the spurious "Witch scenes in Macbeth), the scene
changes to Elysium, and while the song continues several
other Spirits fly down and dance. Then a Glorious Temple,
bearing the Spirits of the Happy, slowly descends to earth
and suddenly disappears, leaving to view the original tent-
scene with the sleeping lady.

No evidence exists to show whether or not the old custom
of spectators sitting on the stage was revived at the Restora-
tion during the closing months of the platform-stage era.
All we know for certain is that the custom was not allowed
to obtain on the picture-stage for some years after its incep-
tion. Sorbieres, when he visited London in 1 663, remarked
that the English stage, in striking contrast with the French,
was unencumbered with spectators. 1 A little over a year
later, when some trouble had been experienced through the
bloods about town invading the players' quarters, the King
issued an order which must have temporarily checked any
tendency towards the renewal of the old practice : —

Charles R. Whereas complaint hath been made unto us of great
disorders in the attiring-house of the Theatre of our dearest brother,
the Duke of York, under the government of our trusty and well-
beloved Sir William Davenant, by the resort of persons thither to the
hinderance of the actors, and interruption of the scenes. Our will
and pleasure is that no person, of what quality soever, do presume to
enter at the door of the attiring-house, but such as do belong to the
Company and are employed by them. Requiring the guards attend-
ing there, and all whom it may concern, to see that obedience be
given hereunto, and that the names of the offenders be sent to us. 2

Nine years later, on 2 February, 1 673-4, the King issued
another order bearing indication that spectators had once
more begun to infest the stage. After dealing with disorders
in front of the house at both theatres, this runs on :

And forasmuch as 'tis impossible to command those vast engines
(which move the scenes and machines) and to order such a number

1 Cf. The Elizabethan Playhouse and other Studies (First Series), p. i SS. For the
practice in France at this period, see Pougin, Le Theatre a /' 'Exposition Uni-versclle de 1889,
pp. 66-7.

2 Issued on 25 February, 1664-5. Cf. Fitzgerald's New Hist. Eng. Stage, i. p. 96,
where the dating is ambiguous.



The Persistence of Elizabethan Conventionalisms 169

of persons as must be employed in works of that nature, if any and
such as do not belong thereunto be suffered to press in amongst them ;
Our will and command is that no person of what quality soever
presume to stand or sit on the stages or to come within any part of the
scenes before the play begins, while 'tis acting, or after 'tis ended; and
we strictly here command our officers and guard of souldiers, which
attend the respective theaters, to see this order exactly observed. 1

Notwithstanding all these threatenings of pains and
penalties, the old custom was eventually re-established.
In Lord Lansdowne's comedy, The She Gallants, as pro-
duced at Lincoln's Inn Fields late in 1695, one finds Philabel
in the third act expounding the new method of damning
plays. At the first performance the mischief-makers scat-
tered themselves in sections all over the house,

some in the Pit, some in the Boxes, others in the Galleries, but
principally on the Stage; they cough, sneeze, talk aloud and break silly
jests; sometimes laughing, sometimes singing, sometimes whistling,
till the House is in an uproar; some laugh and clap; some hiss and
areangry; swords are drawn, the actors interrupted, thescene broken
off, and so the Play's sent to the devil.

For long after this neither ridicule nor royal edicts could
dislodge the stage lounger from his coign of vantage. It
was not until 1763, or thereabouts, that the nuisance was
wholly got rid of. 2

Owing to the temporary disuse on the early picture-stages
of the old practice of sitting on the stage, a certain bizarre
scheme of private-theatre dramaturgy, whose existence
depended wholly on the practice, fell also into desuetude.
This was the Jonsonian type of satire which employed
mock spectators as a sort of chorus to the play. One calls it
Jonsonian because rare old Ben so frequently employed it, 3
but it neither originated with him nor shone to best advan-
tage under his handling. For the root idea one has to go

1 Bibliotbeca Lindesiana,v'\. No. 3588. This order is inaccurately cited and under
a wrong date by Fitzgerald, op. cit. i. 146-7. It was reissued, with slight variation,
under William and Mary, on 14 Nov., 1689.

2 For fuller details, see my article on "The Audience on the Stage," in The Gent's
Magazine for June, 1888.

3 See The Poetaster ; Every Man Out of His Humour $ The Staple of Neivs and The
Magnetic Lady.



1 70 The Persistence of Elizabethan Conventionalisms

to Munday's curious piece, The Downfall of Robert, Earl of
Huntington, as acted at the Rose, circa 1597. 1 In the wide
scheme of Elizabethan drama no class of play was more
ephemeral than the mock-spectator play. Only one piece
of this order, and that by far the most delightful, held its
place on the stage after the Civil War. Irresistible in its way
as Don Quixote, which it in some measure recalls, The Knight
of the Burning Pestle was given at Vere Street on 5 May,
1 662, and had occasional later revival before the close of the
century. At long last one pedestrian poet, old Elkanah
Settle, was directly inspired by its technique, and the result
was his comedy of The City Ramble; or the Playhouse Wedding,
brought out at Drury Lane on 17 August, 171 1. Irre-
spective of the unhappy period of production, a new play
of this type was foredoomed to failure ; and the ingenuity
displayed by Settle in pouring the old wine into new
bottles proved no mitigating circumstance. When the play
opens we find the Common Council-man, his wife and their
daughter Jenny seated as spectators in the middle-gallery
side box over one of the proscenium entering doors. An
actor comes on to speak the prologue, and a colloquy imme-
diately ensues between him and the Common Council-man.
At its close the husband and wife descend to the stage,
secretly followed by Miss Jenny, whose lover happens to
be one of the players. Her place in the side-gallery box is
quickly taken by an obliging actress, dressed and masked
like herself. Then husband and wife appear on the stage,
and are handed by the Prologue into a stage-box. This is
the cue for the play to begin. The action passes in Verona,
and in nowise resembles the story of The Knight of the Burning
Pestle, but during the intervals the Common Council-man
and his wife discuss the play much after the old method.
At the end of the fourth act the worthy couple desert their
snug position in the stage-box, and trot ofFbehind the scenes.
With the opening of the last act we see them coming on
again behind, attended by an actor. Miss Jenny assists
her spouting lover by assuming a character in the play,

1 Otherwise notable as the first "rehearsal" play.



The Persistence of Elizabethan Conventionalisms 171

which runs its placid course amid the na'ive "asides " of the


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryWilliam John LawrenceThe Elizabethan playhouse and other studies → online text (page 15 of 22)