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and the crowns fall down. But the most remarkable
example of the device occurs in The Birth of Merlin , a play

1 The play was never printed, but the prologue and epilogue are preserved in
Lovelace's Poems.

2 In 1572 John Izarde, a wax chandler, was paid 22*., partly "for his device in
counter-feting Thunder and Lightning in the play of Narcisses", when given at court
by the Chapel Children.

3 The latterday stage thunderbolt bears a vivid family resemblance to its Italian
prototype. A squib descends obliquely along a wire and falls into an adroitly disguised
tin bucket, to the inside of which the wire is soldered. When one adds that the bucket
contains water one has said all.

4 For a simpler example, see the last act of The Martyred SouUier.

5 Annals (edit. 161 5), p. 687.



20 Light and Darkness in the Elizabethan Theatre

conjectured by Fleay to belong to circa 1 622. l In Act iv. 5,
at opening, after the direction "Blazing star appears", we

read :

Prince. Look, Edol ; still this fiery exhalation shoots
His frightful horrors on th' amazed world ;
See, in the beam that's 'bout his flaming ring,
A dragon's head appears, from out whose mouth
Two flaming flakes of fire stretch east and west.

Edol. And see, from forth the body of the star
Seven smaller blazing streams directly point
On this affrighted Kingdom.

Later in the same scene Merlin expounds the symbolism
of the star, reiterating all the details. Obviously it was
not left to the imagination of the audience to conjure up
visions of the nine streams of fire, and the whole effect
must have been carefully visualized. 2 As a matter of fact
there had been constant use of fireworks in the Elizabethan
theatres from their very inception, and practice had made
perfect. London even boasted specialists in the science
of pyrotechnics, one of the most notable being Humphrey
Nichols, who officiated in connexion with Munday's City
pageant in 1 6 1 3. There was much catering for the tastes of
the unthinking, and in Doctor Faustus the mob was more
taken with the devils with crackers at their tails than with
the sublimity of the poet. The Red Bull audience especially
delighted in effects of this order, and one finds much mention
of "fireworkes" and "fireworkes on lines" 3 in If It Be not
a good Play, the Devil is in it, as acted there in 1 6 1 2. 4

M arlowe had a keen eye for spectacular effect as betokened
by the conflagration in Tamburlaine the Great, Part II, Act ii,

1 See also If You know not me, you know nobody, Pt. II. (Heywood's Works, edit.
Pearson, i. 292, margin) ; and The Revenger 's Tragedy, Act v.

2 Of a similar but less striking order was the effect in The Troublesome Reign of
King John (c. 1588), where, on the crowning of the King, five moons shone out of a
cloud, by way of ill-omen.

3 For a quaint allusion to " fireworks on lines", see the Page's simile in Marston's
Parasitaster, or the Faivne (1606), i. 2. In J. White's A Rich Cabinet with Variety of
Inventions, &c. (1651), instructions are given "how to make your fireworks to run
upon a line backward and forward".

4 See also The Brazen Age, passim. In one scene a Fury appeared covered with
fireworks and in another Medea with similar trappings.



Light and Darkness in the Elizabethan Theatre 1 1

as well as by the curious scene in the succeeding act where
the bodies are burnt in sight of the audience. In the ampli-
fied version of Doctor Faustus published in 1 6 1 6 l there
is a remarkable Hell scene which was probably not of his
ordering but to which attention may at anyrate be directed.
In Scene xvi, after the Good Angel has given Faustus a
glimpse of Heaven, "Hell is discovered" 2 and its horrors
described by the Bad Angel :

Now, Faustus, let thine eyes with horror stare
Into that vast perpetual torture-house.
There are the furies tossing damned souls
On burning forks ; there bodies boil in lead ;
There are live quarters broiling on the coals
That ne'er can die ; this ever-burning chair
Is for o'er-tortured souls to rest them in ;
These that are fed with sops of flaming fire
Were gluttons, and lov'd only delicates,
And laugh'd to see the poor starve at their gates.

Viewing the frequency with which fire effects were
employed on the Pre-Restoration stage, it is surprising
that so few of the theatres were burnt down — only two
in a period of sixty years. But probably many of these
effects were not as realistic as they read. In The Rump,
as acted at Salisbury Court in 1660 (one of the last of the
quasi-Elizabethan houses) we have the direction in Act v:
"A piece of wood is set forth painted like a pile of Faggots
and Fire, and Faggots lying by to supply it." This was
used to represent a bonfire. But illusions of this sort could
not always be made. Many fire scenes had to be of the
first order of realism. Flames were often seen to belch
forth from the rear stage 3 or to rise through a trap. 4
Dragons came on spitting fire. 5 In The Silver Age, iv (as

1 Bullen's Marlowe, i. 323.

2 An inventory in Henslowe'sZ>/tfry makes mention of a property of "Hell Mouth",
but the above scene seems to have been acted on the rear stage.

3 Alphonsus, King of Ar agon. Act iv 5 The Virgin Martir, v ; The Old Wives' Tale.

4 A Looking Glasse for London and England ; The Tiuo Noble Ladies v. 2 ; The
Silver Age, v ; Chapman's Caesar and Pompey, ii. 1.

5 Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay. This type of monster was generally spoken of as
" a fire drake ". Cf. Henslowe's Diary.



22 Light and Darkness in the Elizabethan Theatre

acted at the Red Bull circa 1 6 13) occurs an unexampled
and unexplainable effect. After Semele is drawn out in
her bed, Jupiter descends amidst thunder and lightning,
with his thunderbolt burning. "As he toucheth the bed it
fires, and all flyes up." Perhaps in some cases where flames
flashed forth the rosin-lightning effect was the means
employed. In conflagration scenes, such as that in The Fatal
Contract, iii. 1 (where we have the prompter's marginal
note, "The bed chamb. on fire"), it would be difficult
to say how illusion was procured, but possibly the primi-
tive Italian method was followed, and, to some extent
improved upon. "Sometimes it may chance," writes Serlio
in his section on " Artificial Lights of the Scenes," "that
you must make something or other which should seem to
burne, which you must wet thoroughly with excellent good
aqua vitae; and setting it on fire with a candle, it will burne
all over ; and though I could speak more of these fires, yet
this shall suffice for this time." Sabbattini, writing ninety
years later, can tell of no other way to represent a conflagra-
tion. 1 It is important to note that we have clear evidence of
the employment of this method in the Elizabethan Court
performances. According to the Revels Accounts 2 there was
provided for The Knight of the Burning Rock, as acted by
the Earl of Warwick's men on Shrove Sunday, 1578-9,
"Aquavite to burne in the same Rock" and "Rosewater
to alay the smell thereof." Subsequently the effect of the
flaming rock developed into a mild stage convention. One
finds it recurring in Beaumont and Fletcher's Four Plays
in One, as given at the Whitefriars circa 1608.

If this inquiry should help to dissipate the popular fal-
lacy that theatrical appeal in the days of the platform stage
was almost wholly to the imagination it will have served
a useful purpose. Not only was realism steadily aimed at,
but in the public theatres there was frequent gratification
of the mob in its taste for spectacular effect and "those gilt-
gauds men children run to see".

1 op. cit. Bk. II. Chap. 2. "Come si possa dimostrare, che tutti la Scena arda."
3 edit. Cunningham, p. 146.



Windows on the Pre-Restoration Stage



Windows on the Pre-Restoration Stage

Satisfactory in the main as has been the measure of our
newly ascertained knowledge of the physical conditions and
conventionalities of the Elizabethan playhouse during the
past decade, there are still many knotty problems awaiting
solution. To take a case in point : even among skilled
workers in this particular field ideas remain painfully nebu-
lous as to the precise arrangement of the upper stage. My
own opinion is that this uncertainty is largely due to the con-
tradictory evidence presented by the four authentic views
of Pre-Restoration playhouses (the Swan, "Messalina",
" Roxana" and so-called Red Bull prints) on the one hand,
and the textual indications of a host of old plays on the
other. The truth is that, in the tantalizing absence of
definite data on many points, we have placed too much
dependence on these contemporary views, and that, too,
despite the fact that three of the number cannot be satis-
factorily associated with any particular theatre. Of the
fallaciousness of their testimony I hope later on to afford
convincing proof. It needs first to say that the present
inquiry has been undertaken with the view of dissipating
existing haziness of idea regarding the prime characteristics
of the upper stage, and that it concerns itself for the most
part with a minute consideration of the employment of
windows on the Pre-Restoration stage. Owing to the
curious complexity of the subject I find it requisite to
discuss it under the following heads: (a) The upper stage
generally, (b) casements, (c) bay-windows, (d) windows
with curtains, (e) grated windows, (f) conjunctive windows,
(g) upper back windows, (h) lower stage windows.

(a) The Upper Stage generally

In all scientific reconstuctions of the Elizabethan play-
house care must be taken not to argue too far from the
particular to the general. While it is assured that from first



26 Windows on the Pre-Restoration Stage

to last there must have been a certain broad standardiza-
tion in stage arrangement, due allowances must be made
for natural progression and for the elemental distinc-
tions between the public and the private type of theatre.
But I take it that certain features were fundamental and
ineradicable, that they were common alike to all theatres of
the platform-stage order ; and paramount among these I
rank the tiring-house balcony and its accompanying window
or windows. The conventional employment of both these
adjuncts in the inn-yard stage of English theatrical history
can readily be predicated. One has only to scrutinize the
well-known view of the old Tabard Inn in Southwark, 1 so
typical of its class, to see how the surrounding architectural
disposition of the inn-yards must have suggested to both
player and dramatist the employment of divers situations
and stirring stage effects (afterwards so popular in the
Elizabethan theatres), most of which were fated to disappear
from the expansile scheme of English dramaturgy at
the close of the seventeenth century. To the presence
of the substantial gallery which circulated around at least
two sides of the inn-yard and of the associated upper win-
dows was doubtless due the origin of those wall-storming
scenes in histories, and those serenading and rope-ladder
scenes in tragedy and comedy, so frequent of occurrence
towards the end of the previous century. What we require
to recognize in dealing with the prototype, and what I hope
to prove, is that the windows used for the most part in all
the theatres of the platform-stage era were real windows,
and not conventional make-believes. On this point some
slight evidence is afforded us by the building contract and
specification for the first Fortune Theatre in 1600, wherein
it is agreed that " the saide stadge to be in all other pro-
porcions contryved and fashioned like unto the stadge of
the saide plaiehouse called the Globe; with convenient
windowes and lightes glazed to the saide tyreinge-house.



"2



1 Reproduced in T. Fairman Ordish's Early London Theatres, p. 119.

2 Cf. The Architectural Rcvieiv y April, 1908, xxiii., No. 137, p. 240, Walter H.
Godfrey' 8 article, "An Elizabethan Playhouse," for complete text of the contract. Not



Windows on the Pre-Restoration Stage 27

At this period the tiring-house window was so well known
to playgoers and so generally employed that Middleton
in The Black Book (1 604), in a passage of sustained theatrical
metaphor, could make allusion to it :

And marching forward to the third garden-house, there we
knocked up the ghost of mistress Silverpin, who suddenly risse out
of two white sheets, and acted out of her tiring-house window. 1

The only sort of Elizabethan window out of which Mis-
tress Silverpin could have spoken down was a casement ;
and the casement was in all probability the normal type of
early stage window.

When we come to look for proof of the existence of the
ilcony, or balustraded gallery, and the associated window
[n the four old views of Pre-Restoration stages nothing but
iisappointment ensues. Not the slightest indication of
either can be found. One result of this misleading negative
evidence has been that all reconstructors of the Elizabethan
playhouse have boggled or bungled in the matter of stage
windows. 2 In the majority of the old views the upper storey
of the tiring-house is shown divided up into equal-sized
rooms in which spectators sit. This too is surely fallacious.
One feels confident that the upper storey was utilized out-
wardly for a variety of other purposes besides providing
seclusion for certain favoured spectators. There can be
little doubt that the remarkable width of the stage in the
public theatres was largely conditioned by the composite
arrangement of the upper storey of the tiring-house facade
and the number of services for which it was utilized. 3 Some
of these characteristics can only be laboriously deduced by
collating all the old directions dealing with the upper stage.

all these windows and skylights were required, of course, for stage purposes. Some
were in the outer wall and some in the hutch at the top of the building.

1 Middleton's Works (edit. Bullen), viii. 24.

2 Brodmeier and Wegener evade the issue altogether. Albright's two windows
are mere curtained apertures over the entering doors. Godfrey shows real windows in
the tiring-house but at an elevation above the " Heavens " where they could have been
of no utility (see " The Scale Model of the Fortune Theatre " in The Architectural
Review for January, 191 2).

3 The stage of the first Fortune was 43 feet across, considerably wider than the
proscenium opening of all latter-day theatres save two or three of the very largest.



28 Windows on the Pre-Restoration Stage

It still remains to be demonstrated that the Pre-Restoration
theatres had two entering doors giving on to the gallery. 1
Consideration of this point must be left for another time as
the problem is too intricate to be discussed in a paragraph.
One other important feature of the second floor of the
tiring-house is clearly indicated in the " Messalina " and so-
called "Red Bull" prints. I refer to the upper inner stage,
corresponding in position and utility to the lower inner
stage, and, like it, fronted by double curtains. Albright, 2
in basing his typical Shakespearean stage largely on the
"Messalina" view, erroneously assumes the curtains cover-
ing the upper inner stage to represent curtains obscuring a
back window in the outer wall of the tiring-house. Luckily,
in proceeding on these wrong lines he has, as we shall see
later, stumbled on a discovery. One is not disposed there-
fore to deal severely with his blunder while recognizing the
necessity for its exposure. That the brick wall in which the
supposed window is set is not the back wall of the tiring-
house but a portion of the front is shown by the fact that it
slants off backwards at either end, as if forming part of a
projection. The curtains shown would therefore correspond
with the upper curtains in the so-called " Red Bull " print.
It remains for those who persist in maintaining that the
curtains in the " Messalina " view cover a back window to
show what utility such curtains could have possessed. One
can only concede the presence of a back window on the
upper inner stage by the necessity for lightening its dark-
ness, a necessity that would be ever pressing. Night scenes
were never indicated in the Elizabethan playhouse by dark-
ening the stage but either by simple pretence or by the
bringing on of lights. It might be argued, of course, very
reasonably, that the back window of the upper inner stage
was not in the outer wall of the tiring-house but in a
partition in front of a back corridor for the players. 3 The

1 Cf. G. P. Raker, The Development of Shakespeare as a Dramatist, p. 82.

2 The Shakespearean Stage, p. 66.

3 Basing to some extent on Albright, Mr. A. Forestier takes this view in his
reconstruction of the Fortune Theatre in The Illustrated London News of August 12,
191 1. For evidence favouring this assumption, see my section (g).



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FRONTISPIECE TO [To face p. 28.

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Windows on the Pre-Restoration Stage 29

assumption then would be that the back curtain was drawn
to hide this passage while action was going forward on the
upper inner stage. But that would completely negative the
back window as a source of light. Moreover, if such a
partition existed (and I think it did), it is more likely to have
been of wood than of brick, and the " Messalina " print
clearly indicates a brick wall.

In association with the fact that the employment of the
upper inner stage for theatrical purposes was only occa-
sional, I have striven elsewhere to show that in some
theatres it was utilized as a common dressing-room. 1 We
know positively that at the Red Bull in its later history " the
tiring-room" was upstairs, 2 and it is reasonable to suppose
that in no house could it have occupied any very remote
position. Actors frequently doubled parts, and now and
again rapid changes of costume had to be made. 3 Another
fact pointing to the commodiousness and accessibility of the
tiring-room is that it was customary (as indicated by Ben
Jonson in Bartholomew Fair) for the gallants who occupied
stools on the stage to resort thither between the acts to
drink and hob-nob with the players. Here one anticipates
an argument that might be speciously employed against the
theory that the upper inner stage was in some houses utilized
as a tiring-room. In the "Messalina" print its width is
comparatively narrow, less than half the width of the lower
inner stage. But one has grave reasons to doubt the accuracy
of these proportions. If the upper inner stage were no larger
than one of the tiring-house boxes for spectators, it could
have had no raison d'etre because it would have possessed
no differentiating utility. It needs therefore to demonstrate
that scenes were acted there that could not well have been
acted in any other part of the upper storey, and that for
reason of the employment of a considerable number of

1 See The Elizabethan Playhouse and other Studies (First Series), pp. 93-6.

2 Cf. Pepys' Diary, under 23 March, 1661.

3 See the list of characters prefixed to Heywood's The Fair Maid of the Exchange
(c. 1607), where it is said " elevean may easily act this comedy", although the total
number of parts comprise twenty. These were unequally allotted, some players sustain-
ing as many as four.



3<d Windows on the Pre-Restoration Stage

characters. A typical case occurs in The Goblins as given at
the Blackfriars, circa 1 640. In Act v we have the direction,
"A curtain, drawn Prince Philatell, with others appear
above." Again, in The Emperor of the East, i. 2, as acted at
the Globe and the Blackfriars, we have "the curtains drawn
above, Theodosius and his eunuchs discovered." One must
recall that the essential difference between the inner upper
stage and the adjoining tiring-house boxes for spectators
was that the former gave upon the gallery while the latter
were enclosed and approachable only from the back. It is
vital to bear this in mind in connexion with the scene in Act
iv of The Miseries of Enforced Marriage (1605), as at the
Globe, where the Butler and Ilford "enter above", doubt-
less through one of those gallery doors to which reference
has already been made. The one says to the other, " stay
you here on this upper chamber, and I'll stay beneath
with her." Subsequently reference is made to " the lower
chamber " by which, of course, is meant the inner stage
below.

Employment of the upper inner stage is also indicated in
the first act of Titus Andronicus. " Enter the Tribunes and
Senatores aloft " means either that they first emerged on to
the gallery and proceeded to the upper inner stage or that
they were discovered in session by the drawing of the upper
curtains. That they did not remain standing on the gallery
is shown by the subsequent direction, indicating that the two
Princes "goe vp into the Senate house". The term "senate
house " practically connotes a room with front curtains.
One notes this in reading of the performance of Roman
plays at Elizabeth's court in the Revels Accounts, Thus,
when "A storie of Pompey" was given at Whitehall on
Twelfth night, 1 580-1 by the Children of Paul's, the new
appurtenances provided included "one great citty, a senate
howse, and eight ells of dobble sarcenet for curtens". 1

One other illustration of the employment of the upper
inner stage is important because it shows the contiguity of

1 Cunningham, Revels Accounts, pp. 167-8. See also p. 56, John Rosse's bill "for
poles and shyvers for draft of the Curtins before the Senate howse."



Windows on the Pre-Restoration Stage 3 1

the stairs which led to ordinary stage level. In A Yorkshire
Tragedy, Scene 5, as acted at the Globe circa 1 606, the action
takes places in an upper room. A maid is nursing a child
while the mother sleeps. The infuriated father enters carry-
ing his wounded son, and throws the maid downstairs in
saying, "I'll break your clamour with your neck: down
staires! Tumble, tumble, headlong! — so!" He then injures
the awakened mother, whose cries bring a servant on the
scene, only to be overthrown by the madman. Instruction
for the closing of the curtains at the end is lacking but it is
implied by the culminating situation. In the absence of an
upper inner stage it would be difficult to see how this scene
could be visualized. The same remark applies to Act iii. 5
of Cockain's Ovid's Tragedy, a play that was seemingly not
acted, although the printed copy has a prologue and an epi-
logue. As the author was, however, well acquainted with
Pre-Restoration stage conventionalities his piece may be
admitted as evidence. First Clorina enters "above as in her
chamber", into which she has been locked by her husband.
Then Phylocles comes on below and, finding a wooden
ladder, climbs to the balcony, where he sees a " window
open" and through it Clorina lying on a bed. It cannot
really be a window, as, after gaining the balcony, he is seen
to kiss the sleeping woman and to court her on her awaken-
ing. That the action takes place on the upper inner stage is
shown by the circumstance that while the two are in converse
Bassanus suddenly unlocks the door, causing Clorina to
exclaim, " my husband's come ".

(b) Casements

Before proceeding to a minute consideration of the em-
ployment of windows on the Pre-Restoration stage it is vital
that something should be said regarding the slovenliness and
lack of definition that often accompanied the writing down
of old stage-directions. Sometimes to take them literally is
to blunder, and sometimes their obscurity is such that a
wise discretion has to be exercised. Thus the instruction



32 Windows on the Pre-Restoration Stage

"enter above" conveys no definite impression. It might
mean (i) that the character, or characters, appeared on the
gallery, (2) or at a window, (3) or were discovered on the
inner upper stage. A few examples may be cited where
"above" implies "at a window". In The host Lady, iii. 1,
Hermione and Acanthe appear "above ", listening. Their
exact position is not made clear until we read in a subsequent
direction," Whilst he [Phormio] kneels, Hermione and the
Moor look down from the window. " Again, in The Two
Noble Kinsmen, ii. 1, Palamon and Arcite appear "above " as
in prison, but the Daughter's remark shows they are looking
out of a window, the one above the other. l Sometimes it is
only by collation of varying texts that one can arrive at the
truth. Shakespeare affords two notable examples. In the
Folio we read in the opening scene of Othello, "Brabantio
above", but the Quarto of 1622 says, "Brabantio at a


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Online LibraryWilliam John LawrenceThe Elizabethan playhouse and other studies → online text (page 3 of 22)