Academic journal article Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England

"Maluolio Within": Acting on the Threshold between Onstage and Offstage Spaces

Academic journal article Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England

"Maluolio Within": Acting on the Threshold between Onstage and Offstage Spaces

Article excerpt

IN his article, "Malvolio and the Dark House," John H. Astington deals with problems of staging Malvolio's imprisonment in Twelfth Night, 4.2. (1) The F1 text, which is the sole authority for the play, places the stage direction "Maluolio within" (TLN 2005; 4.2.19) before Malvolio's first speech from his prison: "Mal. Who cals there?" (TLN 2006; 4.2.20). (2) Including this speech, he delivers as many as twenty-two speeches from there. The F1 stage direction "Maluolio within" is usually thought to indicate that Malvolio is "entirely out of sight and speaking from the tiring-house, possibly from behind one of the stage doors," but such a staging, Astington believes, would involve practical problems of the following kind:

  ... on Shakespeare's stage Malvolio was not to be seen watching Feste
  in 4.2, or so the Folio implies, and although we must hear him, his
  voice would have reached an Elizabethan audience from 'within' the
  tiring house, through the thickness of a fairly substantial wooden
  door, and across the depth of the stage, thirty feet or so to the
  first rank of standing spectators in the yard.... The central physical
  problems of the scene, therefore, are those of audibility and
  visibility.... (3)

Considering this question further, Astington has concluded that the stage direction "within" does not always indicate that the character should remain unseen within the tiring-house, and, in his view, "the house as dark as hell [i.e., Malvolio's prison] could quite appropriately have lain below the Elizabethan trapdoor." (4)

It is certainly true that the meanings of early modern English theatrical terms were flexible. Even the meanings and usages of the most fundamental stage directions like "enter" and "exit" / "exeunt" were by no means fixed or consistent. (5) As Astington has pointed out, the meaning of "within" may have been much broader than the way we usually understand it. However, I am not convinced that the space below the stage could have been treated as "within." A close examination of stage directions containing "within" indicates something about the contemporary usage of this somewhat slippery theatrical term, and an analysis of various scenes in which a character speaks from offstage is also useful in this regard. As a result of examining these matters, I should like to consider the possibility of other interpretations of "Maluolio within."


Some stage directions referring to "within" also contain an adverb or adverbial phrase that specifies a particular part of "within." Some of these directions place a character behind a stage door. Not surprisingly, what they indicate is the character's pre-entry action.

  One knockes within at the doore.
  (Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy 1602 Quarto, TLN 2137) (6)

  The Clowne bounce at the gate, within.
  (Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus QB, TLN 1675) (7)

On the face of it, each of these stage directions indicates that the character waiting offstage should knock at the door through which he is to enter onto the stage. However, it is equally possible that, especially in the instance of Doctor Faustus, a stage attendant (not the actor himself) produced the required sound effect by beating on something with an iron bar or the like. (8) Since offstage knocking may have involved the use of sound-producing equipment, about which we know very little, it seems prudent to exclude examples of offstage knocking and confine ourselves to characters' offstage speeches, as in the following examples from Othello and Richard II. When in Othello, 5.2 the unseen Emilia calls out to Othello to admit her, the Q1 text marks "Emillia calls within" (M2r; 5.2.85), while the F1 text provides "AEmilia at the doore" (TLN 3343; 5.2.85) and "AEmil. within" (TLN 3350; 5.2.89). Similarly, when in Richard II, 5.3 York makes a similar plea to be admitted, in order to reveal Aumerle's treachery, the Q1 stage direction for him reads "The Duke of Yorke knokes at the doore and crieth" (I2r; 5. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.