Academic journal article Theatre Notebook

Boyle's Guzman at Lincoln's Inn Fields 1669

Academic journal article Theatre Notebook

Boyle's Guzman at Lincoln's Inn Fields 1669

Article excerpt

Roger Boyle's Guzman may be read as an attempt to combine elements of two of the most successful plays of the 1660s: the farce of John Dryden's Sir Martin Mar-all with the Spanish setting of Samuel Tuke's The Adventures of Five Hours. Boyle's volte-face from the heroic tragicomedy of his earlier plays to farce did not go unremarked. Samuel Pepys saw the original Lincoln's Inn Fields (hereafter LIF) production on 16 April 1669 and afterwards was astonished to be told by the playwright Thomas Shadwell that Boyle was responsible for the 'mean' entertainment he had just seen. According to Shadwell, the play was an attempt by Boyle to try 'what he could do in comedy, since his heroique plays could do no more wonders'. (1) On the same day, the actor Henry Harris told the diarist that the play 'will not take'. The LIF prompter John Downes, however, records that the play 'took very well', and a visiting Italian, Lorenzo Magalotti, seems to have been impressed by the whole experience of seeing Guzman at LIF. (2) Whoever was right, the play does not seem to have lived beyond its initial run, although the London Stage suggests a revival may have been associated with the first printing in 1693. (3)

Guzman may not have been a stage success, but the published text is unique among early Restoration plays for including an unprecedented amount of promptbook annotation. It provides, therefore, an invaluable resource for the student of Restoration staging. Several theatre historians have discussed the play and its additions to some extent, but no account of the original staging that fully explicates authorial and promptbook layers of theatrical information has been offered. In this respect, critical commentary is disappointing. The analysis provided by Boyle's editor, William Smith Clark II, is detailed but it is superseded by later scholarship: like all commentators before Richard Southern, Clark is foxed by the nature and use of relieve scenes. (4) In Changeable Scenery, Southern is preoccupied with the idea of pierced or 'cut' scenes, (5) while in Restoration Promptbooks, Edward Langhans finds aspects of the dual scenic information in the play 'too confusing' to attempt a full integration. (6) However, I believe the source of Langhans's difficulties is not necessarily the textual inconsistency he finds, but rather the assumptions he brings to his analysis. Puzzlingly, whilst acknowledging the probable influence on early Restoration theatres of pre-Restoration scenic arrangements by Inigo Jones and his pupil John Webb, Langhans appears to conflate these designs with Continental arrangements. (7) All the extant designs by Jones and Webb--the Somerset House stage (1633), for Florimene (1635), Salmacida Spolia (1640), and The Siege of Rhodes (1658)--show rows of either fixed or changeable wings downstage of a frame containing two or three backshutters, upstage of which is an area for scenes of relieve terminated by a backcloth. None of these designs shows more than a single backshutter position, but Langhans believes that LIF had two such positions and that 'no more than two grooves [...] at each wing and shutter position would have been necessary'. (8) I believe such an arrangement would have proved impracticable at LIF. There are two factors to consider here: the number of backshutter positions and the number of shutter grooves at each position.

If Langhans is correct about the number of backshutter positions, we would expect to find stage directions in LIF plays exploiting this scenic capability. The key index of the availability of this resource is the successive backshutter discovery scene. A backshutter discovery was effected by withdrawing the backshutter pair in view to reveal or 'discover' upstage a further part of the stage complete with its own scenic backing. (9) On a stage equipped with two backshutter positions it is possible to have the striking effect of two such discoveries in succession. Stage directions indicating successive discoveries may be found in plays written for Dorset Garden and Drury Lane theatres in the 1670s. …

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