Academic journal article Theatre Notebook

The Early Restoration Stage Re-Anatomised: The Adventures of Five Hours at Lincoln's Inn Fields 1663

Academic journal article Theatre Notebook

The Early Restoration Stage Re-Anatomised: The Adventures of Five Hours at Lincoln's Inn Fields 1663

Article excerpt

The first decade or so of the Restoration has received scant attention from theatre historians and literary critics alike. Consequently, critical commentary referring to the staging of plays in the 1660s has tended to have a long shelf life. This is true of one of the most influential and durable conceptual models of Restoration staging--that proposed by Colin Visser in 1975. Visser's model first appeared in a two-part article for Theatre Notebook entitled, 'The Anatomy of the Early Restoration Stage: The Adventures of Five Hours and John Dryden's '"Spanish" Comedies'. (1) In the first part of this article Visser criticises Richard Southern's analysis of Sir Samuel Tuke's The Adventures of Five Hours (1663) and makes new proposals concerning early Restoration staging.

As Visser notes, Southern's analysis of The Adventures of Five Hours is complex and not altogether clear, at one point Southern himself acknowledges his interpretation to be 'doubtful'. (2) To resolve this complexity, Visser proposes a unique interpretation of Restoration scenic arrangements and staging conventions that continues to be cited as authoritative, and as far as I am aware remains unchallenged in published criticism. (3) Briefly stated, Visser argues that the proscenium (forestage) walls in a Restoration theatre had 'a scenic function that supplemented that of the scenic area behind the proscenium arch', and 'as with the entrances in the classical theatre, the proscenium doors could be particularised'. (4) Taken at face value it would be difficult to argue against either of these statements; they seem to posit an integral part of Restoration scenic staging. The adoption of changeable scenery did not mean that all previous staging conventions were discarded. Pre-Civil War audiences had been invited, for example, to interpret tiring house walls as castles and stage pillars as trees; post-Restoration, the same perceptual complicities would have involved proscenium walls and doors, especially for interior scenes. Moreover, fictional door assignations, as explicated recently in Tim Fitzpatrick's analyses of Shakespearean staging, could have been 'wiped' and 'reset' at the ends of scenes just as effectively, if not more so, on stages equipped with sliding wings and shutters. (5) Similarly, properties and costumes retained their power to signify place, and stage clearances could still indicate a change of location, or to put it more technically, could invite a re-interpretation of standing scenery as a different part of the same general locale: street in a city, grove in a forest, room in a house. It is rather Visser's particular interpretation of these conventions that, when followed through, strikes one as both odd and unduly pessimistic of early Restoration scenic practice. The first oddity is that despite the title of his article, which implies a wider scope, his interpretation of early Restoration staging is limited generically to 'Spanish Plot' plays: The Adventures of Five Hours and three plays by John Dryden produced at Lincoln's Inn Fields (hereafter LIF) and Bridges Street in the years 1663-72. In these plays Visser proposes that the forestage walls represent either interior or exterior house walls, and four forestage doors are designated as leading to/from specific locations, such as a street, a garden, or a particular room. When the wall represents the exterior of a house, 'the downstage or lower door represents the front entrance into the house, the upper door the back entrance into the garden'. (6) When it represents the interior, we should accept:

   the area immediately in front of it [on the forestage] as an
   antechamber. The lower door now leads from the antechamber into the
   street; the upper door leads into an inner room or apartment which,
   in turn, has an entrance into the garden. The downstage balcony
   looks into the street, the upstage balcony either into the street
   or into the garden. (7)

Note that Visser assumes, rather than argues for, the use of four forestage doors in his model, and that for the most part only one wall is brought into play in any given scene: the opposite wall has no scenic function and is presumably to be imagined as neutral. …

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