Academic journal article Theatre Notebook

The Proscenium Doors in the Duke's Theatre Lincoln's Inn Fields

Academic journal article Theatre Notebook

The Proscenium Doors in the Duke's Theatre Lincoln's Inn Fields

Article excerpt

For many years the number of doors on English stages during the Restoration period has been the subject of debate among theatre historians, both in Theatre Notebook and elsewhere. The basic problem is the lack of pictorial evidence, which has caused historians to look for evidence from other sources: play texts, stage directions, prompters' notes etc. These however, are contradictory.

The latest contribution to the debate is Tim Keenan's article in Theatre Notebook 65. He discusses the number of doors on English stages during the early Restoration period and focuses on the first Duke's Theatre, Lincoln's Inn Fields (LIF), a tennis court that had been converted to a theatre for the Duke's Company and which they used between 1661 and 1671, the year their new purpose-built theatre in Dorset Garden was completed. However, in defence of his theory that the theatre in LIF had no more than two doors, Keenan cuts too many corners.

He is right in stating that the number of doors helps determine how one interprets stage directions and is therefore not merely a peripheral issue. (1) He is also right in dismissing as evidence the well-known design for a playhouse found among Christopher Wren's papers in the Library of All Souls College, Oxford. This design made several twentieth-century historians jump to conclusions about its relationship to the 1674 Theatre Royal. It is discussed in detail by Edward A. Langhans ("Wren's Restoration Playhouse"), who warned that it should not be taken "as a design that can be assigned to any actual theatre built in Restoration England" (97). On the other hand Alistair Potts in his more recent thesis thinks that there is enough evidence to assume that it relates to the Bridges Street playhouse (IIIn596). Whatever it may be, it proves nothing about a converted tennis court in Lincoln's Inn Fields.

Keenan then goes on to discuss George Etherege's She Wou'd If She Cou'd, first performed at LIF in February 1668. The stage directions for Act 2.1 (The Mulberry-Garden, 13) include remarks about the use of stage doors. The crucial one is: "Enter the Women, and after 'em Courtal at the lower Door, and Freeman at the upper on the contrary side".

Despite the fact that Etherege's words could hardly have been more specific, Keenan writes that "this direction does not exclude the possibility of entrances through wing passageways, as both scholars concede" (67) and he refers to Langhans' PhD thesis and an article by Robert D. Hume. That is misleading. Langhans writes:

Many plays have the usual references to "one door", "the other doors", and "another door", but in Etherege's She Would If She Could the evidence is specific: "Enter the Women, and after 'em Courtal at the Lower Door, and Freeman, at the upper at the contrary side." (391:17) We could hardly ask for more concrete proof. But all Etherege refers to are upper and lower doors; he does not place these specifically on the forestage. As if to refute our previous references to four forestage doors, we find a very unique piece of evidence in Caryl's The English Princess which suggests that only two doors were situated in front of the curtain on the forestage: "Enter Catesby, and Radclife at one of the Doors before the Curtain", and "Enter Lovel at the other Door before the Curtain". (291:47) This certainly indicates only two doors, one on each side, in front of the curtain; the other two would presumably have to be upstage of the curtain, opening onto the front of the scenic area. This same arrangement may have obtained at Drury Lane, though the evidence is far from clear. And, indeed, this piece of evidence could be interpreted to refer to two different doors in front of the curtain on the same side of the stage. If Davenant was cramped for space, the placing of two of the doors upstage of the curtain line may have been of some help, but it stands to reason that the doors, no matter where they were placed, would take up the same amount of space. …

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