Academic journal article Studies in Philology

Aphra Behn's the Forc'd Marriage at Lincoln's Inn Fields

Academic journal article Studies in Philology

Aphra Behn's the Forc'd Marriage at Lincoln's Inn Fields

Article excerpt

This article contends that the siting of the play's i6yo performance figures in the meaning it had for a contemporary audience, that the place of the stage articulates one aspect of its plot. The first part of the essay argues that as a performance site, the theater in Lincoln's Inn Fields operates as commentary on the vanishing feudal world Behn represents on stage. Although Behn sets the play far from London, its action takes place in the shadow of urbanization that is the obverse of the courtly setting it both idealizes and mocks. The site itself encodes an important meaning about the nature of urban modernity for Behn and her contemporaries. The essay shows how the apparent privileging of martial valor in The Forc'd Marriage is counterpointed by an almost burlesque version of a swaggering aggression all too familiar to Londoners. Behn's critics generally treat the play as the matrix from which her later preoccupations arise, or as a critique of the male power that would compel marriage against the will of youthful protagonists, or they highlight the politics embedded in the tale of absolutist rule. This account emphasizes instead the thinness of the line that separates male heroics from absurd histrionics, or, at one remove, from bawdy-house riots and other forms of urban violence.

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CYNTHIA Wall, in her The Literary and Cultural Spaces of Restoration London, observes that London, in the period after the Great Fire, rebuilt itself on principles laid out in treatises on surveying, mapping, and architecture, that the period witnessed "an attempt to reinvest a city emptied of nominal topographic familiarity with comprehensible meaning." (1) The massive urban renewal program after 1666 became a series of attempts to re-signify the urban space. Wall sifts through the architectural, cartographic, topographical, and literary archives to argue that the literary genres of the Restoration and early eighteenth century partake of a culture of remapping and renewing the production of space. The public spaces Wall writes about most frequently are parks and shops, linked to the activities of leisure and trade, and in this she takes her lead from a substantial body of scholarship on large-scale landscaping and redesign projects in fashionable commercial and residential areas. The literary topography such studies describe spotlights entertainment mounted in enclosed spaces themselves enfolded in the playhouse and in turn surrounded by the Town (the area between the city walls and Westminster). Comedies appear to follow the circulation of people and money through a semiotically dense urban landscape centered on the great squares, although playwrights sometimes choose to stage scenes in more economically and socially mixed settings.

Wall's brief mention of Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre (hereafter LIF, to distinguish it from the place) groups it together with other, better-known Restoration playhouses. The Duke of York's Company, headed by Sir William Davenant, first played at Salisbury Court, then relocated to Lincoln's Inn Fields in 1661, taking possession of the Duke's Playhouse, as it was known. The Company converted Lisle's Tennis Court (on Portugal Street) for theatrical use, and Davenant inaugurated the house with a performance of his own work on June 28. This theater, LIF, provided acting space for the Duke's Company until the Dorset Garden Theatre opened its doors in 1671, three years after Davenant's death. I want to focus my attention on LIF in the earlier period, before the players decamped to Dorset Garden. (2) As Robert D. Hume (and theater historians in general) have argued, "to write credibly about a 16601800 play except in purely literary terms, one has to start by coming to grips with the physical setting for which it was designed," including a theater's configuration of space, sightlines, scenery, machinery, lighting, and other considerations likely to affect an audience's experience. …

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