Critics tend to condense the complexities and idiosyncrasies of the periods preceding and following their own in order to mark a stable (and necessarily reductive) boundary against which the ambiguities and nuances alive in their own period can be read. Like the shorthand term “Restoration,” adopted to provide a link between a political event and the literature produced in the wake of it, so the shorthand for the advent of a “proscenium theatre.” The enclosure of the proscenium was erected in the scholarly mind as a not-so-triumphal arch through which theatrical production passed from a vibrant, messy, egalitarian space (pre-1660) into a distanced, iconic, bourgeois space. But the nuanced performance practices taking place in front of and then behind the proscenium in the period from the 1670s well into the 1800s are intricate, dynamic, and gradual. This architectural innovation demanded adjustment and re-evaluation from practitioners of theatre just as the innovation of print demanded an effort by writers and makers of theatre to combine the aesthetic pleasures of comprehension in the circulation of the printed word with apprehension in the dynamic force of performance.
Prosceniums (pro-scena) have a much longer history indoors and out than granted by the too much used shorthand term, the “picture-frame” stage. This term of convenience usually portrays the proscenium as a boundary first put in place after Shakespeare. In this widely accepted version of theatre history, the players were kept behind the proscenium frame until the advent of experimental theatre in the mid-twentieth century. 1 Yet, a proscenium designed and employed for a fifteenth-century Medici festival or a seventeenth-century masque by Inigo Jones functioned in those ephemeral works very differently than the architectural structure erected in the “new” Drury Lane Theatre of 1674 or Lincoln’s Inn Fields (Leacroft 1973). In 1696 at Drury Lane changes in the design of the apron stage, the eradication of two of the onstage doors where previously actors entered directly into the audience rather than appearing “behind” the proscenium, signaled to the audience a reorientation of spectatorship and