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nine feet from the ground. I suppose it to have been supported by pillars. From hence, in many of our old plays, part of the dialogue was spoken; and in the front of it curtains likewise were hung, so as occasionally to conceal the persons in it from the view of the audience. At each side of this balcony was a box, very inconveniently situated which sometimes was called the private box. In these boxes, which were at a lower price, some persons sate, either from economy or singularity.
How little the imaginations of the audience were assisted by scenical deception, and how much necessity our author had to call on them to “ piece out imperfections with their thoughts," may be collected from Sir Philip Sidney, who, describing the state of the drama and the stage, in his time, (about the year 1583,) says, “ Now you shall have three ladies walk to gather flowers, and then we must beleeve the stage to be a garden. By and by we heare news of shipwrack in the same place, then we are to blame, if we accept it not for a rock. Upon the back of that, comes out a hidious monster with fire and smoke; and then the miserable beholders are bound to take it for a cave; while in the mean time two armies fly in, represented with four swords and bucklers, and then what hard hart wil not receive it for a pitched field.”
The first notice that I have found of any thing like moveable scenes being used in England, is in the narrative of the entertainment given to King James at Oxford, in August, 1605, when three plays were performed in the hall of Christ Church, of which we have the following account by a contemporary writer. “ The stage” (he tells us)“ close to the upper end of the hall, as it seemed at the first sight: but indeed it was but a false wall faire painted, and adorned with stately pillars, which pillars would turn about; by reason whereof, with the help of other painted clothes, their stage did vary three times in the acting of one tragedy :' that is, in other words, there were three scenes employed in the exhibition of the piece. The scenery was contrived by Inigo Jones, who is described as a great traveller, and who undertook to “ further his employers much, and furnish them with rare devices, hut produced very little to that which was expected.”
It is observable, that the writer of this account was not acquainted even with the term, scene, having used painted clothes instead of it: nor indeed is this surprising, it not be
ing then found in this sense in any dictionary or vocabulary, English or foreign, that I have met with. Had the common stages been furnished with them, neither this writer, nor the makers of dictionaries, could have been ignorant of it. To effect even what was done at Christ-Church, the University found it necessary to employ two of the king's carpenters, and to have the advice of the controller of his works. The Queen's Masque, which was exhibited in the preceding January, was not much more successful, though above 30001. was expended upon it. “At night,” says Sir Dudley Carleton, “ we had the Queen's Maske in the Banquetinghouse, or rather her Pageant. There was a great engine at the lower end of the room, which had motion, and in it were the images of sea-horses, (with other terrible fishes) which were ridden by the Moors. The indecorum was, that there was all fish and no water. At the further end was a great shell in form of a skallop, wherein were four seats; on the lowest sat the queen with my lady Bedford; on the rest were placed the ladies Suffolk, Darby,” &c. Such were most of the Masques in the time of James the First : triumphal cars, castles, rocks, caves, pillars, temples, clouds, rivers, tritons, &c. composed the principal part of their decoration. In the courtly masques given by his successor during the first fifteen years of his reign, and in some of the plays exhibited at court, the art of scenery seems to have been somewhat improved. In 1636 a piece written by Thomas Heywood, called Love's Mistress or the Queen's Masque, was represented at Denmark House before their Majesties. “ For the rare decorements" (says Heywood in his preface) “ which new apparelled it, when it came the second time to the royal view, (her gracious majesty then entertaining his highness at Denmark House upon his birthday,) I cannot pretermit to give a due character to that admirable artist Mr. Inigo Jones, master surveyor of the king's worke, &c. who to every act, nay almost to every scene, by his excellent inventions gave such an extraordinary lustre; uponi every occasion changing the stage, to the admiration of all the spectators.” Here, as on a former occasion, we may remark, the term scene is not used : the stage was changed, to the admiration of all the spectators.
In August, 1636, The Royal Slave, written by a very popular poet, William Cartwright, was acted at Oxford' before the king and queen, and afterwards at Hampton-Court, Wood informs us, that the scenery was an exquisite and un
common piece of machinery, contrived by Inigo Jones. The play was printed in 1639; and yet even at that late period, the term scene, in the sense now affixed to it, was unknown to the author ; for describing the various scenes employed in this court-exhibition, he denominates them thus: “ The first Appearance, a temple of the sun.-Second Appearance, a city in the front, and a prison at the side," &c. The three other Appearances in this play were, a wood, a palace, and a castle.
In every disquisition of this kind much trouble and many words might be saved, by defining the subject of dispute. Before therefore I proceed further in this inquiry, I think it proper to say, that by a scene, I mean, A painting in perspective on a cloth fastened to a wooden frame or roller ; and that I do not mean by this term, a coffin, or a tomb, or a gilt chair, or a fair chain of pearl, or a crucifix;" and I am the rather induced to make this declaration, because a writer, who obliquely alluded to the position which I am now maintaiping, soon after the first edition of this Essay was published, has mentioned exhibitions of this kind as a proof of the scenery of our old plays; and taking it for granted that the point is completely established by this decisive argument; triumphantly adds, “Let us for the future no more be told of the want of proper scenes and dresses in our ancient theatres."
A passage which has been produced from one of the old comedies, proves that the common theatres were furnished with some rude pieces of machinery, which were used when it was necessary to exhibit the descent of some god or saint ; but it is manifest from what has been already stated, as well as from all the contemporary accounts, that the mechanism of our ancient theatres seldom went beyond a tomb, a painted chair, a sinking cauldron, or a trap-door, and that none of them had moveable scenes. When King Henry VIII. is to . be discovered by the Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk, reading in his study, the scenical direction in the first folio, 1623, (which was printed apparently from playhouse copies,) is, “ The King draws the curtain, [i. e. draws it open] and sits reading pensively ;" for, beside the principal curtains that hung in the front of the stage, they used others as substitutes for scenes, which were denominated traverses. If a hedchamber is to be represented, no change of scene iş mentioned; but the property-man is simply ordered to thrust forth a bed, or, the curtains being opened, a bed, is exhibited.
So, in the old play on which Shakspeare formed his King Henry VI. P. II. when Cardinal Beaufort is exhibited dying, the stage-direction is-“ Enter King and Salisbury, and then the curtaines be drawn, [i. e. drawn open,) and the Cardinal is discovered in his bed, raving and staring as if he were mad.” When the fable requires the Roman capitol to be represented, we find two officers enter, “ to lay cushions, as it were in the capitol.” So, in King Richard II. Act IV. sc. i; “Bolingbroke, &c. enter as to the parliament.” Again, in Sir John Oldcastle, 1600 : “ Enter Cambridge, Scroop, and Gray, as in a chamber.” When the citizens of Angiers are to appear on the walls of their town, and young Arthur to leap from the battlements, I suppose our ancestors were contented with seeing them in the balcony already described ; or perhaps a few boards were tacked together, and painted so as to resemble the rude discoloured walls of an old town, behind which a platform might have been placed near the top, on which the citizens stood : but surely this can scarcely be called a scene. Though undoubtedly our poet's company were furnished with some wooden fabrick sufficiently resembling a tomb, for which they must have had occasion in several plays, yet some doubt may be entertained, whether in Romeo and Juliet any exhibition of Juliet's monument was given on the stage. Romeo perhaps only opened with his mattock one of the stage trap-doors, (which might have represented a tomb-stone,) by which he descended to a vault beneath the stage, where Juliet was deposited; and this notion is countenanced by a passage in the play, and by the poem on which the drama was founded.
In all the old copies of the play last- mentioned we find the following stage-direction : “ They march about the stage, and serving-men come forth with their napkins.” A more decisive proof than this, that the stage was not furnished with scenes, cannot be produced. Romeo, Mercutio, &c. with their torch-bearers and attendants, are the persons who march about the stage. They are in the street, on their way to Capulet's house, where a masquerade is given; but Ca. pulet's servants who come forth with their napkins, are supposed to be in a hall or saloon of their master's house : yet both the masquers without and the servants within appear on the same spot. In like manner in King Henry VIII, the very same spot is at once the outside and inside of the Council-Chamber,
It is not, however, necessary to insist either upon the
term itself, in the sense of a painting in perspective on cloth or canvas, being unknown to our early writers, or upon the various stage-directions which are found in the plays of our poet and his contemporaries, and which afford the strongest presumptive evidence that the stage in his time was not furnished with scenes: because we have to the same point the concurrent testimony of Shakspeare himself, of Ben Jonson, of every writer of the last age who has had occasion to mention this subject, and even of the very person who first introduced scenes on the publick stage.
In the year 1629 Jonson's comedy intitled The New Inn was performed at the Blackfriars theatre, and deservedly damned. Ben was so much incensed at the 'town for condemning his piece, that in 1631 he published it with the following title: “ The New Inne, or the light Heart, a comedy; as it was never acted, but most negligently played, by some, the kings servants, and more squeamishly beheld and censured by others, the kings subjects, 1629: And now at last set at liberty to the readers, his Ma.sies servants and subjects, to be judged, 1631.” In the Dedication to this piece, the author, after expressing his profound contempt for the spectators, who were at the first representation of this play, says, “What did they come for then, thou wilt ask me. I will as punctually answer : to see and to be seene. To make a general muster of themselves in their clothes of credit, and possesse the stage against the playe: to dislike all, but marke nothing: and by their confidence of rising between the actes in oblique lines, make affidavit to the whole house of their not understanding one scene. Arm'd with this prejudice, as the stage furniture or arras clothes, they were there; as spectators away; for the fuces in the hangings and they beheld alike.”
The exhibition of plays being forbidden some time before the death of Charles I. Sir William D'Avenant in 1656 invented a new species of entertainment, which was exhibited at Rutland House, at the upper end of Aldersgate Street. The title of the piece, which was printed in the same year, is, The Siege of Rhodes, made a Representation by the Art of prospective in Scenes; and the Story sung in recitative Musick. “ The original of this musick,” says Dryden, " and of the scenes which adorned his work, he had from the Italian operas; but he heightened his characters (as I may probably imagine) from the examples of Corneille and some French poets.” If sixty years before,