Curtains on the Shakespearean stage.
Anyone investigating the subject of curtains on the Renaissance stage needs to begin by noticing that the subject is a good deal more problematic than we like to think. Consider, for example, Ben Jonson's Volpone, performed by the King's Men at the Globe in 1606. The Folio version of the play begins by naming the characters onstage: "Volpone, Mosca." (3) Modern editors, however, commonly suppose that Volpone is in bed since his day is just beginning. Hence R. B. Parker inserts several words into the opening direction: "[Enter] Mosca [and discovers] Volpone [in his bed]" (1.1.0). (4) Parker explains in a note: "Volpone's bed would probably be a four-poster on the main stage, whose curtains Mosca could open." (5) Such curtains hanging from testers, or four-posters, (6) were a feature of substantial beds in Elizabethan and Jacobean homes and served the practical purpose of keeping warmth from being dissipated and reducing cold drafts at night. Mosca could "discover" Volpone by pushing back the bed curtains. Robert N. Watson's edition, like Parker's, inserts explanatory words in that first stage direction, making more explicit what Parker consigns to a note: "[Enter] Mosca, [pulling back the curtains to discover] Volpone [in bed]." (7) Watson comments that Mosca enters, "perhaps opening the curtains around Volpone's bed, or opening curtains to admit the morning sun." Here the issue seems a little less certain: are the curtains that Mosca handles covering a window rather than a bed? If so, where exactly are such curtains located onstage? And if they are pulled back, what do they reveal? The issue of staging at the beginning of Jonson's play is at least twofold. Does Volpone recline on a bed with or without curtains or on some other kind of furniture? (8) Exactly what curtains, if any, does Mosca open upon his entry? Neither the 1607 quarto nor the 1616 Folio allows us to answer these questions with confidence; no stage directions appear in the scene, only the names of the two characters. We need, therefore, to proceed cautiously, acknowledging the extent to which the theatrical use of curtains remains terra incognita.
The title page of The Vow Breaker by William Sampson, acted ca. 1625-26, contains a woodcut illustrating four incidents in the play, and one section of the print depicts a tester with curtains; the bed's occupant is the chief female character, Anne, who, although pledged to Bateman, covets greater wealth and marries German instead. Bateman in despair hangs himself and, as a ghost, visits Anne. In the illustration the fearful Anne says to her attendants, "Hees come, watch mee or I am gone" (sig. A2r). (9) R. A. Foakes observes that the picture of Anne in bed "may have some relevance to the staging of the play." (10) If so, what does it tell us? George Reynolds conjectures that such a bed "must have been a pretty sizable and cumbersome property." (11) It's entirely possible, however, that carpenters could have assembled a bed that was considerably less weighty and unwieldy than one constructed for, say, a prosperous merchant. After all, some beds were actually carried out or drawn onto the stage, as in Thomas Heywood's The Golden Age, first acted by Queen Anne's Men at the Red Bull ca. 1609-11: (12) "Enter the foure old beldams, drawing out Dana[e]'s bed: she in it" (sig.I1v). (13) And Sasha Roberts observes that simple beds could be furnished to look opulent: "Even if the beds used by theatrical companies were constructed on a much simpler basis than the bed depicted in The Vow Breaker's title page, those stage-beds might still have produced the impression or effect of a state bed, especially through the display of sumptuous fabrics." (14) In other plays beds were sufficiently light in construction for stagehands or actors to push the furniture out onto the main playing area. A stage direction in Middleton's A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, performed by Lady Elizabeth's Men at the Swan in 1613, is explicit: "A bed thrust out upon the stage, Allwit's wife in it." (3.2.0.s.d.). (15) This bed, according to Richard Hosley, was presumably "a small curtained four-poster." (16)
In the theater the closing of bed curtains is commonly associated with sexual activity, as in Juliet's metaphoric appeal to the "fiery-footed steeds" of the sun god's chariot to hurry across the sky: "Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night" (3.2.1, 5). (17) When she speaks these lines, Juliet anticipates her wedding night with Romeo. Bed curtains have the advantage of protecting sleepers from prying eyes, as the staging of Heywood's The Golden Age illustrates. The playwright dramatizes Jupiter's proclivity for philandering, in this instance with Danae. The god enters "crown'd with his imperiall robes," and "He lyes upon her bed" (sig. I2r). Then "Jupiter puts out the lights and makes unready" (sig. I2v). Danae says to him, "If you will needs, for modesties chast law, / Before you come to bed, the curtaines draw," adding, "Well I'le even winke, and then do what you will." Curtains, then, afford privacy to lovers on the stage as in ordinary life.
Closed bed curtains may create an air of expectation and suspense preceding sexual activity, as they do in Thomas Heywood's The Rape of Lucrece, first acted by Queen Anne's Men at the Red Bull in 1607: "Lucr[ece] discoverd in her bed" (sig.G1v). (18) The bed is equipped with curtains, which are probably closed as Sextus Tarquinius approaches, saying to himself, "Heere, heere, behold! Beneath these curtaines lyes / That bright enchantresse that hath daz'd my eies." The curtains he refers to must be bed curtains, for the "enchantresse" lies beneath those curtains; Tarquin's pulling back of the curtains reveals the sleeping woman.
The rape of Lucrece becomes a prelude to her demise. In Heywood's play, as elsewhere, curtained beds are associated with death. When, for example, in Romeo and Juliet Juliet takes the potion allowing her to counterfeit death, she is preparing for bed; her mother has just said, "Good night. / Get thee to bed" (4.3.12-13). (19) The Q1 stage direction at the end of Juliet's soliloquy, which expresses her fear of awaking in the tomb, reads: "She fals upon her bed within the curtaines" (sig. I1r). (20) The potion will, of course, later contribute to her actual death in the Capulet tomb when she awakes to find her husband dead, thereby prompting her suicide. The conflation of bed and death also characterizes Tancred and Gismund, probably acted in 1591 by the gentlemen of the Inner Temple, presumably in their hall. The tragedy is precipitated when Tancred goes to his daughter's bedroom, finds it empty, and lies down on her bed to await her return: "And thereupon I (wearie) threw my selfe / Upon her widdowes bed (for so I thought) / And in the curten wrapt my cursed head" (act 4, lines 984-86). (21) The dumb show preceding this act allows us to see what Tancred describes: "Tancred commeth forth, & draweth Gismund's curtens, and lies down upon her bed." Thus concealed, he witnesses his widowed daughter embrace her lover when they enter the bedroom through a hidden door; following the discovery of the illicit relationship, a jealous Tancred slays the man, triggering Gismund's suicide.
In Shakespeare's England, as in our own time, beds were typically sites of death. When last we see John of Gaunt in Richard II, he says, "Convey me to my bed, then to my grave" (2.1.137). The demise of Falstaff, narrated in Henry V, also takes place in bed, for the Hostess reports, "I saw him fumble with the sheets" (2.3.13-14). In Shakespeare's 2 Henry IV, the ailing King asks, "I pray you take me up, and bear me hence," and is apparently moved to a bed; he directs, "Set me the crown upon my pillow here" (4.5.5). Moments later the King is described as "Exceeding ill" (line 11) and "dispos'd to sleep" (line 17). To the Prince, who subsequently enters the room, the sleeping king appears dead; for this reason young Henry takes the crown from the pillow and sets it on his own head.
Beds sometimes become the sites not only of natural death but also of murder. In The Battle of Alcazar, originally performed 1588-89 and, in a revised version, 1598-99, we find this stage direction: "Enter the Moore and two murdrers bringing in his unkle Abdelmunen, then they draw the curtains and smoother the yong princes in the bed" (line 26.s.d.). (22) The contrast between the cold-blooded murderers and the sleeping princes, who are likened to "poore lambes" (line 24), could scarcely be greater. Their place of death seems to intensify the princes' vulnerability. In The First Part of the Contention (i.e., 2 Henry VI), first staged ca. 1591, Shakespeare dramatizes another murder in bed: "Then the Curtaines being drawne, Duke Humphrey is discovered in his bed, and two men lying on his brest and smothering him in his bed" (sig. E2r). (23) Because a bed is ordinarily a place of repose and safety, the horror of the murder is underscored; curtains offer no protection for the man described in the play's full title as "good." Similarly, in Marlowe's Massacre at Paris, acted by Lord Strange's Men at the Rose in 1593, murderers sent by the Guise "enter into the Admiral's house, and he in his bed" (5.24.s.d.); (24) they proceed to stab the man who lies helpless, wounded in an earlier assassination attempt. Finally, in Othello bed curtains conceal the victim of murder, and here too the victim is an innocent. At the beginning of 5.2, we find this stage direction: "Enter Othello, [with a light] and Desdemona in her bed [asleep]" (5.2.0.s.d.). Later in the scene, after he has murdered his wife, Othello hears Emilia knocking at the door and says, "I had forgot thee. O, come in, Emilia. / Soft, by and by, let me the curtains draw" (5.2.103-4). The curtains must be those of a bed, as E. A. J. Honigmann observes in his gloss. (25) Othello closes them to hide the body of his wife. Honigmann adds this direction when Emilia hears Desdemona cry out as she momentarily revives: "[She draws the bed-curtains]" (5.2.118). In other words, Emilia opens the curtains of Desdemona's bed and finds the body.
Thomas Heywood dramatizes the nexus of violence and beds in The Iron Age, Part 2, performed by Queen Anne's Men at the Red Bull in 1612-13. Aegisthus, described in the dramatis personae as "a favorite to Queene Clitemnestra," visits the queen's bedchamber: "Enter Egistus with his sword drawne, hideth himselfe in the chamber behind the bed-curtaines: all the kings come next in, conducting the generall and his queene to their lodging, and after some complement leave them, every one with torches ushered to their severall chambers, & c." (sig. H3v). (26) There must be a real bed onstage, curtains and all, for otherwise Agamemnon's subsequent references to "doune" and "sheetes" would make no sense. The stage direction seems to mean that Aegisthus is either actually on the bed behind the curtains or behind the bed whose curtains are closed. When the suspicious Agamemnon hears a sound while speaking to his wife, he expresses apprehension, making explicit the conflation of bed and death: "Beds resemble graves, / And these me-thinkes appeare like winding sheetes, / Prepar'd for corses" (sig. H4r). Scarcely has Agamemnon spoken these words when Aegisthus emerges from his hiding place and, together with Clytemnestra, fatally wounds the King.
In addition to the curtains of a bed, other curtains sometimes figure in the dramatic action when beds appear onstage. For example, in Heywood's Rape of Lucrece, we find this stage direction, cited above: "Lucr[ece] discovered in her bed." How exactly was this discovery accomplished? Possibly by drawing back a curtain to reveal the bed with the sleeping woman. Some stage directions, after all, suggest that beds are revealed within a curtained space. For example, Nathan Field's Amends for Ladies, acted by the Queen's Revels Children at the Whitefriars in 1611, contains this direction: "A curtaine drawne, a bed discover'd, Ingen with his sword in his hand, and a pistoll, the Ladie in a peticoate, the Parson" (5.2.180-82.s.d.). (27) Although we don't know whether this bed is equipped with its own curtains, it seems clear that the bed is revealed when a curtain is drawn back. Similarly, in Lust's Dominion by Dekker, Haughton, Day, and Marston, acted in 1600 at the Rose by the Admiral's Men, the King of Spain lies in bed: "The courtains being drawn there appears in his bed King Phillip, with his Lords, the Princesse Isabella at the feet; [Cardinal] Mendoza, Alvero, Hortensio, Fernando, Roderigo, and to them Enter Queen [Mother] in hast" (1.2.0.s.d.). (28) Alan Dessen and Leslie Thomson believe that the stage directions "imply" not the curtains of a bed but rather curtains hanging on the wall of the tiring-house. (29) Possibly the doors opening onto the stage were opened 180 degrees so that they were flush with the tiring-house wall, and then the opening was covered with a curtain. Andrew Gurr has suggested that the curtain "could have hung in the doorways behind the doors, so that when the doors were open the hangings would be visible to conceal a 'discovery,' and when they were closed the hangings would be hidden and so would not impede the normal use of the doors." (30) Tiffany Stern observes that "Thomas in his Dictionarium [Linguae Latinae et Anglicanae, 1587] defines 'cortina' as 'the covered place in a stage, whence the players come out'; and numerous other texts suggest the regular use of curtained areas that gave straight from the tiring-house to the stage, the famous references to clowns peeping between curtains ... being the most obvious." (31) In whatever way the discovery in Lust's Dominion was managed, playgoers would likely behold the recumbent figure of the King in his bed, surrounded by family and friends, when the curtain was drawn back, revealing an interior acting space.
The suggestion by Dessen and Thomson about Lust's Dominion is attractive, especially because the stage direction apparently specifies a sequence: a curtain is drawn and then the bed is seen by the playgoers. But would a so-called discovery space be large enough to contain both a bed and the number of characters specified in the stage direction? Most discoveries reveal only one, two, or three characters and no furniture larger than a chair, table, stool, or bench. (32) According to Richard Hosley's estimate, the discovery space at the Globe was "some 7 ft. or 8 ft. wide" and no more than 4 ft. deep. (33) The curtain, then, conceals a shallow space for acting. Hosley explains, "In a Shakespearian discovery the actor or actors are simply posed, in what is essentially a tableau vivant." (34) Typical is the scene in The Tempest where Prospero "discovers Ferdinand and Miranda playing at chess" (5.1.171.s.d.). Similarly, The Wisdom of Doctor Dodypoll, acted by Paul's Boys in 1600, (35) begins with this discovery: "A curtaine drawne, Earle Lassingbergh is discovered (like a painter) painting Lucilia, who sits working on a piece of cushion worke" (sig. A3r). (36)
Conceivably the discovery of the bed in Amends for Ladies could have been managed within such a limited space. But the discovery in Lust's Dominion, with its various lords and family members, could not. Nor could the death scene of Zenocrate, also initiated by drawing back a curtain, in Tamburlaine the Great, Part 2, acted by the Admiral's Men in late 1587: "Zenocrate lies in her bed of state, Tamburlaine sitting by her; three physicians about her bed, tempering [i.e., mixing] potions. Theridimas, Techelles, Usumcasane, and the three sons" (2.4.0.s.d.). This stage direction indicates the presence of no fewer than eleven characters, which makes for a very crowded discovery scene.
The problem of accommodating both a bed and a sizable group of characters in a discovery space may be resolved, however, if we posit such a space at the center of the tiring-house wall, (37) a space wider and deeper than those that could be created in the left and right doorways. (38) Admittedly, the De Witt drawing fails to indicate a central opening onto the Swan stage. But even if the Swan theater had no such opening, other theaters did. A sketch by Inigo Jones, thought to represent the Cockpit in Drury Lane, depicts a stage with three entrances. (39) Some plays, moreover, indicate three points of entry onto the stage rather than the two depicted in the De Witt drawing. For example, in Greene's Alphonsus, King of Aragon, perhaps first performed by the Queen's Men ca. 1587-88, this direction suggests a central alcove: "Let there be a brazen head set in the middle of the place behind the stage, out of which, cast flames of fire" (lines 1246-47.s.d.). (40) More specifically, in The Four Prentices of London, probably performed by the Admiral's Men at the Rose in 1594, the prologue begins: "Enter three in blacke clokes, at three doores." (41) And in Eastward Ho, acted by the Queen's Revels Children at the Blackfriars in 1605, the first stage direction reads: "Enter Master Touchstone and Quicksilver at several doors.... At the middle door, enter Golding discovering a goldsmith's shop and walking short turns before it" (1.1.0.s.d.). (42) William Percy's Arabia Sitiens, written ca. 1601 for Paul's Playhouse, contains a stage direction anticipating the use of a "midde doore." (43) On the basis of such directions, Andrew Gurr and Mariko Ichikawa suggest that stages featured three entrances, and that a wide central alcove was used "for special displays and shows." (44) Such a discovery space may have been larger at some theaters than others and therefore better able to accommodate both a number of characters and a large piece of furniture like a bed.
Let us assume the existence of such an alcove. Was it ordinarily covered with a curtain? Andrew Gurr reports that Richard Hosley "voiced the conjecture to me" in the early 1980s but "never chose to publish it"; Gurr continues, "the possibility that the Swan did have hangings across its frons has festered quietly in my mind ever since he mentioned it." (45) If Hosley was right in his conjecture, then why does Arend van Buchell's copy of the De Witt sketch fail to depict such a central curtain? Perhaps because curtains covered the entire wall of the Swan. Gurr explains: "What if, when De Witt went to see his play at the Swan, he found that the performance he was seeing required the whole of the frons scenae to be concealed behind hangings? That is certainly a possibility, and would explain the blankness of the frons wall [in the drawing]." (46) That hangings existed at the Swan we know from the report of a trickster who advertised a performance at the theater and then absconded with the money, failing to present the promised entertainment: the crowd "revenged themselves upon the hangings, curtains, chairs, stooles, walles, and whatsoever came in their way." (47)
Hosley and Gurr's suggestion about a central alcove is not universally accepted. Tim Fitzpatrick and Wendy Millyard have argued that the tiring-house wall in London theaters was not straight but angled, or "multifaceted," that the angles of the wall allowed for what they call a "concealment space," that a curtain was rigged up in front of the wall to create that space, which was about two feet deep, and that there was no central opening onto the stage. (48) Their thesis is based on the 1989 excavation of the Rose theater, which has led historians to conclude that the frons was not straight, but rather followed the polygonal shape of the theater. (49) Even if this supposition is accurate, the design cannot have been imitated at all of the London theaters. After all, the only graphic evidence we have of a theatrical interior during a performance, the De Witt drawing of the Swan, clearly shows a flat wall. Fitzpatrick and Millyard also claim that "there is some textual evidence" for an angled wall. That evidence consists chiefly of Caesar's remark in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra about a "three-nook'd world" (4.6.5). Most Shakespeareans, however, interpret Caesar's remark not as an architectural description of "three obtuse angles or junction points," (50) but rather as a characterization of the world as three-sectored, consisting of Europe, Asia, and Africa. (51) In the absence of compelling verbal evidence from the plays, and in the absence of a full archaeological dig at Shakespeare's theater, it seems imprudent to assume that the wall behind the actors at the Globe and at other public theaters like the Red Bull was angled. And even if it was, nothing would preclude the construction of an alcove in the tiring-house wall.
In addition to bed curtains, other curtains figure in dramatic action, especially in discovery scenes. (52) Consider Jonson's Volpone once more. Volpone directs Mosca: "Open the shrine that I may see my saint" (1.2.2). (53) At this point Alvin Kernan inserts a stage direction: "[Mosca opens a curtain disclosing piles of gold]." (54) The speech that follows indicates that the revelation has made visible objects that represent Volpone's wealth: "let me kiss, / With adoration, thee, and every relic / Of sacred treasure in this blessed room" (lines 11-13). How exactly does Mosca open that shrine? Helen Ostovich imagines the treasure as located in a "cupboard." (55) In many productions, however, Mosca, instead of opening a cabinet or other piece of furniture, simply draws back a curtain. Thus R. B. Parker supplies a stage direction: "[Mosca draws a curtain to disclose Volpone's treasure]" (1.1.2.s.d.). Parker adds, "any alcove or discovery space would do." (56) Similarly, David Cook inserts a stage direction following line 2: "Mosca draws a curtain, and reveals piles of gold, plate jewels, etc." (57) If there is such a curtain, where is it? The most logical place for the curtain would be at one of the two doorways onto the stage depicted in the De Witt drawing or at a central alcove, which the stage directions of various plays seem to imply. The "shrine," then, may consist simply of a table, revealed by moving aside a curtain covering an entrance into the tiring-house. (58)
Another such discovery occurs in The Merchant of Venice when suitors arrive in Belmont to woo Portia. They are required to choose between three caskets, one of which contains Portia's picture. When each suitor prepares to make his choice, the caskets, which have been concealed from view, are made visible by drawing back a curtain, revealing them, probably, on a table. When, for instance, the Prince of Morocco arrives, Portia directs: "Go, draw aside the curtains and discover / The several caskets to this noble prince" (2.7.1-2). The opening of the curtains adds to the sense of expectation on the part of both Morocco and the playgoers. The closing of the curtains signals the respective suitor's failed attempt and its finality: following the prince's errant choice, Portia directs, "Draw the curtains, go" (lines 78-79). As in Volpone, the simplest and most economical way of accomplishing the discovery would be to have an actor or stage attendant draw back a curtain that stretches across an entryway onto the stage. (59) Drawing a curtain would obviate the need to bring onstage a piece of furniture.
The tragic counterpart of such discoveries occurs in John Webster's The White Devil, acted by Queen Anne's Men at the Red Bull in 1612. Behind a curtain lies a poisoned painting. Webster describes the action in a dumb show: "Enter suspiciously, Julio and another, they draw a curtaine where Bracciano's picture is, they put on spectacles of glass, which cover their eyes and noses, and then burn perfumes afore the picture" (2.2.23.s.d.). (60) Then Isabella enters, "kneels down as to prayers, then draws the curtain of the picture, does three reverences to it, and kisses it thrice, she faints and will not suffer them to come near it, dies." John Russell Brown observes that "pictures were often protected by curtains," (61) and he cites these lines in Twelfth Night: "Wherefore have these gifts a curtain before 'em? Are they like to take dust, like Mistress Mall's picture?" (1.3.125-27); later Olivia says, "We will draw the curtain, and show you the picture" (1.5.233). How did Queen Anne's Men stage Webster's dumb show? The poisoned painting could have been set on an easel or stand covered with a small curtain of the kind used today in art museums to shield precious artifacts from light. Or perhaps an easel with the painting was placed behind a curtain covering one of the entrances onto the stage. Either method of staging would entail a minimum of preparation and expense.
The parting of curtains may, of course, reveal people as well as artifacts, and, when it does, the staging implies ongoing activity. In Shakespeare's Henry VIII, acted by the King's Men in 1613, we find this stage direction: "the King draws the curtain and sits reading pensively" (2.2.61.s.d.). Gordon McMullan observes, "The King is revealed to be sitting inside the 'discovery space,' concealed by a curtain which is drawn to reveal him." (62) Busy reading, Henry initially seems unaware of anyone else: he certainly is not meant to hear Suffolk's words: "How sad he looks! Sure he is much afflicted" (line 62). Only at this point does the King signal cognizance of others, and when he does, it is to reprimand them for trespassing on his privacy: "How dare you thrust yourselves / Into my private meditations?" (lines 64-65). The imaginative line represented by the discovery curtain signals a division between the personal space of the King and what might be called the more public space of the larger play. Thomas Dekker's Satiromastix, performed by Paul's Boys in 1601, employs a curtain for essentially the same purpose: "Horrace sitting in a study behinde a curtaine, a candle by him burning, bookes lying confusedly: to himselfe" (1.2.0.s.d.). (63) A twenty-line soliloquy follows in which the moody poet seeks inspiration. Only when another character enters and engages him in conversation does the preoccupied Horace emerge from his private meditation and, perhaps, from the discovery space as well. Immediately the tone of the scene changes, becoming jaunty and humorous where earlier it was rarefied, concerned with "Things abstruse, deep and divine" (line 5).
A discovery scene may furnish not merely the prospect of characters engaged in a characteristic activity but a catalyst for dramatic action, as in Thomas Middleton's Hengist, King of Kent, acted ca. 1619-20 at an undetermined venue. To the sound of music a dumb show unfolds: "ffortune is discovered upon an alter, in her hand a golden round full of lots." The statue of the goddess, having been revealed when a curtain is pulled back, becomes the genesis for a flurry of developments: "Enter Hengist and Hersus with others they draw lotts and hang them up with joy, soe all departs saveing Hengist: and Hersus who kneeles and imbrace each other as partners in one fortune, to them enter Roxena: seemeing to take her leave of Hengist her ffather; but especially privately and warily of Hersus her lover. She departs weepeing: and Hengist: and Hersus goe to the doore and bring in their souldiers with drum and coullers and soe march forth" (lines 261-70). (64) Were it not for the pantomime, considerable dialogue and stage time would be required to represent the complicated action, precipitated by revealing the statue. The ensuing exegesis by Ranulph Higden, the presenter, endows the dumb show "with a sense of compacted significance that invites explication." (65)
Perhaps the most theatrically stunning instance of a discovery revealing an artifact or person appears in The Winter's Tale, acted by the King's Men, presumably at the Globe and Blackfriars, in 1611. Near the end of the play Paulina displays to Leontes the treasures of her gallery. When she says, "Behold, and say 'tis well" (5.3.20), she evidently draws back a curtain to reveal the statue of Hermione, for when Leontes reacts emotionally to what he sees, Paulina tells him, "If I had thought the sight of my poor image / Would thus have wrought you ... / I'ld not have show'd it" (lines 57-59); Leontes interjects, "Do not draw the curtain" (line 59). The actor counterfeiting the statue presumably stands either in a doorway of the tiring-house or in a central alcove, a curtain drawn across the opening. (66) That curtain intensifies the mood of enchantment that envelops the characters: it is as though Leontes and his courtiers are being initiated into a religious mystery. David Bevington comments, "The drawing back of the curtain before the statue of Hermione ... is a recognition that brings with it grace, wonder, and forgiveness." (67)
What sets the revelation of Hermione in The Winter's Tale apart from many other discovery scenes is that the object behind the curtain, the supposed "statue," interacts with the characters on the other side of the curtain. In other words, the parting of the curtain does not simply reveal an inert artifact or a figure engaged in some characteristic activity. What appears to begin as a relatively conventional discovery becomes something extraordinary. The presentation of Hermione, who conflates statue and living person, art and nature, initiates the emotionally powerful reconciliations of husband and wife, mother and daughter.
A particularly complex use of curtains, one that advances the plot and generates surprise, occurs in Barnabe Barnes's The Devil's Charter, acted in 1606-7 by the King's Men at the Globe. This stage direction begins a scene: "Alexander unbraced betwixt two cardinalls in his study looking upon a booke, whilst a groome draweth the curtaine" (5.4.3283-85.s.d.). (68) The curtain having opened, three figures walk out of a discovery space onto the main playing area; the cardinals "place him in a chayre upon the stage" (line 3294) and they exit. Left alone, Alexander reflects that "my soule is damn'd, / I damn'd undoubtedly" (lines 3312-13). At some point during his soliloquy, the curtain covering the discovery space must be closed by an unspecified figure, though a stage direction is missing, for, following his meditation on damnation, Alexander turns back to his study and "draweth [i.e., opens] the curtaine of his studie where hee discovereth the divill sitting in his pontificals" (lines 3539-41). The same curtain is opened twice in this scene, and the second discovery creates an intense effect. The shock of finding the devil sitting in his chair causes Alexander to "start" at the sight.
When curtains open in Grim the Collier of Croyden, or The Devil and His Dame, probably first performed by the Admiral's Men ca. 1600, we confront another unusual discovery: a conclave of devils who initiate the action of the play. Immediately before the curtains are drawn back, Saint Dunston announces his return to this world "after many hundred years" (1.1.3). (69) Feeling sleepy, "He layeth him down to sleep; lightning and thunder; the curtains drawn, on a sudden Pluto, Minos, AEacus, Rhadamantus set in counsell, before them Malbecco his ghost guarded with Furies" (1.1.42.s.d.). With the parting of the curtains, playgoers witness a kind of dream vision in which the devils parley and give this charge to Belphagor: "go into the world, / And take upon thee the shape of a man; / In which estate thou shalt be married" (lines 125-27). This business having been set in motion, Dunston rises from his sleep: "What, dream'st thou Dunston? yea I dreamt indeed. / Must the Devil come into the world? / Such is belike the infernal kings decree" (lines 154-56). The synod of devils creates a frame for the ensuing play, (70) and in the final scene we return to those devils, who hear a report of Belphagor's unhappy adventures on "vile Earth" (5.3.7).
As the dramatic actions recounted here attest, playwrights create discoveries for a variety of purposes. Most correspond to Richard Hosley's description of a discovery as "a sudden revelation of an important or interesting person or object, in a significant situation or at a characteristic activity." (71) What makes that revelation sudden is, of course, the use of a curtain.
Traverse and Curtain
In Ben Jonson's comedy we encounter an enigmatic direction: "Volpone peeps from behind a traverse" (5.3.8.s.d.). (72) This is usually interpreted as referring to a curtain behind which the character hides so that he can spy on others (Corvino, Lady Would-Be, Corbaccio) while remaining visible to the audience. It is, however, possible that the "traverse" is some sort of screen, for the OED defines the term as "a curtain or screen placed crosswise, or drawn across a room, hall, or theatre; also a partition of wood, a screen of lattice-work, or the like." The OED goes on to list the stage direction in Volpone as one of its examples. In her comment on Jonson's stage direction, Helen Ostovich conjectures that such a screen "would allow the audience a better view of Volpone's reactions, rather than a conventional curtain." (73) In the previous scene, however, Volpone speaks specifically of watching the legacy hunters from behind a curtain: "I'll get up, / Behind the curtain, on a stool, and harken; / Sometime peep over; see how they do look" (5.2.83-85). Are we to understand that the traverse specified in the stage direction is synonymous with the curtain mentioned in the dialogue?
Because the term appears so rarely in the drama, it is difficult to know exactly what traverse means. We find the word in a single moral interlude, Godly Queen Hester, acted ca. 1529, where a marginal stage direction reads: "Here the kynge entreth the travers & Aman goeth out" (sig. A4v); later, "Here the kynge entreth the traverse" (sig. D1v). (74) E. K. Chambers observes that the term "does not appear again in any play for nearly a hundred years," (75) and when it does, it shows up in Volpone where, for Chambers, it designates "a low movable screen, probably of a non-structural kind." (76) W. W. Greg imagines the traverse in Godly Queen Hester as "a curtain, opening in the middle, which hung across the stage." (77) But Richard Southern objects that there is not "the slightest indication of anything being used in Interludes which was called a stage." (78) Instead, he envisions the use of a traverse at an indoor performance in a great hall, which features two large doorways in the "screens": the traverse is "a fairly small two-part curtain, perhaps some eight feet high and some six to ten feet wide in all, hung on a rod supported on two uprights, and set up on the floor about a couple of feet in front of the centre element of the screens." (79) In other words it would look like a small version of the booth made of curtains for a (temporary) booth stage. This speculation would seem more compelling were it not for Alan H. Nelson's finding: "Genuine evidence for the use of hall screens in play production has, to my knowledge, not been produced, and in fact seems flatly contradicted by evidence from Cambridge and elsewhere." (80)
Perhaps other instances of an onstage traverse, closer in time to the staging of Volpone, may help clarify Jonson's meaning. (81) In The White Devil when Flamineo speaks to Francisco (who wears a disguise), Francisco reports that Flamineo's mother grieves over the corpse of Marcello. Flamineo resolves, "I will see them. / They are behind the traverse. I'll discover their superstitious howling" (5.4.63-65). The traverse is then moved in order to reveal the lamentation over Marcello's body: "Cornelia, [Zanche] the Moor and three other ladies discovered, winding Marcello's corse" (line 65.s.d.). Surely the easiest and quickest way to accomplish such a revelation would be for the actor playing Flamineo to draw back a curtain rather than to move a screen. After all, a screen that could conceal both the corpse and five mourners would need to be rather large and thus somewhat unwieldy, even if portable. Hence John Russell Brown's conclusion, in the form of an inserted stage direction: "[Draws the traverse curtain]." Another of Webster's plays, The Duchess of Malfi, performed by the King's Men both at the Globe and Blackfriars, also employs a traverse: "Here is discovered, behind a traverse, the artificial figures of Antonio and his children, appearing as if they were dead" (4.1.55.s.d.). (82) My guess is that the traverse here, as in The White Devil and Volpone, is a curtain, if only because it could more easily and quickly be moved than a freestanding screen, which might require the assistance of one or more attendants.
If the traverse is a curtain, it is, however, perhaps not the same curtain that hangs on the wall of the tiring-house and used for most discovery scenes. Rather, it may take the form of a curtain, high enough to conceal a standing figure, rigged somewhere else onstage. (83) William Poel's nineteenth-century speculation may prove helpful: namely, that the traverse is a curtain set up away from the tiring-house wall but parallel to it. (84) Such a curtain, possibly suspended between the two stage pillars, would create two spaces for acting: one between the tiring-house wall and the traverse; the other, between the traverse and the front edge of the stage. In the case of Webster's plays, there would be a distinct advantage in bringing the figures who are discovered close to the beholder. What the traverse allows for in The Duchess of Malfi is the creation of particular theatrical effects: first, a feeling of suspense and dread before the traverse is moved, then sudden shock when Duchess and playgoers experience simultaneously the sight of husband and children, apparently dead. By moving the bodies downstage, the company makes their impact more immediate, for the figures are no longer contained within the usual discovery space.
Curtains in various plays function like the traverse in Webster's plays. That is, curtains, when opened, reveal an unexpected and sometimes startling view. For example, in A Looking Glass for London and England, first acted ca. 1587-88 at an undetermined venue and then at the Rose in 1592, the King, hearing thunder and seeing lightning, asks Radagon to "ope ye foldes where queene of favour sits, / Carrying a net within her curled locks, / Wherein the Graces are entangled oft" (lines 544-46). (85) What they actually behold, however, is not the beautiful Romelia they expect to see, but her corpse: "He drawes the curtaines and findes her stroken with thunder, blacke" (lines 552-53). A thunderbolt has transformed Romelia into charred flesh.
Although a curtain in other plays may not generate the striking effect we experience in Looking Glass, a curtain may at least create a marked discrepancy between the tone of the principal dramatic action and that of action revealed in discovery. Stage directions in such plays refer to a curtain rather than a traverse, and that curtain almost certainly covers either a doorway onto the stage or a central alcove. But the principle of staging is essentially the same, for the revelation establishes a disparity between the chief dramatic action in front of the curtain and the secondary action behind it. At its simplest we see this in Anthony Munday's The Downfall of Robert, Earl of Huntingdon, first acted in 1598 by the Admiral's Men at the Rose. Fitzwater enters "like an old man" and proceeds to lament all that he formerly possessed: "Fitzwater once had castles, townes, and towers, / Faire gardens, orchards, and delightfull bowers" (lines 1476-78). (86) Now he has nothing: "Only wide walkes are left mee in the world, / Which these stiffe limes wil hardly let me tread" (lines 1480-81). Before he leaves this world, the melancholy father would see his "faire lucklesse childe," and just then a stage direction signals the opening to view of that very daughter previously hidden from his (and our) sight: "Curtaines open, Robin Hoode sleepes on a greene banke, and Marian strewing flowers on him" (lines 1490-91.s.d.). Fitzwater then invites us to appreciate the significance of what we behold: "Looke how my flower holds flowers in her hands, / And flings those sweetes, upon my sleeping sonne" (lines 1494-95). The contrast between disheartened father and blissful daughter, oblivious of being watched, gives this scene its special poignancy.
Robert Greene's Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, possibly first performed by the Queen's Men ca. 1589-90, also uses a curtain to create a marked contrast. A stage direction signals both a development of the plot and change of mood: "Enter Frier Bacon drawing the courtaines with a white sticke, a booke in his hand, and a lampe lighted by him, and the brasen head and Miles, with weapons by him" (lines 1561-63). (87) The character moving the curtains is a magician who carries a conjuring stick, and behind those curtains lies the astonishing sight of the brazen head. The act of drawing aside the curtain ushers us into the world of the marvelous: Bacon intends to cooperate with the brazen head in order to surround England with a wall of brass. The curtain, then, becomes a line of demarcation separating the quotidian world from the world in which magic flourishes.
Dumb shows also posit a contrast between principal and secondary dramatic action. Although characters in those shows normally enter through the same doors as other characters, the drawing of a curtain occasionally initiates the pantomime, as for example in Tom a Lincoln, acted ca. 1611-16 by the gentlemen of Gray's Inn: "Time drawes a curtaine & discovers Angellica in her bed a sleep, the infant lyinge by her, then enters the kinge & the Abbesse whispering together the Abbesse takes the childe out of the bed & departs, the kinge alsoe after a litle viwinge of Angellica at an other doore departs, Angell: still sleepinge he being gone drawes the curtaynes & speaks" (lines 150-55). (88) Contrary to ordinary practice, the actors have assumed their places out of view of the playgoers. This has the effect of investing the mimed action with an enhanced status. Angelica and King Arthur have already appeared onstage and conversed with one another. But their participation in the stylized action of the dumb show, revealed by a personified figure, creates a sense that we are watching something especially meaningful. Personified Time also initiates a dumb show in Thomas Dekker's The Whore of Babylon, performed by Prince Henry's Men at the Fortune in 1606: Time "drawes a curtaine, discovering Truth in sad abiliments; uncrowned: her haire disheveld, and sleeping on a rock ..." (dumb show preceding scene 1, lines 27-28). (89) Here the contrast between the action of the dumb show and the larger play is even greater, for all of the figures in the pantomime are personified symbols. As Dieter Mehl observes, the action performed when the curtain opens gives "the drama an extra dimension by adding to the scenes of ordinary dialogue something in the nature of a morality play." (90) The curtain, then, creates a separation between the more stylized world of the dumb show and the wider world of the play.
A curtain functions as a dividing line between a make-believe world and an everyday world in The Spanish Tragedy when Hieronimo prepares his entertainment for the court: "Enter Hieronimo; he knocks up the curtain" (4.3.0.s.d.). (91) Unfortunately, the stage direction fails to specify precisely where that curtain is located. Philip Edwards in his Revels edition offers this hypothesis about the curtain, "Probably a hasty hanging in a prepared place"; and he goes on to connect the curtain with Hieronimo's revelation of his son's corpse later in the scene: "the best suggestion is that it hung over one of the doors, so that Horatio's body could conveniently be brought behind it." (92) Similarly, J. R. Mulryne in the New Mermaids edition suggests that "Hieronimo probably hangs a curtain over one of the large entrance-doors at the rear of the Elizabethan stage." (93) D. F. Rowan supposes that the curtain covers a theatrical property, the arbor in which Horatio was earlier hanged: "If then the arbour covered with the curtain must be placed against the back wall so that it can load its deadly freight the courtly audience 'above' cannot see Hieronimo's gruesome revelation." (94) Whether Hieronimo's curtain is located in a doorway leading from the tiring-house or stretched across a theatrical property (the arbor) and thus probably at the center of the tiring-house wall, Horatio's body could easily be placed behind the curtain that the grieving father "knocks up." When Hieronimo, having accomplished his revenge in the playlet, reveals Horatio's corpse to the spectators, he likely does so by opening the curtain, though there is no specific stage direction to this effect except for these four words: "shows his son's body" (4.4.88.s.d.). The spectacle of the bloody, unburied corpse is as unexpected as it is shocking, creating a disparity between, on the one hand, the fictive world of the play-within-the-play, enjoyed by the King, Viceroy, and other courtly playgoers, a realm of make-believe where death is merely apparent because "acted," and, on the other hand, the actual Spanish court, where intrigue, injustice, and murder prevail. Parting the curtain to reveal his son's body, the knight marshal collapses the distinction between the world of the play-within-the-play and the world of pain he inhabits.
Arras and Hanging
An arras was a customary furnishing in prosperous Elizabethan and Jacobean homes. According to the OED, arras, which originated in the name of a French city renowned for its tapestries, had entered the language with this meaning as early as ca. 1400: "A rich tapestry fabric, in which figures and scenes are woven in colours." The word, which may have a number of meanings, need not refer to a textile hanging on a wall; arras can also refer to a textile of the kind placed atop tables when meals were not being served. For instance, in Thomas Dekker's The Bloody Banquet, acted ca. 1617-39 by an unidentified company, we read: "A table with lights set out. Arras spread" (line 1051.s.d.). (95) A character entering at the beginning of the scene sees the preparations for a meal and comments: "Ha! the ground spread with arras?" (line 1066). This line suggests that the arras covers "the ground," or floor, not a wall; perhaps it has been moved from the tabletop as preparations for the meal are made. Ordinarily an arras was too valuable to be used as a carpet. Pride in Marlowe's Doctor Faustus suggests its status as a luxury by saying, "I'll not speak another word, except the ground were perfumed and covered with cloth of arras" (2.3.115-17). (96) Most references to an arras in plays, however, designate textiles hung on walls. Such furnishings, which provide delight for the eye as well as protection from drafts, are evoked in Cymbeline when Jachimo, emerging from his hiding place in a trunk, takes an inventory of Imogen's bedroom: "Such and such pictures; there the window; such / Th' adornment of her bed; the arras, figures" (2.1.25-26). (97) When he speaks these words, the actor is probably looking at a textile decoration on the wall of the tiring-house; the arras would have hung on that wall, probably in the middle.
An arras typically features the representation of human figures, as Jachimo's line seems to imply. In John Day's Law Tricks, performed ca. 1606-8 at the Whitefriars, Emilia urges Count Lurdo to "scape behinde the arras" (sig. D4v). (98) When Polymetes, upon entering, asks, "What storie is this?" Emilia answers, "Why my lord? the poeticall fiction of Venus kissing Adonis in the violet bed." In other words, by its design the textile represents a liaison between Venus and Adonis. Similarly in William Heminges's The Fatal Contract, performed by Queen Henrietta Maria's Men at Salisbury Court in 1638-39, the Queen inquires about recent visitors, "You know them not?" A servant replies: "No dearest lady, for th'appear'd to me / Like to the silent postures in the arras, / Onely the form of men with stranger faces" (sig. B3v). (99)
Because such furnishings were "placed round the walls of household apartments, often at such a distance from them as to allow of people being concealed in the space between," according to the OED, an arras could provide a convenient hiding place. In Much Ado About Nothing, for instance, Borachio tells Don John, "I whipt me behind the arras, and there heard" the Prince say that he would woo Hero for himself (1.2.60-61). This action is only recounted; we do not actually see Borachio hide himself. But playgoers had ample opportunities to behold the kind of action described here. In The Merry Wives of Windsor, for instance, Falstaff hides from Mistress Page: "She shall not see me, I will ensconce me behind the arras" (3.3.89-90). In the revised Riverside edition Evans inserts this stage direction: "[Falstaff stands behind the arras.]" The arras here must refer to whatever textiles hang on the wall of the tiring-house. Similarly, in 1 Henry IV Falstaff conceals himself from the sheriff. Hal tells his friend, "Go hide thee behind the arras" (2.4.500); later Poins finds him "fast asleep behind the arras, and snorting like a horse" (2.4.528). (100)
The darker counterpart of these comic actions appears in The Duchess of Malfi when the Duchess tells Cariola: "Leave me: but place thyself behind the arras, / Where thou mayst overhear us" (1.1.357-58). The context is filled with menace, for the Duchess means to woo her steward and embark upon a clandestine marriage to which Cariola will serve as witness. Although weddings are ordinarily happy occasions, this one, conducted without benefit of clergy, will evoke hostility in the Duke and Cardinal and eventually culminate in the deaths of both the Duchess and her husband. Even the Duchess concedes that she is "going into a wilderness" (line 359) when she sets out to woo Antonio. Another dramatic action involving an arras and a concealed character occurs
in Hamlet when Polonius proposes to Claudius that they spy on the Prince: "I'll loose my daughter to him. / Be you and I behind the arras then, / Mark the encounter" (2.2.162-64). Later in the play Polonius conceals himself behind the same furnishing in Gertrude's chamber so that he may eavesdrop on her conversation with her son: "Behind the arras I'll convey myself / To hear the process" (3.3.28-29). Subsequently, Hamlet, hearing a sound behind the arras, slays Polonius by plunging a sword through it (3.4.24). We have no conclusive evidence that a gap existed between the textile and the tiring-house wall, as it apparently did in homes and palaces. But the lack of such space might actually prove an advantage in the theater, for a person hiding behind the arras would be more readily observable to someone standing before it. Of course, the actor playing Polonius would be less conspicuous if he stood behind an arras that was drawn across one of the openings onto the stage.
Eavesdropping from behind an arras need not imply perfidy. In Thomas Heywood's The English Traveller, acted by Lady Elizabeth's Men at the Phoenix in 1624, Old Lionel, a merchant who fears having been outwitted by a servant, sees the crafty Reignald approach; Lionel and his aides then "withdraw behind the arras" (4.6.155.s.d.). (101) After hearing Reignald confess a guilty conscience, the old man steps forward and engages the recreant in conversation, finally calling out, "Appear, gentlemen, / 'Tis a fit time to take him" (lines 193-94). The ensuing stage direction reads: "They all appear with cords and shackles" (line 208.s.d.). In Lewis Sharpe's The Noble Stranger, acted by Queen Henrietta's (II) Men at Salisbury Court, 1638-40, the King and Callidus conceal themselves "behind the arras" in order to eavesdrop on those suspected of defying the King's will. When he hears evidence of treachery in the ensuing conversation, the King reveals himself: "I am no longer able to contain-- / Out traytors" (sig. F2r). (102)
Nevertheless, when characters conceal themselves behind an arras, their action is at least potentially suspect, for often they mean to exploit the vulnerability of others, as Polonius and the King do in Hamlet. In other plays such concealment may be synonymous with sexual transgression. For instance, in Cynthia's Revels, acted by the Children of the Queen's Chapel at the Black-friars in 1600, Moria says: "I would wish to be a wisewoman, and know all the secrets of court, citie, and countrie. I would know what were done behind the arras, what upon the staires, what i' the garden, what I' the Nymphs chamber, what by barge, & what by coach" (4.1.140-43). (103) And in Dekker and Webster's Northward Ho, acted by Paul's Boys in 1605, Doll says, "I will discover it ... softly as a gentleman courts a wench behind an arras" (3.2.3-5). (104) On the strength of these and other such references, Colin Gibson concludes, "the dominant Jacobean and Caroline association of the phrase [i.e., 'behind the arras'] is with court lechery." (105)
Is the arras cited in various stage directions and dialogue to be distinguished from the curtains that we have already considered? C. Walter Hodges contends that they are essentially different: "an arras usually suggests a fixed hanging, or a tapestry, which cannot be drawn aside like a curtain." (106) The OED definition of arras would seem to support Hodges's view: "a rich tapestry fabric, in which figures and scenes are woven in colours" (a curtain may be simply a textile of a single color and need not display any pictorial design). But did a true arras of the kind that decorated the homes of the wealthy hang on the tiring-house wall of London theaters? John Ronayne believes that the public stages were more likely to have used a painted cloth, (107) defined by the OED as "a hanging for a room painted or worked with figures, mottoes or texts"; in other words it served as a substitute for a more substantial arras, or tapestry. Falstaff distinguishes between the two in 2 Henry IV when he bids Mistress Quickly pawn a tapestry and replace it with something cheaper: "the German hunting in waterwork, is worth a thousand of these bed-hangers and these fly-bitten tapestries" (2.1.145-47); here Falstaff refers to "boar-hunting scenes painted in distemper on imitation tapestry." (108) Ronayne observes that woven cloths and tapestries "would be vastly more expensive" than painted cloths, and such woven materials "would be at some risk in use on an outdoor stage." (109) Genuine tapestries would also be bulkier and therefore more difficult to store. We know, too, that acting companies owned and used painted cloths; the inventory of the Admiral's Men in Henslowe's Diary lists several, including "the clothe of the Sone & Mone," "Tasso picter," and "the sittie of Rome." (110) Painted cloths also figure in the dialogue of various plays. For example, in The Knight of the Burning Pestle, acted by the Children of the Queen's Revels at the Blackfriars in 1607, the Citizen's Wife asks, "Now, sweet lamb, what story is that painted upon the cloth?" (interlude II, lines 11-12). (111) When she asks the question of her husband, they are almost certainly looking at a painted cloth on the wall behind them. (112)
What are the implications for staging? If we imagine that the arras of the stage was not an expensive tapestry but rather a cheap painted cloth, the distinction between arras and curtain begins to disappear. A stage direction in Chapman's Bussy D'Ambois, first performed in 1604 by Paul's Boys, supports the assumption that curtain and arras function in essentially the same manner. In the last act of Q2 we find this direction concerning Montsurry: "He puts the Frier [Comolet] in the vault and follows, she [Tamyra] raps her self in the arras" (sig. I2r). (113) Although it is difficult to imagine a person "wrapping" herself in a true arras, which would be a fairly thick textile and thus not especially pliable, one can easily envision Tamyra drawing around herself a curtain or painted cloth that hung on the wall of the tiring-house. In their stage directions, moreover, Renaissance plays provide evidence that a theatrical arras could be easily "drawn." For example, in a deathbed scene of Tamburlaine the Great, Part 2, we find this direction: "The arras is drawn, and Zenocrate lies in her bed of state" (2.4.0.s.d.). Similarly, in the anonymous Claudius Tiberius Nero, "They draw aside the arras, and banquet on the stage" (sig. K3r). (114) Both of these stage directions treat the arras as if it were a curtain.
If the terms arras and curtain seem virtually interchangeable in their use onstage, so too do arras and hanging. In the anonymous Tragedy of Nero, acted ca. 1619-23, a character conflates the two in the expression "arras hangings" (2.1.4). (115) In John Day's Law Tricks, performed at the Whitefriars, Emilia advises Count Lurdo to hide: "Behinde the arras; scape behinde the arras" (sig. D4v). Julio then enters the room, praising the "verie faire hangings," and Polymetes comments, "Passing good workmanship." This dialogue suggests that arras and hangings describe the same furnishing. And as we have seen above, the hangings behind which the character hides feature a pictorial representation of Venus and Adonis. Characters also use hangings as a means of concealment in The Jews' Tragedy, by William Heminges; at one point Zareck says, "I will withdraw myself," and the stage direction in the margin reads: "Zareck stands behind the hangings" (sig. G1v); (116) moments later when three other characters have entered, the stage direction reads: "A table set, and Zareck stands behind the arras" (sig. G2r). It seems unlikely that Zareck has moved; rather he remains behind the same furnishing. Similarly, in Philaster Galatea exits "behind the hangings" (2.2.56.s.d.), (117) so that she may overhear a conversation between two others; when those two exit, Galatea returns from her hiding place "behind the hangings" (line 140.s.d.). In Arthur Wilson's The Swisser, performed by the King's Men in 1631, Andrucho hides himself in order to eavesdrop: "I'le borrow / The shelter of this hanging" (4.2.5-6). (118) And in Brome's The Northern Lass, performed by the King's Men at the Globe and Blackfriars in 1629, a character "withdrawes behind the hanging" (4.3.47-48.s.d.). (119)
If an arras may be "drawn," so too may a hanging, though Irwin Smith believes otherwise; he writes of hangings: "Unlike curtains, they could not be drawn back; instead, they were lifted if a person had to pass through them," (120) and he cites an instance in Henry Killigrew's The Conspiracy [Pallantus and Eudora]: "Pallantus goes out, and returnes presently again, and holds up the hanging for Eudora" (sig. P1v). (121) But may we reasonably conclude from a single stage direction that hangings could not be drawn? Even Smith concedes that in Davenant's The Unfortunate Lovers, acted at the Blackfriars in 1638, the prologue speaks of player who "Through th'hangings peep'd to see how th'house did fill" (sig. A3), (122) and this "can only have meant the curtains at the front edge of the rear stage." (123) In the same play a character "drawes the hangings" and then "drawes the hangings further" (sigs. G2v and G3r). This evidence flatly contradicts Smith's claim. What's more, Smith neglects to acknowledge that the stage direction about "holding up the hanging" in The Conspiracy is not to be found in the original 1638 quarto; it appears only in the 1653 edition, published eleven years after the closing of the theaters and some fifteen years after the first performances.
Ben Jonson's dedication to the reader of The New Inn, performed by the King's Men in 1629, closely links the terms hangings and arras when he scornfully characterizes theatrical audiences:
"What did they come for, then?" thou wilt ask me. I will as punctually answer: "To see, and to be seen. To make a general muster of themselves in their clothes of credit, and possess the stage against the play. To dislike all, but mark nothing. And by their confidence of rising between the acts, in oblique lines, make affidavit to the whole house of their not understanding one scene." Armed with this prejudice, as the stage-furniture or arras-cloths, they were there, as spectators, away. For the faces in the hangings and they beheld alike. (124)
Michael Hattaway glosses arras-cloths as "painted cloths hung against the tiring-house facade." (125) Here the meanings of arras, painted cloth, and hanging converge. Similarly, James Shirley, in The Lady of Pleasure, performed by Queen Henrietta Maria's Men at the Phoenix in 1635, identifies arras and hanging. Celestina asks, "What hangings have we here?" The Steward says, "They are arras, madam," and Celestina replies, "Impudence, I know't. / I will have fresher and more rich, not wrought / With faces that may scandalise a Christian, / With Jewish stories stuffed with corn and camels" (1.2.11-15). (126) Once again, the meanings of arras and hanging, textiles either painted with or worked with human figures, merge in the dialogue. The issue is perhaps best summed up by Dessen and Thomson in their entry on hangings: "an infrequently used alternative for the curtain or arras that hung just in front of the tiring-house wall." (127)
It is possible, perhaps likely, that the textile in the middle of the tiring-house wall differed from textiles elsewhere on that wall or at the doorways. That is, the dialogue in Law Tricks, The Fatal Contract, and The Lady of Pleasure, cited above, strongly suggests that the center of the frons was covered with an arras/hanging/painted cloth/curtain representing human figures in much the way it is today at the rebuilt Globe theater in London. (128) (The curtain on the tiring-house wall in the frontispiece of Messalina also depicts various figures, one of whom seems to be Cupid.) (129) But that central "soft furnishing" was handled and employed in essentially the same manner as the curtains covering the two principal doorways onto the stage.
Did that textile have any specific significance for the nature of the dramatic action performed in front of it? Stage directions in Massinger's The City Madam, acted by the King's Men at the Blackfriars in 1632, suggest that it may have: "Musicians come down to make ready for the song at aras" (5.1.7-11). (130) Evidently the musicians exit their customary location above the tiring-house and descend to stage level, where they proceed to take their places, probably at the center of the arras/hanging. What explains this unusual staging? Richard Hosley persuasively suggests that the action performed above in this scene, the discovery of two "statues," necessitates clearing the musicians from their music room so that actors might replace them. (131) When the statues "come to life" through the application of "magic," the actors exit the playing area above, and descend to stage level, to the accompaniment of music played behind the arras. Let us suppose that Hosley's supposition is correct. Why should a stage direction specify an "arras hung up for the musicians" (4.4.160.s.d.) if, as I have argued, the central section of the tiring-house wall was already covered by arras/hanging/painted cloth? The arras newly hung up probably portrays a figure or scene or colors in keeping with the dramatic action: the wondrous animation of the statues.
Even though Renaissance theaters did not employ painted scenery in the modern fashion and certainly did not seek to achieve scenic illusion, the acting companies must have varied the hangings in order to match the mood of the action, as in The City Madam. After all, we have evidence that the hangings varied, depending upon the occasion. A tragedy, for example, would require colors suitable for the subject. Thus in A Warning for Fair Women, acted by the Lord Chamberlain's Men ca. 1595-99, personified History tells Comedy: "The stage is hung with blacke; and I perceive / The auditors prepared for Tragedie" (induction, lines 82-83). (132) Later Tragedy comments: "now we come unto the dismall act, / And in these sable curtains shut we up, / The comicke entrance to our direful play" (lines 777-79). Similarly, in Northward Ho, a character who claims to be writing a tragedy says that "the stage [is] hung all with black velvet" (4.1.53). (133) And in Marston's The Insatiate Countess, a character announces, "The stage of heav'n is hung with solemn black, / A time best fitting to act tragedies" (4.4.4-5). (134) All of these citations suggest that black hangings were the customary accoutrement for tragedies. (135) Comic action would necessarily require something else. The induction of Jonson's Cynthia's Revels refers to "fresh pictures that use to beautifie the decaied dead arras, in a publike theatre" (lines 150-52). R. A. Foakes comments: "The Jonson allusion suggests that the 'arras' or heavy tapestry may have been a permanent feature, and that painted cloths were hung over this when desired." (136) If that central textile were a painted cloth rather than a genuine tapestry, as I have suggested, it would have been a fairly simple matter to replace one with another.
Action Above and Window Curtains
Although action aloft or above occurs with some frequency in Renaissance drama, the use of curtains on the upper playing level is rare. Shakespeare and Fletcher, however, call for them in Henry VIII when the King, along with his physician, spies on a meeting of noblemen and clergy: "Enter the King and Butts at a window above" (5.2.19.s.d.). The position of the King, vis-a-vis the other characters, signals superior power and knowledge. A suspicious Henry tells Butts: "By holy Mary, Butts, there's knavery. / Let 'em alone, and draw the curtain close; / We shall hear more anon" (5.2.33-35). Having drawn the curtain, the men proceed to eavesdrop on the Privy Council. In the Riverside edition G. B. Evans introduces a stage direction: "[Curtain, above, partially drawn, but the King and Butts remain listening]" (line 35.s.d.). Depending on how far the curtain is closed, the staging may allow the King and Butts, in view of the playgoers, to register on their faces a reaction to the overheard remarks. Later in the scene, having exited the "window," the King in effect reveals himself by reentering, this time on the main stage: "Enter King frowning on them; takes his seat" (line 148.s.d.). Armed with the knowledge gained through eavesdropping, Henry surprises the Bishop of Winchester and Archbishop of Canterbury: "I had thought I had had men of some understanding / And wisdom of my Council; but I find none" (lines 170-71).
Philip Massinger twice incorporates curtains above in his staging. In The Unnatural Combat, acted by the King's Men at the Globe before 1622, the principal action on the main stage involves Theocrine, who has been ravished by Montrevile. As she dies, her father Malefort expresses his vengeful impulse: would that Montrevile would "appeare" and defend his act or "Shew some compunction for it" (5.2.236, 238). (137) At this point the quarto supplies a stage direction: "Montrevile above, the curtaine suddenly drawn" (line 238.s.d.). The guilty man has apparently been eavesdropping on the conversation between father and daughter. Confronting Malefort, Montrevile looks down and laughs contemptuously, "Ha, ha, ha." "My daughter's dead," cries the distraught father, and Montrevile replies, "Thou hadst best follow her" (line 240). Montrevile's location above suggests the superiority of his might and the vulnerability of others to his whim. His use of the curtain, moreover, dramatizes his capacity for spying with impunity, and thus for gaining the advantage of surprise. Another overheard conversation figures in Massinger's The Emperor of the East, acted by the King's Men at the Globe and Blackfriars in 1631. The pagan princess Athenais seeks help from Pulcheria, who acts as "protectress" until her younger brother becomes emperor: "By these teares by which I bath 'em, I conjure you / With pitty to looke on mee" (1.2.150-51). (138) Pulcheria obliges: "Pray you rise, / And as you rise receive this comfort from mee" (lines 151-52). When Pulcheria subsequently banishes from court those who have oppressed others in order to claim their estates, this stage direction appears: "The curtaines drawne above, Theodosius, and his Eunuches [and Philanax] discover'd" (line 288.s.d.). Although he does not interact with the characters below, as Montrevile does in The Unnatural Combat, the authority of Theodosius, soon to become emperor, is implicit both in his position above and in his ability to see and hear others who are unaware of his presence. In both of Massinger's plays a powerful figure, initially hidden by a curtain, observes a vulnerable woman below. Presumably, the actors playing Montrevile and Theodosius occupy a space corresponding to one of the "boxes," or compartments, above the tiring-house in the De Witt drawing.
In The Thracian Wonder, acted ca. 1611-12, another action above bespeaks superior authority. A priest, who seeks to know "how or when" a "noisome sickness" afflicting Thrace will cease, stands on the stage floor and, looking upward, propitiates the goddess Pythia (2.3.3-4). (139) Following his speech, a stage direction appears: "Pythia above, behind the curtains" (line 7.s.d.). The goddess then announces: "for the time when plagues shall end, / This schedule to the king I send," and "[She] Throws down a paper" (lines 14-15, 17.s.d.). The location above dramatizes the power of the deity, and the curtain, which must be at least partially opened so that she may toss the paper down to the priest, underscores her mystery. A marginal direction in the 1661 quarto, "Pythia speaks in the musick-room, behinde the curtains" (sig. D1v), (140) suggests that the actor playing the deity occupies the same compartment, above the tiring-house occupied, respectively, by Henry VIII and Butts, Montrevile, and Theodosius. In other words, the music room doubles as the site of action above or aloft. It would have been a simple matter for the musicians to vacate their usual space, to replace them with an actor (or actors), and to part the curtain that ordinarily blocked a view of the musicians.
The reference to a music room in The Thracian Wonder alerts us to another use of curtains above: concealing from view those who supply musical accompaniment during the performance of plays. It is not entirely clear why those musicians should have been made invisible to playgoers. Richard Hosley proposes that "the attention of a theatrical audience would have tended to be diverted from players to musicians if the latter were visible during the action of a play." (141) Only when musicians played between the acts at private theaters were musicians in view of the spectators. (142)
If curtains above are comparatively rare on the stage, so too is dramatic action involving windows with curtains. Possibly curtains were used, even when they are not specifically mentioned, in scenes featuring windows above as, for example, in Celia's appearance at her window in Jonson's Volpone (2.2.229.s.d), or Juliet's at hers (2.2.1), or Brabantio's in Othello: "[Enter] Brabantio at a window" (1622 Q, sig. B2r). An explicit use of a window curtain occurs in William Heminges's The Jews' Tragedy, acted at an undetermined venue after 1622: Lady Miriam tells Eleazar, "Patience my lord I pray; and you shall see/ That Miriam has reserv'd a part for you" (sig. K2r). The stage direction printed in the margin reads: "She drawes her window curten." Miriam is presumably on the main stage along with the other characters in this scene, but where exactly is the curtain that she draws? The window curtain could be represented by a curtain covering a door into the tiring-house or by a curtain covering a central alcove. But there is another possibility, suggested by The Shoemaker's Holiday, performed by the Admiral's Men at the Rose in 1599: Simon Eyre commands, "Open my shop windows!" (4.9). (143) Later Simon Eyre refers to his windows, saying, "my fine dapper Assyrian lads shall clap up their shop windows and away" (17.53-55). Shop windows typically "had wooden shutters hinged at the top and bottom which formed a counter when they were open during the day and an excellent protection against thieves when closed at night." (144) Smallwood and Wells offer this speculation about Dekker's staging: "One possibility that seems not to have been suggested is that one or more of the stage doors was fitted with practicable shutters." (145) It is even possible that the tiring-house wall was itself outfitted with shutters. R. A. Foakes speculates: "probably hinged shutters were made that could serve as windows, and also opened out to form a board or counter. But when the shops were closed up, the stage became a street, or a rural place." (146) Although the references to windows in Dekker's comedy fail to mention curtains, it's possible that curtains were located within shutters that opened outward.
In Thomas Middleton and William Rowley's The Spanish Gypsy, performed by Lady Elizabeth's Men at the Phoenix in 1623 and, later, at Salisbury Court, a character refers specifically to window curtains. In the play's first scene Roderigo seizes Clara and carries her off to rape her. When Clara next appears, she is presumably in a bedchamber (though it's not clear whether there is a bed onstage); she says, "What's here, a window curtaine?" (sig. B2v). (147) The room is almost certainly meant to be above the ground floor of a house, for she goes on to say that she can see the garden: "'tis a garden / To which this window guides the covetous prospect, / A large and a fair one; in the midst / A curious alabaster fountaine stands." Elizabethan and Jacobean gardens, like those on the Continent, were meant to be admired from above; that is, observers could appreciate the garden's intricate design by looking down from an upper floor. What's unusual in The Spanish Gypsy is the window at stage level. The window is referred to again later (3.3) when a seated Clara says, "Yon large window / Yields some faire prospect; good my lord, look out, / And tell mee what you see there." Pedro replies, "Easie suite: / Clara it over-viewes a spacious garden, / Amidst which stands an'alabaster fountaine, / A goodly one" (sig. F2r). The dialogue suggests that the characters are above the ground floor of their dwelling, but the actors are not above the main stage of the theater. The "window," therefore, must be imagined as located somewhere on the wall of the tiring-house, possibly in one of the entrances onto the stage.
We need to consider one other "soft furnishing," the canopy, which appears in Shakespeare's King Henry VIII: "Enter ... four Noblemen bearing a canopy, under which the Duchess of Norfolk" (5.4.0.s.d.). In George Peele's Edward I, acted in 1595 by the Admiral's Men at the Rose, we read: "Enter the nine lordes of Scotland, with their nine pages, Gloster, Sussex, king Edward in his sute of glasse, Queene Elinor, [Jone,] Queene Mother, the King and Queene under a canopie" (line 630.s.d.). (148) This canopy corresponds to the first meaning recorded in the OED: "a covering or hangings suspended over a throne, couch, bed, etc., or held over a person walking in procession." In this instance, the textile has the function of signaling the status of king and queen. Similarly, a canopy serves as a processional cover in Thomas Dekker's The Whore of Babylon, acted at the Fortune by Prince Henry's Men in 1606: "Empresse of Babylon: her canopie supported by four cardinals: two persons in pontificall roabes on either hand, the one bearing a sword, the other the keies: before her three kings crowned, behinde her friers, & c." (1.1.0.s.d.). (149) And in Massinger's The Picture, performed by the King's Men at the Globe and Blackfriars in 1629, we read: "Lowd musicke, Honoria in state under a canopy, her traine borne up by Silvia and Acanthe" (1.2.128.s.d.). (150)
A fixed, rather than a handheld, canopy would seem to be called for in James Shirley's The Humorous Courtier, performed by Queen Henrietta Maria's Men at the Phoenix in 1631: "Loud musicke, then enter Depazzi, Giotto, Dutchess, Laura, attendants. Dutchesse sits under her canopy" (5.3.102.s.d.). (151) A few moments later the Duchess "descends" (line 148.s.d.), suggesting that she has been sitting on a chair, which in turn rests atop a dais, commensurate with her rank; the canopy may be attached to the back of the chair, allowing it to be easily brought onstage. In Dekker and Webster's Satiromastix, a "chaire is set under a canopie" (5.2.22.s.d.). Similarly, Nathan Field's A Woman Is a Weathercock, acted by the Children of the Queen's Revels at the Whitefriars in 1609, has this stage direction: "Scudmore passeth one doore, and entereth the other, where Bellafront sits in a chaire, under a taffata canopie" (3.2.68-70). (152) Dessen and Thomson believe that this stage direction suggests "the use of a recessed space in the tiring-house wall," (153) though there is no specific evidence in the scene to make this conclusion persuasive.
These instances of canopies onstage are straightforward enough. Less clear is the theatrical property that appears in Sir William Davenant's Albovine, King of the Lombards, possibly acted ca. 1626-29: "A canopy is drawne, the king is discover'd sleeping over papers" (sig. L2v). (154) Paradine wakes the king, they quarrel, and the king is killed. Paradine then "puts him behind the arras, opens the doore; enter Rhodolinda" (sig. M1v). She asks, "Is it done?" and he shows her the king's body: "He opes the arras." Do these stage directions signify that canopy and arras represent the same textile? I am inclined to think so for two reasons. First, it is hard to imagine that the canopy named in the stage direction refers to the kind of portable canopy carried in processions. Second, it is equally difficult to imagine that the king would be sleeping under a canopy above a chair since such a freestanding fixture could, presumably, not be "drawn." I conclude that canopy and arras, terms used within the same scene of Davenant's play, are essentially equivalent. Support for the notion that canopy and arras designate a similar furnishing is found in Chapman's Bussy D'Ambois. In Q2 Tamyra "raps her self in the arras" (sig. I2r) following her torture. In Q1 the Friar's ghost later appears to Tamyra: "Intrat umbra, Camolet to the Countesse, wrapt in a canopie" (sig. I1v). (155) Nicholas Brooke, in the Revels edition, concludes, "It is clear that Arras and Canopy are identical." (156)
Almost a century ago E. K. Chambers, in The Elizabethan Stage, discussed the nature of a theatrical canopy, arguing that at the back of the Blackfriars stage was "a curtained recess, corresponding to the alcove of the public theatres, and known at Paul's as the 'canopy.'" "Above the canopy," according to Chambers, "was a beam, which bore the post of the music-tree. On this post was a small stand, perhaps for the conductor of the music, and on each side of it was a music-house, forming a gallery." (157) A stage direction in Marston's Sophonisba, a Blackfriars play, would seem to support this suggestion: "A treble viol and a bass lute play softly within the canopy" (4.1.200.s.d.). (158) MacDonald P. Jackson and Michael Neill, in their edition of Sophonisba, comment on the last phrase of this direction: "presumably the curtained 'discovery' space in the centre of the tiring-house facade." (159) In other words, the canopy may be imagined as covering a central opening onto the stage, to be distinguished from the curtains over the doors on either side of the stage when they are being employed for discovery scenes. Scholars as disparate as William J. Lawrence and Andrew Gurr have suggested the existence of a central discovery space the interior of which was entirely curtained. (160) Perhaps the "canopy" that appears in stage directions consisted of a single textile that covered the ceiling of the central alcove, rising to a peak, and that tapered downward and outward to the floor in the way Gerard ter Borch depicts a bed canopy in his painting Woman Writing a Letter (1655). (161) In William Heminges's The Fatal Contract, a Salisbury Court play, we find in the stage directions a clue as to how such a canopy might work: "Enter the Eunuch ... and solemn'y drawes the canopie, where the Queen sits at one end bound with Landrey at the other, both asleep" (sig. H3r). If we imagine the interior of the discovery space as completely covered with a larger version of the canopy that appears in Gerad ter Borch's painting, we understand that the Eunuch has opened that part of the canopy that hides the captives from the playgoers. In the same scene when the Eunuch has poisoned both Landrey and the Queen, he turns to her, saying: "I will be bold to gag your ladyship; / I'l leave a peeping hole through which you shall / See sights shall kill thee faster than thy poyson" (sig. I1r). The marginal direction reads: "draws the curtain again." The curtain that the Eunuch again draws must be part of the larger enveloping canopy.
As the compilation of stage directions by Dessen and Thomson attests, curtains were a common feature of staging in Shakespeare's England. Bed curtains are typically associated with a sense of expectation, with sex or death or both. Other curtains could be drawn across one of the entrances onto the stage for discovery scenes, or, less often, employed on the upper level of the stage in one of the "boxes," or compartments, depicted in the De Witt drawing. (162) If there was a central opening onto the stage from the tiring-house at the Globe and other theaters, it was in all likelihood wider than the others, and it was covered with a textile, usually referred to as an arras or hanging; this textile was probably decorated with one or more figures drawn from history or mythology. Onstage the chief functions of curtains are concealment and revelation. In addition to making visible artifacts and characters that figure in the subsequent staging, the opening of curtains in discovery scenes may create a significant contrast between the principal and the secondary dramatic action. In most cases curtains have implications for the emotional temperature of a scene: they tend to intensify theatrical effects. When closed, curtains may create suspense: for example, we wait for a character to emerge from a hiding place. Opened, those curtains may create surprise, shock, and even wonderment by the spectacle they reveal.
1. I wish to acknowledge my gratitude to Leslie Thomson for commenting on an early draft of this essay, written for the meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America in 2004.
2. Glynne Wickham, Early English Stages, 1300 to 1660, vol. 2, 1576 to 1660, part 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1963), 282.
3. Volpone, or The Fox, in The Workes of Benjamin Jonson (London, 1616), 450.
4. Ben Jonson, Volpone, or The Fox, ed. R. B. Parker, Revels Plays (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1983). I cite the plays in modern editions when they are available as here. When no such editions are at hand, I quote from the earliest publications. For the sake of consistency, I have eliminated random capital letters from both original and modern texts.
5. Ibid., note to 1.1.0. In the Revels Student Edition of Volpone, ed. Brian Parker and David Bevington (Manchester: Manchester University Press; New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999), Parker's 1983 remark about the four-poster bed is deleted. In its place is this gloss on "discovers": "i.e. draws back the bedcurtains." The revised note goes on to say: "Volpone could begin the scene by entering with Mosca rather than rising from bed, but the bed is certainly needed later in the act."
6. Ivan G. Sparkes, in Four-Poster and Tester Beds (Haverfordwest, Dyfed: Shire Publications, 1990), observes, "The term four-poster was not used until the nineteenth century" (6). For photos, illustrations, and discussions of beds in the Renaissance, see Victor Chinnery, Oak Furniture: The British Tradition (Woodbridge, England: Antique Collectors' Club, 1979), 384-96; Peter Thornton, Seventeenth-Century Interior Decoration in England, France, and Holland (New Haven: Yale University Press for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 1978), 154-77.
7. Robert N. Watson, ed., Volpone, 2nd ed., New Mermaids (New York: W. W. Norton, 2003), 1.1.0.s.d.
8. In her paper for the Shakespeare Association of America, 2004, Leslie Thomson argued that the play fails to support the notion that Volpone is in bed as the play begins. She observed that, later in the play, Volpone is said to recline on a couch (3.5.32, 3.7.138.s.d.). It is possible, of course, that Volpone reclines on a bed in the play's first scene and later on a different piece of furniture, a couch.
9. William Sampson, The Vow Breaker, or The Fair Maid of Clifton (London, 1636).
10. R. A. Foakes, Illustrations of the English Stage, 1580-1642 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1985), 141.
11. George Fullmer Reynolds, The Staging of Elizabethan Plays at the Red Bull Theater, 1605-1625 (New York: Modern Language Association, 1940), 65.
12. Eva Griffith provides a valuable summary of information about this theater in "New Material for a Jacobean Playhouse: The Red Bull Theatre on the Seckford Estate," Theatre Notebook 55.1 (2001): 5-23.
13. Thomas Heywood, The Golden Age (London, 1611).
14. Sasha Roberts, "'Let me the curtains draw': The Dramatic and Symbolic Properties of the Bed in Shakespearean Tragedy," in Staged Properties in Early Modern English Drama, ed. Jonathan Gil Harris and Natasha Corda, 159 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002). See also Roberts's "Lying among the Classics: Ritual and Motif in Elite Elizabethan and Jacobean Beds," in Albion's Classicism: The Visual Arts in Britain, 1550-1660, ed. Lucy Gent, 325-57 (New Haven: Yale University Press for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 1995).
15. Thomas Middleton, A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, ed. R. B. Parker, The Revels Plays (London: Methuen, 1969).
16. Richard Hosley, "The Playhouses," in Revels History of Drama in English, vol. 3: 1576-1613 (London: Methuen, 1975), 173.
17. Romeo and Juliet, in The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans, 2nd ed. (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1997). All citations of Shakespeare are from this edition unless otherwise indicated.
18. Thomas Heywood, The Rape of Lucrece (London, 1608).
19. James N. Loehlin, in Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare in Production (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), writes: "Juliet's bed, which appears in 4.3 and 4.5, was either brought out from the tiring house, in which case it must have had its own curtains, or it was located in the discovery space in the tiring-house facade, and so curtained off; the former seems more likely, given sight-line constraints" (4).
20. An Excellent conceited Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet (London, 1597). Q2 (1599) omits the stage direction.
21. Robert Wilmot, The Tragedy of Tancred and Gismund, ed. W. W. Greg, Malone Society Reprints (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1914). This play represents a thorough recasting of Gismond of Salerne; see A. R. Braunmuller, "Early Shakespearian Tragedy and its Contemporary Context: Cause and Emotion in Titus Andronicus, Richard III, and The Rape of Lucrece," in Shakespearian Tragedy, ed. David Palmer and Malcolm Bradbury, Stratford-upon Avon Studies 20, 97-128 (London: Edward Arnold, 1984).
22. The Battle of Alcazar, ed. John Yoklavich, in The Dramatic Works of George Peele, in The Life and Works of George Peele, gen. ed. Charles Tyler Prouty, 3 vols. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961), vol. 2.
23. William Shakespeare, The First Part of the Contention betwixt the Two Famous Houses of Yorke and Lancaster, with the Death of the Good Duke Humphrey (London, 1594).
24. Christopher Marlowe, The Massacre at Paris, in "Dido Queen of Carthage" and "The Massacre at Paris," ed. H. J. Oliver, Revels Plays (London: Methuen, 1968).
25. E. A. J. Honigmann, ed., Othello, Arden Shakespeare, 3rd ed. (Walton-on-Thames: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1996), 313.
26. Thomas Heywood, The Second Part of The Iron Age (London, 1632).
27. Amends for Ladies, in The Plays of Nathan Field, ed. William Peery (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1950).
28. Lust's Dominion, or The Lascivious Queen, in The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, ed. Fredson Bowers, 4 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953-61), vol. 4.
29. Alan C. Dessen and Leslie Thomson, A Dictionary of Stage Directions in English Drama, 1580-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 62.
30. Andrew Gurr, The Shakespearean Stage, 1574-1642, 3rd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1992), 135.
31. Tiffany Stern, "Behind the Arras: The Prompter's Place in the Shakespearean Theatre," Theatre Notebook 55.3 (2001): 112.
32. For a list of plays featuring discoveries and a treatment of this convention, see T. J. King. Shakespearean Staging, 1599-1642 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), chapter 4.
33. Richard Hosley, "The Discovery-Space in Shakespeare's Globe," Shakespeare Survey 12 (1959): 46.
34. Hosley, "Shakespearian Stage Curtains: Then and Now," College English (April 1964): 490.
35. For a valuable summary of information about this theater, see Roger Bowers, "The Playhouse of the Choristers of Paul's, c. 1575-1608," Theatre Notebook 54.2 (2000): 70-85.
36. The Wisdom of Doctor Dodypoll (London, 1600).
37. Some scholars doubt the existence of a central entrance onto the stages of public theaters. See, for example, Tim Fitzpatrick, "Stage Management, Dramaturgy and Spatial Semiotics in Shakespeare's Dialogue," Theatre Research International 24.1 (Spring 1999): 12-14.
38. See Andrew Gurr, "Staging at the Globe," in Shakespeare's Globe Rebuilt, ed. J. R. Mulryne and Margaret Shewring, 161-62 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press in association with Mulryne & Shewring, 1997).
39. See John Orrell, The Theatres of Inigo Jones and John Webb (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), fig. 7. John Webb's plan for the Cockpit-in-Court shows five entrances onto the stage (fig. 17).
40. Robert Greene, "Alphonsus King of Aragon" 1599, ed. W. W. Greg, Malone Society Reprints (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1926).
41. Thomas Heywood's "The Four Prentices of London": A Critical, Old-Spelling Edition, ed. Mary Ann Weber Gasior (New York: Garland, 1980), 4.
42. George Chapman, Ben Jonson, John Marston, Eastward Ho, ed. R. W. Van Fossen, Revels Plays (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979).
43. Reavley Gair, The Children of Paul's: The Story of a Theatre Company, 1553-1608 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 61.
44. Andrew Gurr and Mariko Ichikawa, Staging in Shakespeare's Theatres, Oxford Shakespeare Topics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 7.
45. Andrew Gurr, "Stage Doors at the Globe," Theatre Notebook 53.1 (1999): 18n16.
46. Ibid., 14.
47. Quoted by E. K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, 4 vols. (1923; repr., Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1951), 3:79.
48. Tim Fitzpatrick and Wendy Millyard, "Hangings, Doors and Discoveries: Conflicting Evidence or Problematic Assumptions?" Theatre Notebook 54.1 (2000): 2-23.
49. John Orrell and Andrew Gurr, in "What the Rose can tell us," Antiquity 63 (September 1989): 421-29, report: "No sign has been found that the frons scenae at the rear of the stage was constructed as a straight chord across the polygon: both stages, the earlier and the later, seem to have been backed by a wall that followed the polygonal line of the main frame" (427).
50. Fitzpatrick and Millyard, "Hangings, Doors and Discoveries," 23n9.
51. In his edition of Shakespeare's King John (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), A. R. Braunmuller notes that the term "three-nooked" may "refer to an outmoded (for the Elizabethan audience) three-continent world (as at Tamburlaine, Part 1 4.4.78)" (270).
52. "To 'discover' has a technical meaning in the Elizabethan theatre: to expose something to the actors' and audience's view." See Hugh Macrae Richmond, Shakespeare's Theatre: A Dictionary of His Stage Context (New York: Continuum, 2002), 144.
53. Jonson, Volpone, ed. Parker.
54. Alvin B. Kernan, ed., Ben Jonson: "Volpone" (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962), s.d. following line 2 of the first scene.
55. Helen Ostovich, ed., Volpone, in Jonson: Four Comedies (New York: Longman, 1997), 76. Ostovich goes on to say that such a cupboard "may merely have been suggested at the Globe by one of the stage doors or the discovery-space."
56. Parker, ed., Volpone, 95.
57. David Cook, ed., Volpone (1962; repr., London: Methuen, 1967), 61.
58. Andrew Gurr, in The Shakespearean Stage, 1574-1642, noting that the De Witt drawing fails to depict curtains covering entry into the tiring-house, speculates: "The hangings might either have been omitted by de Witt because they would have obscured the location of the stage doors, or possibly they could have hung in the doorways behind the doors, so that when the doors were open the hangings would be visible to conceal a 'discovery,' and when they were closed the hangings would be hidden and so would not impede the normal use of the doors" (135).
59. "At Cuckfield in Sussex ... there is a discovery-monument which illustrates in some detail how curtains might be suspended or drawn back; it shows curtains sewn over a pole, and pulled back along it, enclosing a small discovery-space, such as might have been set up either within an entrance-door or within a specially-constructed space on a tiring-house facade." See Jean Wilson, The Shakespeare Legacy: The Material Legacy of Shakespeare's Theatre (Godalming, Surrey: Bramley Books, 1995), 93.
60. John Webster, The White Devil, ed. John Russell Brown, 2nd ed., Revels Plays (1966; repr., London: Methuen, 1968).
61. Ibid., 56n.
62. Gordon McMullan, ed., King Henry VIII (All is True), Arden Shakespeare, 3rd series (London: Thomson Learning, 2000), 283.
63. Satiromastix, in The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, vol. 1.
64. "Hengist, King of Kent, or The Mayor of Queenborough" by Thomas Middleton, ed. Grace Ioppolo, Malone Society Reprints 167 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). This edition reproduces the Portland Manuscript in the University of Nottingham's Hallward Library; the play was first published in 1661.
65. Julia Briggs, "Middleton's Forgotten Tragedy Hengist, King of Kent," Review of English Studies 41 (November 1990): 485-86.
66. David Carnegie writes: "it seems to me clear from the intensity of the dialogue, and from Paulina's protective proximity to Hermione, that she controls the curtain herself." See "Stabbed through the Arras: The Dramaturgy of Elizabethan Stage Hangings," in Shakespeare: World Views, ed. Heather Kerr, Robin Eaden, and Madge Mitton, 193 (Newark: University of Delaware Press; London: Associated University Presses, 1996).
67. David Bevington, Action is Eloquence: Shakespeare's Language of Gesture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984), 116.
68. "The Devil's Charter" by Barnabe Barnes: A Critical Edition, ed. Jim C. Pogue (New York: Garland, 1980). Pogue observes that "since it does, more often than not, state explicitly how the action is to be staged, The Devil's Charter is especially valuable in the study of staging practices in Renaissance drama and at the Globe" (34).
69. Grim the Collier of Croyden, in A Choice Ternary of English Plays: Gratiae Theatrales (1662), ed. William M. Baillie, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies (Binghamton, NY: Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, 1984).
70. Baillie, ed., Grim the Collier, comments: "although the induction characters do not sit onstage as spectators, their expectation of a report from Belphagor upon his return from earth creates a kind of unseen stage audience, as if the devils were peeping from behind the curtain during the main action to follow Belphagor's progress" (181).
71. Richard Hosley, "Shakespearian Stage Curtains: Then and Now," 490.
72. Jonson, Volpone, ed. Parker.
73. Ostovich, ed., Volpone, in Ben Jonson: Four Comedies, 196.
74. Godly Queen Hester (London, 1561). Paul Whitfield White speculates that this play was written "for chapel performance under the auspices of Henry VIII's court," that transepts and side chapels "provided points for entrances and exits and for costume changes," and that "curtained traverses could easily be erected to close off these areas to the spectators." See Theatre and Reformation: Protestantism, Patronage, and Playing in Tudor England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 146. White goes on to suggest of this interlude, "The stage directions call for a 'traverse' to be used exclusively for King Assuerus' entrances and exits, which might have been the same as 'her Majestes Travess' in Queen Elizabeth's chapel at St. James Palace to curtain off a particular area from the rest of the sanctuary" (148-49).
75. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, 3:26.
76. Ibid. More recently the traverse in Godly Queen Hester has been interpreted as "probably a screen at the back of the stage." See Darryl Grantley, English Dramatic Interludes, 1300-1580 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 131.
77. W. W. Greg, ed., "A New Enterlude of Godly Queene Hester," edited from the Quarto of 1561, Materialien zur Kunde des alteren Englischen Dramas 5 (Louvain: A. Uystpruyst, 1904), 50.
78. Richard Southern, The Staging of Plays before Shakespeare (London: Faber and Faber, 1973), 267.
79. Ibid., 270.
80. Alan H. Nelson, "Hall Screens and Elizabethan Playhouses: Counter-Evidence from Cambridge," in The Development of Shakespeare's Theater, ed. John H. Astington (New York: AMS Press, 1992), 71.
81. Glynne Wickham, in Early English Stages, 1300 to 1660, vol. 1: 1300 to 1576 (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1959), observes that a description of arrangements for the wedding of Katharine of Aragon at St. Paul's identifies the word traverse with the word curtain (92).
82. John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi, ed. John Russell Brown, Revels Plays (1964; repr., London: Methuen, 1969).
83. Peter Thomson, in Shakespeare's Theatre, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 1992), speculates that the traverse was a curtain that could be deployed anywhere onstage: "traverse curtains were always in stock, to be draped across the stage doors, on the mobile platforms, or even slung between the pillars for climactic scenes such as the masque of The Revenger's Tragedy, or the play-within-the-play in Hamlet" (52).
84. See Robert Speaight, William Poel and the Elizabethan Revival (London: William Heinemann, 1954), 84, 107-8.
85. "A Looking-Glass for London and England," by Thomas Lodge and Robert Greene, 1594, ed. W. W. Greg, Malone Society Reprints (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1932).
86. "The Downfall of Robert Earl of Huntingdon" by Anthony Munday, 1601, ed. John C. Meagher and Arthur Brown, Malone Society Reprints (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965).
87. "Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay," by Robert Greene, 1594, ed. W. W. Greg, Malone Society Reprints (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1926).
88. Tom a Lincoln, ed. G. R. Proudfoot, H. R. Woudhuysen, and John Pitcher, Malone Society Reprints (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).
89. The Whore of Babylon, in The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, vol. 2.
90. Dieter Mehl, The Elizabethan Dumb Show: The History of a Dramatic Convention (London: Methuen, 1965), 21.
91. Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy, ed. Philip Edwards, Revels Plays (1959; repr., London: Methuen, 1969).
92. Ibid., 110.
93. J. R. Mulryne, ed., The Spanish Tragedy, 2nd ed., New Mermaids (1989; repr., New York: W. W. Norton, 1997), 112.
94. D. F. Rowan, "The Staging of The Spanish Tragedy," The Elizabethan Theatre 5 (1975): 122.
95. [Thomas Dekker], "The Bloody Banquet," 1639, ed. Samuel Schoenbaum and Arthur Brown, Malone Society Reprints (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962 [for 1961].
96. Christopher Marlowe and His Collaborator and Revisers, "Doctor Faustus": A- and B-texts (1604, 1616), ed. David Bevington and Eric Rasmussen, Revels Plays (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993). The lines quoted here are from the A-text.
97. Several scenes later, Jachimo, describing Imogen's bedchamber, says that "it was hang'd / With tapestry of silk and silver; the story / Proud Cleopatra, when she met her Roman" (2.4.68-70).
98. John Day, Law Tricks, or Who Would Have Thought It (London, 1608).
99. William Heminges, The Fatal Contract (London, 1653).
100. Hosley, in "Shakespearian Stage Curtains," writes that "Falstaff is asleep, either seated in a chair or reclining on a bench" (489).
101. The English Traveller, in Thomas Heywood: Three Marriage Plays, ed. Paul Merchant, Revels Plays Companion Library (Manchester: Manchester University Press New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996).
102. Lewis Sharpe, The Noble Stranger (London, 1640).
103. Cynthia's Revels, in Ben Jonson, ed. C. H. Herford and Percy and Evelyn Simpson, 11 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1925-52), vol. 4.
104. Northward Ho, in The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, vol. 2.
105. Colin A. Gibson, "'Behind the Arras' in Massinger's 'The Renegado,'" Notes and Queries 214 (August 1969): 296.
106. C. Walter Hodges, The Globe Restored: A Study of the Elizabethan Theatre (1953; repr., New York: W. W. Norton, 1973), 17.
107. John Ronayne, "Totus Mundus Agit Histrionem: The Interior Decorative Scheme of the Bankside Globe," in Shakespeare's Globe Rebuilt, ed. J. R. Mulryne and Margaret Shewring, 121-46 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).
108. Giorgio Melchiori, ed., The Second Part of King Henry IV (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 88. The OED defines "waterwork" as "A kind of imitation tapestry, painted in size or distemper."
109. Ronayne, "Totus Mundus," 136.
110. Henslowe's Diary, ed. R. A. Foakes, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 319-20.
111. Francis Beaumont, The Knight of the Burning Pestle, ed. Sheldon P. Zitner, Revels Plays (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984), 103.
112. For a useful discussion of painted cloths, see Arthur H. R. Fairchild, Shakespeare and the Arts of Design (Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting) University of Missouri Studies 12.1 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1937), 147-50. According to Fairchild, painted cloths "were hung in the streets for pageants and used as signs for shows; they decorated the interior of temporary buildings that were erected for entertainments; and they were used on the stage; but by far their most common use was as hangings for rooms, especially of the more ordinary type" (147).
113. George Chapman, Bussy D'Ambois (London, 1641).
114. The Tragedy of Claudius Tiberius Nero, Rome's Greatest Tyrant (London, 1607).
115. The Tragedy of Nero, ed. Elliott M. Hill (New York: Garland, 1979).
116. William Heminges, The Jews' Tragedy (London, 1662).
117. Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, Philaster, or Love Lies a-Bleeding, ed. Andrew Gurr, Revels Plays (London: Methuen, 1969).
118. Arthur Wilson, The Swisser, ed. Linda V. Itzoe (New York: Garland, 1984).
119. A Critical Edition of Brome's "The Northern Lasse," ed. Harvey Fried (New York: Garland, 1980).
120. Irwin Smith, Shakespeare's Blackfriars Playhouse: Its History and Its Design (New York: New York University Press, 1964), 342.
121. Henry Killigrew, Pallantus and Eudora [The Conspiracy] (London, 1653). The 1638 quarto is entitled The Conspiracy.
122. William Davenant, The Unfortunate Lovers (London, 1649).
123. Smith, Shakespeare's Blackfriars Playhouse, 342-43.
124. Ben Jonson, The New Inn, ed. Michael Hattaway, Revels Plays (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984), 48-49.
125. Ibid., 49.
126. James Shirley, The Lady of Pleasure, ed. Ronald Huebert, Revels Plays (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986).
127. Dessen and Thomson, A Dictionary of Stage Directions, 110.
128. See Carnegie, "Stabbed Through the Arras," in Shakespeare: World Views, 181-99.
129. See the reproduction in Foakes, Illustrations of the English Stage, no. 70.
130. Massinger, The City Madam, in The Plays and Poems of Philip Massinger, ed. Philip Edwards and Colin Gibson, 5 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976), vol. 4.
131. Hosley, "Was There a Music-Room in Shakespeare's Globe?" Shakespeare Survey 13 (1960): 116.
132. "A Warning for Fair Women": A Critical Edition, ed. Charles Dale Cannon (The Hague: Mouton, 1975).
133. Northward Ho, in The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, vol. 2.
134. John Marston and others, The Insatiate Countess, ed. Giorgio Melchiori, Revels Plays (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984).
135. Andrew Gurr, in The Shakespeare Company, 1594-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), argues that "this tradition of signalling how a play would end seems to have vanished when tragicomedy entered the repertory" (46).
136. R. A. Foakes, "Playhouses and Players," in The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Drama, ed. A. R. Braunmuller and Michael Hattaway, 20 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).
137. The Unnatural Combat, in The Plays and Poems of Philip Massinger, vol. 2.
138. The Emperor of the East, in The Plays and Poems of Philip Massinger, vol. 3.
139. "The Thracian Wonder" by William Rowley and Thomas Heywood: A Critical Edition, ed. Michael Nolan (Salzburg: Institut fur Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Universitat Salzburg, 1997).
140. The Thracian Wonder (London, 1661). The title page attributes the play to William Rowley and John Webster; Nolan attributes the play to Rowley and Heywood.
141. Hosley, "Was There a Music-Room in Shakespeare's Globe?" 114.
142. The curtains in the middle of the "boxes" above the stage, pictured in the frontispiece of The Wits (1662), may conceal musicians. See Hosley, "The Playhouses," 231.
143. Thomas Dekker, The Shoemaker's Holiday, ed. R. L. Smallwood and Stanley Wells, Revels Plays (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979).
144. Trudy West, The Timber-frame House in England (n.d.); quoted by Smallwood and Wells, 45.
145. Smallwood and Wells, ed., The Shoemaker's Holiday, 46. Anthony Parr, in his New Mermaids edition of The Shoemaker's Holiday, 2nd ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1990), endorses this suggestion: "given the frequency of shop scenes in the drama of this period such a device might have become a shorthand convention obviating the need for elaborate settings to indicate location" (xxviii).
146. R. A. Foakes, "Playhouses and Stages," 21.
147. Thomas Middleton and William Rowley, The Spanish Gypsy (London, 1653).
148. Peele, Edward I, ed. Frank S. Hook, in The Dramatic Works of George Peele, in The Life and Works of George Peele, vol. 2.
149. The Whore of Babylon, in The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, vol. 2.
150. The Picture, in The Plays and Poems of Philip Massinger, vol. 3.
151. James Shirley's "The Humorous Courtier," ed. Marvin Morillo (New York: Garland, 1979).
152. A Woman is a Weathercock, in The Plays of Nathan Field.
153. Dessen and Thomson, A Dictionary of Stage Directions, 41.
154. William Davenant, Albovine, King of the Lombards (London, 1629).
155. George Chapman, Bussy D'Ambois (London, 1607).
156. Brooke, ed., Bussy D'Ambois, 121.
157. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, 3:144. William A. Armstrong, in "'Canopy' in Elizabethan Theatrical Terminology," Notes and Queries 202 (October 1957): 433-34, notes the two possible meanings of canopy: as a covering above a chair of state and as a curtained recess.
158. Sophonisba, in The Selected Plays of John Marston, ed. MacDonald P. Jackson and Michael Neill (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).
159. Ibid., 460.
160. William J. Lawrence, The Physical Conditions of the Elizabethan Public Playhouse (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1927), 47.
161. Reproduced in Gerard Ter Borch, Zwolle 1617, Deventer 1681 (Munich: Landesmuseum fur Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, 1974), plate 34.
162. Andrew Gurr, in The Shakespearean Stage, notes: "All three extant illustrations of stages in use between de Witt's Swan and 1642 ... show the whole tiring-house facade curtained off. This practice, which must have derived from the curtained booth of the street theatres, was probably fairly general" (151).
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|Title Annotation:||Articles; Elizabethan dramas|
|Publication:||Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2007|
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