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Heywood's Silver Age: a flight too far?

ALMOST all statements to do with Elizabethan theater are by their nature suppositions, and none more so than those concerning the performance auspices of Thomas Heywood's The Silver Age. Nevertheless, the topic is worth revisiting for the light it may shed on that enduring puzzle in the history of Elizabethan performance: why, if as so many scholars insist every amphitheater was fitted with flying gear, are there so few records of its actual use in performance? The Greeks had their mechane, there is plentiful evidence of raising and lowering actors in medieval and Renaissance dramatic activity both civic and courtly, it is not uncommon in Jacobean indoor theater, and very probably suspension gear was installed in the second Globe, but until 1613 evidence of outdoor flying is extremely rare and most of it open to some explanation short of winching from the theater canopy. In a cost-conscious commercial environment it seems very unlikely that after the expense of installing such gear it was not used, and frequently; compare the situation with Inigo Jones's introduction of flying at court entertainments where once established and despite the difficulties inherent in being confined to a series of fit-ups for each occasion Jones exploited and developed this facility almost continually. It has generally been supposed that the only clearly documented and apparently unambiguous use of flying outdoors is in The Silver Age, where Heywood is widely thought to have used it regularly throughout the play. Closer inspection, however, casts doubt on precisely how much flying, even here, was from the theater canopy.

The Auspices of The Silver Age

The Silver Age is the second of five plays drawn together as a sequence by Thomas Heywood some time shortly after 1613. Its predecessor, The Golden Age, begins with the birth of Jupiter, his survival against the wishes of Saturn his father, and his various battles with the Titans intermixed with two substantial inserts, the rape of Calisto and the seduction of Danae. The Silver and Brazen Ages between them tell the story of the birth, triumphs, and death of Hercules, but continue the same episodic admixture of bloodshed, amours, and algolagnia, including the adventures of Bellerophon and Perseus, and Jason and the Argonauts, alongside Jupiter's seductions of Alcmena and of Semele, together with Venus's attempts on Adonis and her affair with Mars, and the rape of Persephone. Each play ends in an elaborate set piece, the first with Hercules' conquest of the three-headed Cerberus and rescue of Persephone, and the second with the madness and self-immolation of the hero. 1&2 Iron Age tell of the Fall of Troy followed by the return home of the Greeks, during which Heywood seems to tire of the story and kills off virtually all his characters. The plays are radically different in tone and in the demands they make on staging. The Golden Age makes very few except in its closing moments with the deification of Jupiter and his brothers, which may not have been in the original play. The Silver Age was the great flying piece, and The Brazen Age has the largest number of original properties, mainly pasteboard monsters. 1&2 Iron Age are markedly different in subject matter and treatment from the first three, requiring little beyond the Trojan horse and relying on the interplay of humans mostly in battle.

Current scholarship largely assumes that the first three plays were not written until shortly before their publication, The Golden Age in 1611 and the other two in 1613. There are, however, substantial reasons to believe that the Silver and Brazen Ages, at the very least, existed in some form much earlier. Many critics, from Fleay in 1891 onwards, identified them with 1&2 Hercules performed as "ne" at the Rose in 1595. (1) Ernest Rhodes identifies twenty-five properties and costumes in the Admiral's inventories of 1598, including, he says, "many items that cannot possibly have been used in any known plays except Heywood's trilogy." (2) Some of his suggestions are debatable, and others could have been used in different plays as well, but a substantial group of items, such as the golden fleece, the boar's head, the three-headed Cerberus, and the bull's head make the identification of the Silver & Bronze Ages with 1&2 Hercules, revived for Thomas Downton in 1598 just before the inventories were compiled, almost certain. (3) A number of these key properties are also recycled within the same plays. The huge boar's head with which Hercules entertains the centaurs in the Silver Age reappears in the Brazen Age in the Meleager story; while Cerberus's three heads and the lion's head in the Silver Age reappear as trophies in Brazen Age. Furthermore, the case is strongly supported by another group of costumes and properties including Neptune's suit, Hercules' "limbs"--whether they be parts of the body or armor, the rainbow, Mercury's wings and caduceus, and Juno's coat, where the association, if not unique, is very strong. At first glance, not all the needs of the plays can be found in the inventories (but that is generally the case). Henslowe does not mention a banquet, for instance, but "marchpanes" might well be his word for it, Pluto may well have used Fayeton's chariot. Vulcan's net, invisible to the eye, could have been mimed, and flying objects like the cloud kept elsewhere together with the star, thunderbolt, and hand. In fact, most of the other items needed could have been improvised from existing stock.

Why should Heywood have changed the name of his plays? To answer this, one needs to look at the treadmill on which he learned his trade as one of Henslowe's writers. Andrew Gun notes that between June 15, 1594 and November 1597 the Admiral's Men staged eighty-three different plays, fifty-four of them "ne," at a rate of one new play every two or three weeks, and that they gave least 689 performances at the Rose, plus others elsewhere. (4) To supply this huge demand for plays, collaboration was the norm, together with an incredible speed of production. In the preface to The English Traveler, Heywood claimed to have had "an entire hand or maine finger" in 220 plays, (5) and Henslowe's Diary gives an insight into what Webster called Heywood's "happy and copious industry": in 1598, for instance, after the final payment on War Without Blows, it is only fifteen days before he presents a draft of Joan as Good as my Lady for an advance, finished apparently, two days later. Again in 1602 within a week of finishing London Florentine, he presents a draft of another play (its name not recorded by Henslowe). On September 20, he not only brings in his additions for Cutting Dick but also a draft for Osric, which he then finishes within ten days. On November 24, the very same day he finishes Christmas Comes But Once a Year, he presents a draft for The Blind Eates Many A Fly. (6) New plays received a considerable premium in audience receipts, so it was practice to give out revivals as new plays, or at least old plays with additions, as in the case of Cutting Dick, and therefore for titles to be changed. The publication of Heywood's plays is a complicated topic outside the scope of the present investigation but sufficient to say that there were many reasons to discourage it. Few got into print, and a delay of fifteen years is not unusual.

In his "Prologue to the Stage" printed with The Royal King and the Loyal Subject in 1637, Heywood admits "no History / We have left unrifled," (7) but he had a special affinity with classical subject matter, which provided him with a ready quarry of sensationalism and erotica, and from early on in his career he translated and adapted almost continually, and, perhaps because of the pace of writing for Henslowe, he became a rampant self-plagiarist. Much of the subject matter of the five Ages plays also turns up in a huge poem of about 13,000 lines, Troia Britannica, published in 1609 and dedicated to James I, whose lineage he attempts to tack on rather hurriedly to his classical saga. The rapes and seductions from the Golden and Silver Ages also form the subject matter of the Escapes of Jupiter, an undated manuscript probably designed for performance, and its subject matter and treatment consonant with Henslowe and Alleyn's other enterprises that already included animal bating and brothels.

Heywood's self-plagiarism, unfortunately, provided the means for Arthur Clark to begin the process of denying the association of the Ages plays with those written at the Rose in the 1590s by insisting instead that they are based on Troia Britannica. (8) Despite the wide acceptance of this argument, closer inspection reveals that the two plays about Hercules cannot be derived from the poem since it does not deal in large areas of their subject matter, except in the briefest outline, including Jupiter's seductions of Alcmena and Semele, and Hercules' birth in The Silver Age, the Achelous / Deineira / Nesus story, and Hercules' madness and death, nor the stories of Venus coupling with Adonis and Mars in The Brazen Age. In addition, Heywood specifically excludes material associated with Hercules from his poem:
All these we leaue as tales too often told,
And rubs that would our running voyage let,
Not that our thoughts despise them being old,
(For to antiquity we owe much debt)
But because Time that hath his acts inrold
To many a Common sale his deeds hath set,
Therefore (though no part of his worth to reaue him
We now for matters more allide, must leaue him.

(Canto 6 Stanza 88) (9)

The most obvious reason for rejecting the Hercules story from the poem is that Heywood himself had already devoted most of two plays to these events, and even if he were not referring to his own work, after this statement Heywood would hardly then go on to write the Silver and the Brazen Ages which tell Hercules' story anew. Hence for the contents of the second and third to be dismissed in this way, there must be a strong presumption that these plays precede the poem. (10)

Studies such as those of Tatlock and Holaday (11) had broadly supported the identification of 1&2 Hercules with the Silver and Bronze Ages, but it was an essay by Ernest Schanzer that seems finally to have settled the modern consensus revoking it. (12) Schanzer puts forward two main arguments: that any Hercules play would have had the same properties as those in the Inventory, and that 1&2 Hercules were not plays that Heywood had written but ones which he himself had seen earlier, long before he sat down to the write his Ages plays, and he cites Heywood's Apology for Actors, 1612:
  To see as I have seene, Hercules, in his owne shape, hunting
  the boare, knocking downe the bull, taming the hart, fighting
  with Hydra, murdering Geryon, slaughtering Diomed, wounding
  the Stymphalides, killing the Centaurs, pashing the lion,
  squeezing the dragon, dragging Cerberus in chaynes, and lastly,
  on his high pyramides writing Nil ultra, Oh, these were sights
  to make an Alexander! (B4R). (13)

Schanzer's arguments, however, cancel each other out: if he is right in presuming a labor-rich 1&2 Hercules, then the Inventory could be expected to have contained supporting properties for all of the labors and not just those coincidentally needed in the Silver and Brazen Ages. One would have expected to have found properties answering to the other labours e.g., the Hydra (the many-headed monster), Geryon (a monster with three bodies and three heads), Diomed (a tyrant who fed his horses human flesh and was punished by Hercules with being fed to his horses), and Stymphalides (carnivorous birds sometimes confused with Harpies). Heywood, of course, had merely chosen the easiest to represent.

It is not clear to what Heywood could be referring when he says he has "seen" the labors. The only other surviving contemporary dramatic material on Hercules appears to be translations of Seneca, his Hercules Furens by Jasper Heywood, 1561, reprinted in 1581 in Ten Tragedies, together with the "pseudo-Senecan" Hercules Oetaeus translated by John Studley from which Queen Elizabeth also translated a Chorus. (14) Furens deals with the hero's return from the Underworld, his being sent mad on vengeful Juno's orders, and subsequent slaying of his children. Oetaeus concerns the events leading up to Hercules death. In the latter play Hercules does refer to his labors, now all passed; so neither play stages them, nor is there any evidence that the Elizabethan translations were ever performed; Jasper Heywood making it clear that Furens was "for the profit of young schollers." However there is no reason to assume the records are complete; Schanzer himself mentions two earlier references to Hercules being performed onstage: Sidney's description in Arcadia (1590) of Dametas "leaning his hands vpon his bil, & his chin vpon his hands, with the voice of one that plaieth Hercules in a play," and a declaration of a player in Greene's Groatsworth of Wit (1592), "The twelue labours of Hercules haue I terribly thundred on the stage," which is a reminder that description, perhaps with a tableau, was precisely how Heywood himself staged what appears on the face of it to be impossible scenes that his narrative could not avoid. Thus in The Brazen Age where one might have thought Jason's exploits with the bulls ploughing and the armed men springing from the dragon's teeth defied representation, Heywood, within his own terms, has a very steady hand and always finds a solution that will appeal to his audience's imagination:
  Two fiery Buls are discouered, the Fleece hanging otter them, and
  the Dragon sleeping beneath them: Medea with strange fiery-workes,
  hangs aboue in the Aire in the strange habite of a Coniuresse.

  G3 (15)

Medea then proceeds to tell how Jason tamed the bulls and killed the dragon. Hence Schanzer's standard of ocular proof may be too literal, and either the Oeteus or Greene's "thundering" would have enabled Heywood to say he had "seen" the labors. In any event, the context of this quotation from the Apology makes it clear that Heywood's focus is on the capacity of the stage to represent heroic deeds which will strike emulation in the hearts of modernday princes. Indeed, Hercules has been mentioned several times already in the book, so it would be natural to enumerate his labors here whether or not Heywood had literally beheld imitations of all of them.

Perhaps the most compelling argument for the Ages plays originating at the Rose is the more general one of ethos. The Red Bull in the early seventeenth century had battles and noise aplenty, but special effects and pasteboard monsters, on the other hand, the staple of the Rose of the 1590s, were now a waning taste in any of the theaters. (16) Most especially it is the evident association of I Hercules at its first performance on May 7, 1595 at the Rose with the only known installation of flying equipment, Henslowe's "throne In the heuenes" during Lent of that year, which makes further attention to the auspices of The Silver Age a matter of considerable interest.

Evidence of Flying Equipment

Where there's a canopy, so most popular academic studies suppose, there must be a winch; its absence offends a sense of the Globe as cosmos; we know there was a trap for evil to come out (although Hell's Mouth was not infrequently "discovered"), and heavens therefore are needed to complement it. Alberti's commentary on Vitruvius, on the other hand, recommends the use of a temporary "Cieling to the Theatre, both to keep off the Weather, and to retain the Voice," and it is likely that the canopy or "shadow" built by the Elizabethans over amphitheater stages had a similar dual function, (17) rather than necessarily involving flying. While the Hope contract in 1613-14, after the building of the Second Globe, calls for "Heavens," that for the Fortune in 1600 refers only to "a shadowe or cover over the saide Stadge."

There still remains a widespread predisposition, inherited from Victorian critics anxious to ameliorate the emphasis De Witt's sketch placed on a bare stage, to interpret every scrap of information that might enrich the visual impact of Elizabethan theater often well behind the limits of probability; hence the amount of attention given to items among Henslowe's properties that might indicate scenic units (18) together with the enduring popularity of C.Walter Hodges's projecting booth, (19) chosen to illustrate an entire generation of New Mermaid editions. Thus it is with flying. Peter Thomson tells his readers that the Swan's stage pillars were "there to satisfy the demands of a theatre more technically advanced than James Burbage could have anticipated in 1576." (20) "The canopy they support," he claims, "was roomy enough to accommodate a throne and any actor who was required to 'fly' down to the platform." John Ronayne, in anticipation of the Bankside replica project, scours medieval and Renaissance handbooks for information on windlasses, counterweights, brakes, crank handles, and much more in preparation for "Reconstructing the flying effect at the Globe." (21) "In most playhouses," says Andrew Gurr, "set on top of the heavens or cover was a 'hue or huts, within which stage hands operated the machinery for 'flights,' windlass driven descents from the heavens." (22) John Astington concludes, "The deus ex machina was popular enough and the essential machinery that drove it cheap enough for it to have been standard equipment in any permanent playhouse"; (23) bringing, according to Hodges, "a constant pleasure to Elizabethan audiences." (24). These critics give little weight to T. J.King's exhaustive analysis of plays first performed between 1599 and 1642, which describes the evidence for flying as "meagre," and finds that in the entirety of the Elizabethan canon "only five plays require actors, or large properties, or both, to ascend or to descend from the acting area above; none of these texts make explicit references to stage machinery"; (25) nor are they persuaded by Glynn Wickham's examination of all the documents before 1587, which fails to supply a single reference to flying machinery. (26) Instead, such critics make it an act of faith: "its use," says Hodges, "has to be imagined by little more than commonsense interpretation"; whilst Michael Hattaway suggests 'it was probably used sparingly--on the ground that anything spectacular overdone soon becomes tiresome even to an unsophisticated audience."(27)

To be fair to these critics, the Elizabethan amphitheater as a phenomenon is entirely surrounded by other traditions in which flying is relatively commonplace, in street pageants and mystery plays, in churches, in indoor drama, in the burgeoning court theaters of France and Italy, and, perhaps, in academic drama and in professional drama at the English court. (28) and for some critics a crossover to the public stage is irresistible. "As far as theatre owners and actors were able," says Astington, "they would want to share the spectacular tradition of English civic, academic, and royal entertainments." Three factors, however, may have prevented this. The first is cost (which Astington is determined to minimize), but in all other theater traditions spectacle could be financed by public levy channelled through the privileged in one form or another. Hence the highly competitive professional companies, denied such income, put their energies into developing a form of theater-practice that focused on the performers themselves, often gorgeously dressed, and their capacity to exploit the imaginations of their audiences in daily-varying, briefly prepared, (29) fast-moving dramas careless of locale and largely indifferent to mechanical means--though, as we shall see, not entirely so. The third factor, too often forgotten, is theater configuration. "It is not too difficult," remarks W. F. Rothwell, "to rig up pulleys ..." (30) Perhaps so, in an indoor context, hut the evidence suggests that in outdoor theaters flying was an altogether more hazardous operation.

Wickham terminates his negative survey abruptly in 1587, the year in which the Rose was built and the play Alphonsus, King of Aragon thought to have been written. Two of its stage directions are widely interpreted as establishing the existence of flying machinery in the canopies of London amphitheatres by this date: in the Prologue:
  After you haue sounded thrice, let Venus be let downe from the
  top of the Stage... (31)

and in its Epilogue:
  Exit Venus: Or, if you can conveniently, let a chaire
  come downe from the top of the Stage and draw her vp.

After 1587, according to Hodges, flying gear "had quickly been fitted up in every theatre that could take one." (32) The auspices of Alphonsus, however, are nearly as complicated as those of The Silver Age. Although there is little doubt that Robert Greene, who died in 1592, is the author, other than this there is little indication of when it was written or where it was performed. Strange's or the Queen's Men may have first performed it and since they were then using not only the Theater and the Curtain, but also the Bel Savage Inn, its original performance may not have been out of doors. (33) Furthermore its crucial place in the conventional history of flying has led scholars to skate over the uncertainties of its relationship to the Rose; for the title does not occur in Henslowe's Diary, but is instead only assumed to be mahomett, played there eight times between August 14, 1594 and February 5, 1595. The identification with this play is based entirely on the fact that Mahomet, in a minor incident in the play, speaks out of a brazen head and that the Admiral's inventories of 1598 list an "owld Mahemetes head." A brazen head, however, is also required in Friar Bacon and Friar Bun gay, played at the Rose at the same time, which makes the association at best a slender one. Finally, the references to flying in Alphonsus occur in what are essentially appendages unrelated to the story and peopled by characters--Venus and nine Muses--none of whom appear anywhere else in the drama, and could certainly have been added or dispensed with in performance at any time up to the play's publication in 1599.

The author's hesitation, "if you can conveniently" relates to raising a performer, seemingly perfectly confident that Venus can be lowered, and this may well give some indication of the particular mechanics anticipated. On both occasions the author uses the phrase "from the top of the Stage." This is a term rarely used in Elizabethan theater; Dessen and Thomson give only three other examples from the entire canon 1590-1642. (34) In the first, in I Henry VI III.ii.25, Pucell, after having breached the walls at Rouen, enters "on the top, thrusting out a torch burning" and is described by other characters as "in yonder turret"; then later in the scene she appears "on the walls" with the French generals, which perhaps, Dessen and Thomson suggest, "differentiates the two locations." In A Double Marriage, a "Boy a top" on a supposed ship's mast cries "a Sail. A Sail," and a similar scene takes place in Fortune by Land and Sea (though without the term itself being used). These examples seem to indicate the use of a second gallery above the stage.

Its existence, however, as one might expect, is widely contested. Richard Hosley makes no provision for it in his reconstruction of the Swan, (35) nor does it appear in Hodges's more recent sketches (except of 1 Henry VI, presumably intended to be at the Rose); (36) nor is it to be found in the present Bankside replica of the Globe. John Cranford Adams, however, makes a strong case for the second gallery as part of the stage facade, pointing out that it existed anyway and that raising the canopy to the roof level improved the sightlines for those on the upper gallery of the auditorium (37) (a point well-demonstrated by the replica which presently leaves the spectators at the sides not only with a restricted view but also, being above the level of the canopy and looking down upon its roof, with a sense of not actually being in the theater but of only looking into it).

John Orrell suggests "The few descents, or possible descents, in early plays could well have been managed with a simple hoist from the highest part of the tiring house: none makes mention of a Heavens trap ..." (38) Such a "lift" is perhaps assumed in another play with which Greene was associated, A Looking Glass for London and England: "Enters brought by an Angell Oseas the Prophet, and set downe ouer the Stage in a Throne." (39) It might well serve when a basket containing an unwelcome suitor is suspended halfway between the galleries in Englishman for My Money, 1598. As observed above in The Brazen Age. "Medea ... hangs aboue in the Aire," presumably over a discovered tableau of beasts. Later, in the seventeenth century, Inigo Jones made great use of suspension gear guided up and down by slots or grooves in wooden beams, even by this means transporting Henrietta Maria and her ladies when she was in an advance state of pregnancy. (40) It is not suggested that anything as sophisticated as this was available c.1592, but the same opportunities for guiding, steadying, and servicing objects being raised and lowered close to the facade front would obtain.

The excavation of the Rose in 1989 revealed that when first built in 1587 it had no stage posts, and hence presumably no "heavens." (41) In 1592 it was extensively rebuilt and enlarged, this time with stage posts, and in 1595 Henslowe spent a total of [pounds sterling]108.9 for "Repracyones" during Lent on improving the Rose, (a very considerable sum, given that building the entire Fortune in 1 600 cost only [pounds sterling]440) and including "mackinge the throne In the heuenes," before reopening with Heywood's "ne" play "the firste pte of herculous." (42) Thus we have the conjunction on May 7, 1595 of the one piece of evidence for flying equipment (if that is what is meant by "the throne In the heuenes"), and the one play that makes substantial use of it, if 1 Hercules is accepted to be an earlier version of The Silver Age. What

now needs to be examined is how much use was actually made of the new equipment, given that it does not seem to have been replicated in any other outdoor theatre of the period.

Flying in The Silver Age

The first problem concerns the events surrounding the death of Semele, who has been persuaded by jealous Juno in disguise to demand that Jupiter appear to her in all his majesty. Juno with Iris are " plac'd in a cloud aboue" to observe the scene that follows:
Enter Semele, drawn out in her bed.

SEMELE: ... Descend, great Jove, in thy full majesty,
  And crown my pleasures; here behold me spread,
  To taste the sweets of thy immortal bed.

Thunder and lightning. Jupiter descends in his majesty,
his thunderbolt burning.

JUPITER: Thus wrapp'd in storms and black tempestuous clouds,
  Lightning, and showers, we sit upon the roofs
  And trembling terraces of this high house,
  That is not able to contain our power...

SEMELE: What terror's this? Oh thou immortal, speak!
  My eyes are for thy majesty too weak.
    as he touches the bed, it fires, and all flies up.
      Jupiter from thence takes an abortive infant.
JUPITER: Receive thy boon: now take thy free desire,
  In thunder, tempest. smoke, and heavenly fire.
JUNO: Ha! ha! ha!
  Fair Semele's consum'd; 'twas acted well.
  Come; next we'll follow Hercules to hell.
    Jupiter, taking up the infant, speaks as he ascends in his
    cloud. (K) (43)

One can only conjecture how this scene was staged, but, assuming Juno and Iris are watching from one of the galleries, it would seem to require two pieces of lifting gear, since if the newly installed winch in the heavens takes up the flaming bed (minus the actor), it hardly has time to return before Jupiter is required to ascend as well.

Earlier in this extract he had paused in his descent, "upon the roofs ... of this high house," which suggests he may well be a candidate for the "lift" discussed above, attached, or adjacent. to the facade front. This would also allow him to pause on his ascent to deliver his speech of fourteen lines before he exits.

There are therefore two "clouds" involved: one represented by a gallery, decorated or not, and the other by a movable "car" or lift for Jupiter, (though the dialogue earlier had suggested his normal mode of transport was an eagle [I2]).

The burning bed (lit with aqua vitae) (44) has to be taken seriously, since Juno earlier anticipates enjoying seeing "Th'adultress sprawl, the palace upward fly" (J3v).

Several other moments, hitherto assumed to be examples of flying, are more likely to have been uses of the gallery, as in the scene where Iris is sent up to the cloud to report on Hercules' slaughter of the Nemaean lion to the waiting Juno below (G-G2), and perhaps again when Jupiter appears in all his glory vnder a Raine-bow (a separate property listed in the Inventory) (F2).

A second major problem lies at the end of the play. After Hercules has captured Cerberus and routed Hell in order to rescue Proserpine, Jupiter intervenes to protect the infernal powers and effect a compromise. This concluded:
  Exeunt three ways Ceres, Theseus, Philoctetes; and Hercules
  dragging Cerberus one way; Pluto, hell's judges, the Fates
  and Furies, down to hell: Jupiter, the gods and planets,
  ascend to heaven. [L].

Given that the gods have descended to Hell to arbitrate, it is not altogether clear what the starting point is for these various journeys. Furthermore. Jupiter in his ascent has to be accompanied by Saturn, Juno, Mars, Phoebus, Venus, and Mercury. George Reynolds comments very sensibly: "Except for the end of the play ... only two come down together and one goes up. This direction may mean only to state their final destination." (45) If so, it makes all other such directions in the play equally problematic--as to whether they refer to practical staging or what is supposed to happen within the narrative. In reality, what amounts to most of the entire company may simply have gone off through the two doors and the central aperture. Alternatively, the gods and planets who come to preside may stay on the first gallery, taking their places, "as they are in height" (M3v), and converting the theater to a two-tier Hell; they need only then retire from the gallery. But there is third possibility.

Noting that the infrequency of references to flying in Elizabethan drama scarcely justified the installation of special equipment, T. J. King suggests the possibility of an external staircase to the gallery, pointing to a stage direction in The Knight of Malta, a King's Men play c.1616: "The Scaffold set out and the staires." (46) He relates this to an item in Henslowe's Inventory: payer of stayers for Fayeton," generally glossed as a flight of stairs (OED 6b), and points out the convenience this would have for the King's descent from Flint Castle in Richard IL In fact it would meet a good many staging problems in venues where there is no other evidence of flying, as with the presiding planets in Woman in the Moon who each "ascend" to a throne, presumably placed on the gallery, at regular intervals. A portable flight of stairs would certainly be the easiest way of getting seven gods back onto the gallery.

It is important to recognize that there are no magic wands here. As Reynolds's comment suggests, whatever flights of fancy were in Heywood's mind as he wrote, and to be evoked in the imaginations of his spectators, he was an essentially practical dramatist and the means available limited, circumscribed more by time than expense, each play performed only once in the week's sequence, leaving little opportunity for preparation; hence the solutions, despite the rhetoric, would always have been simple ones.

Apart from the burning bed, the only other strong contender for actually using a winch above the canopy is "Mercury flies from above" (H). A minor character, and servant, he might well be played by a youth whose lighter weight would be easier to control, like the "Flying Boye" rewarded at Cecil's Entertainment of 1608 whose counterparts dominated the flying ballets of later Caroline masques. (47) If he wore a harness, he would of course have to detach himself from the rope before leaving the stage. Ronane reports on two methods of lowering a performer that would not require even this: "a lightweight saddle-and-stirrup frame made of iron' described by Sabbattini, 'that allowed a dancer to descend to the stage and begin his dance immediately." (48) "A similar effect," Ronane says, "could be achieved if the actor's foot rested in a loop at the end of a rope."

Significantly Mercury does not return the same way. Earlier, of course Greene had been much more hesitant about the return journey in Alphonsus. Nor is there evidence that 2 Hercules/The Brazen Age made much use of flying performers: Medea hangs in the air over a tableau of beasts discovered within a stage facade aperture, presumably using the earlier lift; and at the end, after Hercules has immolated himself:
  Iupiter aboue strikes him with a thunder-bolt, his body
  sinkes, and from the heauens discends a hand in a cloud,
  that from the place where Hercules was burnt, brings vp a
  starre, and fixeth it in the firmament. (L3)

-all of which could be accomplished using the trap and properties, an empty car or perhaps one with a small boy. The only other record of the winch being used in the heavens takes place in Dr Faustus:
  Musicke while the Throne descends. (49)

Marlowe attempts to provide a pretext for lowering an empty throne:
Good Angel: Hadst thou affected sweet divinitie,
... Faustus behold,
In what resplendent glory thou hadst set
In yonder throne...

- but it still remains an odd moment in the play, and an indication perhaps of the practical difficulties of flying. Most indicative of such problems, however, is not so much the evidence of flying in The Silver Age but of its absence where it might be expected. At the beginning of the play, Perseus arrives to help Bellerophon in his quest against the Chimaera. He has come with his brother and wife on the winged horse Pegasus--which, it would appear from the dialogue, we never see:
Enter Perseus, Andromeda, and Danaus.

Perseus: There stay, our swift and winged Pegasus,
And on the flowers of this fair meadow graze.


- this presumably spoken through the door as he enters. At the end of the scene he promises Bellerophon a ride to Argos, but they appear to leave the stage again on foot. Subject matter not particularly relevant to the theme of the play but so obviously ripe to exploit the new equipment, one wonders at what point a decision was taken not to do so.

An isolated experiment?

One can only speculate on their reluctance to use the new equipment. Was it to do with outdoor conditions--wind and rain--the cold and damp, making everything slippery and foothold treacherous, or the inevitable tendency to swing? Astington and Ronane, for instance, take many of their winching parallels from mine shafts where, unpleasant though they were, the walls would enable some steadying; (50) while the crane-cum-hoist with which Hodges equips his Second Globe, involving the performer being swung out on "a jib arm some fourteen or fifteen feet long" and then dropped, is dizzying just to contemplate. (51) Was it to do with the height of the drop? Estimates vary from around twenty-two feet, if the heavens were only at the height of the second gallery floor, but perhaps another nine or so if at its ceiling. And then there was the further height of the winch within the canopy/hut.

The conventional theater winch has a hinged piece of metal by way of a brake which inserts itself into a cog wheel with teeth cut at an angle so that it is brushed aside when the hoist rises but automatically locks into the wheel when the hoist comes to rest, so that for lowering it has to be held aside. Raising nowadays is therefore safer than lowering, but the Elizabethans seemed to have been happier with descents, generally leaving their characters to make their own way offstage rather than re-ascending (it is of course a theater of grand entrances and quieter exits). This suggests, however, that they did not have a braking system, and that the issue was either to do with aesthetics--ascents took too long--or with the weights and distances involved. Counterweights were known and used in medieval and Italian theater, and sometimes quite compact, but it is doubtful if they existed in the cramped circumstances of the Rose superstructure. Using a windlass, according to Ronane, depends entirely on the operators, and it would have been a task involving both strength and some finesse, and a lot of trust on the part of the performers. Jonson gibes at the "creaking throne," (52) and there is plenty of evidence that use of the hoist was often accompanied by music perhaps to cover this.

It would be wrong to assume it was a question of courage: Elizabethan plays regularly have what we would take to be circus feats built into them; as for instance the Lord Admiral's man in 1587, (perhaps playing the Governor of Babylon hanging from the walls in 2 Tamburlaine), who only just escaped being shot by the missile that killed the spectators, (53) or the simulation of the strappado and being hanged in 'A Larum for London (54) both performed by the same person, as a merchant's factor, probably one of that band of fearless young players in their late teens and early twenties, like Mercury, who took on among their many tasks falling from buildings, setting themselves on fire, with female self-immolation a speciality: Venus, Semele, Olympia, and Dido; (55) not to mention being crushed by rocks or dragged by the hair, (56) and many other tricks and dangerous sleights of hand. (57). The problems of flying must surely have been logistical.

Whatever the reasons, they created a state of affairs in which convincing evidence of flying before 1613 in the outdoor theatres, apart from the Ages plays and Henslowe's throne in the heavens, is more or less non-existent. It may well be that the problems at the Rose discouraged the Chamberlain's Men from installing a throne at the Globe; for the first thirty-three of Shakespeare's plays make no mention of flying at all. Even Cymbeline, written after the King's Men took repossession of the indoor theater of Blackfriars, R. B. Graves suggests, may not have acquired its flying eagle until performed at Court. (58). It is fairly evident from Iris's remark in The Tempest,' I know her by her gait," in the Folio, that Juno originally walked on; "descends" being, like the reference to the Mayor in 3 Henry VI IV.vii.29, an indication of a descent from the balcony by stairs behind the stage and not proof of flying.

It is not even clear that the First Globe had a canopy. Several critics point to Hamlet's reference to "this most excellent Canopie the ayre; looke you, this braue orehanging firmament, this majesticall roofe fretted with golden fire," (Q2 F2) as evidence that one had newly been installed, (59) but it could be argued to the contrary that it is God's magnificent creation which "delights not" Hamlet, and while he dismisses it in terms of the gaudy, self-assertion of a playhouse "shadow," too close a similarity between his evocation and the immediate playhouse roof could only distract from the point he is making, metadrama sinking into mere confusion.

Richard Hosley offers several possibilities for flying at the Globe, (60), but as both Gabriel Egan and John Orrell point out, none of them seems likely; (61): simulations of strappado and of hanging both require a fixed point on the stage facade with a hook from which the length of rope for the harness can be accurately measured (otherwise the actor is likely to suffer the torments for real); while the old chestnut about the "lifeless" body of Antony needing mechanical assistance to get him into the Monument ignores the probability that Burbage would have surreptitiously aided his own ascent.

In proposing flying equipment at the Swan, Hattaway offers Richard Venner's cod prospectus for England's Joy in 1602 which promised Queen Elizabeth "taken up into heaven, when presently appears a throne of blessed souls ...," (62) but it also promised performing gentlewomen and much else, and of course, famously was a money-making scam, and not a performance at all. The only reference to a descent at the Fortune is that in The Whore of Babylon: "Time descending," (63) but the context makes clear this could only mean either from the gallery or from a throne, and certainly not flying down from heaven, or for that matter going down into a trap. The contract for the Hope demands that a "[h]eavans all over the saide stage" is to be achieved without permanent pillars, (64) which makes flying machinery very unlikely. This leaves only the Red Bull, and in his monograph on that theatre, a model for much that went after, and with the scrupulousness of genuine scholarship. Reynolds acknowledges the weakness of his position in respect of flying equipment:
  The most obvious fact about the use of. machinery for ascending
  and descending ... is that it occurs in so few plays, even if
  one includes the doubtful cases. The certain cases at the Red
  Bull are all in the Ages. (65)

Even here, however, flying only occurs in the first three Ages plays; it is of a circumspect nature in The Brazen Age (as discussed above); in the prefatory material, only that of The Golden Age indicates performance at the Red Bull, but the present text appears to have two endings--one terminating with the reconciliation of Jupiter and Ganymede, then a puff for the plays that would eventually succeed it, and then a second ending with Jupiter's deification. which latter requires flying but seems to have been tacked on later; hence it could have been performed on its own without such equipment. (66) As to The Silver Age, there is only one seventeenth-century record of performance, that in the Revels Accounts of January 12 and 13, 1612:
  By the Queens players and the Kings Men. The Sunday following
  [Twelfth Night] at grinwidg before the Queen and the Prince
  was playd the Silver Aiedg: and ye next night following
  Lucrecia. (67)

This, of course, was an indoor performance, the estranged Queen Anna (68) now holding a separate Court at Greenwich, where facilities could presumably be constructed for flying. (69) Chambers infers it was a joint-company performance and not simply a transfer from the Red Bull, (for John Heminges was the payee), hence perhaps a recognition of the difficult staging demands that it makes, and a special Christmas treat.


This article began with a caveat on the speculative nature of its proposals: a supposition built upon a theory based upon surmise. There is a moment in Shakespeare in Love when the engaging if unlikely Henslowe of Geoffrey Rush set amid an evocative little playhouse and its surroundings makes one feel there may be, somehow, direct truth figured here; art might succeed where scholarship has failed ... But then Ben Affleck appears as Edward Alleyn (Edward Alleyn?), the vision fades, the portals close, the light gleams an instant, and it is night once more.


(1.) F. G. Fleay, Biographical Chronicle of English Drama; 1559-1642, London, 1891,1:283-84; R. A. Foakes, Henslowe's Diary, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 28-29.

(2.) Ernest Rhodes, Henslowe's Rose: The Stage and Staging (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1976), 201-7.

(3.) Foakes, Henslowe's Diary, 93.

(4.) Andrew Gurr, Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral's Men 1594-1625 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 36.

(5.) Preface to Thomas Heywood, The English Traveler, 1633.

(6.) Foakes, Henslowe's Diary, 102, 104, 207-8, 216-17, 219-20; John Webster, "To the Reader," The White Dive!, 1612.

(7.) "To the Stage" printed with Thomas Heywood, The Royal King and the Loyal Subject, 1637.

(8.) Arthur M. Clark, Thomas Heywood, Playwright and Miscellanist (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1931), 62-63.

(9.) Thomas Heywood, Troia Britannica, 1609.

(10.) I suggest that Heywood wrote the poem after the first three plays, and then in the light of the first five cantos (i.e., a third of the poem) very substantially revised the relatively unsuccessful seleo and olempo in order to produce the present Golden Age. He may have written Troy (with its horse), and used its material in the poem, but it is most likely 1 & 2 Iron Age in their present form are written after the poem. Possibly Heywood, finding its material too much for one play and not enough for another, completed Part Two with material on the Orestes story from another source.

(11.) John S. P. Tatlock, XXII. "The Siege of Troy in Elizabethan Literature, especially in Shakespeare and Heywood," PMLA, 1915, 30, 3, New Series Xxiii, 4, 673-770; Allan Holaday, "Heywood's Troia Britannica and the Ages," JEGP 14 (1946).

(12.) Ernest Schanzer, "Heywood's Ages and Shakespeare," Review of English Studies, n.s.11 (1961): 18-28.

(13.) Thomas Heywood, Apology for Actors, 1612.

(14.) Jasper Heywood, 1561, reprinted in 1581 in Ten Tragedies.

(15.) Thomas Heywood, The Brazen Age, 1613. For a discussion of other difficult scenes to stage see Alan C. Dessen, Elizabethan Stage Conventions and Modern Interpreters (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984) 1-18.

(16.) One significant exception is the Birth of Merlin, with its battling dragons and spirit visions, but a comparison with Rowley's other extant play A Shoemaker a Gentleman suggests he may have written only the subplot to Merlin in revising another lost Rose play, Uther Pendragon.

(17.) John Orrell, The Human Stage, English theatre design. 1567-1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 61.

(18.) Jonathan Gill Harris and Natasha Korda, eds., Staged Properties in Early Modern English Drama (2002; repr. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 2, 24-25, 28-29.

(19.) C. Walter Hodges, The Globe Restored (London: E. Benn, 1953), 59, and C. Walter Hodges, Enter the Whole Army: A Pictorial Study of Shakespeare's Staging (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1999), 1944, 136, illustrated 43, 45, 60, 63, 67, 80, 86, 93, 106, 117, 134, 155, 160, 162-63.

(20.) Peter Thompson, Shakespeare's Theatre, 2d ed. (London: Routledge, 1983), 44.

(21.) John Ronayne, "Decorative and Mechanical Effects Relevant to the Theatre of Shakespeare," in The Third Globe, ed. C. Walter Hodges, S. Schoenbaum, and L. Leone (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1981), 207-17.

(22.) Andrew Gurr, The Shakespearean Stage 1574-1642, 4th ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 151.

(23.) John H. Astington, "Descent Machinery in the Playhouses," Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 2 (1985): 130.

(24.) Hodges, Enter the Whole Army, 124.

(25.) T. J. King, Shakespearean Staging, 1599-1642 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), 148.

(26.) Glynne Wickham, "Heavens, Machinery, and Pillars in the Theatre and Other Early Playhouses" in The First Public Playhouse: The Theatre in Shoreditch 15761598, ed. Herbert Berry (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1979), 1-15.

(27.) Michael Hattaway, Elizabethan Popular Theatre (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982), 32-33.

(28.) Lilly Campbell, Scenes and Machines on the English Stage during the Renaissance (1923; repr. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1960), 59-60, 99-100; R. B. Graves, Lighting the Shakespearean Stage, 1567-1642 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1999), 40-42; Gordon Kipling, "Richard H's 'Sumptuous Pageants' and the Idea of the Civic Triumph," in Pageantry in the Shakespearean Theater, ed. David M. Bergeron (Athens: University of Georgia Press,1985), 86.

(29.) Tiffany Stern, Rehearsal from Shakespeare to Sheridan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 52ff, concludes that most productions only had one group rehearsal, and some did not even get that.

(30.) W. F. Rothwell, "Was there a Typical Elizabethan Stage'?", Shakespeare Survey 12 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959), 19.

(31.) R. G., The Comicall Historie of Alphonsus King of Aragon, 1599.

(32.) Hodges, Enter the Whole Army, 126

(33.) Graves, Lighting the Shakespearean Stage, 44.

(34.) Alan C. Dessen and Leslie Thomson, A Dictionary of Stage Directions in English Drama 1590-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 233. The third example is Prospero in The Tempest.

(35.) Richard Hosley, "The Playhouses," in The Revels History of Drama in English, Vol. 111, 1576-1613, ed. J. Leeds Barroll et al. (London: Methuen, 1975), 136-74.

(36.) Hodges, Enter the Whole Army, 22

(37.) John Cranford Adams, The Globe Playhouse: Its Design and Equipment, 2d ed. (London: Constable, 1961), 298-308.

(38.) John Orrell, The Human Stage: English Theatre Design, 1557-1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 65.

(39.) Thomas Lodge and Robert Green, A Looking Glass for London and England. 1594.

(40.) Salmacida Spolia, 1641, in Stephen Orgel and Roy Strong, Inigo Jones: The Theatre of the Stuart Court (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973) 2:730-62. Although the authors talk of a fly gallery, this would seem to have been precluded by the final design which is powered by capstans under the stage.

(41.) Christine Eccles, The Rose Theatre (New York: Routledge, 1990).

(42.) Foakes, Henslowe's Diary, 7 and 28.

(43.) Thomas Heywood, The Silver Age, 1613.

(44.) Philip Butterworth, Theatre of Fire: Special Effects in Early English and Scottish Theatre (London: Society for Theatre Research, 1998), 60-61.

(45.) G. F. Reynolds, The Staging of Elizabethan Plays at the Red Bull Theater, 1605-25, (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1940), 107.

(46.) King, Shakespearean Staging, 36.

(47.) "The masquers dance their main dance, which done, and the Queen seated under the state by his majesty ... Jove, sitting on an eagle, is seen hovering in the air with a glory behind him. And at that instant Cupid from another part of the heaven comes flying forth, and having passed the scene, turns soaring about like a bird ..." (Tempe Restored, 1632, in Orgel and Strong, Inigo Jones, 2:482).

(48.) Ronane, "Decorative and Mechanical Effects," 216.

(49.) Christopher Marlowe, The tragicall History of Dr Faustus, 1616.

(50.) Ronane, "Decorative and Mechanical Effects", 214; John H. Astington,"Descent Machinery in the Playhouses," 119-33, and Astington, "Counterweights in Elizabethan Stage Machinery," Theatre Notebook 41(1987): 18-24. Despite the latter's caution, counterweights had long been used in theatrical productions on the Continent, as at Mons in 1501 when the Devil carried Christ to the pinnacle of the Temple "in a trice. . . by means of a counterweight"; see John Wesley Harris, Medieval Theatre in Context (London: Routledge, 1992), 141.

(51.) C. Walter Hodges, Shakespeare's Second Globe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973), 84-88.

(52.) Ben Jonson, Prologue to. Euery Man in His Humour, in The Works of Benjamin Jonson, 1616.

(53.) Letters of Sir Philip Gawdy. Egerton 2804, F35.

(54.) Alarum for London, or The Siedge of Antwerpe, 1602, 11.1007 and 1291.

(55.) Venus in The Cobbler's Prophecy, Semele in The Silver Age, Olympia in 2 Tamburlaine, and the heroine in Dido and Aeneas.

(56.) Omphale in The Brazen Age is crushed by rocks, and the Empress in Alphonsus Emperor of Germany dragged by the hair (along with many others).

(57.) Philip Butterworth, Magic on the Early English Stage (Cambridge: Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 144-45, 164-75.

(58.) R. B. Graves, Lighting the Shakespearean Stage, 49.

(59.) David Bevington, Action is Eloquence: Shakespeare's Language of Gesture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984), 15: Graves, Lighting the Shakespearean Stage, 97.

(60.) Barroll et al., ed., Revels History of Drama III, 192.

(61.) Orrell, Human Stage, 269-70; Gabriel Egan, "Reconstruction of the Globe: a Retrospective," Internet, 1999, 5.

(62.) Hattaway, Elizabethan Popular Theatre,13

(63.) Dessen and Thomson, Dictionary of Stage Directions, 67.

(64.) E. K.Chambers, Elizabethan Stage (1923; repr. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974) 2:466-48.

(65.) Reynolds, Staging of Elizabethan Plays at the Red Bull, 106.

(66.) Their dedicatory matter, however, is confusing in respect of what can be gleaned of their original auspices. The "Epistle to the Reader" in Golden Age describes it as "the eldest brother of three Ages" and "accidentally [sic] published, but that to Silver suggests that in the meantime Heywood had decided the final two plays were to be linked to the other three, (rather than, perhaps. newly written): "Wee begunne with Gold, follow with Siluer, proceede with Brasse, and purpose by God's grace, to end with Iron." 1 & 2 Iron Age were not published until 1632, and their epistle links them back to the earlier three, but it remains unclear when Heywood says, "these were the playes often (and not with the least applause), Publickely Acted by two Companies, vppon one Stage at once, and haue at sundry times thronged three seuerall Theaters, with numerous and mighty Auditories." as to whether he is referring merely to these two plays or to all five, especially when in the same sentence he adds, "if the grace they had then in the Actings, take not away the expected luster, hoped for in the Reading. I shall then hold thee well pleased," which obviously refers only to the two final plays.

(67.) Chambers, Elizabethan Stage, 4: 178.

(68.) Claire McManus, Women on the Renaissance Stage (Manchester: Manchester University Press. 2002), 181.

(69.) The Disguising Theatre at Greenwich, set up by Henry VIII in 1527, appears to have been constructed of ships masts covered with canvas, with a double layer for the roof, the inner one painted with heavens by Holbein. Despite their makeshift construction, such theaters were robust and long-lasting (see Orrell, Human Stage, 62). Of the two other productions recorded at Greenwich."Cupide cometh downe from heauen," in Gismund of Salerne in c.1566 may have needed flying facilities, but Cupid's Banishment, 1617, did not.
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Author:Mann, David
Publication:Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2013
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