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  • Title: Additional Footnotes to An Humorous Day's Mirth
  • Author: Eleanor Lowe
  • ISBN: 978-1-55058-513-1

    Copyright Digital Renaissance Editions. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: Eleanor Lowe
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    Additional Footnotes to An Humorous Day's Mirth

    Staging at the Rose Theatre

    In Scott McMillin’s study of plays known to have been performed at the Rose and the clues they provide as to the staging options available to actors in this theatre, The Comedy of Humours is included in List A of fourteen ‘Texts with no special stage areas’.[12] The other lists record plays including overt references to one or more raised scenes and enclosed scenes. From this study McMillin concludes that the Rose had a central stage entrance, indicated by the stage direction ‘in the midst’ from Patient Grissel, which may refer to a curtained discovery space (p. 160). He notes twenty-one texts that make reference to one or more raised scenes, and fifteen texts that require enclosed staging. McMillin supports the theory of a ‘curtained pavilion erected against a tiring-house façade’ which would provide enclosed space at stage level and an above space (p. 163).

    Certainly, The Comedy of Humours contains no explicit references to above or enclosed scenes; however, the play strongly implies such staging, either textually, or by way of suggestions for best use of the space. In Andrew Gurr’s study of the information provided by Rose plays about the stage, he concludes that most playwrights writing for London companies from the late 1580s ‘expected their venues to offer an “above”, a discovery space, two stage pillars, a stage trap, and possibly even suspension machinery in the heavens’.[13]

    15Many comparisons have been made between the Rose and Globe theatres in terms of size and audience capacity, particularly in remarking on the relatively small size of the Rose’s stage. However, Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus includes a stage direction for a procession on the Rose stage, watched by Saturninus from above, which specifies drums, trumpets, a coffin, twelve named characters and ‘others as many as can be’ which suggests that the stage had the capacity for certain kinds of stagings involving several actors.[14] McMillin comments on the stage shape that ‘Twice wider than deep, it would have required predominantly lateral movement’ (p. 165). This has interesting implications for the original staging of The Comedy of Humours. The following commentary will focus on particular ways in which the stage could have been used, implications for past performances of the play, and hopefully aid understanding of the play’s dynamics for future productions.

    The width and shallowness of the stage allows proximity of actors to audience, whilst also permitting space between characters. The play makes plentiful use of asides and it is suggested that the shape of the Rose stage facilitates this. Its breadth allows the stage to be divided into parts, possibly using the stage posts to describe a virtual line, which becomes a real boundary in spatial and dramatic terms. Robert Weimann has written extensively on the difference between, and uses of, locus and platea on the Elizabethan stage and in the drama. Initially, Weimann described the loca as a ‘fixed and focused scenic unit’ and platea as an ‘entirely nonrepresentational and unlocalized setting’, developed from medieval street theatre’s less formally demarcated playing spaces.[15] Years later, Weimann returned to this topic, adding greater detail:

    While the dominant forms of poetic and rhetorical discourse ... dominated the locus and tended to constitute detached, more or less aloof worlds of their own, the platea in its adapted mode was usually marked by an entirely different type of prose discourse. It was a language close to the ordinary word and the native language of the jesting, riddling, punning ‘mother-wits’, serving the immediate give and take of unstilted, possibly ‘unrefined’ perceptions of status, conduct, and ideas, and deeply aware of ordinary, everyday objects and relations among people. Along these lines, this rather unfixed space was marked by its openness towards the world of the audience.[16]

    Characters inhabiting the platea were able to breach the invisible boundary between audience and stage, and interact with those watching them within their own time and place. In a process of theatrical osmosis, the audience could be drawn into the action through the permeable membrane the stage created, first by being taken into the confidence of the liminal character/s, and then into the action proper which inhabited the locus.

    However, the two types of staging and interaction with the audience do not necessarily have to be separated from one another. Weimann gives as an example the banquet scene in Timon of Athens, in which Apemantus sits at a separate table, set apart from the banqueting table. Weimann suggests that this set-up ‘does not implicate two entirely separate acts of staging, but rather the interface between a self-contained and an open site of action’.[17] It is suggested that exactly this sort of interface exists in The Comedy of Humours throughout the play, particularly in the character of Lemot, whose frequent asides to the audience and selected characters keep all parties well-informed of his scheming.

    In Scene 4, Labervele remains within sight of Lemot and Florila but far enough away to be out of their hearing, and vice versa. The Rose’s shallow stage enables lateral movement so that Lemot and Florila could withdraw to one side of the stage while Labervele remains on the other. Thus both parties are proximate to the audience, but symbolically distant from one another. During Scene 6, Labervele enters but Florila does not see him, implying she is downstage. The actor playing Florila has completed her soliloquy and perhaps moved to another part of the stage to facilitate the delivery of Labervele’s soliloquy out of his wife’s hearing. Labervele speaks his monologue, overheard only by the audience, and is instructed to enter ‘behind her’, presumably to suggest she doesn’t see him until he speaks aloud.

    The rest of Scene 6’s staging is rather complex: each of the characters appear to address one another individually, mostly as asides that the third party cannot hear. From TLN 703 onwards it is clear that Labervele cannot hear Lemot and Florila’s discussion, and speaks in asides overheard only by the audience until TLN 735 when he addresses Lemot directly. It is likely that this is prompted by Lemot raising his voice for TLN 733-734 to reassure Labervele of his wife’s (false) chastity. Asides between Labervele and Florila follow to agree further signs, before Florila again engages in private discussion with Lemot. The complexity of overhearing asides and alouds makes it a difficult to decide exactly who is meant to hear what without restricting actors’ choices. It is clear, however, that this scene possesses a great deal of comic potential in the definition and blurring of these boundaries.

    20The bulk of Labervele’s asides would be labelled the ‘conventionalised monological aside’ according to Manfred Pfister.[18] This category includes asides spoken almost as soliloquies, in that they are not addressed to another speaker onstage. However, the speaker ‘is neither alone on stage, nor does he imagine he is alone, nor has he forgotten that he is in the presence of others’ (p. 138). Pfister explains that this form of aside enables the character to ‘give a frank commentary on a particular situation free of any strategic considerations’, exactly the kind of outlet Labervele needs to convey his thoughts to the audience (p. 138). This is not technically an aside ad spectatores, in which the audience is directly addressed. In Labervele’s case, his asides comment on his wife’s behaviour and are overheard by the audience, but are not directly addressed as prescribed by the second category mentioned.

    A similar withdrawal of two characters occurs in Scene 5. Since Labesha comments that Martia is ‘talking alone’ with Lemot at TLN 541, it seems likely that Lemot has led Martia away from the group. They could withdraw to the back or one side of the stage (which seems more likely given the Rose stage’s broad, shallow dimensions) or even the discovery space, to allow the sword action plenty of room downstage. They need to be within earshot for Lemot to overhear Labesha’s question at TLN 542. The suggestion of lateral movement across the stage seems most pragmatic, so that Labesha threatens to cross the stage, his way barred by the three gentlemen, with Lemot crossing towards Labesha to question him.

    In Scene 8, Verone communicates his feelings for his maid, Jaquena, through a series of asides while she argues with the servant Jaques. Verone retreats from the party to avoid the confrontation he is later called to adjudicate, resulting in his reluctant admonition to Jaquena. But perhaps the most entertaining use of the aside occurs later in the same scene and is made possible through the dramatic use of a card game onstage.