Production Resources at the Whitefriars Playhouse, 1609-1612
Jean MacIntyre
University of Alberta

MacIntyre, Jean. "Production Resources at the Whitefriars Playhouse, 1609-1612." Early Modern Literary Studies 2.3 (1996): 2.1-35 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/02-3/maciwhit.html>.

  1. In 1608, the company of boy actors at the Blackfriars Theatre was shut down for performing a play (now lost) that mocked a project to mine silver in Scotland and, worse, made fun of King James. A letter from Sir Thomas Lake reports how the angry king had vowed that for this mockery the Blackfriars company "should never play more but should first beg their bread." But by 1608 the company's managers had repeatedly proved adept at protecting their investment, using "various aliases" (Shapiro 28) for what was really the same company: Children of the Chapel Royal in 1600, Children of the Queen's Revels in 1604, Children of Blackfriars in 1608, Children of Whitefriars in 1609, and in 1610 again Children of the Queen's Revels. The managers had also proved adept at shielding themselves from authority by various legal subterfuges, chiefly the transfer of responsibility. Henry Evans, who had "set up" the company, "was ordered to quit the Blackfriars management" over the impressment of Thomas Clifton, but "he evaded the decree by bringing new partners into the organization and leaving town" (Shapiro 25). When certain plays -- Daniel's Philotas, Marston, Chapman, and Jonson's Eastward Ho -- again brought authority down upon the management, the company continued under Edward Kirkham, Yeoman of the Revels since the 1580s, and Robert Keysar. But already financially embarrassed in 1608, when again in trouble, they agreed with the theatre's owner Richard Burbage to terminate their lease of Blackfriars. Soon after, Keysar disbanded the company, or at least gave the appearance of doing so. In 1609, however, some former Blackfriars players were reassembled by Keysar and the court musician Philip Rosseter to began playing at the Whitefriars theatre, recently vacated by the Children of the King's Revels, at least one of whom, William Barkstead, joined the Keysar-Rosseter troupe. In 1610 Rosseter secured a royal patent that restored to the Children of Whitefriars the name Children of the Queen's Revels, now managed by a syndicate including, besides Rosseter, the playwright Robert Daborne and two veteran actors, Robert Browne and Richard Jones (Chambers II, 54-56).[1]

  2. Reconstructing a theatre and a troupe from the evidence in published scripts poses some risks, and more risks yet if the scripts are known to have passed to other companies before publication, or if the state of the text suggests foul papers, authorial editing, or other sources of corruption known to have affected play texts either before or after they reached the printing house. Nonetheless, when several plays written for two companies who used the same house require the same kind of stage spaces and show the same limitations on the use of those spaces, conjecture becomes more reliable. Enough of what we know about the physical building, limited though it is, fits the evidence of the plays.

  3. The Whitefriars Theatre had been built c. 1605 in the refectory of a former friary (Wickham II, 1 122-23; II, 2, 80) located between the Fleet River and the Temple. The space measured 85 feet by 35 feet, appreciably smaller than the Blackfriars house, which had been constructed in a hall 101 feet long and 46 feet wide (Smith 168).[2] Whitefriars scripts show that the stage had the same parts as other theatres, both indoor and outdoor: a platform accessed by two doors opening from the tiring room, a curtained discovery space, and an upper level. Because the stage was built in a smaller existing space than Blackfriars, the horizontal scale seems have been reduced so as to maximize space for the paying audience, leading to what the scripts suggest were distinctive modifications: a smaller platform, a proportionately wider discovery space, entry doors set at the very edges of the stage, and a reduced upper playing area. The title pages of two plays of the 1630s suggest what it may have been like. That of Messalina shows a discovery space almost as wide as the stage, with doors angled toward the sides and the above reduced to a curtained window, and that of Roxana a small stage, a curtain extending to the picture borders with no entry doors visible, and a pair of windows above.[3] More scenes in plays written for both the King's Revels and the Children of Whitefriars are set indoors than outdoors, and a number of these create interior realism with large pieces of furniture set up in the discovery space and employed for the action, as well as numerous smaller pieces carried onto the main stage by servant characters.

  4. The King's Revels Whitefriars plays as a group should be more reliable evidence for the theatre space than those of the Queen's Revels since they were published soon after the company folded. Of the plays attributed to them, Thomas Middleton's The Family of Love had previously belonged to the disbanded Paul's Boys (Hillebrand 233-4). John Day's previous work had been for the larger and better staffed Rose, Curtain, Red Bull, and Blackfriars companies. Robert Armin's Two Maids of Moreclack was printed from possibly incomplete foul papers that indicate revisions made over a period of years.[4] Armin, experienced as an actor, was hardly so as a playwright, and did not have any other known connection with the King's Revels; his epistle in the quarto suggests that he had not written Two Maids for them. This play and others belonging to this company -- The Insatiate Countess (abandoned by Marston and completed by William Barkstead and others), John Mason's The Turk, Lording Barry's Ram Alley, John Day's Humour Out of Breath, Edward Sharpham's Cupid's Whirligig, and the anonymous Every Woman in Her Humour and The Dumb Knight -- were printed not long after the company folded. Not all these plays supply useful data about the theatre. Every Woman needs only the platform and two doors, and Cupid's Whirligig the platform, the doors and an arras for a character to hide behind. Both these could be played anywhere, even before a hall screen like that of the Middle Temple, if a curtain or carpet was suspended from the gallery above. All the playwrights but Armin and Day were gentlemen amateurs, though seemingly aware of how many actors and other resources they could call upon.

  5. Several Queen's Revels plays have more complicated later histories than those of the King's Revels. These affect their reliability as evidence for the Whitefriars of their original performances. Jonson seems to have rewritten some parts of Epicoene before its publication in the 1616 Folio. Beaumont and Fletcher's The Scornful Lady (not certainly written for Whitefriars) was also printed in 1616, but may have been altered either for the Queen's Revels-Lady Elizabeth's amalgamation or the King's Men, for whom Fletcher had become house playwright not long after Shakespeare's retirement. Its only known court performance was on Twelfth Night 1642 at the Cockpit in Court by an unnamed company (perhaps the King's Men) for the twelve-year-old Prince Charles. The Queen's Revels played The Coxcomb at court in 1612, and the King's Men in March 1622 and November 1636, but it was not published until the 1647 Folio. It needs much slenderer resources than the King's Men possessed, suggesting either that they saw no need for alteration or that the Folio editors did not use their version but that of the combined Queen's Revels-Lady Elizabeth's companies whose principal actors are those named in the Folio (Bowers I, 263, 268). Chapman's The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois was a stage failure. Its most recent editor, Robert J. Lordi, thinks that Chapman reworked it as a reading text for the 1613 quarto (Chapman 424-25); it calls for offstage sound effects that seem not very feasible for an indoor theatre in a closely built-up neighborhood.

  6. The best evidence for the Whitefriars playhouse, as well as for the makeup and resources of the company, is to be found in the plays of Nathan Field, who had been an actor with the Queen's Revels since at least 1601. The Insatiate Countess may have gone to the Queen's Revels in the same Whitefriars theatre with its principal reviser William Barkstead, who might have adapted it for his new company's actors, costumes, and properties but would not have had to change its use of the stage unless Keysar and Rosseter had undertaken significant alterations, an unlikely possibility. Both of Field's plays were written for his own company for performance at Whitefriars in their first and their third seasons in this theatre, possibly with guidance from Jonson. Better than the plays written for the King's Revels at the same theatre, and better even than Jonson's, Beaumont and Fletcher's, and Chapman's contribution to the Queen's Revels, they show the resources of theatre and company through an insider familiar for years with the skills of his fellow-actors and with the company's store of costumes and properties. Field, as an actor himself , would also have been most likely to take note of such matters of importance to the actor as entrance doors and the size and means of access to the discovery space and the above, and how long it would take to get from one of these to another.

  7. Field's A Woman is a Weathercock, probably his first play, was staged in 1609-10 and printed in 1612, while his company was still at Whitefriars but before its amalgamation with Lady Elizabeth's Men, so that this play is most likely to give reliable evidence for Queen's Revels company and stage. Field's second play, Amends for Ladies, may not be quite so reliable for Whitefriars since it was not printed until 1618. The title page claims that it was played "at the Black-Fryers, both by the Prince's Seruants, and the Lady Elizabeths," a somewhat deceptive description since "at the Blackfriars" implies not the brief tenancy of these second-string companies at the short-lived Porter's Hall Theatre, but the prestigious King's Men with whom Field was by then acting. Nonetheless, allusions to plays performed in 1608-11 suggest that Amends was written no later than 1612. In Act II Mall Cutpurse visits the Seldomes' shop, a scene that copies that in which Moll visits shops and interacts with their keepers in The Roaring Girl (a Fortune play of 1611). Fee-simple has "a great mind to see long-megg and the ship at the Fortune" (II.i.152-53), though it is not clear whether this is one play (as it sounds to me), two plays, or a play and a jig (Field 276-7n). A drawer tells Well-tried and Fee-simple that "all the Gentlewomen [of a brothel] went to see a Play at the Fortune . . . they sup with the Players" (III.iv.24-27). Amends does not allude only to the Fortune. Old Count Fee-simple, "wrapt in furs," "looks like the Bear in the play" (V.ii.49), whether the one in the King's Men's revived Mucedorus or the one in their Winter's Tale. When the Widow Bright foils Bould's attempt on her virtue the scene resembles that in Lording Barry's Ram Alley in which William Small-shanks invades Widow Taffata's bedchamber; though no evidence exists for the transfer of Barry's play to the Queen's Revels, Field could have have seen the play, heard about the scene from Barkstead, or have read it in the quarto published early in 1611. More important, dialogue and stage directions that refer to casting, costumes, and properties indicate that, no matter what other company may later (if ever) have played Amends, the 1618 quarto represents the script of Whitefriars.

  8. The Whitefriars plays for both Revels companies suggest that the above could easily accommodate no more than three actors and that access to it may have been awkward. In Ram Alley the above is used more than in other Whitefriars plays, but never calls for more than two characters at a time, almost always in some relation (by observing or addressing them) to others on the main stage. In Day's Humour Out or Breath a scene full of important information is played by three characters who leave the main stage and re-enter above. The entry direction for the final scene seems to indicate ample space for no fewer than eight characters -- Florimell, her Page, her lover Aspero, her father Antonio, Aspero's Page, a Messenger, and attendant Lords. But only Florimell, her Page, and Aspero speak, always addressing others on the main stage. Perhaps Day wanted Antonio and even Aspero's Page to be seen at the end even if not heard because they were important earlier in the play, but there is no need for the Messenger and the Lords; in fact the actors of these tiny parts may well have been needed for "Octavio, Julio, and others" who enter on the main stage near the end of the scene. This suggests that even if there were room above for five actors, only three were in a position to be heard either by actors below or the audience. No other King's Revels play (including The Family of Love) puts more than two characters above at a time, and their action there is limited to dialogue and hand gestures.

  9. It seems to have taken at least a minute for actors to go between the above and the main stage. In Ram Alley twenty lines of dialogue occur between Boucher's exit below and his re-entry above. Twenty lines, plus an on-stage serenade, cover the time William Small-shankes needs to ascend, during which the actor must remove his cloak and doublet and pull his shirt loose so he can re-enter above "in his shirt." In Mason's The Turk, Borgias is to enter above and speak, accompanied by "the Senate" (mutes), then "Discend." After twenty-one lines by characters on the main stage and "A short flourish" Borgias and the Senate re-enter below. Later in the play Borgias and Timoclea enter "aloft" for a brief dialogue. Then Borgias "leapes downe" to characters below, but "discendit Timoclea," evidently through the tiring house, since after twelve lines of dialogue on the main stage, the direction "Enter Timoclea" indicates that she comes through a door. The Insatiate Countess also calls for business between the main stage and the above. Mendosa and his page enter "to the Lady Lentulus window"; she enters "at her window." After some dialogue "He throws up a ladder of cords, which she makes fast to some part of the window; he ascends, and at top falls" (III.i, SD). Either a stout hook was fixed to hold the rope ladder, or the window was a double casement divided by a bar sturdy enough to anchor the ladder so that the actor could control his fall.[5] This episode, like Borgias's leap from above in The Turk, shows that the above was not elevated so high as to endanger the actor with acrobatic skills who probably played both roles. Falls from the above are rare; the one in Fletcher's Monsieur Thomas may have been suggested by The Insatiate Countess.

  10. The plays written for the Queen's Revels use the above very little, far less than their predecessors at Whitefriars. In Epicoene's Act IV an odd retroactive direction, "Haughty, Centaur, Mavis, Mrs. Otter, Epicne, Trusty, having discover'd part of the past scene above" (IV.vi, SD), suggests that they entered above to watch as Dauphine and Truewit expose the cowardice of Daw and LaFoole. During that scene both main-stage doors and the discovery space represent hiding places for three characters who repeatedly enter and exit from them, leaving only the above for the six ladies, but Jonson does not start a new scene, as he usually does when characters join others on stage, and editors of the play have to guess where to place their entrance. In practical theatre terms, if they are to watch the entire humiliation of Daw and LaFoole from above, there is not time for them to descend and enter on the main stage to begin Scene vi. Furthermore, having six actors enter above and then hastily exit while the scene was in progress would have distracted audience attention from the slapstick action below. Day, less skillful than Jonson, in Humour Out of Breath clumsily freezes main-stage action when he wants audience attention for actors above.[6] Barry either leaves the main stage empty during scenes acted above, or calls for interaction between characters on the two levels. Jonson's direction, in short, looks like a literary addition to the 1616 Folio, not like practical theatre.

  11. In The Revenge of Bussy, use of the above is limited to one brief episode. "Charlotte [in man's apparel] appears aboue with Reuel and the Countess." After speaking one line "She gets downe" with some interference from Reuel. Only three full lines of dialogue separate this from the direction "Enter Charlotte below," but they are not accurate indications of the time she needs to descend, for a duel between Clermont and Montsurry has been in progress on the main stage before the three enter above and continues after Charlotte starts "downe." The wounded Montsurry's line, "I feele life for another vennie" (V.v.90) suggests that whatever time the actor of Charlotte needed to reach the main stage was to be covered by the fencing. The two characters above remain non-speaking onlookers of the main-stage action for sixty-five lines until Reuel tells the Countess "let's descend." Stage business while Charlotte "gets downe" may record Chapman's awareness of limited access to and from "above," but the forty lines between the exit "above" of Reuel and Countess and their reentry is more than adequate, unless each actor would need the minute or so twenty lines would take to speak to descend from the upper to the lower level and reach the proper stage door.

  12. Field uses the above only in A Woman is a Weathercock, where Captain Pouts, a miles gloriosus, appears "aboue" to speak one line to Strange on the stage below. Having Pouts enter above avoids both theatrical and dramatic awkwardness. The stage door by which Strange entered represents the direction of his arrival. The other door represents that of Pouts's lodging house. The discovery space is unavailable because it is furnished for use in the next scene. Furthermore, having Pouts enter above lets him avoid a face-to-face meeting with a man whom he has previously insulted by his way of refusing his challenge to duel and who has told the servant of the house that he has come to renew the challenge. In Field's Amends for Ladies, the scenes in which the Widow and Bould (disguised as a woman) prepare for bed and in which Bould "in his shirt" and the Widow "undrest, a sword in her hand" enter "as started from bed" (IV.i, SD) might have been played above, but their probable inspiration, the Taffata-Smallshanks scenes in Barry's Ram Alley, were played on the main stage. It is unlikely that Field would set scenes incorporating not only dialogue and hand gestures but also vigorous physical action in a cramped upper level when the main stage was vacant. Neither The Coxcomb nor The Scornful Lady (if a Whitefriars play) makes use of the above.

  13. Plays for both King's and Queen's Revels use the discovery space much more extensively than the above. The scripts belonging to both show that this area was spacious enough to hold large properties along with several actors, and was readily accessible from both the tiring house and the main-stage doors. Its use for important parts of scenes shows as well that the audience would have no trouble seeing what was happening within it. In Ram Alley, to represent the lawyer Throte's office it is to be fully furnished with "bookes and bags of money on a Table, a chaire and cushion" (ll. 426-7). Though the action spreads outward to the main stage, Throte sits in the chair to receive Boucher and Constantia and speaks of the cushion, so the audience would have been able to see it before he sat down. Though the money-bags are used only to signal that Throte practices usury, stage business makes use of the books. The Insatiate Countess begins with a discovery space tableau not unlike that of Throte's study: "The Countess of Swevia discovered sitting at a table covered with black, on which stands two black tapers lighted, she in mourning." Three male characters, Count Roberto, Guido, and Mizaldus, enter on the main stage, observe this tableau, and comment on it, then enter the discovery space as the Countess demands how they got in. After Guido and Mizaldus exit, Isabella and Roberto play a love scene and, still within the discovery space, enact their betrothal; as Isabella pledges herself to Roberto she puts out one of the tapers on the table, "due unto the dead" and he puts out the other. This shows that an extended scene in the discovery space must have been clearly visible and audible, and also that it could represent a locale different from that of simultaneous action on the main stage, the difference implied by the re-entry of Guido and Mizaldus through a stage door. That the scene was designed to seem like a play within a play is clear from Guido's comments:

    • A player's passion I'll believe hereafter,
      And in a tragic scene weep for old Priam,
      When fell avenging Pyrrhus with supposed
      And artifical wounds mangles his breast,
      And think it a more worthy act to me
      Than trust a female mourning o'er her love.
  14. This indicates that the Countess and Roberto were to exit through the discovery space while Mizaldus and Guido remained on the main stage, which now represents a street on which the wedding parties of the feuding Claridiana and Rogero meet after entering through opposite doors "as from church from the bridal. They see one another and draw" (I.i.141, SD).

  15. A speech by Truewit in Epicoene must be describing the actual appearance of the stage, presumably that at Whitefriars:

    • Do you observe this gallery, or rather lobby, indeed? Here are a couple of studies, at each end one: here will I act such a tragicomedy between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, Daw and LaFoole. Which of 'em comes out first will I seize on. You two [Dauphine and Clerimont] shall be the chorus behind the arras, and whip out between the acts and speak. (IV.v.25-31)

    This must mean that the doors opened onto the stage's inner corners, and that the discovery space therefore could extend across most of the stage's width as on the Messalina title page. If the discovery space at Whitefriars was proportioned to the same stage width as this, properties as large as those in Ram Alley, The Insatiate Countess, and Amends could easily be placed within it, and the audience would have no trouble seeing action there.

  16. But why would Jonson call the entrance doors studies? It is not now as clear as it must have been in 1609 what sort of construction a "study" was, but it seems equivalent to "closet," a private enclosure built in or off an existing room, into which a person might lock not only private possessions such as books and papers but also himself. What "studies" means in theatre use does not seem fixed; in Doctor Faustus and Ram Alley "study" means the discovery space, which for the time represents a scholar's or lawyer's workroom. Both scenes require the prior arrangment of a chair and a table on which are spread books and other objects. But in Captain Thomas Stukeley (like Faustus a Rose play), young Stukeley's "study" in the Temple seems represented by a stage door, since his father unlocks it and exclaims at finding not the expected law books but weapons. The audience need not see these contents since what matters is Stukeley Senior's shocked response and his ensuing expostulation with his son. Jonson's scene resembles those in more recent bedroom farce, in which characters pop in and out of closets. Truewit uses theatrical language -- "act such a tragicomedy . . . the chorus . . . between the acts" -- similar to that of Guido in The Insatiate Countess. Both are commenting on action that amounts to a play within a play, even though what is happening is not fictional within the play's fiction as are "Solyman and Perseda" in The Spanish Tragedy and "The Mousetrap" in Hamlet.

  17. Evidence from the building trades may help clarify what Jonson meant by "studies" in Epicoene. During the 1620s members of the competing Joiners and Carpenters Guilds disputed which guild was to do what kind of work with wood; in 1632, after eleven years of negotiation, a judgement apportioned the work; joiners were to build furniture assembled with dowels and/or glue and do interior finish carpentry, and carpenters were to frame and enclose buildings and make furniture assembled with nails. "Studies," window frames, and pillars might be built by either guild (Phillips 5-9; Alford and Barker 78-80). This suggests that "studies" were intermediate between cabinet making and construction work, equivalent to what a modern finish carpenter would be engaged to build. Perhaps Jonson meant not the theatre usage of Faustus and Ram Alley, the discovery space set up as a study, but rather the carpentry/joinery meaning of the word, a paneled enclosure within an existing room. To build a platform within the existing space of the Whitefriars refectory, set two such enclosures on it, then above and between them build an upper platform and hang curtains from it before and behind, seems the least costly way to create a stage that included all the familiar parts of a Jacobean private playhouse.

  18. The way the doors and the discovery space are used in Weathercock and Amends indicates some complexity of access from both the main stage and the tiring house. In Weathercock Scudmore, disguised as a servingman, enters with a letter for Bellafront. Those already on stage tell him that "she is withdrawne" and that "that way leads to her" (III.ii.60-64), so she is not then visible. Scudmore, left alone on the stage, "passeth one door and entereth the other, where Bellafront sits in a Chaire, vnder a Taffata Canopie" (III.ii.68-69). Bellafront is not only "withdrawne" but asleep, so she is unlikely to have entered to sit in an on-stage chair while Scudmore is threading his way from the door of his exit to "the other." Her canopied chair sounds like a "state," not readily movable by the attendants who bring on furniture in other scenes, but set up in the discovery space to be revealed once Scudmore has passed from "one door" to "the other." Scudmore's entrance to Bellafront through "the other" door may indicate an exit through one stage door and re-entrance through the door opposite after the discovery space curtains have been opened, but could also mean a door into the discovery space within the door onto the stage. Scudmore and Bellafront play a long scene in which they perhaps advance from the discovery space to the main stage, but, as Ram Alley and The Insatiate Countess show, the scene could also have been played within the discovery space. The layout of the scene is essentially that of Dauphine and Truewit's humiliation of Daw and LaFoole in Epicoene, except that Jonson does not require the discovery space to be opened.[7]

  19. Amends for Ladies uses the discovery space three times: to represent the Seldomes' shop (furnished with seats) in the second act and chambers furnished with a bed in the fourth and fifth. The interior of the shop is clearly distinguished by the action from the street where various customers assemble. Seldome at one point "walk's off at th'other end of the shop" while "Proud. sits by his wife," and Seldome is able to leave the shop to fetch things while other action is taking place in and before it. After this scene there is plenty of time to clear the discovery space and place a bed. This seems not to be visible during two domestic scenes between the Widow and Bould disguised as her chambermaid, though the first ends as the Widow says "Well, well, come to bed" (III.iii.125) and the second begins "Enter Widow vndrest, a sword in her hand, and Bould in his shirt, as started from bed (IV.i, SD). Field may have chosen not to show the bed for these scenes because making it visible might suggest that Bould's seduction ploy has succeeded, but he may also have decided to reserve it for its later use in the last scene. At any rate, the bed is shown for the first time in the second scene of Act IV, which begins with "Bould putting on his doublet as in Bould's chamber" and "Fee-simple on a bed," evidently within the discovery space. Immobilizing Fee-simple on the bed enables Bould and Well-tried to distance themselves as they hatch a plot against him. The bed is again to be used in another discovery scene in Act V In the play's final scene the bed is visual evidence for what a peeping observer has reported: that the Maid's willing and legal marriage to Ingen has been consummated. Her brother must therefore accept this marriage in place of the one with the aged Count that he has tried to force on her.

  20. This scene shows the arrangement of the frons scenae in relation to the stage platform and the tiring room behind. As most of the characters are assembling in Lord Proudly's house for the Maid's wedding to the Count, a messenger brings her a letter from Ingen. After reading it she "Swoones," claims that she is dying, asks for a physician and a parson, and exits through one door with Grace Seldome, Wife, and Husband. Proudly and Ingen's brother exit through the other door, and return through this door with Ingen "like a Doctor" and the Parson. Grace, Wife, and Husband re-enter through the other door. The "Doctor" says he has "an ingredient/ About me, shall make her well I doubt not" (V.ii.126-26), and exits through the Maid's door with the Parson, who "shuts the doore" as he follows Ingen. Some thirty lines later, Proudly calls out an inquiry about the Maid, then "Looks in at the window" and exclaims "Z'oons. whats here?" (V.ii.163-65). Fee-simple gets to the window and describes to the rest "what's here": "the Parson joynes the Doctors hand & hers; now the Do. kisses her . . . [Omnes whoop. Now goes his gowne off, hoy-day, he has read breeches on. Z'oones, the Physition is got o'th top of her harke the bed creakes" (V.ii.166-67). At this point, "A curtaine [is] drawne, a bed discouer'd, Ingen with his sword in his hand, and a Pistoll, the Ladie in a peticoate, the Parson" (V.ii.164-82), a "discovery" needing much more floor space than the bed scene in Bould's chamber.[8]

  21. These scenes in Amends suggest that at the rear of the stage two studies formed the sides of the discovery space and gave access from the tiring house to the stage platform. Between the studies there was a curtained-off space ample enough to hold a bed or other large property and several actors. Evidently it could be accessed from the tiring house through an opening wide enough to carry through large properties, whether closed with double doors like those in the Swan drawing or with more curtains. There may also have been doors at the sides leading into the studies, and access behind it (a stair or ladder) to the above. An arrangement like this would explain the puzzling stage directions in several of the King's Revels and Queen's Revels plays discussed above.

  22. The Queen's Revels scripts are even more revealing about the actors and equipment belonging to the company. The scripts for the company's first two seasons can be played by fourteen actors, the maximum present in any one scene. Doubling is needed for very few short-term characters, often mutes, and none with many lines for the actor to memorize. Weathercock needs a tailor in the second scene of Act I, in Act III mute servants who fetch on chairs, wine, plate, and tobacco pipes, and in the last scene a mute parson. Whatever revision the 1616 Epicoene may have undergone, it, too, needs only fourteen actors (several fewer than an adult company could muster in 1609 or 1616), and like Weathercock needs to double only a few minor and mute parts. Though Beaumont and Fletcher's The Coxcomb has twenty-four speaking parts, many of these are short-term minor characters; it, too, needs only fourteen actors. Even The Revenge of Bussy could be played by fourteen if most of the mute extras -- soldiers, attendants, and the like -- were cut, and if actors had to double only those minor characters who have only a few lines.[9] By 1611, as Amends for Ladies shows, the company had increased to fifteen; though not all these need be the same individuals who had acted in Weathercock two years before, there is enough resemblance between the two scripts to suggest considerable carry-over of players.

  23. Weathercock's many disguises, using mainly the outer layer of Jacobean dress -- gowns, jerkins, servants' livery coats, and the loose robes and caps of informal masquerade -- help create the illusion of more characters than the play actually has. Neville, a gentleman, offstage disguises himself as a parson with a gown and square cap or perhaps a surplice, then, again offstage, resumes his own shape. On stage he exchanges a masquing disguise for the vizard-maker disguise of his friend Scudmore (asking him to "helpe me a litle"[V.i.116] with the change). During the last scene he reappears "like the Parson" (after a real one has just left the stage), "puts off the Priests Weed, & has a Diuels robe vnder" (V.i.70), then "Slips off his Diuels weedes" to reveal his own clothes and thus his identity. Scudmore enters for the first time "halfe ready," exalted by Bellafront's love letter. Neville, having read the letter, tells him that Bellafront is about to marry Count Frederick; his speech shows that Scudmore has not been putting on more clothes while he reads:

    • . . . prethee run not thus into the street,
      Come dresse you better, so: Ah! as thy cloaths
      Are like thy mind, too much disorder'd.
  24. When Scudmore next enters he is fully dressed "in Tawny," a color which especially signified the sadness of the forsaken lover (Linthicum 47). So clad he confronts Bellafront and her wedding party at the church door. Tawny was also a common color for liveries, so when a few scenes later Scudmore brings Bellafront a letter in the character of a servingman, he had only to replace his gentleman's doublet and cloak with a servant's coat. Toward the end of the play he disguises himself as the "vizard maker" who brings the false faces for Bellafront's wedding masque. On stage, he exchanges the vizard maker's clothes for Neville's masking attire. At the end of the play he reappears "like himself," as a gentleman, whether "in tawny" or some less significant color.

  25. The merchant Strange's "habit /But speake[s] him Cittizen," visually distinguishing his class from those of the nobleman Frederick and the gentlemen Neville and Scudmore. Because Captain Pouts, a miles gloriosus in slops and whiskers, has slandered his bride, but refuses his challenge because he is a citizen, Strange puts on a buff jerkin to meet Pouts "like a soldier" who announces that Strange is dead. Still "like a soldier" he later shows Pouts a bloody ruff and a ring as evidence that the "soldier" has killed Strange. Sir Abraham Ninnie is mocked for his "round Breeches" (I.ii.367-68) and "those little Breeches" (IV.iii.52), unfashionable at a time of bombasted knee-length Venetians, and for his "verie thin" beard (I.ii.346). For part of the last scene all the young male characters wear masquing caps, gowns, and vizards. While several of these disguise changes were to be effected on stage, others call for quick changes in the tiring room. The disguising characters, all young men, were probably played by Field and others with the most practice in quick costume change. Furthermore, the garments needed for both normal and disguise costumes in this play had been used in the company's Blackfriars repertory, so if Keysar and his partners had hung onto these, they would not have needed to make many new purchases.

  26. Descriptions in the dialogue of Weathercock show that Field had to accommodate a fair range of body sizes. Count Frederick is a "little man," Sir Innocent Ninnie is "that little, old, dri'de Neats tongue, that Eel-skin" (I.ii.145-46) and "a Needle in a Bottle of Hay" (I.ii.150), and his wife's serving maid Wagtail is a "pint pot" (II.ii.197). Field clearly wrote these parts for the smallest actors in the company. References to the bulk of Lady Ninnie relative to her husband and her maid suggest that she was created for a well-grown or fat boy. Captain Pouts comments that "she lookes like a blacke Bumbard" (I.ii.196-97), indicating large size and a black costume; a joke about her "backside" suggests that under his skirts this actor wore a well-stuffed bum roll, as does Sir John Worldly's concern that "one a'th'Chaires must be let out/ For her great ladyship" (V.i.61). A long stage direction at the beginning of Act V prepares for a some visual slapstick: "Enter 2. or 3. setting 3. or 4. Chaires, & 4. or 5. stooles. Musicke, in which time, enter Sir John Worldly [with others] my Lady Ninnie they seate themselues, Lady Ninnie offers at two or three Chairs; at last finds the great one," having first been unable to force her bombasted hips between the arms of others, a good reason for the other characters to "point at her and laugh" (V.ii, SD).

  27. Both Epicoene and The Coxcomb could easily be cast from the same group of actors as Weathercock, although neither specifies the physical size of its characters as Weathercock does. Some of the characters in Epicoene do, however, suggest actor skills similar to those Field calls for. The trio of gallants, Dauphine, Truewit, and Clerimont -- rather than Jonson's more usual pair -- may have resulted from having three in the company (one probably Field himself) who would expect such roles. There are also three gallants in Weathercock, Scudmore, Nevill, and Strange. Jonson's pair of fools, Daw and LaFoole, parallel Weathercock's Sir Abraham Ninnie (like LaFoole a poetaster) and Count Frederick. Field's Sir Innocent Ninnie and Jonson's Morose are foolish old men, and Jonson's Captain Otter is not far removed from Field's miles gloriosus Captain Pouts; these roles look as if they were written for the same pair of actors. Both playwrights also exploit the number of actors who could play women of various ages -- five in Weathercock, plus a page, five in Epicoene plus the supposed woman at the end unmasked as "a gentleman's son that I have brought up this half year" (V.iv.183-84) to play the part of Morose's bride. (This may indicate how long a new apprentice was trained to act a woman.) The Coxcomb also has five women of different ages (one a bit part so its actor could double some other role), two old men, a trio of gallants, one of whom, like Field's Nevill, is given multiple disguises. The only approach to the miles gloriosus type of Otter and Pouts is the small part of the Tinker. These three plays suggest a certain amount of type-casting by the Queen's Revels, as does Amends for Ladies, where again there are five parts for women plus a male character who puts on a female disguise, a doddering old man like Morose and Sir Innocent, a trio of gallants, and a pair of fools. Field's business with four tavern roarers resembles the "drunken roarer" scene of The Coxcomb, and while such scenes no doubt drew upon a tradition of slapstick physical comedy, the fact that in both scenes four actors play these parts suggests some company specialization, as well as company continuity.

  28. The only Queen's Revels play which does not entirely parallel the casting of the four comedies is the tragedy The Revenge of Bussy. Even so, this play supplies evidence for how many company members had fencing skills, for it is is the only Queen's Revels play that calls for more than one fencing display. In Act I Baligny brings Clermont's challenge to Montsurry, a quarrel involving others ensues, and breaks into a melee: "They all fight and Bal. driues in Mont" (I.ii.138, SD). In Act V the duel between Clermont and Montsurry which has been anticipated since Act I finally takes place, and appears to be orthodox stage fighting, with Montsurry repeatedly wounded and at last killed. Even so, like Field Chapman appears to assume that only a few Queen's Revels players had any fight skills and that only two could carry on a duel in a convincing way; though The Revenge of Bussy is full of military displays and even a stage battle, most of this involves sound effects, marching, and some running about the stage waving weapons.

  29. Since Field was a company member, his requirements for swordplay are even more likely than Chapman's to show what his actors could do. In both of his plays characters threaten to fight, but the threats materialize only in a duel in Weathercock between Pouts and Strange when disguised "like a Souldier" (III.iv.15, SD). After a first bout, Strange comments "You fight as if you had fought before" and Pouts answers "you ward so well, I thinke you are one/ Of the Noble science of Defence" (IV.ii.103-06), that is, a professional fencer. The scene does not suggest mockery of the characters' fencing skills, so for these parts Field, like Chapman, must have had in mind two company members who had learned to handle stage weapons convincingly. Underwood and Ostler, if they spent any time at Whitefriars before joining the King's Men in 1610, and/or Field himself (perhaps as Strange) are possibilities for fencing roles.[10] In Amends characters often display weapons, but only use them when "Proud.[ly] stabs his sister. Ingen stabs Proud. in the left arme" (IV.iv.72-74). Four brothel roarers "fight" and fling stools and cups about but seem not to use weapons. Neither episode requires fencing skill. In the last scene the discovery space opens to show Ingen "with his sword in his hand, and a Pistoll (V.ii.180-81), and his brother at once draws to back him, but no weapon-play occurs. Possibly one or both the company's most skilled fencers had departed by the time Field wrote this play.

  30. The Queen's Revels scripts contain much information about the company's costumes and properties. The Revenge of Bussy needs costumes for a French king and his courtiers more sumptuous than the four comedies require, needs that the company could have met if it retained its stock from Bussy D'Ambois at Blackfriars. These may have shown their age, perhaps contributing to the failure of The Revenge. The costuming for Epicoene must largely be inferred from what the dialogue says about the status and occasionally the appearance of the characters. For instance, that Dauphine, Truewit, and Clerimont are "gallants" and that Daw and LaFoole pretend to courtiership indicates costumes close to current fashion, as do Truewit's and Dauphine's comments on the elaborate dress of the Collegiates, Mistress Otter's talk of lost or spoiled finery, and references to Epicne's greater simplicity. Other particulars of costume come into dialogue. Morose enters wearing "a nest of nightcaps." As disguises Cutbeard puts on the cap and gown of a canon lawyer, and the "land and sea captain" Otter those of a doctor of divinity. The Coxcomb also requires costumes for gallants and an old gentleman. Its heroine Viola first wears a young gentlewoman's gown, hat, and ruff, which a tinker and his whore force her to strip off on stage, leaving her with a bodice or waistcoat and petticoat. This may have resembled the costumes of the two milkmaids and so, with an apron, would have been suitable when Viola enters their mistress's service. Scenes in the country require costuming for an elderly, old-fashioned country gentlewoman (perhaps played by the boy who played Lady Ninnie) and a country justice and his clerk. Dialogue refers to the on-stage wearers of blue servants' coats, a tavern drawer's apron, and the Irish footman's livery donned as a disguise by the coxcomb Antonio. The tinker and his whore could wear any tattered old costumes. Most of these costumes are similar to those required by characters of the same age, status, and function in Weathercock and Amends, although Field more often supplies explicit descriptions of what his characters wear than do playwrights not of the company. Weathercock shows that in 1609 the company owned clothing both fashionable and unfashionable for young and old gentlemen and gentlewomen, a devil's suit, a parson's gown or surplice (both used by Nevill), citizen's apparel for Strange, at least one pair of slops for Pouts as miles gloriosus, one or two buff jerkins or coats (one for Pouts, one for Strange's disguise as a soldier), servants' liveries in blue and tawny, a waiting maid's dress, and four "maskingsewtes antick" (Henslowe 201). One of the women laughs at Sir Abraham Ninnie's "round breeches" (I.ii.367-68) and another in a mock encomium says she is attracted by "those little breeches" (IV.iii.52), out of style for gallants by 1609.

  31. In Amends not as many characters as in Weathercock disguise themselves, but Bould, Lord Fee-simple, and Ingen's brother Frank are all disguised as women at various points in the play. The Irish footman's costume from The Coxcomb seems to have been recycled for the Maid's disguise as a man. (The insistence that the Irish footboy is "little" may indicate that Antonio had been played by a small actor, but the fit of this costume would have been less important than that of long gowns which might trip someone on stage.) Because of their different marital status, the Maid, the Wife, and the Widow each need the headtires and other details of dress that discriminated unmarried, married, and widowed women. The tavern roarers of Act III could use either outdated "gallant" or worn "miles gloriosus" slops; the stage direction for their one scene, in a brothel, calls especially for "seuerall patches on their faces" (III.iv.2-3), signs of venereal disease, but also making the doubling of these parts less evident. The gowns for the physician and parson in Act V were probably those worn as disguises by Otter and Cutbeard two years earlier. New to the costume stock may have been the furs that wrap "the old Count," and whatever made the Maid "like a Bride" in the same scene (V.ii.1-2), this perhaps no more than a wig with the streaming hair traditional for virgin brides. Some of the costumes, especially for old men, may have been scaled down to fit children, but even in 1609 many of the company's "child" actors were in their late teens or, like Field himself, past twenty. In some roles these older actors, at least, might have drawn on their own wardrobes to augment company stock for young men.

  32. Properties of many kinds appear in every Queen's Revels script, a number of these usable in more than one play: large properties such as a bed and a canopied "state," medium sized properties such as chairs and stools brought on by supernumeraries, and hand properties such as cups, weapons, papers and other portable objects that the actors themselves could carry. Field's plays indicate the availability of considerable domestic furniture. Directions in Weathercock mention "a Chaire, vnder a Taffata Canopie" (III.ii, 69-70) probably the same property as the "state" for King Henry in The Revenge of Bussy, and "3. or 4. Chaires, & 4. or 5. stooles," among them "the great one" (V.ii.1-5) for Lady Ninnie, enough seating for at least seven characters. Hand properties include not only the omnipresent letters, napery, and drinking vessels but Lady Ninnie's aqua vitę bottle, a table book for the poetaster Sir Abraham Ninnie, and the purse the mercenary, wanton, and pregnant servant Wagtail is stitching when she and her lover plot how to make Sir Abraham marry her. Other small, cheap, and readily available properties are tobacco pipes, cups, knives, napkins, ropes, torches and cudgels, a willow garland, and rosemary for wedding favors. Sir Abraham enters from defeat in an offstage game "throwing downe his Bowles (III.iii.1); the "Capons Legge" (V.i.66) which he is "knawing" when he enters for the masque was probably a wooden property like the pies mentioned as properties in Richard Brome's The Antipodes. Like the napkins, playing cards, and keys that make Heywood's A Woman Killed with Kindness seem plausible, Weathercock's varied domestic furnishings give an illusion of reality to preposterous or farcical situations.

  33. Epicoene and The Coxcomb do not call for anything like as much furniture as Weathercock, but use many of the same hand properties, among them napkins, cups, and stage weapons. Besides these Truewit has a horn, Cutbeard barber tools, and Morose a two-hand sword. People drink on stage from Otter's cups, so they must have been ordinary drinking vessels with covers (probably of painted wood) to represent Bull, Bear, and Horse. In The Coxcomb the "two Milkemaides, and Viola [enter] with pailes" (V.ii, SD), and the milkmaid Nan calls "this new pail a plaguy heavie one" (III.iii.1-2), a seemingly unnecessary detail perhaps explaining why one pail differed from the others. Antonio appears "like a Post, with a letter" and a horn, presumably the same used in Epicoene. Other properties are candles, letters, drinking vessels (most likely the same as in Epicoene and Weathercock), a key, a little casket, a broken glass, a cord and a knife. Even if Jonson's and Beaumont and Fletcher's scripts underwent later revision, these named properties are unlikely to have differed from those used at Whitefriars. In Amends the bed twice "discovered" suggests display of a new acquisition, and specifying "furs" for the old Count in the same scene may indicate the same.

  34. Field had been with the boys of Blackfriars for nearly ten years when he became a playwright for their Whitefriars theatre, and so had the valuable inside knowledge of personnel and physical resources that even the most experienced outside dramatist could hardly share, even if his experience on the stage and in the tiring house taught him less about dramatic construction than about the theatrically effective moment -- a scene, a comic turn, transient business with costumes and properties -- and less about characterization than about how to exploit stage space, actors' bodies and costumes, and properties large and small. Amends and Weathercock rely on these physical resources more than the plays of experienced playwrights like Jonson, Chapman, and Beaumont and Fletcher, and relatively less on plot or language. Indeed, Chapman's claim in 1609 that "I see not myne owne Plaies" (265), if true, suggests that by 1609 he may have been indifferent to what could be done by a particular company on a particular stage, unlike Field who as a company member had to consider this all the time.

  35. After Amends for Ladies, Field sometimes collaborated with other playwrights, in 1613 with Robert Daborne on one otherwise unknown script, and in the same year with Daborne, Philip Massinger and perhaps Fletcher on another, both perhaps for the newly amalgamated Lady Elizabeth's and Whitefriars companies. After acting with an unstable alliance of Prince Charles's, Lady Elizabeth's, and Queen's Revels companies, he joined the King's Men no later than 1617 as a star actor who occasionally contributed something to plays mainly the work of Fletcher and Massinger. He is not known to have written another complete play after 1611. His parts of the collaborative work indicate that he remained the same playwright of theatrical appurtenances that we see in Weathercock and Amends. This means that of all the plays written for the Whitefriars theatre, whether for the King's or the Queen's Revels, his remain the most valuable evidence for its physical features, as they do for the human resources of the company he wrote them for.


  1. 1. It may have been through these former Admiral's Men that Henslowe became involved with the Whitefriars company. Both Browne and Jones had also had prior business dealings with Henslowe's son-in-law and business partner Edward Alleyn; in 1589 Jones sold his share of a company which included Browne and Alleyn, in 1592 appealed to Alleyn for a loan to get a suit out of pawn, and in the later 1590s turned to Henslowe to finance the purchase and embellishment of stage finery. It would hardly be surprising that when they were sharers in the Whitefriars and related companies, they would again approach Henslowe for financing, possibly through Alleyn as their former fellow.

    2. Smith does not make clear whether his auditorium length of 66 feet was measured from the front of the tiring house or the edge of the stage; I am assuming the former, since it is reasonably certain that the audience was seated on "degrees" and "lords' rooms" on the sides of the stage as well as on benches facing it.

    3. In the Messalina illustration four characters are seated above, two in each window, though the picture is scarcely realistic as there is no room for their bodies between the windowsills they lean on and the top of the arras below them.

    4. Two Maids contains many directions for costuming, stage business, and even the actors' expressions, but the only scene which requires more than the stage platform is an on-stage burial and subsequent disinterment. In the Queen's Revels Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois, Chapman directs "Ascendit Vmbra Bussi," suggesting that a trap would be available, and later in the act charcters talk of "the vault" and a stage direction reads "The gulfe opens" for the ascent of Clermont. But no other Whitefriars play for either company calls for a trap, and with minor textual changes the scenes in Two Maids and The Revenge of Bussy could be managed without one. In The Turk the tomb property used for Julia's supposed burial in Act I and Timoclea's "resurrection" in the scene that follows was set up in the discovery space.

    5. The scene reverses Romeo's descent from Juliet's window, so movement by rope ladder between the upper level and the main stage was not confined to one small private playhouse. When the stage represented a ship and characters "ascended" to sight land or other vessels, a similar arrangement is probable.

    6. In Humour Out of Breath, three characters surreptitiously exit during a main-stage game of blindman's buff. The game halts when the blind man asks "King's truce till I breath a little" (Day 465). Then the three who have left the game enter "on the upper stage" where their dialogue supplies important plot information. Only after their exit do "They renew Blind mans Buffe [sic] on the Lower stage" (467).

    7. Jonson rarely uses the discovery space: probably in Volpone for the "shrine" where Volpone keeps his gold, only needed at the opening of the play, and then for the bed "thrust out" for the scenes in his chamber and drawn in for those set elsewhere. In writing The Alchemist, however, Jonson seems deliberately to have eschewed discoveries, perhaps because keeping the alchemical laboratory out of sight put the stress not on the physical but on the imagination of Subtle and Face's victims. Only at the end, when Lovewit says he has found a furnace, pots, and glassware, is it explicit that Subtle has engaged in practical alchemy in the unseen inner room.

    8. Between his exit and discovery "in a peticoate" the actor playing the Maid has ample time to strip off his "bride" outer garments; Ingen also has time to remove his gown so as to appear in doublet and "red breeches" when the curtain opens.

    9. It is uncertain whether the Whitefriars company of 1609-13 played The Insatiate Countess, begun by Marston and worked over by William Barkstead, Lewis Machin, and perhaps others for the soon-to-break King's Revels company. The extant quarto versions, with their confusion of character names and imperfect final scene, hardly represent a playable script, though its use of the discovery space and a window above suggests the same layout as that called for in Weathercock and The Revenge of Bussy. It is very unlikely that Keysar, Rosseter, and partners undertook to change the structure of the auditorium and stage of Whitefriars from what the King's Revels had left them.

    10. Field did not reach the King's Men until he was in his late twenties. Jonson's 1616 actor-list for Epicoene names Field and seven others, but neither Underwood nor Ostler (Chambers II, 59). The testimony about Queen's Revels membership depends on Jonson's memory of who belonged to the company after some five years had passed, and on Cuthbert Burbage's memory after more than twenty.

Works Cited

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the editor at emls@arts.ubc.ca.

© 1996, R.G. Siemens (Editor, EMLS).
(December 5, 1996)