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Brutus and Caesar (XIII. iv, 11. 3, 4), when Brutus tells Cassius to‘go into the other street and part the numbers', Cassius would go out by the opposite door to that by which he entered, and would take some of the Citizens with him.
But what is the gallery above the doors ? It was used for the scenes which are said to take place ' above' or 'aloft'. In the play of King Henry VI, Joan of Arc relieves Orleans. She drives off the English soldiers : 'A short alarum, then enter the town with soldiers' (that is, she goes in at one of the doors below). The English general Talbot makes a short speech, and then 'Enter on the walls' Joan with French lords and soldiers. She would reappear in the gallery. In the next act Talbot recovers the lost ground : Enter Talbot, Bedford, Burgundy with scaling-ladders. They put the ladders up at three different points : ‘I'll to yond corner,' says Bedford; 'And I to this,' says Burgundy; ‘And here will Talbot mount.' They go up, followed by their men; the sentinel gives the alarm; the English raise their war-cry, 'St. George' and 'A Talbot'. And then, 'The French leap over the walls in their shirts. Enter several ways the Bastard of Orleans, Alençon, and Reignier, half ready, and half unready' (that is, some men dressed, others not). Some would drop from the opening, others no doubt come down by the ladders, and others rush through both the doors; giving altogether a very good idea of hopeless confusion. In Brutus and Caesar again, when Brutus and Antony “ascend' or 'go up' and speak from the 'pulpit' (XIII. iv, 11. I1, 62), each actor would pass out from the stage and reappear 'above'.
But where is the curtain ? There was no drop-scene in front of the stage, such as we have now, but an inner curtain was used for what they called discovered' scenes. In Henry VIII, the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk come to see the King ; the Lord Chamberlain tells them it is 'a most unfit time to disturb him', and leaves them. 'Exit Lord Chamberlain' is the stage-note, “and the King draws the curtain and sits reading pensively.' Suffolk remarks how sad he looks, and the King, as if, when he pulled the curtain, they had stepped into his private room, storms at them for coming in, and says he wants to be quiet. Some think that the curtain used for these scenes hung from the front of the ‘ heavens', others that it was near the back wall.
The space underneath the stage was used, and in most theatres it must have been boarded off. In Hamlet the Ghost speaks underground, and Hamlet says: You hear this fellow in the cellarage.' Trap-doors were used for ghosts to ‘rise' and 'vanish', or when an actor had to disappear, or a grave to be made. In Massinger's play, Believe as you List, of which we have the manuscript, there is a note, ‘Gascoine and Herbert below, ready to open the trap for Mr. Taylor.'
A change of scene could not be marked by having new scenery. If one act took place in England and the next in France, an actor, called the Chorus, often came in and explained this ; the noble Choruses of King Henry V are given in this book. At other times the actors themselves tell us where they are. In Robert Greene's play of George-a-Greene this is done very funnily. The scene is at Wakefield, and we have a stage-note, Enter a Shoemaker, sitting upon the stage at work ’; then a man named Jenkin comes in and challenges him to a bout at quarter-staff. This is what they say Jenkin. But darest thou walk to the town's end
with me ? Shoemaker. Aye, that I dare do, but stay till I lay in
my tools, and I will go with thee to the town's end presently.
[He packs away his tools. Jenkin [getting frightened]. I would I knew how to get
rid of this fellow. Shoemaker. Come, sir, will you go to the town's end Jenkin. Aye, sir, come. (A pause, while they walk to the
front.] Now we are at the town's end, what say you
now ? Shoemaker. Marry, come, let us even have a bout. Just in the same way the death-scene of Julius Caesar (Brutus and Caesar, XIII. iii) opens with a procession going along a street (see line 11), and a man is told to come to the Capitol'. No time is lost, for in the next line they all are in the Capitol.
Sometimes ' properties', or pieces of stage furniture,
now, sir ?
tell us what the scene is. In Hamlet a king lies down upon ' a bank of flowers ', and that would be a very useful property for the wood where the Fairies live in A Midsummer Night's Dream. A tree was wanted sometimes; then an actor would climb up, hide in the branches, and, like King Charles in the oak, would overhear the people who walked and talked below. Of course they used simple furniture. Sick or dying people were brought in in a chair (this is how The Dying Prophet would appear in V), or even in a bed. 'A bed thrust out 'and 'She's drawn out upon a bed’ are stage-notes printed in some old plays. Squibs did for lightning, cannon-balls were rolled about to sound like thunder, a drum was beaten to make the rumble of a tempest. We have a play by John Fletcher which was printed without any author's corrections from the copy used by the actors, and we find notes like this: Pewter ready for noise' (that means, have it ready behind the scenes); then in the next scene a man who is beside himself with rage is supposed to throw his furniture about and smash it,
and we have a stage-note, A great noise within', and the actors on the stage wonder what is happening inside the house. You may think all this would make things very hard for the actors. Not if the actors were good, and the audience were willing to imagine things.
All actors had to belong to a company which played in the name of some royal or noble patron. They acted by his warrant and were called his 'servants'. Shakespeare's Henry V is said, on the title-page of the first edition, 1600, to be printed 'As it hath been sundry times played by the Right Honourable the Lord Chamberlain his servants'. There was a law against actors, and they could be imprisoned and whipped as vagabonds, but nobody could interfere with noblemen's servants'. Another strange thing to us is that women were not allowed to act ; women's parts were taken by boys. However well they acted, male Rosalinds and Juliets must have been clumsy substitutes. Shakespeare hints this when he makes Cleopatra, the great Queen of Egypt, say, after her fall, that, if she is taken to Rome as a prisoner, her story will be acted by the quick comedians', and then
I shall see
Managers used to get boys straight from school (as the Pedant tells us in XX, 1. 103), and there was a company of boy actors called 'The Children of Queen Elizabeth's Chapel' or 'The Children of Paul's'." They were supposed to be choir-boys, the choir-master of the Chapel Royal having the right to take boys with good voices and train them as choristers. But he sometimes arranged to claim boys for the Chapel and send them to the theatre. A case of this kind was taken before the Court of the Star-Chamber. Thomas Clifton, the son of a Norfolkshire gentleman, was going to school one morning when a manager of the Blackfriars Theatre stopped him, and
to the great terror and hurt of him the said Thomas Clifton, did haul, pull, drag, and carry him away' to the playhouse, threatening him with the jail if he did not come; the father called at the theatre, but the manager laughed at him and gave Thomas a paper with his first part in it, promising him a sound thrashing if he did not know it. The Court interfered, however, and Thomas Clifton went back to school.
Some boys did well. One was very clever at old men's parts, and when he died, scarcely thirteen years old, Ben Jonson wrote a pretty poem about him. Shakespeare was not so friendly. The boy actors lowered the profits of his theatre, and he calls them 'little eyases '. That was a name for young hawks which were taken out of the nest to train for sport. When such birds left the nest, Shakespeare probably thought school a very good cage for them.
The Fool or Clown was an important man. People would sometimes ask at the door, before they parted with their money, if the play had a fool in it. Sometimes he put in jokes of his own, to raise a laugh. Once a play about Henry V(not Shakespeare's play, but an earlier one) was being acted at the Bull Tavern, Bishopsgate, and the Clown was Richard Tarleton, who was famous in such parts. The scene came on in which the Prince struck the Lord Chief Justice. An actor was missing, so Tarleton, to oblige the manager, put on the Judge's robes and took the part. The people were amused, and still more so when the Prince gave him a sound box on the ear. As soon as the scene was over, Tarleton slipped back again in his Clown's dress and asked the actors' What news ?' 'O,' said one, ‘hadst thou been here, thou shouldst have seen Prince Hal hit the Judge a terrible box on the ear.' What, man !' cried Tarleton, 'strike a judge !' and rubbed his red cheek, saying it certainly was terrible', and he was as much pained as if he had been hit himself. Some writers even left gaps for the actors to fill in as they liked. In Heywood's Edward IV a comic character gets into trouble, and we read 'Jocky is led to whipping over the stage, speaking some words, but of no importance'. What a chance for Jocky to relieve his feelings !
But Shakespeare objected to this : "Let those who play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them,' he makes a Prince say who is engaging some actors. And certainly for any man to add 'words of no importance' to the words of Shakespeare is an outrage ; like Jocky, he should be ‘led to whipping'. The audience were ready for fun anywhere; but. Shakespeare always chose the moment for giving it. Bully Bottom at court (see XVIII) is a very comic idea, but notice how naturally Shakespeare gets him there. He goes with his brother clowns to act at the Duke's wedding. That is a very different thing from letting him flounder about foolishly in every scene where the lords and ladies of the court come in. The serious plays also were brightened with a little fun. That is what we call “comic relief', and Shakespeare often uses it; it amused the people, and then he could do without the antics of the Fool. Do not be surprised if you find comic relief where you would not expect it. In the great play of Macbeth, the King of Scotland is murdered at night in Macbeth's castle, and the murder is discovered in the next scene. But that scene begins with a comic speech by a half-drunken Porter, who went to bed very late and is woke up by two nobles knocking at the gate. He comes in sleepily with the keys, grumbles at being disturbed, and says he might as well be porter in hell and keep the gate there for the devil ; then he opens the gate, and, as the noblemen enter, says, ' I pray you, remember the Porter. Notice that remark about being porter in hell : it is truer than he thinks, for the lord whom he serves is a traitor and a murderer. The groundlings would be amused at the jest, but there is a meaning in it. It is a real and a very powerful part of the murder scenes.