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Stage Decoration and the Unity of Place in France in the Seventeenth Century- Part 2 Essay

La Mesnardibre, as late as 1640, is still advocating the old system which had come down from the Middle Ages, for, as he says, since the stage generally represents a whole city, often a small country, and sometimes a house, it must show as many scenes as it marks different places. It must not present a garden or a forest for the scene of an action which has happened in a palace; and even in this palace, the stage should not show anything happening in the apartment of the king which should take place in the queen’s apartment. If the event has happened on the sea-shore, the stage must show a marine scene in one of its fagades in order that the action may not be misunderstood. The whole stage should be arranged as follows:

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Si l’Auanture s’est passée moitié dans le Palais d’vn Roy en pleusieurs appartemens, et moitié hors de la Maison en beaucoup d’endroits différons; il faut que le grand du Théastrc, le irpovKrjviov des Grecs, ic veux dire cette largeur qui limite le parterre serue pour tous les dehors où ces choses ont été faites, et que les Renfondremens soient divisez en plusieurs Chambres, par les diuers Frontispieces, Portaux, Colonnes, ou Arcades.

Such a stage differs not at all from the setting of the mediaeval stage. It has been believed that scenery ceased to be a matter of importance after the production of the Cid; but stage setting is still so important that La Mesnardiere even describes how certain single scenes should be constructed. The prison scene-one which dates back centuries in its use-should be mounted so that the prisoner could be contained within and not be allowed to leave its limits. The eyes of the spec- tator should be able to penetrate its depths, and the darkness and obscurity lit up by a sombre light would make the prison more frightful. Mahelot directs that the prison in Du Ryer’s Clitophon be set with a large, low, barred opening so that three prisoners be seen.

Accordin to La Mesnardiere the same arrangement applies to cave scenes. Their mouths must open on the stage like a door; and if the cave is supposed to be closed, the interior must be made visible by means of a barred opening. Thus the dark cavern will seem more cruel in proportion as it is more closed, darker, and horrible. La Mesnardi’re objects to the custom of re-using scenery which grew up on account of the indigence of the comedians. Each play, he claims, should have its own scenery, and Rome should not be turned into Constantinople and Libya into Norway. He, too, was against the inexactness of stage decoration, and he says it is a mistake to represent what happened in the room of a king as taking place scene which is vague and open on all sides like a public square.3 bids the dramatist study the scenery and the arrangement of the setting. If the action is what he calls “pacific,” his scenery will composed of palaces and gardens; but if the action represents tumult, war, and the chase, the dramatist will choose for the place of the action the vastness of fields and forests.

Care must be taken to see that a cave scene is not used for a hunting scene; and one must be sure that the beautiful spectacles furnished by perspectives, caves, woods, palaces, and other scenes are not contrary’ to reason or verisimilitude. Thus does he apply the classical test of reason to the construction and arrangement of scenery; but in regard to the interpretation of the rule of the unity of place he is very free. He says that according to the uniU de la scene the action should not be car ried to different climates, but it should be bounded by the extent of a small country.1 La Mesnardi6re is interpreting the rule of the unity of place, not in accordance with reason or verisimilitude, but in terms of the contemporary stage decoration.

His expression unite de la scbie is evidence that he was thinking of stage conventions and conditions, anti not of the theories of the critics. To observe the unity of time was much easier. Time could be indefinite, and the audience could be deceived; but with the different scones before the eyes of the spectator, he easily recognized a violation of the unity of place. The system of stage setting was in direct opposition to the rule; and that is one reason why d’Aubignae could say that he knew of only one play which observed the unity of place: Corneille’s Horace. By the time that d’Aubignac is writing his Pratique du thi&tre, the multiple stage decoration has not been discarded, for he criticizes the young poets who are inspired to write a play and place France at one end of the stage, Turkey at the other, and Spain in the middle, while if anyone is supposed to pass over the sea from Denmark to France, the action is indicated by the drawing of a scene. He also points out the mistake of the poets who place on the stage at the same time some characters supposed to be in Spain and others supposed to be in France.

The fact that he makes fun of this procedure is evidence that the old system is still used. Otherwise he would not have attacked it. He is evidently thinking of a stage on which several scenes are set at once, and, also, of a change of scene. D’Aubignac is far more restricted than La Mesnardidre in his interpretation of the unity of place. He asserts that the ground on which the actors walk must not change; and that the place repre sented by the stage cannot be greater than the space in which a man can see another, although recognition may not be possible.

However, this does not preclude a change of scenery, which can be managed as follows:

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…. des-lons qu’on a choisi un Terrain pour commencer quelque action par représentation, il le faut supposer immobile dans tout le reste du Poème, comme il l’est en effet. Il n’en est pas de même du fond, et des côtez du Théâtre; car comme ils ne figurent que les choses qui environnoient dans lu vérité les Personnages agissans, et qui pouvoient recevoir quelque changement, ils peuvent aussi changer en la représentation; et c’est en cela que consistent les changemens de Scènes, et ces Décorations dont la variété ravit toujours le peuple, et même les habiles quand elles sont bien faites. Ainsi nous avons vu sur un Théâtre une façade de temple ornée d’une belle architecture, et puis venant à s’ouvrir, on découvrait en ordre de perspective des colonnes, un autel, et tout le reste des autres omemens merveilleusement représentez; tellement que le lieu ne changeoit point-, et- cependant souffrait une belle Décoration.

The Mahelot Memoire records a similar change of scene in Benserade’s Iphis et lante, giving the direction: “The temple is closed until the fifth act and opens in the middle of the act.” Racine employs the same device in Athalie, and Voltaire revives it in his Mahomet as late as 1742.

D’Aubignac does not stop with this compromise between a rigorous observance of the unity of place and scenic change, which is so important an element of drama even in his generation. He wishes to preserve at all costs the unity of place, which, he says, “now passes as valid”; but the old system of stage setting so appeals to him that he tries to reconcile it to the rule of the unity of place in the following manner:

…. on pourrait feindre un Palais sur le bord de la Mer abandonné à de pauvres gens de la campagne; Un Prince arrivant, aux côtes par naufrage, qui le ferait orner de riches tapisseries, lustres, bras dorez, tableaux et autres meubles précieux: Après on y ferait mettre le feu par quelque avanture, et le faisant tomber dans l’embrasement, la Mer paraîtrait derrière, sur laquelle on pourrait encore représenter un combat de Vaisseaux. Si bien que dnas cinq changemens de Théâtre, l’Unité du lieu serait, ingénieusement gardée. Ce n’est pas que le Sol ou l’Aire de l’Avant-Scénc ne puisse changer aussi bien que le fond et les côtez, ou que ce soit seulement en la superficie; car cela se ferait sans perdre l’unité du lieu: Par exemple, ainsi que les Géants portèrent dans la Fable Pelion sur Osse: Ou si par un débordement de quelque fleuve, l’Avant-Scéne venoit à être couverte d’eau, ainsi que le Tybre à Rome sous Auguste: Ou enfin si par Magie on faisoit sortir de terre des fiâmes et des brasiers ardens, qui tout d’un coup vinssent à couvrir le Sol de l’Avant-Scéne. En toutes ces rencontres donc le lieu recevait du changement, et même fort notable, sans en violer pourtant l’unité.

It must be confessed that these scenes smack pretty strongly of romantic melodrama to have been devised by a classicist, and they show how strong was the tradition of the multiple stage decoration. On the other hand, d’Aubignac objected to the stage representing a whole town or even showing the different apartments of a palace; and he adds that his objection cannot be answered by saying that to mark the different apartments there may be curtains to shut and draw, for these curtains are fit for nothing but to toss their inventors in.2 He would have had a hard time in so punishing the inventors of this device, for the use of these curtains dates back to the Middle Ages.

The procedure of changing scenes had evidently come more and more into vogue, for d’Aubignac advises that all permanent scenes to be represented be already placed on the stage when the play begins, in order that the surprise and applause which generally attend such sights may be over before the actors begin to speak. If it is necessary to change the decorations, the shift should be made in the interval between the acts so that the stage hands may have time to get their machine moving.* Thus the scenery seems to have been concealed from view before the play began, otherwise d’Aubignac would not have suggested that the scenery be set at the outerture du thedtre, so that the murmurs of the audience might subside before the actors began. As for the dropping of the curtain between the acts, Bapst says that this did not happen until the nineteenth century;* but that statement must be modified somewhat. Perhaps as a rule the entr’actes were marked by violin playing and the scene remained in full view of the spectators. •Aubignac warns poets not to suppose that events have taken place between the acts in the scene shown on the stage, “ which is open and exposed to the eyes of the spectators” during the intermissions, for in that case the audience ought to have seen those things which are supposed to have happened.  If a change had to be made in the scenery at any time during the performance, the curtain was dropped. This curtain is described by d’Aubignac as the “toile de devant, qui ne fait point partie de la decoration, et qu’on tire seulement quand on y veut changer quelque chose; afin que le people ne s’apper^oive point du d&ordre qui se fait en ces ajustmens, et qu’il soit plus agreablement surpris en voiant soudainment tine nouvelle face du theatre.”1 Music accompanied this drawing of a curtain to mark a change of scene, for d’Aubignac says sarcastically that to pass from France to Denmark “il ne faut que trois coups d’archct ou tirer Ic ridcau.”1 An example of a play in which changes of scenery were made during the intermissions is found in Moliftre’s Don Juan. Laurent records the setting as follows: first act, a palace; second act, a room and a sea; third act, a wood and a tomb; fourth act, a room; fifth act, the tomb.

The setting for the second act—a room and a sea—is practically a simultaneous setting. The decoration for Andromaque, given as “apalace with columns and a sea with ships,” also the setting for Iphigbiic, given as “tents and a sea with ships,” correspond in a modified way to the simultaneous scenes of the old system. In such scenes as the bust, the unity of place is not destroyed by the scenery; and this system is far better suited to preserve the unity of place than the procedure of changing scenes between the acts or at any other time during the performance. This point was brought out very plainly by Cailhava at the end of the eighteenth century. He called attention to the fact that the first act of Dimocrite amoureux takes place in a wood and the other acts are at the court. Thus, while these two plares are not far distant, yet the changes in decoration destroy the illusion. The author of Isabelle et Gertrude, however, in making the action take place during the night, part of the time in a dark garden and part of the time in a lighted room, had the theater represent a garden embellished with a boudoir, but placed so that the spectator saw everything which happened on the whole breadth of the stage. Thus, he claims, the illusion was increased instead of being destroyed, as it is when walls and cities disappear at the sound of the stage manager’s whistle.’ Since the changing of scenery was out of keeping with the unity of place, either the somewhat modified multiple stage setting or the single indefinite scene had to come into use when the rule became binding. It was Corneille who found a way out of the difficulty in the vague and inexact settings which had been so criticized until 1660, the date of his Discours. He advocated an indefinite scene— a lieu thidtral—which would not be the apartment of any one char- acter, but into which all apartments would open and in which the characters would speak, as if they were in their own rooms. Thus the actors on the stage, instead of going to the apartments of the other characters, could remain on the stage and be sought by the latter. In this way the continuity of scenes would be preserved and the unity of place would be observed.

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The stage setting of the Cid described by Laurent as une chambre d qualre portes corresponds exactly to this scheme of a lieu thedlral, and perhaps was introduced at Corneille’s request. Corneille also advocated naming only the general place in which the action was supposed to happen, as Paris or Rome; and even if two places were necessary to the action, he recommended that they be not marked by different scenery and that they remain unnamed. This expedient, he says, will help to deceive the spectator, who, not seeing the different places marked, will not perceive the change of scene except by critical and malicious reflexion, while in the Menteur the different decorations made the change of place only too visible. He admits in the Examcn of the Place royalc that he has violated the unity of place by introducing the scene in Ang£lique’s room; but this is necessary because the heroine would not lament in the street. He had used the old system in his early plays, although he had given up the liberty of placing Rome and Constantinople on the stage at the same time. Yet he merely reduced his unity of place to a whole city in these early plays, and allowed the scene to ehac^. He wm pxdni in this, not by reason, bat by theatrical oomtkB of his time. In the £rumcn of A fro- rome, moreover. Corneille dctadl his ribUtioo of the role on the ground that ewh ploy, for rucceiss on their scenery. require the action to be placed in different localitiro. In fact he deelnm that a eity hardly tmffiPM. Thus the rule of the unity of place to harr brii Quit darth, at ax fur ax (fntnl practice is eon- , up to IttfQ. The critic* could tbcoriae ax much ua they , but the only limit impoaod upon the rale by the playwrights use Ibt UxniU of a city. It u after this datv that the vague ynbti a 9.the- more aerac, but ovftt then it ia by the only one. Had It been the regular sating before that time, Corneille would hardly have taken the trouble to advocate its MSA In order to preserve the illusaon of the unity of plaec. The fact that the Inter plays of Corneille and the plays of Racine were produced with one scene, coupled with the grrot reputation of these men. is likciy to bring one to the conclusion that in the latter half of the wventeenth century the stage was nlways set with one vague nnd unchangeable scene; but such was not the row. as is proved by the weund part of the Jftawcrr.

On tfc contrary. there were several methods which grew out of the diffrrent ways of com- bining the old simultaneous wtting with the present system of changing sconce. The single xtvne could In* modified in two ways, as has been slKiwn: (l) by following d’Aublgnac’s ruggmtkm of ojHning up a btaple, a pwodurv which was carried out by Racine in AlMu; or (2) by mokiag the one how large enough to show* tuo pliuvx not far dlxtant, ax la wiring of diufnuwtyiu, which showg a pedaor with columns ami. la the turirgnxiad, a  with ship.Eutrur and Don Juan, the Utter Ixdng recorded after August 25, ltMO, arc example* of plays in which changi* of scene wvrc mark  the acta. In 107$, Corneille’s Li comic 1* pmtntod With a change of stem* in the fourth act in width the pron appears. Jwiiiit prince, by Soarroa, and a .Of uncertain authorship, recorded by Laurent of ter 167$, also change the scenery bctwirn the acts. La femme jnge cf party, in which the ” th&ltre etc, deux mnions sur le dernnt et le rate une ebnmbre,” is an example of the old simultaneous setting still in use at this time, the retting being thus




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Stage Decoration and the Unity of Place in France in the Seventeenth Century- Part 2 Essay
La Mesnardibre, as late as 1640, is still advocating the old system which had come down from the Middle Ages, for, as he says, since the stage generally represents a whole city, often a small country, and sometimes a house, it must show as many scenes as it marks different places. It must not present a garden or a forest for the scene of an action which has happened in a palace; and even in this palace, the stage should not show anything happening in the apartment
2021-07-12 23:44:32
Stage Decoration and the Unity of Place in France in the Seventeenth Century- Part 2 Essay
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