Staging the Henrician Court : The empty thrones

This page last changed on Aug 07, 2009 by frank whately.

I wonder how the performance would be affected had the noticeably empty thrones been occupied by Henry and....Katherine? Anne?

This seems a strange choice for your project. Although interested in the dynamics created by the performance at court, you did not represent the most important person in the room. While it is clearly impossible to recreate the dynamic of the original court, your entire undertaking defies this impossibility and uses performance as a means to imagine the past so it seems odd that you decided not to represent the king on these grounds. Representing the king would have allowed you to explore possible ways the actors might have acknowledged the monarch and how the monarch's reactions might have been part of the spectacle.

As your ‘thought’ acknowledges, representing the king would radically alter the production. The actors I am sure would have been uncomfortable performing the majority of the action with their backs to the king. Sitting behind the action is a place of privilege in the later professional theatres and we know that the king sat on the stage at Cambridge when watching plays (See Alan Nelson's *Early Cambridge Theatres*). For the SQM productions in Toronto audiences on stage reported a sense of intimate involvement in the action even though actors had their backs to them for the majority of the time. However, the length and narrowness of the traverse I feel might have created a different effect, due to the angle of the sightlines, leaving the king feeling ignored rather than privileged.

For what it is worth, during the SQM tour we experimented with Southern's configuration of a stately home production with the noble family at the high table, the invited guests at tables before them, and the performance at the other end of the room. The experience was a poor one for those sitting at the high table as they felt cut off from the action. One configuration we did not try but which might work well at Hampton Court is to have the action occur between the high table and the guests. Jupiter's tent could be placed to one side of the table and the characters enter and exit from the other side. Henry and Jupiter would be side by side and the monarch would be constantly in view.

I have not reviewed the evidence for your staging configuration so forgive me if I am off base here but I thought I would throw that into the mix in case it is of use.

Posted by Peter Cockett at Aug 20, 2009 20:02

There were a number of reasons for not having a Henry - some historical and others theatrical.

We did initially plan to employ an actor to perform the role of Henry but we immediately run into a number of problems which we decided were insurmountable. There is no record of Henry's reaction to The Play of the Weather - or indeed to any courtly play that I am aware of. What were we therefore use to generate a script for the actor playing Henry? We could of course have asked him to improvise a set of responses or reactions but these would be entirely subjective while at the same time representing a very powerful response to the prodcution. For example, imagine the different impact of Henry laughing at the New Moon speech or him looking cross? In this case I am sure that someone like Heywood would not have risked producing anything that he was not confident Henry would approve.

Gasparo Spinelli's account of the eating for the entertainments that took place on 5th May 1527 notes that the audience where sat on either side, divided by gender, in raked seating with the King and Queen at one end under a cloth of estate. These entertainments took place in a specially constructed banqueting house so there were no constraints on the seating of the audience that we encountered at Hampton Court. Spinelli's account, however, suggests that it was seen as important at least sometimes for the entire audience to have a view of the audience while clearly giving the King and Queen a privileged position.

One thing that we have not addressed, and which we may do Phase II of the project, is the positioning of the hearth in the Great Hall which is two thirds up the hall and therefore much closer to he dais then the screen end. If the hearth was lit, as it would have been in the winter when it would have been a major source of light for the hall the view from the dais would have been very poor if not impossible. Having the hearth lit would, however, also potentially undermine the traverse staging since it would push all the audience down away from the dais and leave one end of the traverse closed off.

Posted by Tom Betteridge at Sep 10, 2009 12:00

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