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A Prompt Book Copy of St. Patrick for Ireland at the Bibliothèque nationale de France

Eva Griffith

Résumés

La découverte d’un livre de souffleur est importante pour l’histoire du théâtre moderne, car un tel document nous renseigne sur la mise en scène des pièces à une date relativement proche de celle de leur première représentation. Cet article annonce la découverte récente d’un livre de souffleur à la Bibliothèque nationale de France. Il concerne une pièce de James Shirley (1596-1666), St. Patrick for Ireland, représentée pour la première fois à Dublin en 1636-40, et qui a toujours intrigué les critiques pour les problèmes de mise en scène qu’elle pose.

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1In the world of the theatre, the role of the prompter is an important one. He or she is situated on one side of the stage with the script of the play – the « prompt book » – marked out with various warnings and cues for actors and other theatre-workers to do their job at the right moment. Many of these functions – performed first, perhaps, in some form, from the beginnings of drama – have been updated since the first purpose-built theatres were erected ; however the basic function of the prompter remains the same. This work not only involves making sure that the actors are backstage with him / her at the right moment to go on the stage, and that props / stage effects / musicians are ready, but of « prompting » the actor with their lines from the script if they forget them once on stage.

  • 1 B.n.F., cote YK-395.
  • 2 See Edward A. Langhans, Restoration Promptbooks, Carbondale, Southern Illinois Press, 1981.
  • 3 See Jeanne-Marie Métivier, « La reliure à la Bibliothèque du roi de 1672 à 1786 », in Mélanges auto (...)

2At the Bibliothèque nationale de France, a prompt book copy of one of James Shirley’s plays has been recognised : St. Patrick for Ireland (London, 1640)1. This is one of the type where the prompter made his notes on an already published copy of the play – that is, post-1640 in the case of St. Patrick – a situation common in the field of English seventeenth-century prompt books2. The green-backed half-binding of the copy can be dated precisely to the ten-year period 1765-1775, during the time Antoine Durand was working as the binder for the King’s books3. The copy, however, was either bound in this way when it first came into the hands of the French royal family, or it could have been re-bound after arriving at an earlier date. It certainly contains manuscript insertions in a heavy, secretary « c »-using English hand, which dates these notes to the seventeenth-century.

3St. Patrick for Ireland was a drama undoubtedly written and first produced during Shirley’s period at the Werburgh Street playhouse in Dublin, Ireland, c. 1636-40. It was of a particularly spectacular nature, with magic effects indicated in plentiful supply. An early prompt book could answer many questions – one concerning how, for example, the stage direction « Enter Serpents, &c., creeping » (I3) could be managed during a play production.

  • 4 The early nineteenth-century English editor, William Gifford, set the first scene in « The Temple, (...)
  • 5 A break between Acts 2 and 3 of this play would make good sense, as Rodamant is the last character (...)
  • 6 E. A. Langhans, op. cit., p.xxvii.

4What has to be remembered here is that this type of prompt book, made with the use of an already published volume, could not represent what was achieved at the first production in the late 1630s. It could only indicate something of what was possible for a company that produced it after it was published. Sometimes these items give very little away ; sometimes they indicate points of interest to do with general early theatre practice and approach. For example, we know from this copy that the opening scene with Archimagus and two other magicians was set (in this production) in the woods, as the word « forist » is appended at the top of the scene. In the plain printed quarto, the setting is left out, both as a stage direction or something mentioned in dialogue (A3)4. We also learn that « [S]oft m :[usic] » is heard just before the « Angell Victor » and St. Patrick first arrive (B1v). Also exemplifying what is to be found is a « Cornet » cued at the beginning of Act III for Rodamant’s entrance and speech on D2, possibly denoting a previous break (or « interval » as we now call it) in the play ; and for the scene during Act IV presented as « The Altar prepar’d » with a « sacrifice of Christian bloud », the direction for the new scenery is simply noted as « Church » (G2v)5. As for the snakes, there are no more clues as to how this was managed, only a warning, « serpents be read[y] » written two pages before they appear (I2). According to Edward A. Langhans, the Rhodes Company used the terminology « Ready » or « be ready » for actors in their prompt books, but more typically for a sound or special effect6.

  • 7 E. A. Langhans, op. cit., p.19-23. Prompt book The Ball (London, 1639) : Bodleian, Malone 253 (9).
  • 8 Prompt book, The Wittie Faire One, London, 1633 : Bodleian, Malone 253 (2).
  • 9 See G. Blakemore Evans’ notes concerning insertions in a copy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This is (...)

5There are a good number of Shirley prompt books with which the B.n.F. copy may be compared. These would include, for example, the known book of Shirley’s The Ball at the Bodleian. This prompt book was assigned by Langhans to the King’s Company at either the Bridges Street Theatre, Lincoln’s Inn after 1663 or the Drury Lane Theatre in the 1660s or 1670s7. The Paris St. Patrick uses the same practice of warnings for scene or act changes as those found in the Bodleian The Wittie Faire One, using the words « sceane » or « Act ». This was the practice used in the Duke’s Company books. However this prompt book hand bears no resemblance to that in the Paris St. Patrick8. The best candidate for the hand could be, perhaps, one Smock Alley, Dublin, prompter, who can occasionally be seen to use the secretary « c »9. No perceivable hand in the Blakemore Evans edited prompt books ever use the ornate capital that is noticed in the Paris copy, however. This is evident at the beginning of the words « Cornet », « Coribreaus » and « Conalus », for example. It should be noted that the word « Act », and a few other manuscript insertions in the B.n.F. copy, are written in another – more delicate – early hand. There are at least two hands in this Paris book. Again this is not unusual in prompter copies.

6The B.n.F. manuscript notations show no interest in « cross-hatch » symbols for actor cues or the « circle and dot » symbol for scene shifts (Langhans p. xxvii), but this, too, is not unusual. More research will be forthcoming among full findings in an article to be published on James Shirley’s Irish period by this author.

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Notes

1 B.n.F., cote YK-395.

2 See Edward A. Langhans, Restoration Promptbooks, Carbondale, Southern Illinois Press, 1981.

3 See Jeanne-Marie Métivier, « La reliure à la Bibliothèque du roi de 1672 à 1786 », in Mélanges autour de l’histoire des livres imprimés et périodiques, Paris, B.n.F., 1998, p. 131-177. I should like to thank J.-M. Métivier and her colleague for meeting with me, and Line Cottegnies for her translating skills, when trying to isolate the provenance of the B.n.F. Shirley copies 8/6/2010.

4 The early nineteenth-century English editor, William Gifford, set the first scene in « The Temple, with statues of Jupiter and Saturn... » but this was an editorial intervention. See Gifford, William and Alexander Dyce (eds.), The Dramatic Works and Poems of James Shirley, 6 vols., London, John Murray, 1833, vol. 4, p. 367.

5 A break between Acts 2 and 3 of this play would make good sense, as Rodamant is the last character to exit at the end of Act 2, and it would be strange if he entered again immediately.

6 E. A. Langhans, op. cit., p.xxvii.

7 E. A. Langhans, op. cit., p.19-23. Prompt book The Ball (London, 1639) : Bodleian, Malone 253 (9).

8 Prompt book, The Wittie Faire One, London, 1633 : Bodleian, Malone 253 (2).

9 See G. Blakemore Evans’ notes concerning insertions in a copy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This is in Shakespearean Prompt-books of the Seventeenth Century, 7 vols., Charlottesville, University Press of Virginia, 1960-1989, vol. 7, Part i, p. 5 ; see also Part ii, p. 153 (of the Folio) for a secretary « c » example in the word « subject » at the top of the page.

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Référence électronique

Eva Griffith, « A Prompt Book Copy of St. Patrick for Ireland at the Bibliothèque nationale de France », Études Épistémè [En ligne], 17 | 2010, mis en ligne le 01 avril 2010, consulté le 21 août 2017. URL : http://episteme.revues.org/671 ; DOI : 10.4000/episteme.671

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Auteur

Eva Griffith

Eva Griffith is the Durham University Research Associate for the multi-volume AHRC/OUP Complete Works of James Shirley. She is writing up her book on the Queen’s Servants at the Red Bull Playhouse, Clerkenwell, c.1605-1619, and has published recently on both Christopher Beeston, actor and playhouse entrepreneur (Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theatre History) and on James Shirley’s religion (Times Literary Supplement).

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