The Three Ladies of London is the earliest extant play linked to the London professional theatre. One might expect the stage directions to be primitive, awkward, or unusual; but in fact they are broadly efficient and conventional. They are almost certainly authorial, and reflect Robert Wilson’s practical experience as a player. The 1584 quarto could have been staged almost anywhere because all it requires is a platform with two rear doors – no need for a trap, upper level, or central opening. But this does not mean that the play would have been uninteresting in performance. On the contrary, the combination of explicit and implicit stage directions, together with the use of costumes and properties, would result in visually effective illustrations of the ideas expressed in the dialogue. As my analysis of the play’s various staging elements demonstrates, Wilson knew what he was doing and how to do it.
The Three Ladies of London is the earliest extant play linked to the London professional theatre. One might therefore expect the stage directions to be primitive, awkward, or unusual; but in fact they are broadly efficient and conventional. They are almost certainly authorial, and probably reflect Robert Wilson’s practical experience as a player.1 He evidently knew what was necessary to get the job done, and the 1584 quarto could be performed successfully with minimal preparation. Furthermore, it could have been staged almost anywhere because all it requires is a platform with two rear doors; there is no need for a trap, upper level, or central opening. But this does not mean that the play would have been uninteresting in performance. On the contrary, the combination of explicit and implicit stage directions, together with the use of costumes and properties, would result in visually effective illustrations of the ideas expressed in the dialogue. As the following analysis of the various staging elements is intended to demonstrate, Wilson knew what he was doing and how to do it.
The actual stage directions in the 1584 quarto are almost complete, with only a few places where a direction – usually an exit – could be said to be missing. But on the early modern stage, entrances were managed from the tiring house, and once onstage players relied on dialogue to cue exits. Wilson’s experience as an actor might be reflected in the consistent use of such dialogue signals in this play. For the most part the directions for entrances and exits are straightforward and simple – ‘Enter’, ‘Exit’ – and typical of usage throughout the period. But a number of other directions are evidence of the play’s early date and a still-evolving language of performance management. As noted in The Dictionary of Stage Directions, ‘let’ in the imperative is not found in stage directions after the early 1590s.2 Seven directions in Three Ladies use the term, including ‘Let Fraude make as though he would strike him, but let Dissimulation step betwene them’ (A3v; 2.63.1)3 and ‘Here let Lucar open the boxe and dip her finger in it, and spotte Conscience face, saying as followeth’ (E1v; 10.104.2-4; see also B1r, B4v, E3r, F2v, F3r). This second example is the play’s only use of ‘Here’ at the beginning of a direction, and this too is not found after the 1590s.
Perhaps significantly, the directions that use ‘let’ also include other early, rare, or unique formulations. ‘Make as though’ occurs only in this play (three times) and in The Cobbler’s Prophecy, Alphonsus King of Aragon, and Locrine, all from before 1590. Besides the three uses of ‘as followeth’ in Three Ladies, it appears in only seven other early plays. The phrases ‘put … aside’ and ‘come with’ are found in no other play; and ‘make ready for’ occurs again only in one much later play. Other directions in Three Ladies also use terms or phrases that are rarely or never found in post-1590 plays, including ‘sounding before’, ‘having on’, ‘that is to say’, ‘speaking to’, ‘presently go’, ‘told by’, ‘if you can’, and ‘shall sound’. Each of these phrases conveys the necessary information to players, but does not become part of the conventional language of later directions.
The need for dialogue cues to manage exits can also be capitalized on to create or emphasize meaning, as perhaps Wilson understood.4 I refer especially to how Lucre manages the exits of other figures, in keeping with the play’s basic allegory that ‘The love of gold is the root of all evil’. Lucre appears in eight scenes and directs the exits of others in all but two. In scene 2, Wilson gives Lucre six lines to set up her exit with Dissimulation and organize others to follow them to her ‘palace’ (B1v-2r; 2.56¬-61); in scene 3, she takes Mercadorus off saying ‘I pray you walke in with me, / And as I find you kind to me, so wil I favour ye’ (B3r; 3.74-5); and she ends scene 5 by leading off Mercadorus and Usury. In scene 8, however, when Lucre tells Dissimulation to ‘hie you hence’ but he does not leave, she asks ‘How, doest thou stand?’ and he responds ‘sende my fellowe Symonie, / For I haue an earnest suite to yee’ (D2r; 8.60, 65-7), and she sends Simony off. Significantly, Dissimulation’s ‘suit’ – his proposal that he marry Love, agreed to by Lucre – leads to their eventual defeat. Scene 10 includes three exits by Usury, all directed by Lucre. First she sends him off with Conscience’s brooms; when Usury re-enters, she impatiently sends him off again for the box of ink; then she sends him off to help Dissimulation prepare for his wedding. At the end of this scene Lucre sends Conscience off, then speaks a soliloquy in which she cues her own exit: ‘I must to the wedding, / Both vauntingly and flauntingly, although I had no bidding’ (E2r; 10.126-7). Scene 15 ends with Lucre taking the ‘sad and sorrowful’ (and two-faced) Love off to cheer her up. Lucre says ‘Come lets go, wele finde some sports to spurne away such toyes’ and Love responds ‘Were it not for Lucar, sure Loue had lost her ioyes’ (F1v; 15.2, 17-18). All of these exits managed by Lucre can be contrasted with what happens in the final scene. When Conscience testifies against Lucre at their trial, Lucre says she has been ‘ouerthrowne’, and when the judge passes sentence on her he tells the constable to ‘conuey her hence’ (F3r; 17.54, 60), thereby managing her final exit in the play both verbally and visually. Thus while there seem to be practical reasons for getting Lucre off here – the same player must soon reappear as Love – her departure concludes a thematic pattern by reversing it.
The essential completeness of the quarto stage directions is reflected in subsequent editions of the play: no editor has added or emended more than a few directions. Some of these changes and the reasons for them warrant mention. There are three obviously missing exit directions: for Simplicity at the end of scene 8, for Gerontus and Mercadorus at the end of scene 9, and for Usury in scene 10.5 But all three exits are clearly cued by dialogue, and all editors add a direction. Curiously, only one editor seems to have noticed that the quarto provides no exit for either Dissimulation or Lucre in scene 4. The two probably leave together, but this is a rare instance when the play gives neither an explicit stage direction nor a dialogue cue. H.S.D. Mithal supplies a direction for both to exit just before the quarto direction for Simplicity – ‘(speaking to Sinceritie)’ (C3r; 4.152) – but he declines to explain why.6 Neither Dissimulation nor Lucre speaks again in the scene, although the parenthetical direction quoted above seems redundant if Dissimulation and Lucre do exit here and only the other two remain. Both Lloyd Kermode and Greg Walker acknowledge their use of Mithal’s edition, but do not follow him in adding an exit for either Lucre or Dissimulation. Yet the ladies clearly do not leave at the scene’s end, because Simplicity and Sincerity ‘Exeunt ambo’ (C3v; 4.212.1).
Although asides are common in early modern plays, specific directions for them are rare in the playtexts. Editors therefore often add them, primarily for the benefit of readers. But asides are often a matter of editorial interpretation. Wilson does not mark any speeches as asides, but there are several occasions where one or more editors has added the direction. Some are more defensible than others, and several are indisputable. Robert Dodsley’s eighteenth-century edition supplies eight examples7; Kermode agrees with only two. This disparity is largely due to different editorial practices, with Kermode being less interventionist (as is typical of modern editors). Some of Dodsley’s asides are purely optional, depending on how the players understood the lines. On the other hand, Wilson almost certainly intended more than the two allowed by Kermode. Most of the lines in question are spoken by a character to himself and are ‘overheard’ by the playgoers.8 The two asides signalled by Kermode both come in scene 13. The first is also the longest, consisting of four lines from Simplicity as he watches the two beggars eating the meat: ‘Looke how greedie they be, … / You shall see that I shall haue the greatest almes, … / They haue nothing but leane beef, ye shall see I shall have a piece that is fat’ (E4r; 13.46-7, 49). The repeated use of plural ‘you/ye’ makes it clear that he addresses the audience. Later in the scene, Fraud says of Simplicity, ‘What a swad [rustic, clown] is this? I had beene better to haue sent him to the backe doore’ (E4r; 13.66-7). Here Fraud’s question and use of ‘him’ makes it clear that he is speaking to himself (and the audience).
As in virtually all early modern plays, much more business is indicated in dialogue than signalled by stage directions. Again, this is partly because once a player was on stage he relied on what he or another player said to know what to do, but it means that dialogue is typically as important a method of staging as are stage directions. Furthermore, this kind of business is often linked to properties brought on by the players, so that it might be said that they bring their cues with them. As I noted above, Three Ladies would put little demand on the performance space; by contrast, the play requires a number of props that are central to the action and meaning. Although there are almost no stage directions for the use of these items,9 the dialogue tells the players what to do. Particularly significant are the letters used in scenes 4, 12, and 17. In scene 4, the dialogue indicates that Sincerity has letters he wants Conscience to sign; when he shows them to Simplicity the direction ‘Let Simplicitie make as though he read it, and looke quite ouer’ (B4v; 4.15.1-2) indicates that he mimes reading. As Kermode notes ‘the direction and lines that follow suggest comic stage business where Simplicity transparently attempts to cover up his [illiteracy]’ (15.sd-17). Subsequent references to ‘these papers’ and ‘these letters’ (B4v; 4.20, 22) indicate that they are given by Simplicity to Conscience for her signature. The business of signing is cued when Conscience says to Simplicity ‘let me write on thy back’ (B4v; 4.50). Hospitality enters ‘while [Conscience] is a-writing’ and when the latter agrees to sign another letter, she tells Simplicity, ‘once more thy body do bow’ (B4v; 4.51.1, 57).10 The very short scene 12 begins when Mercadorus enters ‘reading a letter to himselfe’ (E3r; 12.0); he tells Gerontus that he is ‘troubled with letters you see heere’, but only when Gerontus has exited does Mercadorus tell the audience ‘My Lady Lucar haue sent me heere dis letter, / Praying me to cossen de Jewe for loue a her’ (E3r; 12.6, 21). The use and usefulness of property letters culminate in the last scene when Judge Nemo asks Conscience, ‘What letter is that in thy bosom?’ and tells Diligence to ‘reach it hither’ (F2v; 17.37-8). The judge reads the letter to himself – ‘Make as though ye read it’ – then asks Conscience ‘where hadst thou this letter?’ and Conscience replies ‘It was put into my bosome by Lucar’ (F2v; 17.38.1, F3r; 46–7). In (perhaps intentional) contrast to Simplicity’s earlier inability to read a letter, here the judge indicates his understanding, saying to Lucre, ‘This letter declares thy giltie Conscience’ (F3r; 17.51).
Other directions for properties to be brought on by a player are also noteworthy, although there is no space to discuss them here. They include ‘Enter Conscience with broomes at her back’ (D4r; 10.0), ‘Enter Vserie with a paynted boxe of incke in hys hand’ (E1v; 10.98.1), ‘Enter Simplicitie, with a basket on his Arme’ (C4v; 7.0), and ‘Enter Fraud with a basket of meat on his arme’ (E4r; 13.39.1). In each case the direction is specific and the subsequent dialogue and action give the prop thematic or explicitly allegorical significance.
Some of the play’s entrance directions indicate a figure’s costume, others do not. Three provide detailed descriptions of clothing and properties associated with specific social roles: ‘Enter Dissimulation, hauing on a Farmers long coat, and a cappe, and his powle and beard painted motley’ (A2v; 2.0.2), ‘Enter Simplicitie lyke a Miller all mealy with a wande in his hand’ (A3r; 19.1-2), and ‘Enter Fraud with a Sword and a Buckler like a Ruffian’ (A3r; 2.32.1). Two other directions, for the entrance of ‘Mercadore like an Italian Merchant’ (B2r; 3.0) and of ‘Peter please man like a Parson’ (C4r; 6.0), refer to costumes associated with particular real-world figures;11 similarly the costumes of the lawyer, judge, constable, beadle, and other court figures would have been recognizable, as probably would that of ‘Gerontus, a Iewe’ (D4v; 9.0). For most of the other characters, however, the play does not specify apparel; would Conscience, Simony, Lucre, Usury, and Hospitality have been costumed symbolically? Or might they have been dressed like the playgoers? The allegorical use of costumes culminates in scene 15 with a stage direction – ‘Enter Lucar, and Loue with a visard behind’ (F1v; 15.0) – that sets up the play’s first literal discovery of truth. Each step is cued by what Lucre says: ‘Is your head then swollen good Mistrisse Loue, I pray you let me see, / Of troth it is, behold a face, that seemes to smile on me: / It is faire and well fauoured, with a countenance smooth and good, / Woonder is the worst, to see two faces in a hood’ (F1v; 15.13-16).
The staging requirements of the last two scenes are the play’s most complex in several ways. Both scenes would have stretched the company, as indicated by the direction requiring ‘an Officer to whip him, or two if you can’ (F1v; 16.0.2), and another specifying that the player in the role of Lucre should ‘make ready for Loue quickly’ (F3r; 17.62.2) – that is, exit, change costume, and return as Love.12 In scene 16 the direction ‘Lead him once or twise about, whipping him, and so Exit’ (F2r; 16.43.1) means that the beadle (or beadles) should guide Simplicity ‘about’ or around the stage while whipping him.13 This use of about in stage directions occurs primarily in early plays, including The Three Lords and Ladies of London (G1v; I3r) and The Cobbler’s Prophecy (A4v). More significantly, scene 17 seems to require an item referred to twice in the dialogue, when the Judge says ‘fetch Lucar and Conscience to the Barre’ and ‘Stand aside Conscience: bring Loue to the barre’ (F2v; 17.14, 81). Although an actual property bar – ‘a portable railing or barrier at which a prisoner is placed in trial/courtroom scenes’14 – is not absolutely necessary here and the actors could perform the scene without it, the dialogue implies action that would be more meaningful with a physical prop. Wilson seems to have intended a staging that evoked a real English courtroom. The initial direction signals a processional entrance and subsequent business: ‘Enter Iudge Nemo the clarke of the Sies, the Crier, and seruiceable Dilligence, the Iudge and Clarke being sett, the Crier shall sound three times’ (F2r; 17.0.1–3) – each figure would have worn an appropriate costume, there were stools or chairs for the judge and clerk to sit on, and the three calls of the crier would have created a formal atmosphere. The question is, after these realistic touches would Wilson have wanted the prisoners brought to a real or imaginary ‘bar’? On the one hand, Three Ladies is mostly typical of early plays in relying on hand-held properties and this use of a bar would predate other examples by some years. On the other hand, the dialogue references are quite specific and using a bar would have enhanced the sense that serious crimes were being judged in a contemporary context. I would therefore argue that when possible a bar was present on stage throughout this scene.15
The publication of a second quarto of Three Ladies suggests that the play was popular enough to have been performed with some regularity up to and perhaps after 1592. Possibly, indeed, Wilson’s use of a bar introduced a staging picked up by later playwrights. More particularly, the business of the judge seeing the letter in Conscience’s ‘bosom’ and reading it to discover the truth about her relationship with Lucre perhaps influenced Edmund’s use of a seemingly hidden letter to trick Gloucester. And possibly Lucre’s removal of Love’s hood to reveal her two faces anticipated Lucio’s removal of the Friar’s hood to reveal the Duke. As I hope I have shown, Shakespeare could have done worse than learn about staging from Wilson.
These additional remarks are an attempt to articulate more clearly some of the thoughts I tried quickly to express as a panel member. They have been prompted by several elements of the conference, especially discussions about the relationship between Conscience and Lucre, and even more especially by the fascinating workshop in which Peter Cockett guided Jesse Horvath (Mercadorus) and Omar Khafagy (Gerontus) in performing different versions of their encounters.
Every aspect of this play is (or can be seen as) a reminder that after more than 400 years our ability to interpret and understand what happens is severely limited. As I tried to make sense of what Wilson seemed to be doing in these exchanges I became aware of how early modern playwrights had available a kind of implied stage direction to which we are virtually deaf today: the use of pronouns. This is not the place to review research on early modern pronouns and what they can tell us about character relationships, and I do not claim that by calling attention to the significance of their implications in an early modern context I am doing something new.16 But there has been little consideration of how shifts between the impersonal you and the intimate thou would have functioned as signals to both players and playgoers, indicating changing relationships among characters. In particular, these subtle linguistic shifts could be – and almost certainly were – conveyed in physical actions. In Three Ladies several brief exchanges provide particularly clear illustrations of this largely subconscious element of early modern playwriting and performance.
Scene 10 begins with Conscience selling brooms, having been evicted by Usury and Lucre, both of whom enter and taunt her. As might be expected, they consistently use thou when speaking to Conscience, and initially Conscience also uses thou in her responses, first to Usury, then to Conscience:
Lucar Alas I thinke it is a greefe to thee that thou art so poore.
Conscience Alas Lucar I thinke it is no paine to thee that thou still plaiest the whore.
Lucar Well well Conscience that sharpe tonge of thine hath not beene thy furtheraunce. (D4v; 55-7)
But when Lucre says she will buy all the brooms, Conscience replies ‘Then geue me a shilling and with a good will haue them you shall’ (E1r; 10.62). Her use of the polite you suggests a change in attitude and tone that is subtly confirmed in what follows by Conscience’s continued use of formal pronouns as the power relationship between them shifts when she agrees to serve Lucre. During one of the panel discussions, Peter Cockett referred to the moment of Conscience’s Fall – this is it. After Usury exits with the brooms, the exchange between Lucre and Conscience goes to the heart of this explicitly Christian play’s meaning, and part of how it does so is by the use of pronouns:
[Lucar] Hould Cons. though thy broomes be not worth a quarter so much,
Yet to geue thee a peece of gould I doe it not grutch:
And if thou wouldst follow my mynd, thou shouldst not liue in such sort,
But passe thy dayes with pleasure store of euery kinde of sport.
Conscience I thinke you lead the worlde in a string, for euery body followes you.
And sith euery one doth it, why may not I doe it too,
For that I see your free hart, and great liberallitie:
I maruell not that all people are so willing to follow ye
Lucar Then sweete soule marke what I would haue thee doe for me,
That is to decke vp thy poore Cottage hansomely:
And for that purpose I haue fiue thousandes Crownes in store,
And when it is spent thou shalt haue twise as much more,
. . .
Conscience My good Ladie Lucar I will fulfil your minde in euery kinde of thing. (E1r; 10.65-76, 81)
This use of pronouns to convey Conscience’s change of attitude continues at the end of the scene, after Lucre has spotted Conscience’s face. For an early modern player, it must have been instinctive, even automatic, to be aware of this this new linguistic subservience and to convey it physically.
The connection between pronoun usage and an altered power relationship is also evident in the Mercadorus-Gerontus exchanges in scenes 12 and 14. As scene 12 begins, Gerontus is pressing Mercadorus to repay what he owes him, with both figures using you to each other. But when Gerontus threatens Mercadorus – ‘Therefore you were best to pay me, or els in prison you shall lie’ – the latter responds ‘Arrest me dou [thou] skal knaue, mary do and if thou dare’ (E3r; 12.10-11). Mercadorus’s shift to thou suggests a disrespect and lack of concern that is explained at the end of the scene when he confides to the audience that he is following Lucre’s orders. This prepares for scene 14, in which Gerontus brings Mercadorus to court to get his money. At the start, both antagonists and the Judge of Turkey all use you, as one would expect in a formal courtroom situation. But when it seems that Mercadorus will actually renounce Christianity and become a Muslim to avoid paying, Gerontus shifts to thou:
Well seeing it is so, I would be loth to heare the people say, it was long of me
Thou forsakest thy faith, wherefore I forgiue thee franke and free:
Protesting before the Iudge, and all the world, neuer to demaund peny nor halfepeny. (F1r; 14.38-40)
The change is brief – Gerontus shifts back to you as the scene continues – but it is there and surely meaningful. Whether it signals an actual softening on Gerontus’s part, or an acknowledgment that he has been defeated by Mercadorus, or an obsequious attempt to avoid punishment is unclear. But, again, Wilson’s audience would likely have heard the shift and registered its implications. Furthermore, Gerontus’s use of thou might well have been reflected in the body language of defeat.
Some of the many other examples are found in the trial of the final scene and in the play’s last lines. Significantly, in the courtroom exchanges between the Judge of Turkey and both Gerontus and Mercadorus in scene 14 the Judge always uses the formal you. During the culminating trial of Lucre, Conscience, and Love, however, Judge Nemo consistently uses thou when addressing and sentencing each sinful figure. The context makes clear that the pronouns signal his lack of respect for and power over all three. Then, in what amounts to the play’s epilogue, the judge says:
Thus we make an ende,
Knowing that the best of vs all may amend:
Whiche God graunt, to his good will and pleasure,
That we be not corrupted with the vnsatiate desire of vanishing earthly treasure:
For Couetousnesse is the cause of wresting mans Conscience,
Therefore restraine thy lust, and thou shalt shonne the offence. (F3v; 17.100-5)
Here, his use of us and we includes the playgoers and is grammatically correct. But in the last line Wilson has him shift to thy and thou, implying that he is addressing a single playgoer, or each playgoer individually. How many would register the pronoun-shift today? What difference does it make if we (player and playgoers) don’t? In Wilson’s day, did the shift prompt the player to point at or move closer to one playgoer then another? We can’t know, but becoming aware of this potential might help to close that 400-year gap just a little.
 In his edition of the play in The Oxford Anthology of Tudor Drama (Oxford, 2014), Greg Walker argues that ‘Some of the stage directions suggest that the surviving editions were based on playhouse prompt copies’ (402); but this conclusion is unwarranted. The details he notes are more likely a reflection of Wilson’s familiarity with the limitations of the company to which he belonged.
 Alan C. Dessen and Leslie Thomson, A Dictionary of Stage Directions in English Drama, 1580–1642 (Cambridge,1999), entry for let.
 All quotations are from the 1584 quarto of the play. I have provided the quarto signature and also the scene and line numbers from the modern edition by Lloyd Edward Kermode in Three Renaissance Usury Plays (Manchester and New York, 2009). I have used italics for all stage directions, regardless of how they appear in the quarto. When referring to characters in my own text, I have used Kermode’s modernized spelling of their names.
 See my ‘Shakespeare and the Art of Making an Exit’, University of Toronto Quarterly 69 (2000): 540–59.
 It is worth noting, but probably irrelevant, that these three missing exit directions are in sequential scenes.
 H.S.D. Mithal (ed.), An Edition of Robert Wilson’s Three Ladies of London and Three Lords and Three Ladies of London (New York and London, 1988), l.714.
 W. Carew Hazlitt (ed.), A Select Collection of Old English Plays, 4th edn, 15 vols (London, 1874-6), 6.245-370.
 These are the six asides marked only in Dodsley’s edition: DISSIMULATION ‘A name agreeing to thy nature’ (A3r; 2.32); SIMPLICITY ‘Nay, an they sing, I’ll sing too’ (A4r; 2.123); SIMONY ‘But my talk, methought, sauoured well, and had a good taste’ (B2r; 2.287); SIMPLICITY ‘I think I shall serve to be a washing-block for you’ (B4v; 4.58); CONSCIENCE ‘I’ll first to that scald bald knave Hypocrisy’ (E2r; 11.40); LUCRE ‘Good Conscience, if thou love me, say nothing’ (F2v; 17.35).
 A notable exception is ‘Here let Lucar open the boxe and dip her finger in it, and spotte Conscience face’ (E1v; 10.104.2-4).
 Did Wilson intend the irony that the illiterate Simplicity makes a good desk?
 ‘Parson’ is changed to ‘Priest’ in the 1592 quarto (C4r). This is the only change made to the stage directions in the second quarto.
 In his edition Kermode interprets ‘with a vizard behind’ to mean that Love wears a mask ‘on the back of her head’ (15.0.1), but Helen Ostovich’s interpretation – that Love enters behind Lucre – is more plausible (see Ostovich’s essay on ‘Doubling Love’).
 In his discussion of the play’s staging requirements, Richard Southern argues that ‘the phrase is not “Once or twice about the stage” because ‘there is nowhere in this script any reference to a stage’; but examples of ‘about’ in similar contexts indicate that it does indeed mean ‘about the stage’. Southern’s elaborate staging suggestions are attempts to solve a non-existent problem. See The Staging of Plays before Shakespeare (London, 1973), 556, 591.
 Dictionary of Stage Directions in English Drama, entry for bar.
 T.W. Craik’s idea that for this scene ‘a transition to a public theatre’s inner stage is perhaps desirable’ (The Tudor Interlude [Leicester, Leicester University Press, 1958], 123) is cited by Mithal, who insists that this scene ‘must have entailed the use of the inner stage of a public theatre’ (215). The concept of an ‘inner stage’ has been debunked; but even a shallow ‘discovery space’ would not have been required or used for this scene (or for any scene that calls for a bar in other plays).