Contexts

Historical Contexts: 1590s Dramaturgy of 3LL

Acting out of Character: a Performance-as-Research Approach to The Three
Ladies of London

Andy Kesson

Abstract: This essay considers The Three Ladies of London from a Performance or Practice as Research point of view. It introduces the concept of Practice-as-Research, highlighting its use as a mode of discovery of productive textual problems that are not usually spotted in the course of a more traditional close reading. It then considers some of the textual problems in The Three Ladies of London, especially its characters' relationships with their own identities, with the play's plot and with its audience. It also considers the play's lack of the kind of deictic language usually endemic to the early modern script-writing process and its status as a comedy in which somebody dies, reminding us that the 1580s lacked the kind of genre practice we now associate with the period because of the influential demarcations made on the title page of Shakespeare's 1623 play collection. Using these considerations, the essay charts the scope for actorly choice written into the heart of this play script.

Citation: Kesson, Andy, ‘Acting out of Character: a Performance-as-Research Approach to The Three Ladies of London’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/par/AndyKesson.htm.

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The Poetry and Prosody of Robert Wilson

Jeremy Lopez

Abstract: What is the purpose of modernizing, or even reviving at all, a play like Three Ladies of London? The play is a fascinating precursor or model for The Jew of Malta and The Merchant of Venice, as well as a vital hinge between civic and liturgical drama on the one hand and commercial drama on the other. But it is also a period piece, specifically preoccupied with the London of the 1580s, and obviously of great potential to be dreadfully dull to a modern audience. I will engage this problem by discussing the sound, structure, and historical (or trans-historical) significance of the play's ‘fourteener’ verse, which I think is the most fundamental marker of difference any modern production and audience must deal with.

Citation: Lopez, Jeremy, ‘The Poetry and Prosody of Robert Wilson’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/JeremyLopez.htm.

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Robert Wilson and Lost Plays

David McInnis

Abstract: How representative of Robert Wilson’s work is his Three Ladies of London? Only three of his other plays have survived in print – The Three Lords and Three Ladies of London (printed 1590), The Cobbler’s Prophecy (printed 1594), and part 1 of Sir John Oldcastle (printed 1600) – but these plays represent the distinct minority of his dramatic output. Wilson had at least a hand in a further sixteen plays between the 1570s and the early 1600s. Although the play-texts are lost, a great deal can be learned from the information about these plays that survives in the form of their titles, plots, and descriptions. Attention to these records produces a more accurate and wholistic account of Wilson’s career, revealing a playwright whose interests exceeded satire and comedy, and who contributed to the creation of plays which were deeply embedded in the company style of the Admiral’s Men at the turn of the century.

Citation: McInnis, David, ‘Robert Wilson and Lost Plays’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/DavidMcInnis.htm.

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Doubling Love

Helen Ostovich

Abstract: This essay outlines a probable casting of Three Ladies for eight players, and explains why this casting works for the physical doubling and theatrical thinking about how Love interacts with Conscience and Lucre on stage, specifically sorting out how the quick changes establish character in so few lines, thanks to Love’s vizard. This awareness of Wilson’s theatrical decisions sets the scene for the final ‘decision’ in court, a decision that is incomplete and basically indecisive, as the judge fails to give properly meaningful and legally consonant sentences. But then, that world is now a world too fully without love, money for good causes, or conscience to sit comfortably on those accused of crimes. ‘No one’ (Nemo) can give a verdict in a case where an oath and even law itself is rendered meaningless.

Citation: Ostovich, Helen, ‘Doubling Love’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/HelenOstovich.htm.

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What We Talk about When We Talk about Hospitality in Robert Wilson’s
The Three Ladies of London

Daryl Palmer

Abstract: When Hospitality made his entrance in Robert Wilson’s The Three Ladies of London, Elizabethan audiences probably thought they knew what was about to unfold. A multifaceted term, hospitality referred to the generous entertainment of friends and strangers alike. For several decades, preachers and pamphleteers had been reminding their audiences that hospitality was an essential part of Christian life. As the years passed, these reminders had turned into complaints about the decay of hospitality. With all this in mind, Wilson’s early audiences must have expected poor Hospitality to be ignored and dismissed, but Wilson surprised them with three elements: a heteroclite Hospitality, his startling murder, and Simplicity’s comic reaction. In my analysis of each of these elements, I want to pay particular attention to the ways in which Wilson's dramaturgy – what Scott McMillin and Sally-Beth MacLean have called ‘medley’ – energizes the revisionary enterprise.

Citation: Palmer, Daryl, ‘What We Talk about When We Talk about Hospitality in Robert Wilson’s The Three Ladies of London’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/DarylPalmer.htm.

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The Spotting of Lady Conscience in The Three Ladies of London

Andrea Stevens

Abstract: The allegorical figure of ‘Usury’ brings on stage a ‘paynted boxe of incke’ out of which Lady ‘Lucre’ paints the face of Lady ‘Conscience’, possibly in full view of the audience. The ‘painted box’ likely contained black face paint: by 1581, besmirching the face with black paint was a common method for signaling ugliness and moral corruption. In scripting this scenario from beauty to blackness, Wilson was invoking a complex performance tradition, from the symbolic use of blackface in late medieval drama, to the similarly symbolic use of blackness in Tudor interludes and morality plays, and finally to the use of blackface paint to signify racial difference in court masques and popular plays. This paper considers the dramatic analogues for this scene (in performances that both pre- and post-date The Three Ladies of London) before addressing how Wilson exploits the real-world religious, cultural, and medical associations of face paints to reinforce his allegorical narrative of the fall of Conscience.

Citation: Stevens, Andrea, ‘The Spotting of Lady Conscience in The Three Ladies of London’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/AndreaStevens.htm.

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‘As it hath been publiquely played’: The Stage Directions and Original Staging of The Three Ladies of London

Leslie Thomson

Abstract: 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.

Citation: Thomson, Leslie, ‘“As it hath been publiquely played”: The Stage Directions and Original Staging of The Three Ladies of London’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/LeslieThomson.htm.

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