Florimène at Whitehall

Converting Great Hall into a Theatre
Thursday, April 15, 2004 - 12:00am

In spite of the use of bare stages at the public playhouses and playhouses, and most court productions by the professional players in Renaissance England, a few plays were presented with illusionistic scenery. Among the most important of these were a series of pastoral plays featuring Queen Henrietta Maria's Maids of Honor. Although the scenic plays at the Stuart Court paled in comparison to those in Italy and even to the settings for the later court masques, they introduced the concept of theatrical illusion and spectacle for drama to England. The productions at the Stuart Court are arguably the only productions of drama during the English Renaissance for which we have a definite knowledge of how they appeared to the audience.

Shortly after Charles became king in 1625, his queen Henrietta Maria arranged for a scenic play at Somerset House, Racan's French pastoral, Artenice . It was performed by the queen and her ladies and it was the first play designed by Jones since four plays at Oxford in 1605. John Orrell's analysis of Jones' drawing for this production shows that the wings are "clearly drawn as angle wings . . . as in Serlio." He continues, "Serlio's scene was not, however, intended to be a changeable one, yet we know from the Harvard annotations [in a copy of Artenice ] that Jones's scene changed many times. It could have been done only at the back shutters. . .." (Orrell 83-84). This use of permanent side wings with a changeable setting was known as a standing scene and was probably an innovation of Jones.

In 1633 the queen and her ladies again performed in a scenic pastoral play at Somerset House, Walter Montagu's The Shepherd's Paradise. Jones' drawings for this production give us the first indication of another of his innovations, the scene of relieve. Richard Southern points out that an inscription of one of the drawings for The Shepherd's Paradise is the first record of the use of the term "relieve." Southern also says only eleven drawings during the Caroline period contain the inscription "Relieve"; six of those references are for either The Shepherd's Paradise or a later pastoral, Florimène (Southern 64).

A relieve scene is composed of a series of cut frames that, when viewed together, create a scene in depth. The relieve scene was placed on the inner stage behind the shutters allowing it to be changed while the shutters were closed.

In 1635 Florimène , an anonymous French pastoral, was performed by the queen's ladies, with intermedii and a concluding anti-masque in the great hall at Whitehall in honor of the King's birthday. Florimène was the first scenic play in the hall although the hall had a long history and had been used previously for masques and performances by the public players.

This production was recorded in an almost full set of scenery drawings by Jones that are now in the Devonshire Collection at Chatsworth. These are complemented by floor plans and a section (drawn by Jones's assistant John Webb) from Lansdowne MS. 1171 in the British Library. These drawings make it possible to reconstruct the scenic production as a computer model.

To create a theatre from the great hall at Whitehall Jones and his assistants added seating (degrees), the state, galleries, and a stage.

The stage consisted of several parts including a overhead framework, backcloth, relief scene, shutter grooves, upper stage, flying machine, standing scene, borders and a frontispiece. The visual evidence does not include the design for the front curtain or Diana's chariot. I used Sabbattini's machines for these devices and opted to use a view of Whitehall from Hollar's Long View of London for the curtain and a design for the 1632 Albion's Triumph for Diana's chariot.

The view of the stage was determined by where one sat in the theatre. The king's view from the state was perfect and a courtier's view from the upper gallery was somewhat distorted.

Ourknowledge of the pastoral play, Florimène, relies upon an Argument or summary, (published in Orgel and Strong) which describes the scenes and the intermedii. The cast of characters consists of nine shepherds and shepherdesses, Diana, her nymph and Fame. The play concerns debates about Platonic love and is not connected to the subject of the intermedii. The sequence of the scenes and changes:

The curtain is "drawn up" revealing the Isle of Delos, a standing scene with the sea painted on the shutter

Fame enters and speaks the prologue

The shutters open revealing Temple of Diana (a scene of relief) for the Introduction.

Priests enter and sing. The shepherds and shepherdesses present offerings to Diana.

The shutters close returning to the Isle of Delos for Act I of Florimène

The shutters open revealing - Winter (a scene of relief) for The First Intermedium

Winter enters and sings praise of the king; four old men enter, dance and exit.

The shutters close returning to the Isle of Delos for Act II of Florimène

Diana descends in chariot

She goes off to hunt. The Argument doesn't indicate what happens to the chariot, so I left it onstage.

The shutters open revealing - Spring (a scene of relief) for the Second Intermedium

Spring enters and sings. Three young couples enter, dance, and exit.

The shutters close returning to the Isle of Delos for Act III of Florimène

The shutters open revealing - Summer (a scene of relief) for the Third Intermedium

Ceres enters and sings. Five reapers enter dance and exit.

The shutters close returning to the Isle of Delos for Act IV of Florimène

The shutters open revealing - Autumn (a scene of relief) for the Fourth Intermedium

Bacchus enters with two satyrs and two sileni; they sing. Three Companions enter and dance. Four satyrs come leaping in and scare the Companions away. The satyrs drink wine, dance, and fall asleep. The Companions reenter and steal the wine. Pan enters, dances and wakes the satyrs who dance around him and carry him off.

A 2nd set of shutters close revealing another view of the Temple of Diana for Act V of Florimène.

Diana returns and straightens out the various love affairs

"The heavens open, and there appear many deities, who in their songs express their agreements to these marriages."

[The heavens close and the anti-masque is performed]

[Finally the curtain descends]

The computer model presents the scenic aspects of Florimène as they may have appeared to King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria at Whitehall in 1635.

This page was adapted from a paper I presented at the Second Blackfriars Conference in Staunton, Virginia, October 2003.


  • Nicoll, Allardyce. Stuart Masques and the Renaissance Stage . New York: Benjamin Bloom, 1938.
  • Orgel, Stephen. The Illusion of Power: Political Theater in the English Renaissance . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975.
  • Orgel, Stephen and Strong, Roy. Inigo Jones: The Theatre of the Stuart Court . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973.
  • Orrell, John. The Theatres of Inigo Jones and John Webb . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
  • Peacock, John. The Stage Designs of Inigo Jones: The European Context . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
  • Simpson, Percy and Bell, C. F. Designs by Inigo Jones For Masques & Plays at Court . New York: Russell and Russell, 1966.
  • Southern, Richard. Changeable Scenery: Its Origin and Development in the English Theatre . London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1953.
  • Strong, Roy. Festival Designs by Inigo Jones .
Parts of Florimene Set
View from the State and View from the Gallery Side

the development of scenice spectacle


usittThis material is made possible, in part, by a grant from the New Initiatives Fund, United States Institute for Theatre Technology and by grants from the University Research Council, Cratis D. Williams Graduate School, Appalachian State University.


Dr. Frank Mohler
Department of Theatre & Dance
Appalachian State University
Boone, NC 28608

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