Your browser is not supported. This might affect how the content is displayed.

Epicene: Stage History

David Bevington

The 1616 folio title page of Epicene informs the reader that the play was first acted ‘in the year 1609 by the Children of Her Majesty’s Revels’, formerly the Children of the Chapel Royal, also variously known as the Children of the Queen’s Revels, the Children of Blackfriars, and the Children of Whitefriars. (These may have been aliases devised by the company’s managers to protect themselves when the company was in trouble for controversial productions, or may simply have been the result of moving from theatre to theatre.) The actual date may have been December 1609 or January 1610; the folio title page and note on performance at the end of the play both specify the year 1609, but could be using the legal year chronology in which the year would extend to 25 March; Jonson uses both calendrical and legal dating in the folio. (See Martin Butler’s essay on ‘The Riddle of Jonson’s Chronology’.) Clerimont’s reference to the continual ringing of bells ‘by reason of the sickness’ (1.1.145) would seem to set the action of the play during a recent epidemic of the plague, so severe that it had necessitated an eighteen-month closure of the London theatres which had been lifted only on 8 December, but such a visitation of disease would have been vividly in the audience’s mind throughout December or January. The title page’s naming of ‘the Children of Her Majesty’s Revels’ suggests a date after 4 January, when they were granted a patent for this title and were authorized to play in the disestablished Carmelite priory of Whitefriars, to which the Prologue alludes (line 24). Conceivably their occupancy might have begun in December with court performances during the Christmas season, but on the whole January seems the likelier date. The play was registered in the Stationers’ Register on 10 September 1610. It was first published in the 1616 folio in a generally reliable text.

The 1616 folio provides the following list of actors at the end of the play (here modernized):

This comedy was first acted in the year 1609 by the
Children of Her Majesty’s Revels.
The principal comedians were:

Nathan Field William Barksted
Giles Carie William Pen
Hugh Attawell Richard Allen
John Smith John Blaney

Dutton argues (ed. Epicene, 2-9) that this company, patented in 1610, was an amalgamation of the Children of the Blackfriars and the Children of the King’s Revels, both of which had gone out of business in 1608. Richard Allen (or Alleyn) and Hugh Attawell (or Atwell or Ottewell) joined the Lady Elizabeth’s Men in 1613; Attawell went on to the Prince’s Men in 1621. William Barksted (or Backstead) and Giles Carie (or Gary) acted in Jonson’s Entertainment at Britain’s Burse in 1609 and then joined the Lady Elizabeth’s Men in 1611; Barksted published two long poems, Mirzah in 1607 and Hiren the Fair Greek in 1611, and thus can hardly have been a juvenile in 1609; he joined the Prince’s Men in 1616. Nathan Field was a pupil of Jonson’s, and seems to have been twenty-one or twenty-two in 1609; he acted also in Cynthia’s Revels and Poetaster as a member of the Chapel Children/Children of the Queen’s Revels, and, like others here, was absorbed into the Lady Elizabeth’s Men in 1613. The company title of ‘Children’ may thus have been something of a legal fiction allowing them to operate apart from the ‘allowed’ adult companies (Dutton, ed. Epicene, 6). John Blaney belonged to Queen Anne’s Men in 1616-19. William Pen or Penn joined the Prince’s Men in 1616. Of John Smith nothing further is known (H&S, 9.259-63; Chambers, 1923, 2.295-350).

By February of 1610 the play was in trouble with the authorities. The Lady Arabella (or Arbella) Stuart, in the line of royal accession (after James and Anne’s sons Henry, Charles, and Elizabeth) by virtue of her descent from Henry VII and her being a first cousin of King James I, complained that Jonson had libelled her in a passing reference to depictions ‘of the Prince of Moldavia, and of his mistress, Mistress Epicene’ (5.1.19-20). As the Venetian ambassador reported the matter on 8/18 February, ‘Lady Arabella . . . complains that in a certain comedy the playwright introduced an allusion to her person and the part played by the Prince of Moldavia’ ( CSPV 1607-1610 , 426-7). In context, Jonson presumably meant ‘his’ to refer to John Daw, since the speaker, La Foole, has just been talking about his friend Daw, and since Daw proclaims himself throughout the play as the servant of his ‘mistress’, Epicene; but the ambiguous pronoun ‘his’ gave Lady Arabella an opportunity to imagine an affront by identifying herself with Epicene. Lady Arabella had been the unwilling object of a bizarre courtship by one Stephano Janiculo, alias Stephen Bogdan, claimant to the throne of Moldavia (in Romania), who was audacious enough at one point to insinuate that ‘some motions . . . had passed between him and the Lady Arabella of marriage, to succeed when he should be settled in his princedom’ (Wotton,1907, 1.414, 438; letter of 22 February 1608). Curiously enough, Janiculo had escaped imprisonment by the Turks in Constantinople in 1606 by disguising himself as a woman. Arabella, who was herself to escape in the disguise of a boy in 1611 from imprisonment brought upon her by her marriage in 1610 without royal permission to Sir William Seymour, was not amused. The Venetian ambassador reported back to his government on 8 February 1610 that ‘the play’ (presumably Epicene) ‘was suppressed. Her Excellency is very ill pleased and shows a determination in this coming Parliament [due to open 9 February] to secure the punishment of certain persons, we don’t know who’ (CSPV, cited above).

Whether the play was actually suppressed, as the Ambassador asserted, is hard to determine, but the incident did at any rate provoke Jonson into writing a second Prologue for the 1616 edition of the play, ‘Occasioned by some person’s impertinent exception’, and to insist proudly in his dedication of the play to Sir Francis Stuart that ‘not a line or syllable in it’ had been ‘changed from the simplicity of the first copy’. Jonson later hinted to Drummond that the play had not been well received: ‘When his play of The Silent Woman was first acted, there was found verses after on the stage against him, concluding that that play was well named the Silent Woman; there was never one man to say plaudite to it’ (i.e., applaud it; Informations, 565-7).

As Jean MacIntyre (1996) and Richard Dutton have shown, Jonson took some care to adapt Epicene to the staging demands and capacities of the Whitefriars playhouse. That theatre had been built in about 1605 in the refectory of a former friary, between the Fleet and the Temple. With dimensions of 85 feet by 35 feet, it was smaller than the Blackfriars playhouse (101 x 46 feet). Two doors onstage opened into the tiring house backstage, flanking a curtained discovery space, with another upper acting location above. Jonson makes good use of these areas in act 4 of Epicene, when the wits play their practical joke on Daw and La Foole by tricking them into abusing each other. Clerimont and Dauphine hide ‘behind the arras’ (4.5.27), presumably in the discovery space. Truewit ‘Puts him [Daw] up' (67) behind one of the doors, then repeats the device with La Foole at the other door; Clerimont and Dauphine repeatedly emerge and hide themselves again. The discovery space is referred to by Truewit as the ‘gallery’, ‘Or rather lobby’ (4.5.24); the flanking two doors he refers to as ‘this study’ and ‘that study’ (64, 223). The Collegiate Ladies enter eventually onto the main stage, ‘having discovered part of the past scene above’ (4.6.0 SD); no previous stage direction specifies their entering above in 4.5, but they must do so, perhaps at 218. That they do not speak above may suggest the impracticality of elaborate action there, as in other Whitefriars plays. Truewit speaks through the doors to frighten Daw and then La Foole about the other’s allegedly hostile intentions: at 4.5.171-2, ‘He feigns as if one [Daw] were present, to fright the other [La Foole], who is run in to hide himself’. Truewit stage-manages the whole affair: at one point, for example, ‘He calls forth Clerimont and Dauphine’ (181) from their curtained hideaway so that they can exult in their cleverness and plot further discomfitures for the gulls. Soon, as planned, ‘Dauphine comes forth [from the curtained space, disguised as La Foole] to kick him’ i.e. Daw (235 SD). In the next instalment, ‘Dauphine enters [disguised this time as Daw] to tweak him’i.e. La Foole, and take away his sword (272 SD). Jonson has maximized use of every part of the Whitefriars stage.

Scenic effects throughout the play are sparse, but hand properties are plentiful, including a speaking tube for Morose’s Mute, a post-horn and a noose with which Truewit arrives at Morose’s house, Otter’s cups, Morose’s long sword (4.2.98), the swords that are taken away from Daw and La Foole, pen and ink for Daw (5.1.12), various favours presented by the ladies to Dauphine, etc. Costuming effects are of vital importance: Morose’s ‘huge turban of nightcaps’ (mentioned by Truewit at 1.1.115), Truewit’s boots and spurs (2.2.0), the Collegiate Ladies’ elegant dresses, Epicene’s disguise as a virtuous and penniless young woman, her later more expensive costume as Morose’s supposed wife, La Foole’s outfit in which he enters ‘like a sewer’ or servant(3.3.74), the disguises for Dauphine and Clerimont as the tormentors of Daw and La Foole, the disguises for Cutbeard and Otter as canon and civil lawyers, and still more. Unmasking is a pivotal theatrical device, most of all when Dauphine removes Epicene’s peruke and then ‘pulls off their [Cutbeard’s and Otter’s] beards and disguise’ (5.4.165, 171). Loud music is heard from time to time, as when the musicians arrive to provide ‘Music of all sorts’ (3.7.2), along with ‘drum and trumpets’ (3.7.37). By limiting his setting to Clerimont’s lodgings, Morose’s house, the house of the Otters, and the street near Morose’s house, Jonson achieves a unity of place that was to be much admired in the Restoration and eighteenth century.

Some time after its initial setback, Epicene returned to the stage with considerable success. The Children’s company who performed the original production made no appearance at court during the following winter of 1610-11 (Chambers, 1923, 2.59). but the play was performed twice at court by the King’s Men in 1636, with John Lowin as Morose and Joseph Taylor as Truewit (according to James Wright’s Historia Histrionica, 1699, 4, and Thomas Davies’s Dramatic Miscellanies, 1783-4, 2.101). Evidently the rights to the play had passed to the King’s Men by this time. It had been listed among fourteen plays ‘Considered to be acted’ at court in a Revels document dated some time around 1619-1620, suggesting that it had outlived its stigma by then. Stansby’s decision to publish in 1620 a quarto edition negligently reprinted from the 1616 folio may also point to a revival of interest. But one can only hazard a guess that the play was in fact performed at that time. The performances in 1636, at St James’s Palace on 18 February and in the Cockpit-at-Court on 21 April are more certain signs of favour. King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria attended the second of these.

Epicene may have been popular in these years as part of a general reappraisal of sexual and gender roles current under Henrietta Maria; the court also saw The Taming of the Shrew and The Tamer Tamed at this time, so that we can perhaps see Epicene as picking up on the Caroline thinking creatively and playfully about sexual identity. Perhaps too, as Richard Dutton proposes (ed. Epicene, 76-9), the play was popular in part because it had become identified with the Essex divorce of 1613; the Earl had publicly admitted impotence with his wife, and she had been declared a virgin by a jury of twelve matrons. Lady Frances was thereby freed to marry the King’s favourite, Robert Carr, soon to be Earl of Somerset, but the whole business had the unsavoury atmosphere of a put-up job; and when both Somerset and his new wife were then charged and found guilty of the poisoning of a client of Somerset’s, Sir Thomas Overbury, the affair became the scandal of the age. Somerset’s fall made room for the rise to power of George Villiers, later Duke of Buckingham, who, by 1619, when Queen Anne died, was openly the favourite of the ageing King James. Later, in 1636 (Buckingham having been assassinated in 1628), Charles I was on the throne, free of emotional entanglements with male favourites but uxoriously devoted to his Queen, Henrietta Maria. The craven admissions of Daw and La Foole that they have enjoyed Epicene sexually might well have offered suggestive analogies to the Essex divorce scandal, if that episode was still vivid in courtly memory. The Master of the Revels, Sir Henry Herbert, evidently surmised that enough time had elapsed since the worst of the scandals for the court to find Jonson’s play amusing.

Its popularity continued strong into the Restoration period, when, apparently, it was the first play to be acted when the theatres were allowed to reopen in 1660: first on 6 June and on some unspecified date by the Red Bull actors in St John’s Street, Clerkenwell, and then, in November and December, by Thomas Killigrew’s new company with whom the Red Bull actors merged. This combined company, which received its patent on 21 August, acted in Gibbons’s Tennis Court in Vere Street near Clare Market. Company members included Michael Mohun, Charles Hart, Robert Shatterel, Edward Shatterel, Nicholas Burt, William Cartwight, Walter Clun, and William Wintershall (Noyes, 1935, 173). They played Epicene on 10 November and 4 December at Gibbons’s Tennis Court. In between those dates, they performed at court, the event having been advertised as ‘the first play to be staged at the Cockpit in Whitehall’ on 19 November of that same year, in an entertainment presented to ‘Their Majesties’ by General Monk, the Duke of Albemarle (Van Lennep, 1965, 20-1). A prologue written by the poet Sir John Denham greeted this important theatrical event by roundly criticizing those who had closed the theatres in 1642: ‘They that would have no king would have no play; / The laurel and the crown together went, / Had the same foes, and the same banishment.’ The play was acted twice more in 1661, on 7 January and 25 May, before Killigrew’s company finally added other Jonson comedies – Bartholomew Fair and The Alchemist, and then, in 1662, Volpone – to its repertory. Epicene was thus destined to become a landmark play for the Restoration period, attuned to the mores of the restored monarchy and to a hedonistic culture that felt a compelling desire to make up for lost time. More importantly in literary terms, Epicene offered a Renaissance model for the emergent comedy of manners and high society, being a comedy of manners avant la lettre (see E. Jones, 1982).

Epicene was a special favourite of Samuel Pepys: he mentions it no fewer than eight times in his diary. On 6 June 1660, at the very beginning of the Restoration period, he reports that ‘the two Dukes [of York and Gloucester, brothers of the king] do haunt the Park much, and that they were at a play, Madam Epicene, the other day’; this is the performance by the Red Bull actors noted in the previous paragraph. On 20 November 1660 Pepys describes how he ‘found my Lord [Sir Edward Montagu] in bed late, he having been with the King, Queen, and Princess at the Cockpit all night, where General Monk [the Duke of Albemarle] treated them; and after supper, a play’. Although Pepys does not name the play, Van Lennep (1965), 20-1, identifies it as the Epicene mentioned in the previous paragraph, staged for the benefit of the King, Queen, and Princess on 19 November at the private royal theatre in Whitehall Palace known as the Cockpit. On the fourth of December in the same year, Pepys records that ‘After dinner Sir Tho[mas Crew] and my Lady went to the Playhouse to see The Silent Woman’ (presumably by at the Theatre Royal in Vere Street, by Killigrew’s company), while Pepys himself went home to work. He finally got to see the play on 7 January of that same winter (1661): ‘Tom [Pepys’s brother] and I and my wife to the Theatre and there saw The Silent Woman, the first time that ever I did see it and it an excellent play. Among other things here, [Edward] Kynaston, the boy, hath the good turn to appear in three shapes: (1), as a poor woman in ordinary clothes to please Morose; then in fine clothes as a gallant, and in them was clearly the prettiest woman in the whole house – and lastly, as a man; and then likewise did appear the handsomest man in the house.’ On 25 May 1661 Pepys went ‘to the Theatre [in Vere Street], where I saw a piece of The Silent Woman, which pleased me’. Some three years then intervened, until 1 June 1664, when ‘my wife . . . and I to the King’s house [in Bridges Street, the first Drury Lane Theatre] and saw The Silent Woman; but methought not so well done or so good [a] play as I formerly thought it to be, or else I am nowadays out of humour’. The major event of the evening, it turned out, was a hailstorm, so insistent that ‘we in the middle of the pit were fain to rise’ (since the pit was open to the sky, even though the stage itself was covered in by a tile roof). Pepys and his wife got into a little alehouse, at which point they had to wait over an hour for a coach. (Pepys does not mention a performance of Epicene on 2 February 1664 at the Inner Temple, for which the King’s Company received the customary fee of £20; see Van Lennep, 1965, 75.)

When Pepys went to see a new play on 16 April 1667, at the Bridges Street Theatre, it turned out, contrary to expectation, to be The Silent Woman. His enthusiasm was great. ‘I never was more taken with a play than I am with this Silent Woman’, he wrote, ‘as old as it is – and as often as I have seen it. There is more wit in it than goes to ten new plays.’ On 30 July, his diary entry attests to the extent to which the play’s language was passing into courtly parlance. He reports a story given to him by Richard Cooling, secretary to the Lord Chamberlain, of how ‘the King, once speaking of the Duke of York’s being mastered by his wife, said to some of the company by, that he would go no more abroad with this Tom Otter (meaning the Duke of York) and his wife. Tom Killigrew, being by, answered, “Sir”, says he, “pray which is the best for a man to be, a Tom Otter to his wife or to his mistress?” meaning the King’s being so to my Lady Castlemayne.’ Pepys’s last recorded mentions of the play occur on 18 and 19 September 1668, when, on the 18th, he saw at the Bridges Street Theatre ‘a piece of Henry the 4th’, and was of a mind thereafter to go ‘abroad’ with Mary Knepp, ‘but it was too late, and she to get her part against tomorrow, in The Silent Woman’. Next evening, he did go ‘to the King’s playhouse and there saw The Silent Woman; the best comedy, I think, that ever was wrote; and sitting by [Thomas] Shadwell the poet, he was big with admiration of it. . . . Knepp did her part mighty well.’ Pepys had more than a passing acquaintance with Mary Knepp, it seems; on 2 January 1666 he got into a coach with her, had her up on his knee (the coach being full), and played with her breasts and sang. By this time, the part of Epicene was being played by Mary Knepp, thereby establishing a tradition of actresses in the role that continued on into the eighteenth century, including Sarah Siddons, and occasionally into modern times. (Women had been introduced to the Restoration stage by May 1663.) No doubt it spoiled the point of play’s surprising denouement with the revelation that Epicene is actually a boy, but charmed the vulnerable Pepys nonetheless.

Epicene was performed at Cambridge, probably at Trinity College, in the early spring of 1662. (See H&S, 9.211, and G. C. Moore Smith, letter to The Cambridge Review, 4 February 1919.)

When Killigrew’s company performed the play on 7 May 1663, having moved to Drury Lane in Bridges Street in the previous month, the cast (as listed in John Downes, Roscius Anglicanus , but not in Van Lennep, 1965, 64) included the following:

William Cartwright Morose
Nicholas Burt Clerimont
Edward Kynaston Dauphine
Michel Mohun Truewit
Edward Shatterel Daw
William Wintershall La Foole
John Lacy Otter
Katherine Corey Mrs Otter
Mary Knepp Epicene
Mrs Rutter Haughty

On 2 February 1664 Killigrew and his King’s Company played Epicene at the Inner Temple (Noyes, 1935, 178; H&S, 9.211), and then at Drury Lane on about 12 January 1669 the play was ‘allowed of to his Majesty’s Servants at the New Theatre’ in Dorset Garden, Salisbury Court. On 10 December 1666, according to The London Stage,98-9, the King’s Company performed either Epicene or Beaumont and Fletcher’s The Scornful Lady at court; if the play was Epicene, the cast would probably have been much like that provided by Downes, above. In 1673 the acting company travelled to Oxford, where they performed in one of the tennis courts for lack of a more suitable venue. John Dryden contributed a prologue and epilogue for this occasion, flattering the Oxford auditors as the true judges of ‘authentic wit’ in a dramatic poet like Jonson, who, ‘Not impudent enough to hope your praise, / Lo, at the Muses’ feet is wreath he lays, / And where he took it up resigns his bays’. Dryden’s epilogue deplores the taste of his own age for adoring witchcraft (as in Macbeth) while despising Fletcher and considering Jonson ‘out of fashion’ ( Miscellany Poems, 1684, 263-7).

Dryden, though conceding that some of Jonson’s language in Every Man In and Epicene appeared ‘coarse’ when judged by Reformation standards of taste (Epilogue to the Second Part of The Conquest of Granada , lines 5-6), insisted nonetheless that the play’s ‘intrigue’ or plot was ‘the greatest and most noble of any pure unmixed comedy in any language’ and hence worthy to be imitated as a model for correct dramatic writing according to the classical rules ( An Essay of Dramatic Poesy, 1668). Dryden needlessly overstated his case by insisting that the action is ‘all included in the limits of three hours and a half’ and that it ‘lies within the compass of two houses, and after the first act in one’, whereas in fact the action occupies an entire day and takes place in four dwellings: Clerimont’s lodgings in the first act and then the houses of Morose on Drury Lane (2.1-2, 2.5, 3.4 to the end of the play), of Daw (2.3-4), and of the Otters (3.1-3), as well as a lane near Morose’s house near Cutbeard’s shop (2.6). Still, in spirit Jonson’s play admirably observes the so-called unities of time and place and makes them work for him. Similarly with the unity of action: Dryden’s insistence that ‘The action of the play is entirely one, the end or aim of which is the settling Morose’s estate on Dauphine’ seems for the moment to overlook the discomfitures of Daw and La Foole, together with the venality and rapacious sexuality of the Collegiate Ladies, with which the fourth act is so extensively concerned. Yet once again the main point is that Dryden rightly praises a unity of action that is a distinguishing feature of Epicene.

Epicene’s architectonic form elicits special praise from Dryden. ‘For the contrivance of the plot’, he writes, ‘’tis extreme elaborate, and yet withal easy; for the λύσις [a loosing, setting free, releasing], or untying of it, ’tis so admirable that, when it is done, no one of the audience would think the poet could have missed it; and yet it was concealed so much before the last scene that any other way would sooner have entered into your thoughts.’ The five-act structure of Epicene is, for Dryden, no mere mechanical observance of neoclassical form but integral to the movement of the play’s action. ‘The business of it rises in every act’, he writes. ‘The second act is greater than the first, the third than the second, and so forth to the fifth. There too you see, till the very last scene, new difficulties arising to obstruct the action of the play; and when the audience is brought into despair that the business can naturally be effected, then, and not before, the discovery is made.’ In this progression of form, the dramatist entertains us with captivating variety, reserving ‘some new characters to show you, which he opens not till the second and third act. In the second, Morose, Daw, the Barber, and Otter; in the third, the Collegiate Ladies: all which he moves afterwards in by-walks, or under-plots, as diversions to the main design, lest it should grow tedious, though they are still naturally joined with it, and somewhere or other subservient to it. Thus, like a skillful chess-player, by little and little he draws out his men, and makes his pawns of use to his greater persons.’ Dryden thus plausibly justifies his claim of a unified action by ascribing to Epicene a principle of a single central plot graced with subsidiary diversions.

Taking Dryden’s advice, many Restoration dramatists – Congreve, Farquhar, Vanbrugh, Wycherley – modelled their satirical characters on those of Epicene. It was praised for its unities of action, place, and time, and above all Jonson’s portrayals of humours types. The play’s location is indeed limited to London, and the action occupies a single day: Clerimont is getting up and dressing in the first scene, the dinner takes place in mid day, the afternoon is ‘well worn’ by 4.4.16, and at 4.5.18 Truewit talks of bringing his plot to fruition ‘afore night, as near as ’tis’. (Recent criticism has redefined the concept of a unity of action in Epicene, arguing for a symbolic unity more related to the ‘festive’ character of native drama than to New or Old Comedy; see particularly T. S. Eliot, 1921, Heffner, 1955, Thayer, 1963, and Donaldson, 1970.)

When the theatre in Bridges Street burned down in January 1672, the King’s Company acted for a time in the old Lincoln’s Inn Fields theatre and then moved into a new theatre building in November 1674. There they performed until April 1682, and became part of the union of the two chief acting companies until December 1694, during which time Thomas Betterton rose to become the greatest actor of his day. As noted above, Epicene was performed at Oxford in 1673, with a prologue and epilogue written for the occasion by Dryden. A performance on 15 January 1685 of ‘The King and Queen at the Silent Women’ by the United Companies took place just before the death of King Charles in February of that year (Noyes, 1935, 183; Van Lennep, 1965, 335). William Mountfort may have appeared in the role of Daw. Epicene continued to garner lavish praise from spectators. Gerard Langbaine wrote in 1691 that ‘this play is accounted by all one of the best comedies we have extant; and those who would know more, may be amply satisfied by the perusal of the judicious Examen of this play made by Mr Dryden’ (Langbaine, 1691, 296). William Congreve wrote to John Dennis in 1695 that although he admired the plots of Volpone, Epicene, and The Alchemist, he found the first and third of these ‘dangerously perplexed’ and not so ‘happily disentangled’, whereas ‘the Gordian knot in The Silent Woman is untied with so much felicity that it alone may suffice to show Ben Jonson no ordinary hero’. Congreve was, to be sure, critical of Jonson for lacking a moral perspective; the singularity of Morose’s character is ‘too extravagant for instruction and fit, in my opinion, only for farce’. Jonson ‘seems to draw deformity more to the life than beauty’, thereby failing to satisfy an audience’s craving for ‘passion’ and delight’. Still, for Congreve, Jonson’s character sketches ‘are for the most part true’, so that ‘most of the humorous characters’ are ‘masterpieces’ (Letters upon Several Occasions, 76-9). Like Dryden, Congreve singles out Epicene as in important ways the most accomplished of Jonson’s comedies.

The publication in 1692 of a one-volume Jonson folio, in 1716-17 of a six-volume octavo edition , in 1729 of a two-volume edition , and in 1756 of a seven-volume edition , give further evidence of the high degree of favour that Jonson’s reputation enjoyed in the Restoration and early eighteenth century. Individual editions of Epicene or with other selected plays appeared in 1709, 1712, 1715, 1729, 1732, 1739, 1740, 1752, 1766, 1768, 1776, and 1777 (see Noyes, 1935, 334-6). John Upton’s Remarks upon Three Plays of Benjamin Jonson (1749) further attests to the play’s enduring popularity in this era. At the same time, the editors of The London Stage are able to note with some justification that the ‘chorus of adulation’ accorded Jonson by critics and commentators like Dryden was never quite matched in the theatre. Of the fifteen Jonson play titles that were distributed between the King’s Company and the Duke’s Company, only seven were ever performed during the Restoration (Every Man In His Humour, Every Man Out of His Humour, Volpone, Epicene, The Alchemist, Catiline, and Bartholomew Fair), and of these only three, Volpone, Epicene, and The Alchemist were acted with any frequency. At least Epicene belongs to this select group.

During the 1700s and 1710s, according to the Performance calendar in this edition, Epicene was performed some forty times, thereby taking a comfortable lead over Volpone (32), Bartholomew Fair (30), and The Alchemist (18); no other Jonson comedy appeared on stage in these same years.Sixteen performances are recorded during the 1720s in the Performance Calendar and in Avery (1960), many with cast lists. The cast for a performance on 21 December 1700 (seen by Lady Penelope Morley, not listed in Avery) probably included the following (Noyes, 1935, 186):

Benjamin Johnson Morose
John Mills Clerimont
John Wilks Truewit
Colley Cibber Daw
William Bullock La Foole
Henry Norris Cutbeard
Anne Oldfield Epicene

The actor Benjamin Johnson (not to be confused with Ben Jonson) starred as Morose down until his last performance in the part at Drury Lane on 13 February 1742. Thomas Betterton, though he acted only rarely in Jonson’s comedies, took the role of Morose on three occasions. The cast at the Queen’s Theatre, Haymarket, on 1 January 1707 was the same as that listed above except that Betterton played Morose, Barton Booth played Dauphine, and Henry Fairbank played Otter. Wilks played Truewit until he died in 1732. Anne Oldfield was a favourite as Epicene down to the time of her death in 1722; other women who took the part were Frances Maria Knight, Mary Porter, Mrs Garnet, and Mrs Thurmond. Noyes (1935) records eighty-four performances between 1707 and 1776. Drury Lane actors periodically defected to the Haymarket; there they took up their familiar roles in Epicene for performances on 11 January, 9 February, and 9 June 1710, returning to Drury Lane later that year. Another revolt occurred in 1733, yielding four performances of Epicene at the Haymarket. Back in Drury Lane the following year, the play was staged some sixteen times by February 1742, whereupon it remained unperformed at that theatre for ten years. Charles Macklin played Cutbeard on 16 November 1737. The play was staged at Covent Garden seven times between 1745 and 1748. Hannah Pritchard was Epicene there in 1745 and 1752, having earlier portrayed Lady Haughty on 16 November 1737 at Drury Lane.

The Performance Calendar of this present edition records performances at the Aungier Street Theatre, Dublin, in 1735, 1736, 1738, 1739, and 1742. On 20 September 1746, a performance of Epicene was advertised to be given at the Theatre in Richmond (on the Thames) by Thomas Chapman’s Company. On 8 August 1752 the play was given at Richmond for Shuter’s benefit, with the following cast (Avery, 1937):

John Burton Morose
Edward Shuter Clerimont
Ackman Dauphine
Cross Truewit
Charles Blakes Daw
Edward Shuter Law Foole
Thomas Davies Cutbeard
Phillips Otter
Miss Ross Mrs Otter
Miss Ibbot Epicene
Miss Davies Haughty
Miss Helme Centaur
Mrs Matthews Mavis

The same cast presented the play at Twickenham on 12 August for the benefit of Miss Ibbot (Avery, 1937).

David Garrick’s first production at Drury Lane in 1752 (in which he did not act) was not a success. The cast was as follows, including Shuter, Scrase, and Davies in the parts they had performed that summer at Richmond:

Richard Yates Morose
Scrase Clerimont
William Havard Dauphine
William Palmer Truewit
Henry Woodward Daw
Edward Shuter La Foole
Thomas Davies Cutbeard
Edward Berry Otter
Mrs Cross Mrs Otter
Hannah Pritchard Epicene
Catherine Clive Haughty
Mrs Bennett Centaur
Mrs Price Mavis

Garrick used period costuming rather than the contemporary dress that had been the practice in the Restoration years, as though to acknowledge that the play was now regarded as something of a museum piece hearkening back to the early seventeenth century. Certainly that was the response of some critics. A reviewer for the Spring Garden Journal in 1752 complained that the scene between Otter and Cutbeard in Act was too ‘improper to be represented before a polite audience’ (cited in Noyes, 1935, 197). Thomas Davies, writing about Garrick’s revival some thirty years later in his Dramatic Miscellanies, reported that ‘with perseverance it was dragged on for a few nights’ and that ‘The managers acquired neither profit nor reputation by the exhibition of it’. Morose was too ‘unnatural’ a character, thought Davies, too ‘peevish and perverse’ and apt to degenerate into ‘malice and cruelty’. ‘The licentiousness of the manners, the quaintness of expression in The Silent Woman, the frequent allusions to forgotten customs and characters render it impossible to be ever revived with any probability of success’ (Davies, 1783-4, 2.102-3). Garrick had better luck as Kitely in Every Man in His Humour and as Drugger in The Alchemist.

A revival of Epicene in January 1776 was no less unhappy, despite Garrick’s desperate attempts to please with a bowdlerized text prepared for him by George Colman and subsequently published with defensive preparatory material. The cast included the following:

Robert Bensley Morose
Thomas Davies Clerimont
William Brereton Dauphine
William Palmer Truewit
William Parsons Daw
Thomas King La Foole
Robert Baddeley Cutbeard
Richard Yates Otter
Mrs Hopkins Mrs Otter
Sarah Siddons Epicene
Miss Sherry Haughty
Mrs Davies Centaur
Miss Platt Mavis
Miss Millidge Trusty

Once again Garrick chose to dress his characters ‘in the habits of the times’, as he had done with much greater success in Every Man In. The fifth act of Epicene was tightened up by abbreviating the ‘divorce’ proceedings; throughout, topical allusions to seventeenth-century London were excised. As before, Garrick did not take a role. Nothing seemed to work, despite the presence in the cast of Sarah Siddons, the most acclaimed and serious actress of her generation. A critic writing in The London Magazine complained that although Jonson was an astute observer of the ‘prevailing follies of the times’, he was too self-indulgent and pedantic (XLV, 1776, 48-9, cited by Noyes, 1935, 215). A last move on Garrick’s part, after three performances, was to replace Sarah Siddons with a boy, Philip Lamash, in the role of Epicene, thus interrupting a tradition of female Epicenes that had begun by 1668, when Pepys saw Mary Knepp in the role. Garrick may have been responding to a presumed desire by ‘many admirers of Ben Jonson . . . to see The Silent Woman performed as the author originally intended it’ (The Public Advertiser, 18 January) and to a letter sent by Dr. John Hoadly to Garrick on 14 January urging that the point about Epicene’s sexuality ‘is entirely lost by its being acted by a woman’ (cited in Noyes, 1935, 215-16). Nevertheless, the bold move did not save the production, and this substitution lasted for only one evening.

Although Garrick’s revival failed, the play left its mark on Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The School for Scandal, produced in the same year, 1776 (Lockwood, 2005). The Colman adaptation was also staged at York in 1782 by Tate Wilkinson’s company, with Stephen Kemble, Sarah Siddons’s younger brother as Dauphine. A benefit performance took place at Covent Garden in 1784, using Colman’s version, with the following cast, including (for the last time) an actress in the role of Epicene (Noyes, 1935, 218-19):

James Aickin Morose
Thomas Davies Clerimont
Whitfield Dauphine
Richard Wroughton Truewit
John Quick Daw
John Edwin La Foole
Ralph Wewitzer Cutbeard
Booth Otter
Mrs Webb Mrs Otter
Mrs Bates Epicene
Mrs Wilson Haughty
Miss Platt Centaur
Miss Stuart Mavis

Throughout the nineteenth century, the play’s theatrical fortunes remained at a low ebb. Ludwig Tieck translated the play into German in 1800 as Epicoene oder Das stille Frauenzimmer (Noyes, 1935, 219). Only two productions, a student adaptation at the American Academy of Dramatic Art on 7 February 1895 and then an all-male faculty-student undertaking on an Elizabethan stage in Sanders theatre at Harvard University on 30 March in that same year, are recorded during that entire span of time. As a work to be read, it had a mixed reception. Coleridge declared it ‘the most entertaining of old Ben’s comedies’ and ‘the best of farces’ (1893, 415-6), but some other critics were repelled by its harshness and misogyny.

The twentieth and twenty-first centuries have seen a number of successful revivals, beginning with a production by the Mermaid Repertory Company at the Great Queen Street Theatre from 8 to 13 May 1905, directed by Philip Carr, with the following cast:

George Ingleton Morose
Arthur Goodsall Clerimont
Milton Rosmer Dauphine
Michael Sherbrooke Truewit
Henry Twyford Daw
Ashton Pearse La Foole
E. C. Buffum Cutbeard
W. H. Kemble Otter
Sime Seruy Mrs Otter
Cyril Cattley Epicene
Ada Potter
Miss Stuart the Collegiate Ladies
Violet Bazalgette
Miss Inglis Trusty

A reviewer for The Times praised the actors in the roles of Epicene, Morose, Truewit, La Foole, and Daw, but complained that the Collegiate Ladies were too decorously like the members of a modern ladies’ college rather than the grotesques that Jonson had created (H&S, 9.219-20).

The Marlowe Dramatic Society produced Epicene at Cambridge on 19 and 20 February 1909, with the following all-male cast (H&S, 9.220):

Rupert Brooke Prologue
W. Frost Morose
C. C. Brown Clerimont
H. M. Butler Dauphine
W. Foss Truewit
R. W. Poley Daw
W. H. Malleson La Foole
F. Arundel Otter
H. L. Birrell Mrs Otter
W. Phillips Epicene
Cosmo Gordon Haughty
W. H. Haslam Centaur

The production was reviewed (anonymously) by William Poel. That champion of open presentational staging, though he regretted the impossibility of staging the play in its original casting with a company of boy actors, was impressed with the play’s theatrical vibrancy, its ‘steady crescendo’ of noise ‘rising through four acts from Truewit’s post-horn to a horrible din of quarreling, drinking, fighting, laughter, tears, music, disputing lawyers, and shrieking women’ as the play moves toward the great climax of the discovery of Epicene’s sexual identity. ‘Meanwhile’, Poel continued, ‘each of these characters has had its own fortunes developed, and its own justice meted out, in inseverable connection with the main story’. Poel praised those very things so much admired by Dryden: ‘As a piece of construction the play is amazing; as a comedy of “humours” and manners it is full of truth; and as a farce it is – or should be – a cause of continuous and ever-growing laughter’ (The Times, 22 February 1909). For Poel as for Dryden, Epicene is a piece of brilliant poetic writing that is also superbly theatrical.

Herford and Simpson (9.221) note an amateur performance on 11 May 1912 at the Theatre of Birkbeck College, with an all-female cast under the direction of Miss C. M. Edmondston, starring Cordelia Minnion as Morose and Irene Palmer as Epicene. Noted also, without indication of date, is another amateur performance in an abbreviated text made by Miss A. G. Caton in the Palmer Hall, Fairford, with Commander F. Cadogan as Morose, Miss Caton as Truewit, and S. Beck as Epicene (H&S, 9. 221-2).

The Phoenix Society production at the Regent Theatre, London, on 16 and 18 November 1924, directed by Allan Wade, featured the following cast:

Cedric Hardwicke Morose
A. Corney Grain Mute
Henry C. Hewitt Clerimont
Raymond Massey Dauphine
George Zucco Truewit
Harold Scott La Foole
Melville Cooper Daw
Wallace Evennett Cutbeard
Alfred Clark Otter
Marion Lind Mrs Otter
Godfrey Winn Epicene
Ethel Lodge Haughty
Hilda Sims Centaur
Winifred Evans Mavis
Adrian Byrne Parson
David Brynley Page

The anonymous reviewer for The Times, 19 November 1924, allowed that the play was well cast, and that the plotting of the wits was carried out with ‘perfectly fiendish ingenuity’, but sounded what was by this time a familiar complaint that the play deserved to be consigned to ‘the museum of dramatic antiquities’ for its tedious horseplay and vulgarisms.

In 1935, Stefan Zweig produced a loose adaptation in German as a libretto for the opera composer Richard Strauss; the result was Die schweigsame Frau [The Silent Woman]: komische oper in drei Aufzügen, opus 80. It opened on 24 June at the State Opera House in Dresden but was quickly banned by the Nazi regime, so that it had to wait for a subsequent performance in London after the Second World War, in 1961. It has been revived several times since then; a production at Garsington in June 2003 was reviewed for The Guardian by Edward Greenfield. The libretto moves in the direction of high Romanticism, as Richard Dutton observes, by sympathizing with Morosus’s aversion to noise and by identifying the ‘silent woman’ as the wife of the Dauphine figure (named Henry), thus turning out to be a woman after all. Morosus is cured of his ‘humour’. See the stage history of Volpone in this edition; Zweig was an important adapter of that play. For earlier translations and adaptations, see H&S, 9.222-3, and Nick Tanner’s essay on adaptations in the CWBJ Performance Archive.

Nevill Coghill directed a production staged by the players of the Oxford Summer Diversions in August of 1938, with the following cast:

C. Thomas Morose
V. Peskett Clerimont
R. Benn Dauphine
D. Bishop Truewit
K. Sanders Daw
H. Moore La Foole
J. Good Cutbeard
A. Dunn Otter
Mrs Fraser Mrs Otter
H. Cardwell Epicene
Joan Yeaxlee
Miss P. Riley the Collegiate Ladies
Miss V. Maynard

John Masefield wrote an epilogue, describing the play as admirably suited to Ben Jonson’s own loud and hearty temperament (H&S, 221).

A production directed by Willard Stoker with the Birmingham Repertory Company in 1947 aroused the ire of one reviewer for its purportedly tasteless audacity in presenting, ‘as matters of farcical merriment, such topics as contraceptive practice, the impotence of a husband, a woman’s purity, and a bride’s prenuptial infidelities’, all of which struck the unamused reviewer as ‘unfit subjects for this sort of treatment in any theatre’ (M. F. K. Fraser, Birmingham Evening Dispatch, 12 March 1947, cited by Dutton, ed., Epicene, 86).

A production by the Oxford University Dramatic Society at Mansfield College on 16 June 1948 was directed by Frank Hauser. The cast included the following:

Brian Badcoe Morose
Michael Godley Clerimont
Alan Cooke Dauphine
Charles Lepper Truewit
Norman Painting Daw
Robert Hardy La Foole
David Raeburn Cutbeard
John Schlesinger Otter
Jennifer Ramage Mrs Otter
Miss G. Rowe-Dutton Epicene
Daphne Levens Haughty
Ann Clamp Centaur
Pat Hackwood Mavis

Percy Simpson found the production full of gusto and quickness of movement, making use of three entrances; the humours characters were true to their types (H&S, 9.222). In both text and style of performance, this production chose to be close to the Jonson original. Hauser was to return to the play in 1968 (see below).

At Bristol’s Old Vic in November 1959, John Hale directed a production aimed at hilarity, with elements of pantomime. It ran for two weeks, from 10 to 28 November. The cast included Peter Jeffrey, Leonard Rossiter, and Annette Crosbie.

Gerald Frow and Sally Miles directed the play for The Margate Stage Company, Oxford, from 10 to 12 September 1964, in an aggressively modern production stressing Epicene’s purported relevance to a world of sexual liberation, pop music, leather jackets, long hair, jukeboxes, motor scooters, and all the rest. At least one reviewer found this updating inconsistently at odds with the play’s astute observation of social niceties in the early seventeenth century (Ian Donaldson, The Guardian, 12 September 1964). Epicene was played by Penny Jones in such a way as to make little attempt to conceal her being a woman, thereby defeating, in Donaldson’s words, ‘the point that the whole production is apparently striving to exploit: the present day difficulty of telling the boys from the girls’. The cast included the following:

Jack Tweddle Morose
Graham D’Albert Clerimont
Paul Tomlinson Dauphine
Christopher Tranchell Truewit
Roy Boyd Daw
Juan Moreno La Foole
Gerald Frow Cutbeard
Christopher Raphael Otter
Sally Miles Mrs Otter
Penny Jones Epicene
Zoe Randall Haughty
Pamela Jackson Mavis

A production of Epicene by the Oxford University Drama Society seems to have taken place on 9-19 June, 1967, in St John’s Gardens, under the direction of Graham Harley, with set designed by Michael Ellison and lighting by Pat Walsh Atkins. Little is known of this production other than its cast, which included the following:

Hugh William Morose
Simon Brett Clerimont
Ewan MacLeod Page
Stephen Davies Dauphine
Clive Mitchell Truewit
Dick Alford Daw
Walter Merricks La Foole
Tony Coombs Cutbeard
Derek Morris Otter
Anne Bibby Mrs Otter
Evelyn Jay Epicene
Maggie Russell Haughty
Lynette Brown Centaur
Sheila Dawson Mavis
Virginia Clutterbuck Trusty

The musicians included John King, Roger Prior, Rodney Lord, and Paul Austin.

Frank Hauser’s return engagement with the play, for the Meadow Players Limited at the Oxford Playhouse, the University theatre, in 1968 (seemingly a third production of the play at Oxford in four years), made the opposite choice from that of Gerald Frow and Sally Miles in 1964, by focusing on Jonson’s London of 1609 as Hauser had done in 1948. The same reviewer (Ian Donaldson) who had fretted over the modernizing of the 1964 production, with its obliteration of Jonson’s social typing, greatly admired this 1968 version for its being ‘admirably straight and true to the text’ (The Guardian, 19 September 1968; see also Jensen, 1985, 34). Michael Clarke designed a handsome brick and timber interior as a means of recreating the inner and upper acting areas of a Jacobean stage. The cast included the following:

Douglas Wilmer Morose
Philip Voss Clerimont
Tony Anholt Dauphine
Lewis Fiander Truewit
Christopher Legge Mute
Peter Stephens Daw
Nicholas Amer La Fool
Donald Pelmear Cutbeard
Stanley Beard Otter
Maggie Jones Mrs Otter
N. D. Anthony Epicene
Joan Peart Haughty
Leeming Centaur
Stephanie Beacham Mavis

The Performance Calendar of this present edition lists a number of comparatively minor productions, of which the productions for Bristol University’s Drama Department at Stratford-upon-Avon’s open air theatre festival in July 1960 (directed by George Brandt) and then at Bristol in 1980-1981 (directed by Ben Dungate) may be the most significant. Also mentioned are productions in Texas in 1976, the Open Space Theatre (directed by Peter Barnes) in 1978, the Stephen Joseph Studio of Manchester University in December 1980 (directed by Laurence Boswell for the Manchester Umbrella Theatre Company), the YMCA Randolph Place in Edinburgh in August 1981 (directed by Dave Curtis for the Cambridge Shadwell Society), the York Theatre Royal on 6-16 June 1984 (directed by Michael Winter for the York Theatre Royal Company, with Gary Kielty as Epicene and Frank Barrie as Morose), the Tristan Bates Theatre in London on 8-26 July 1997 (directed by Sam Shammas, with Jeff Bellamy as Morose and Marc Ellery as Epicene), and, in 2002, the Shakespeare Institute Players (as directed by Alice Cooley) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (directed by Joseph Everingham for the MIT Dramashop). Three radio productions are on record: 25 November 1959 (directed by Raymond Raikes for the BBC), an adaptation aired on 24 September 1972 (again directed by Raymond Raikes for the BBC), and, in 1979, a production for Radio New Zealand.

Danny Boyle directed a production for the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1989, as one of five Jonson revivals since that theatre opened in 1986. This revival was the most important British production of recent years; see the production photographs in the Performance Archive. The cast included: David Bradley Morose

Graham Turner Mute
Jared Harris Clerimont
Peter Hamilton Dyer Dauphine
Richard McCabe Truewit
John Ramm Daw
Michael Mears La Foole
William Chubb Cutbeard
David Shaw-Parker Otter
Jennie Heslewood Mrs Otter
John Hannah Epicene
Amanda Bellamy Haughty
Rebecca Saire Centaur
Sarah Crowden Mavis
Polly Kemp Trusty

Set design was by Kandis Cook. Elaborate costuming, with huge hairdos and hats, played up the eccentricity of humours characterization. David Bradley’s Morose was outfitted with ‘ear-muffs, layers of nightcaps and woollen pumps at the end of spidery legs’. The Otters were ‘the predictable shrew and hen-pecked husband’ (Roger Holdsworth, TLS, 14-20 July, 1989, p. 775). The wits were not exempt from the satire; they were deliberately made unsympathetic in their boorish insensitivity, as though to make the audience uneasy about their own laughing responses. As Holdsworth reports, they were ‘unshaven louts, who spit and scratch themselves and urinate against the stage’s rear wall’. They were cleverer than their victims but enjoyed no moral superiority over them; these sardonic young men went about their plotting ‘with a mixture of sadistic pleasure and mercenary calculation’ (Dutton, ed. Epicene, 87). Homosexual and androgynous hints in Jonson’s text were exploited to their full, though not in such a way as to suggest any preference to ‘the predatory heterosexuality of the Collegiates’. Clerimont ‘entered wearing bloomers, and was dressed in effeminate clothes by his Boy, who was played by a young woman. There was considerable “camp” business, especially in the interchange between Clerimont and Truewit’ (Dutton, 87). The ending made no attempt to soften the acerbic wit; Dauphine struck his uncle Morose a blow on the face even when that miserable old man had capitulated to all of Dauphine’s demands. Lois Potter reports that audiences responded either with a gasp or with stunned silence (Potter, 1999, 202). The heartlessness of the production seemed attuned, in Dutton’s view, to ‘the end of the Thatcher/Reagan era’, when ‘life was a pitiless competitive game, with little in the way of charm, wit or real humour’ (87). Only John Ramm and Michael Mears as Daw and La Foole were able to ‘achieve the authentic Jonsonian blend of lunacy, mania and curious innocence’, thereby bringing a reminder ‘that the play is funny as well as bitter’ (Holdsworth, 775). However off-putting the production seems to have been to a number of reviewers, the acting was generally superb; Richard McCabe as Truewit was especially impressive. John Hannah, who was soon to achieve fame as a film and TV actor, was so unknown at the time that when the programme listed him as ‘Hannah John’, most members of the audience were quite unprepared for the surprising revelation of his sexual identity in the play’s great moment of anagnorisis.

Richard Dutton (87-8)[Bib. # 4236 reports having seen and enjoyed two university productions. One took place at the University of Reading’s Bulmershe campus on 1 to 4 December 1999. As directed by Brian Woolland, it used as its mise-en-scène an approximation of the original Whitefriars theatre, and shifted most of the roles in the course of the play from male to female actors. At the ‘Kissing Spiders’ Conference at the University of Warwick on 29 April 2000, Christian Billing directed a production (and played Morose) that employed an all-male cast in a metatheatrically self-aware style. The audience was enabled to see, through a gauze curtain, the actors backstage as they dressed and made themselves up. As Dutton comments, ‘The emphasis was thus on the construction of character and gender, and on the process of playing. The effect was demystifying and thought-provoking, but also rather dour and unengaging, despite some impressive performances.’

A highly acclaimed production at the Shakespeare Theater in Washington D.C., directed by Michael Kahn in January-February 2003, included the following in the cast:

Ted van Griethuysen Morose
Hugh Nees Mute
Scott Ferrara Clerimont
Bruce Turk Dauphine
Daniel Breaker Truewit
Gregg Almquist Daw
Floyd King La Foole
John Livingstone Rolle Cutbeard
David Sabin Otter
Nancy Robinette Mrs Otter
Ricki Robichaux Epicene
Naomi Jacobson Haughty
Nikki E. Walker Centaur
Amanda Whiting Mavis

Encouraged by Kahn to aim at cacophonous farce and guttural lampoon, the actors camped up their routines ‘like captive species in an aviary: strutting flamingo and preening swans, simpering penguins and brooding owls’ (Celia Wren, New York Times, 26 January 2003). Andrew Jackness designed a madcap toy-box set in vinyl green with hot pink furniture. Costume design by Murrell Horton featured tight brocade pants and close-cut velvet jackets for the men as if they were ’60s rock stars, skintight corsets and extravagant bustles for the Collegiate Ladies, prissy curls, lace ruff, and fuchsia sequins for La Foole, a jet black feather-trimmed collar and puffed breeches for the melancholy Daw, and thick grey socks for Morose. A final song was composed by Catherine MacDonald. Kahn, who had come across the play while teaching at the Juilliard School in New York, took upon himself the mission of re-introducing a long-forgotten Jonsonian comedy, one in which the social satire isn’t ‘really so different from what we might have fun with today’ (quoted in Celia Wren’s review). Audiences were begged not to give away the secret of Epicene’s sexual identity. That request, even if it was a publicity gimmick, points to the play’s success in keeping its secret ending and titillating audiences with the surprise. At the same time, it also testifies to the unfamiliarity today of a play that, in its heyday in the Restoration and eighteenth century, was the talk of the town and a serious candidate for being the most neoclassically ‘perfect’ comedy written up to that time.

An offbeat variation on Epicene took to the stage in April, 2008, at the Drury Stage, Bartell Theatre, in Madison, Wisconsin. Compleat Female Stage Beauty, written by Jeffrey Hatcher for the Mercury Players Theatre, imagined a life of the boy actor, Edward Kynaston, who had portrayed Epicene during the Restoration period (see above). In this avowedly gay fictional biography, Kynaston was depicted as the toast of the town and also the secret lover of the Duke of Buckingham until the advent of Nell Gwynne, Margaret Hughes, and other adult actresses supplanted him on stage and in the boudoir. The cast included Dave Durbin as Kynaston, along with Bonnie Balke, Jamie England, Trevin Gay, George Gonzalez, Nicole Gottleib, Nick Kaprelian, Andrea Kleiner, Monty Marsh, Kelly Murphy, Dean Nett, Joshua Paffel, Elliot Shulz, Lee Waldhart, Colin Woolston, and Becky Zaccard.

Also in 2008, on June 14, Jeremy Lopez directed the Red Bull Players in a staged reading of Epicene in the Victoria University Chapel at the University of Toronto. The production was also headed by Paul Menzer, Director of the MLitt/MFA Program in Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature in Performance at Mary Baldwin College, Genevieve Love of Colorado College, and Paul Hecht, of Purdue University North Central. The cast included the following:

Paul Hecht Morose
Jeremy Lopez Mute
Genevieve Love Clerimont
Dimitry Seynshyn Dauphine
Paul Menzer Truewit
Susan Bond Daw
Rachel Manno La Foole
Holger Syme Cutbeard
John Baird Otter
Jill Carter Mrs Otter
Matt McGeachy Epicene
Ariel Martin-Smith Haughty
Becky Bridger Centaur
Jessica Cimo Mavis

Lopez has also directed The Alchemist at Cornell University in 2001, Volpone at Colorado College in 2003, and Every Man Out on November 7-12, 2006, as part of a conference at the University of Toronto. The reading was offered as part of a festival organized by the Making Publics project run by Paul Yachnin of McGill University. The cast was put together from University of Toronto graduate students and faculty, as well as a few faculty from elsewhere, who were given the script about six months in advance; everyone read it a few times on their own and then the company convened three days before the festival and had a fairly intense rehearsal period. Ten music stands were placed at the front of the stage for the seventeen cast members, who sat in choir seats that formed a semicircle at the back of the stage. Costuming and blocking were minimal, with just enough theatrical gestures to make clear a few necessary bits of action; the main focus was the reading of the script. A colleague who plays the piano provided live musical accompaniment for scene changes. The show ran a bit under two hours without intermission.

One casualty of Jonson’s fall from theatrical grace in the last half-century or so has been the art of reviewing. Compared with reviews of Shakespeare productions, in which reviewers often have very trenchant things to say about the play itself and how it has been realized on stage, the reviews of Epicene at least bespeak an impoverishment of acquaintance with the text on the part of the writers. They tend to concentrate on the set, costuming, and updating of the scene, while having little to say about Jonson’s art as a dramatist other than to repeat each other’s observations, praise a few actors, sketch in the plot inadequately, and characterize the play as ‘raucous and raunchy’. Jonson is seen as amusing himself ‘by lampooning shallow learning and facile pedantry’; the production ‘brings Jonson’s largely unfamiliar text to rollicking life’. The plot ‘is a mere pretext for comeuppances of all stripes’ (J. W. Rousack, Baltimore Sun, 29 January 2003; J. M. Blanchard, Washington Times, 1 February 2003; J. Horwitz, Washington Post, 11 February 2003). The reviewers seem to welcome campy productions as befitting the play itself. Jonson deserves better.

Newspaper reviews cited

[William Poel], ‘The Silent Woman at Cambridge’, The Times, 22 February 1909, p. 10

The Times, 19 November 1924, p. 12

M. F. K. Fraser, Birmingham Evening Dispatch, 12 March 1947

Ian Donaldson, The Guardian, 12 September 1964

------- The Guardian, 19 September 1968

R. V. Holdsworth, ‘Wife Swapping’, TLS, 14-20 July, 1989

Celia Wren, ‘In Which Everyone Gets a Drubbing’, The New York Times, 26 January, 2003, Theater section, 2.5

J. Wynn Rousack, ‘Woman keeps its witticisms about it: 400-year-old farce just as lively today’, The Baltimore Sun, 29 January 2003, 1E

Peter Marks, ‘The Silent Woman: Raucous Entertainment’, The Washington Post, 28 January 2003, C.01

Jayne M. Blanchard, ‘Bawdy Silent Woman’ speaks wit’, The Washington Times, 1 February 2003, D.03

Jane Horwitz, ‘Uproarious Men of The Silent Women’, The Washington Post, 11 February 2003, Style Section, C.05

Dan Via, ‘Long-Silent, Woman Finds Its Voice’, The Washington Post, 14 February 2003, Weekend section, T.31

Peter Marks, ‘Onstage, Taking the Low-Risk Road’, The Washington Post, 28 December 2003, Theater, Year in Review, N.09

Login to CEWBJ