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“Oh, to make boardes to speak!”: Nicholas Till
“ O H , TO M A K E B OA R D E S TO S P E A K ! ”
You ask noe more than certeyne politique Eyes,
Eyes that can pierce into the Misteryes
Of many Coulors! read them! and reveale
Mythology there painted on slit deale!
Oh, to make Boardes to speake! There is a taske.
Painting and Carpentry are the Soule of Masque!
Pack with your peddling Poetry to the Stage!
This is the money-gett, Mechanick Age!
The speciﬁc thrust of Jonson’s attack is upon Jones’s pretentions to control not only the
initiating invention of the masques but also every subsequent aspect of the performance:
. . . but he now is come
To be the Musick Master! Fabler too!
He is, or would be the mayne Dominus doe
All in the Worke!2
Jones modelled himself on the Vitruvian ideal of the architect as polymath, and Jonson
had already satirised him as the Master-Cooke in the masque Neptunes’ Triumph (anticipating
Brecht’s critique of the “culinary” theatre of his own day). Jonson didn’t let up. His 1633
play A Tale of a Tub included satire on Jones’s grandiose ambitions, Jonson mocked the
resultant eﬀorts of the ﬁrst post-Jonsonian masque, in which Jones had been able to obtain
complete control of the proceedings. As paraphrased by D. J. Gordon, “The masque turns
out to be a rendering of the absurd plot of the play in a series of ‘motions,’ a shadow show
cast on the transparent paper with which the top of the tub has been covered. This is
Dominus Do All in action then. His masque is a series of images illustrating a ridiculous plot
conveyed in illiterate verses.”3
What makes Jonson’s attack upon Jones so pointed is that it was being articulated at just
the moment in which the English theatre was making its transition from the open poetic
stage of Shakespeare and Jonson himself to the pictorial stage of the Italian theatre, which
Jones himself had introduced to England after visits to Italy. Drawing upon the development
of perspective in painting and sculpture in Italy in the ﬁfteenth century, sixteenth-century
Italian theatre designers such as the architect Baldessare Peruzzi had adapted perspectival
methods to scenography, Peruzzi’s methods being disseminated widely by the theoretical
writings of another architect, Sebastiano Serlio, published in 1545. The uniﬁed space of
perspectival stage design met the demands of neo-Aristotelian theorists such as Lodovico
Castelvetro for unity of dramatic space (clearly contradicted by the Elizabethan and Jacobean
stage), but it also gave rise to a new taste for visual spectacle, in particular as scenographers
developed technologies for eﬀecting elaborate scene-changes for court entertainments.
Leaving aside Jonson’s own personal bitterness at the increasing hegemony of Jones’s
stage designs, there was a complex history behind the complaints of an anti-visual logocentrist such as Jonson. One might adduce the Protestant iconophobia of English writers,
feeding (or fed by) a snobbery that certainly informs Jonson’s equally virulent attacks on the
desire of the groundlings for visual spectacle and action at the public theatres for which
Jonson also wrote plays. In the spoken prologue to his play The Staple of News (1625) Jonson
sent a message to his audience:
For your own sakes, not his, he bad me say,
Would you were come to hear, not see a Play.
Though we, his Actors must provide for those
Who are our Guests here, in the way of Shows,
The Maker hath not so; He’ld have you Wise,
Much rather by your Ears than by your Eyes.4
In a second prologue, which Jonson added for performances of the play at court, he could
speak even more openly, dedicating his play to his preferred audience (judiciously ﬂattering
their taste in the process):
The rather, being oﬀered as a Rite,
To Scholars, that can judge, and fair report
The Sense they hear, above the vulgar sort
Of Nut-crackers, that only come for sight.5
No wonder Jonson was bitter when the educated court audience came to acquire the
nutcrackers’ appetite for Jones’s “Mighty Showes.” But we should remind ourselves that
Shakespeare put similarly contemptuous words into the mouth of Hamlet, who complains of
“the groundlings who for the most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb-shows.”6
But behind the endemic puritanism and snobbery of such complaints there lies a more
substantial, philosophical argument about the relationship between word and image which
goes back to Plato. Plato’s philosophy is based upon an innate distrust of the outer body of
material reality as being no more than an ephemeral simulacrum of the real metaphysical
truth beyond. During the Renaissance there was ﬁerce debate among neo-Platonists as to
whether images or words oﬀered a more immediate way of representing the essential
Platonic form. Were images lesser because they were sensory, or were they superior
because they more directly represented the pure form of the thing, existing prior to the
mediated sign system of language? This debate, known as the “paragone,” was often presented directly as an argument between the merits of poetry and painting, as by Shakespeare
in the opening scenes of Timon of Athens and his Sonnet number 83.
In his introduction to the published edition of The Masque of Blackness Jonson includes a
description of the performance, but quickly dismisses it with the words, “So much for the
bodily part. Which was of master YNIGO JONES his design and act.”7 Clearly, for Jonson,
the soul of the masque resides in the originating words, and the spectator must seek beyond
the spectacle which is being presented for the meaning that lies within, just as Protestant
iconoclasts warned the faithful against being deceived into worshipping idolatrous images
rather than God himself, as properly revealed in the words of the Bible.
In his attack on Jones, Jonson had condemned Jones’s lavish scenography as a symptom of
“ O H , TO M A K E B OA R D E S TO S P E A K ! ”
the “money-gett, Mechanick Age.” In the book Free Shakespeare (the title is an exhortation),
the inﬂuential Shakespearean critic and scholar John Russell Brown employs the same anticommercial language to condemn the new emphasis upon visuality in Shakespearean productions of the 1970s, complaining that stage designers concoct “a mindless world of sensuous
excitement” for ephemeral “eﬀect.” Like Jonson, Brown assumes that the visual must be
merely sensual, rather than being capable of communicating intellectually. And like Jonson
he equates this tendency with the “money-get” commercialism of contemporary culture,
seeing stage designers as the equivalent of product advertisers for a director’s production:
Directors are not only organizers and interpreters, they are also manufacturers and
salesmen. They make products that have a clear, easily recognizable image, that
arrest attention and seek to satisfy audiences – perhaps indirectly. . . . To function
in this way they need to coin images.8
The metaphor of coining images is extremely revealing here. And note how Russell
Brown wants to have it both ways. On the one hand visual spectacle is mindless and sensual,
but on the other hand visual images are all the more insidious because they work subliminally, appealing obliquely to perhaps unconscious desires – which, of course, they could not
do if they were indeed capable of conveying no more than sensual gratiﬁcation.
The problem of deciding what is essential lies at the heart of scenography. And much
of the problem comes down to the relationship between text and performance. How
self-suﬃcient is a play text? Do we see it as a set of clear performance instructions to be
executed as faithfully as possible according to the conventions of the theatre for which it was
written? Do we see it as something that needs to be “translated” from one kind of language
(textual) into another (performance)? Or perhaps “translated” from the conventions of one
historical period into another? Or is it something which needs to be “interpreted” to
understand and communicate the author’s intentions behind the text? Each of these conceptualisations has diﬀerent implications for scenography.
The Elizabethan and Jacobean stage, with its lack of representational scenery and the
powerful images which its writers evoke through language alone, is, of course, the perfect
stick with which to beat the back of the modern designer. The narrative ﬂexibility of the
Shakespearean stage, and the richness and quick-wittedness of Shakespeare’s verbal imagery,
risks rendering any stage picture that attempts to represent locations, or to replicate
Shakespeare’s poetic evocations, simply clumsy or redundant. The Shakespearean text
can, indeed, seem self-suﬃcient. Writing about The Tempest, Coleridge voices the opinion of
many early nineteenth-century Romantic critics who had come to appreciate Shakespeare as
a poet rather than a dramatist:
In this play Shakespeare has especially appealed to the imagination, and he has
constructed a plot well adapted to the purpose. According to his scheme, he did not
appeal to any sensuous impression . . . of time and place, but to the imagination,
and it is to be borne in mind that of old, and as regards mere scenery, his works
may be said to have been recited rather than acted – that is to say, description and
narration supplied the place of visual exhibition: the audience was told to fancy
that they saw what they only heard described; the painting was not in colours,
but in words.9
A number of critics, such as Coleridge’s contemporary Charles Lamb, but also Edward
Gordon Craig, came to the conclusion that the imagery of Shakespeare’s plays is so rich, and
their imaginative space so daring, that the plays are best read in the study rather than being
subjected to the disappointing crudeness of performance. The example often cited is the
feebleness of any attempt to compete visually with the poetry of the lines in the ﬁrst scene
of Hamlet, when Horatio announces the advent of dawn:
But look, the morn in russet mantle clad,
Walks oe’r the dew of yon high eastern hill.
The problems posed by this relationship between verbal and visual scene painting
are sharpened when we come to recognise that Shakespeare’s poetic descriptions are not
simply objective narrative-scene setting but represent what the dramatic theorist Manfred
Pﬁster has called “ﬁgure perspectives” – the speciﬁc perspectives of characters in the drama.
Pﬁster demonstrates the way in which a dramatic text may thus present “a pattern of
contrasting and corresponding ﬁgure perspectives.”10 Since diﬀerent characters may oﬀer
varying views of the places and situations in which they ﬁnd themselves, any attempt to
impose one perspective risks reductivity. As Pﬁster points out, “Linking word-scenery to
a ﬁgure perspective in this way can create a complex web of ambiguity that a speciﬁc
stage set can scarcely match.”11 There are almost as many impressions of the Forest of
Arden in As You Like It as there are denizens of the forest or visitors to it. Shakespeare
in fact indulges in very little straightforwardly descriptive imagery about the forest in As
You Like It, and we may deduce that Shakespeare’s audience retained its ﬂexibility of imagination about locations precisely because Shakespeare did not require it to visualise locations
The great Czech scenographer Josef Svoboda understood this very well when he insisted
that eﬀective scenography must acknowledge this multiperspectival aspect of dramatic
It is perhaps already clear that you can’t do static theatre, in which scenery rigidly
gazes down on actions played out within its space. After all, what is actually ﬁxed in
the stream of life? Is a room in which someone declares love the same as a room in
which someone is dying? By the same token, a summer pond with an unending
horizon is not transformed solely by the atmosphere of the day, but primarily by the
gaze of those who stand on its shores.12
The critical movement known as New Criticism insisted upon paying close attention to
Shakespeare’s imagery, and read Shakespeare’s plays as if they were complex metaphysical
poems held together by one central metaphor or conceit. A famous example is to be found
“ O H , TO M A K E B OA R D E S TO S P E A K ! ”
in an essay by the American critic Cleanth Brooks, who suggested that the entire meaning of
Macbeth is to be found in an elaboration of one image:
. . . a naked new-bom babe,
Striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubim, hors’d
Upon the sightless couriers of the air.13
This intense concentration upon the metaphorical (as opposed to merely pictorial)
imagery of Shakespeare’s plays oﬀered an enticing framework for designers, who were
encouraged in like manner to seek out the central metaphor or image of a play and present
it on stage. One of the most inﬂuential Shakespearean “image” interpreters of the interwar
years was George Wilson Knight. Wilson Knight’s approach was less resolutely literary than
that of the New Critics; he had a much surer understanding of Shakespeare as a writer for
the theatre, and he wrote extensively about the implications of his interpretations for
production. Knight read Shakespeare’s plays as symbolic, quasi-religious rituals, and called
for productions to ﬁnd an encapsulating image that would embrace the whole of the play.
Inevitably his prescriptions downgraded the temporal experience of performance. “Ideally
the whole play should be semi-consciously in the mind at every separate moment of it. The
ﬁnal result will be a massed area of the mind, rather spatial than temporal.”14 The scenographic implication was that there should be a unitary set which remained the same from
start to ﬁnish of the play (we need to remember that Wilson Knight was reacting against the
literalism of Victorian and Edwardian Shakespeare, in which every scene of a play would be
given a diﬀerent representational setting). “There must be some noble permanence, reﬂecting
the play’s quality of wholeness, giving a sense of the end implicit in the start.”15
Seeking visual representation of his ritualised symbols, Wilson Knight often homed in on
one image in a play to encapsulate the meaning of the whole play:
Notice how the main action is often crystallised into some symbolic solidity, such
as the three Apparitions in Macbeth, the handkerchief in Othello, the caskets in The
Merchant of Venice. It is as though the aim of and purpose of the play’s movement was
to solidify itself.16
Critics such as Wilson Knight presented a major re-evaluation of Shakespeare as a playwright who deployed visual stage images as well as merely linguistic images. But the interpretations of Wilson Knight and his contemporaries such as J. Dover Wilson and Eustace
Tillyard tended to promote a quasi-feudal view of a Shakespeare whose world picture was
hierarchical and static, employing ritual and allegory to convey supposedly eternal truths.
We can best understand how politically conservative were such interpretations when we
remember Brecht’s insistence that stage design should emphasise the changeability rather
than the ﬁxity of the world. But the symbolist reading of Shakespeare greatly inﬂuenced the
style of Shakespeare production at Stratford and elsewhere in the late 1950s and early
1960s, when Shakespeare’s plays were frequently presented as ritual dramas, enacted against
huge logos symbolic of kingship or authority.
It must be evident that attempts to anchor a play to one concrete visual image run the
same risk as attempts to replicate the numerous locations of a text. Peter Brook, who used
to design many of his own productions, has described how in his early Shakespeare productions he would seek to make concrete visual statements about the play in this fashion, but
that he eventually came to see the limitations of such an approach:
My conviction was that the director’s job, having found an aﬃnity between himself
and the play, was to ﬁnd the images that he believed in. Since then, my view has
changed, evolved, through an awareness that the overall unifying image was much
less than the play itself.17
Josef Svoboda makes a similar point:
I do not think that it is necessary to underline in the decor that which the drama
expresses already in an adequately clear manner. When I sense that something is
suﬃciently and well said, I don’t concern myself with it.18
Svoboda is speciﬁcally against the Wilson Knight objective of “giving a sense of the end
implicit in the start,” warning against scenographers who “strive to express in advance
through the image everything that is meant by the piece, all its atmosphere, even revealing
the outcome of the drama.”19 A play is not like a sonnet whose structural and metaphorical
coherence can be ascertained atemporally. It unfolds in time as well as space. Working
against his own earlier inclination to make inclusive and ﬁxed visual statements of this kind,
Peter Brook insisted in The Empty Space upon what he called the “fourth dimension” in
theatre design, the dimension of time:
What is necessary, however, is an incomplete design; a design that has clarity
without rigidity; one that could be called “open” as against “shut.” This is the
essence of theatrical thinking: a true theatre designer will think of his designs as
being all the time in motion, in action, in relation to what the actor brings to a
scene as it unfolds.20
Stage design, therefore, must respond to both the temporal and the perspectival qualities
of theatrical performance. In relation to Shakespeare, this can often lead to the clear conclusion that “less is more.” Indeed, we can probably all recount experiences of performances,
not only of Shakespeare, played on bare stages, without costumes or even lighting, which
have gripped us with a power and immediacy that must shake our belief in the necessity of
scenographic contributions to the theatrical process. But we are deceiving ourselves if
we believe that minimalist performances of this kind lack a scenographic dimension.
Indeed, it may be that performances of this kind are deploying the essential components of
scenography in a way that suggests that the scenographic element may actually be more
fundamental to theatre than language.
“ O H , TO M A K E B OA R D E S TO S P E A K ! ”
1 C. H. Herford, P. Simpson and E. Simpson, eds, Ben Jonson: works, vol. VIII (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1938), pp. 402–8.
2 Ibid., pp. 403–4.
3 D. J. Gordon, “Poet and architect: the intellectual setting of the quarrel between Ben Jonson and
Inigo Jones,” in The Renaissance Imagination (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), p. 85.
4 Ben Jonson, The Staple of News, in Herford et al., Ben Jonson: works, vol. VI, p. 282.
5 Ibid., p. 283.
6 Hamlet, III.ii.11–12: The Arden Shakespeare, ed. Harold Jenkins (London: Routledge), p. 287.
7 Herford et al., Ben Jonson, vol. VII, p. 172.
8 John Russell Brown, Free Shakespeare (London: Heinemann, 1974), p. 11.
9 Quoted in ibid., p. 29.
10 Manfred Pﬁster, The Theory and Analysis of Drama (Cambridge University Press, 1988), p. 59.
11 Ibid., p. 268.
12 J. M. Burian, ed. and trans., The Secret of Theatrical Space: the memoirs of Josef Svoboda (New York:
Applause Books, 1993), p. 17.
13 Cleanth Brooks, The Well Wrought Urn (New York: Macmillan, 1989), see pp. 22–49.
14 G. Wilson Knight, Principles of Shakespearean Production (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968), p. 37.
15 Ibid., p. 96.
16 Ibid., p. 40.
17 Peter Brook, The Shifting Point (London: Methuen, 1987), p. 78.
18 Denis Bablet, Josef Svoboda (Lausanne: La Cité, 1970), p. 48.
20 Peter Brook, The Empty Space (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990), p. 114.
Bulman, J. C. (1996). Shakespeare, Theory, and Performance. London: Routledge.
Gurr, A. (1992). The Shakespearian Stage, 1574–1642, 3rd edn. Cambridge University Press.
Kennedy, D. (2001). Looking at Shakespeare: a visual history of twentieth-century performance, 2nd edn.
Cambridge University Press.
STAGE DESIGNS OF A SINGLE GESTURE
The early work of Robert Edmond Jones
Arthur B. Feinsod
Feinsod examines Robert Edmond Jones’ design for the “watershed” production The Man Who
Married a Dumb Wife, directed by Granville Barker. He traces the process of the design from its
conception through to its realisation and reception on Broadway in 1915. He goes on to consider Jones’ long-standing collaborative relationship with the director Arthur Hopkins with
whom he shared a common vision. Feinsod analyses Jones’ groundbreaking designs for The
Tragedy of Richard 111 (1920) and Hamlet (1923), which he worked on with Hopkins, and the
influence on their ideas of the New Stagecraft movement in Europe.
During the ﬁrst quarter of the 20th century, the “New Stagecraft” swept through Western
theatre – ﬁrst in Europe and then in the United States – challenging the deeply entrenched
premises of Italianate and naturalist set design. No longer was the literal stage picture with
its painted or three-dimensional illusionistic detail the only path a designer could take. The
New Stagecraft introduced two contrasting ways to stylize – one by simpliﬁcation, the other
by ornamentation. In their theory and practice, Adolphe Appia, Edward Gordon Craig and
Georg Fuchs showed how to abstract by stripping the stage to strikingly simple, essential
images, while designers like Léon Bakst of the Ballets Russes, V. Egerov at the Moscow Art
Theatre, and Alexandra Ekster at Tairov’s Kamerny Theatre abstracted by embellishing with
colorful, detailed patterns and complex arrangements of shapes.
Following the European example, American designers of the New Stagecraft separated
into those who simpliﬁed – let us call them the minimalists – and those who ornamented.
Although no major stage designer was exclusively one or the other, Joseph Urban is remembered more for his decorative-style sets, whereas Lee Simonson of the Theatre Guild and
Raymond Jonson of the Chicago Little Theatre are best known for their minimalist eﬀorts.
Although American stage designer Robert Edmond Jones (1887–1954) was inﬂuenced
by both innovations, he spent most of his early career seeking ways to simplify rather than
ornament the stage. Striving to create more with less, Jones methodically limited his stage
to a bare minimum of scenic elements.
To achieve a minimal stage, Jones restricted himself in many ways. He kept color range
in check, relying heavily on mono- and duochromatic sets. He often worked on either a
shallow stage or a deep but empty one, and he left many walls bare, costumes unadorned
and ﬂoors with few stage properties. Implicit in these eﬀorts was the idea that suggestion
S TA G E D E S I G N S O F A S I N G L E G E S T U R E
and simplicity were higher values than elaborate depiction, that limiting the means of
artistic creation freed the limitless imagination of creator and viewer alike.
[. . .]
Late in 1914, Emily Hapgood, president of the Stage Society of New York, asked him to
create the setting for a one-act play, The Man Who Married a Dumb Wife by Anatole France.
The production never happened, but visiting English director Granville Barker, who needed
a curtain-raiser for his version of Shaw’s Androcles and the Lion, saw a rehearsal of the ill-fated
Hapgood production and decided to resurrect it with himself as director and Jones as stage
On January 27, 1915, the play opened at Wallack’s Theatre as the ﬁrst Americandesigned, Broadway presentation of the New Stagecraft. For many of the spectators, it was
an entirely new look. Surely some spectators had seen something like it in Europe or at the
Chicago Little Theatre or remembered Reinhardt’s production of Sumurun presented in
New York three years before. But for many it was new. This was not the highly detailed
naturalistic stage of David Belasco, nor was it the spectacular ﬂats and drops of the Shuberts’
plush extravaganzas. Neither was it the ornate abstraction of Diaghilev’s designers or Joseph
Urban’s operas. Suddenly the stage was strikingly simple. After this watershed production,
American stage design would radically change over the next 10 years, with simpliﬁcation
becoming an ever-more-important factor.
Granville Barker planted the seed for the play’s simple design by telling Jones he only
wanted a door, two windows and a room. The English director was not concerned with
presenting an authentic Medieval scene – only essential features to make the farce work. In
the ﬁnal set design, Jones included what his director wanted but in such a way as to include
“fanciful Medievalism.” As with his Merchant designs, Jones selected scenic elements cautiously to avoid redundancy and superﬂuity. Since the costumes were Medieval, the set did
not have to follow period slavishly. Moreover, Jones sifted through the numerous properties
called for in France’s stage directions, choosing only those that would best serve the play’s
action and its fanciful atmosphere.
Jones departed radically from the playwright’s designated stage directions. France wanted
the action to take place inside a large room; Jones presented a street backed by a house
facade. By turning France’s locale inside out, Jones suggested the room, showing only a
piece of it through a 12-foot square window to the right of center. Through the large
window, only a few essential properties were visible, including a bookcase, writing table,
stepladder and bench. Beneath the window, a long bench stretched 12 feet across. The large
window deﬁned an acting area through its frame, becoming a kind of second proscenium.
Also built into the house facade were a door at the left with a small balcony above it and a
small window located between the door and large window. As a ﬁnal touch, Jones added a
colorfully patterned piece of material draped over the right section of the large window’s
Like Reinhardt’s production of Sumurun designed by Ernst Stern, Jones created a shallow
stage with a set predominantly in the black-to-white spectrum before which actors clad in
brightly colored costumes paraded. The windows, balcony and door, outlined in black,
stood out from the house’s stippled grey wall, calling attention to the abstract arrangement
A RT H U R B. F E I N S O D
of rectangles. The only bold color in the set was touches of red that accented the stepladder
in front of the stark white bookcase inside the house. The costumes, on the other hand,
were in dazzling purples, oranges, yellows and reds. The lighting was as restrained as the
set, accentuating the stage’s ﬂatness by falling straight on, uniform and unvaried. In the
resulting image, Jones struck a balance between literal and abstract – the audience saw
recognizable windows and door, as well as the interplay of rectangular forms.
Critics responded positively to Jones’ set. Audiences and critics seemed impressed by its
simplicity and economy of space, particularly after the cluttered sets they were accustomed
to seeing. Jones learned that his audiences had some appetite for simpliﬁed abstraction; it
would take him another seven years to ﬁnd out how far he could go in that direction before
Later in 1915, Jones designed a set for director Arthur Hopkins, starting a collaboration
that would become one of the most fruitful in American theatre history. They worked on
The Devil’s Garden by Edith Ellis, presented at the Harris Theatre in December 1915.
One can trace the origins of simpliﬁed realism to this production. The three settings
were noteworthy for their minimal detail, especially when compared to the typical realistic
settings done at the same time. Walls were bare, furniture was kept to a minimum and
the color range was limited.
The Act I set, an ante-room in a general post oﬃce, was by far the most barren of the
three and received the most attention from critics and scholars. Jones returned to the
shallow stage, this one only 10 feet deep. The walls were dull grey with the back wall set
parallel to the proscenium line. The only object on the wall was a buﬀ-toned map placed
directly behind a table surrounded by three chairs at the left. Two identical doors, placed
symmetrically in the side walls, faced each other across the room.
In the stage directions, Edith Ellis designated a fourth chair to be included with the other
chairs and table, but Hopkins and Jones decided to separate this chair by putting it far to the
Figure 22.1 The Devil’s Garden, Act I.
S TA G E D E S I G N S O F A S I N G L E G E S T U R E
Figure 22.2 Promptbook sketch for Act I of The Devil’s Garden.
right. They further deﬁed the stage directions and placed the three table chairs facing each
other around the table, thereby isolating the fourth chair even more. Consequently, Jones
achieved an image of isolation and cold bureaucratic insensitivity.
Jones was not simply using the set to impose his (or Hopkins’) attitude toward the
situation on the audience. The set reﬂected the main character William Dale’s perceptions.
The stark room enabled the viewers to experience the scene as if they were Dale.
Hopkins and Jones clearly chose mood over detailed representation. Jones could have
strewn the set with bags of mail and other post oﬃce paraphernalia to indicate the scene’s
location. He chose instead to leave the room spare and hence abstracted, to some degree,
out of time and place. In Theatre of Tomorrow, Macgowan labeled the Act I set a “perfect piece
of realism, and a perfect piece of abstraction besides” (p. 25). Once again, Jones pleased
audiences and critics by balancing the literal and the abstract, as he had done with his
“Dumb Wife” set.
How Hopkins and Jones came up with this innovative design is diﬃcult to determine
precisely. A pencilled sketch from an assistant stage manager’s promptbook seems to indicate that the decision evolved during rehearsals. The sketch shows two arrangements of
furniture, one crossed out and a new one sketched in. The crossed-out sketch closely follows
Ellis’ stage directions, while the new one is very close to the ﬁnal design appearing in production photographs. Sometime during rehearsals, Hopkins and Jones realized the eﬀectiveness of isolating one chair and closing oﬀ the other three. That decision was key to the
evolution of simpliﬁed realism and the synthesis between abstract and realistic set design.
[. . .]