Dance in Restoration Shakespeare

by Amanda Eubanks Winkler

Upon the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660, Charles II reopened the theaters, which had been closed since 1642. This long closure had caused “supply chain” issues, as many playwrights had found new professions or had died. The two patent companies—the King’s led by Thomas Killigrew and the Duke’s led by William Davenant—needed to find repertory quickly. Both companies turned to earlier plays for material, including those by Shakespeare.

Davenant was not content to simply revive Shakespeare’ s plays—he reshaped them (Eubanks Winkler and Schoch). Davenant had written court masques during the reign of Charles I, so he understood the powerful synthesis of dance, dialogue, music, and spectacle firsthand. He continued to explore ways to combine these elements in his works of the 1650s, The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru (1658), The History of Sir Francis Drake (1659), and his fully sung opera The Siege of Rhodes (1656). Davenant’s pre-Restoration experiments with intermediality directly informed his adaptations of Shakespeare, particularly Macbeth (1664) and The Tempest (written with John Dryden, 1667), for they both used music, dance, spectacle, and drama to tell the story, planting the seeds for a genre John Dryden would later call “dramatick opera” (Eubanks Winkler, “Intermedial Dramaturgy,” 13–14). (See Figs. 1 and 2.) In addition to native English dramatic styles, French theatrical entertainments also significantly influenced Davenant’s approach to Restoration Shakespeare. Charles II had spent time at the court of Louis XIV during the Civil War and Interregnum, and the monarch was keen to import French music, dance styles, and sometimes French personnel.

Dance plays a significant role in Davenant’s 1660s productions of Macbeth and The Tempest. In Macbeth, “dance” is literally embedded in the title of one of the songs Davenant added for the witches, “Let’s have a dance upon the heath” (2.5). The nature of their dancing is unknown, although it seems safe to presume that the dancers used grotesque, angular movements found in Jacobean and Caroline antimasques, as well as counterclockwise round dances (Eubanks Winkler, O Let Us Howle, 19–48). In The Tempest, Ariel and his companion Milcha dance a saraband at the end of the play. The saraband was associated with eroticism and exoticism on the early modern English stage (Eubanks Winkler, “Thousand Voices,” 524), associations also seen in contemporary French court ballets (Pruiksma). Generally speaking, the dance numbers in these early Shakespeare adaptations are modest, slightly expanding upon the opportunities for dance found in Shakespeare’s plays.

Davenant died in 1668, and in 1671 the Duke’s Company moved to the technologically sophisticated Dorset Garden theatre. The new theatrical space presented new opportunities. Charles II had sent the actor and impresario Thomas Betterton to France to learn more about French theatrical stagecraft and dramaturgy, and this knowledge, along with the machines available in Dorset Garden, fostered a more lavish form of intermedial Shakespeare. The witches in the revived Macbeth (performed 1673, published 1674) still danced, but now they also made aerial entrances and exits. Dances in Thomas Shadwell’s operatic revision of Davenant and Dryden’s Tempest (1674) also combined stage technology (trap doors, wires) with choreography. A prime example of this is the dance for the winds that concludes the Masque of Devils (2.3). First a devil rises through a trap door and sings Pietro Reggio’s “Arise, ye subterranean winds.” Then, “Two winds rise” (possibly through separate traps) and,

Ten more enter and dance:
At the end of the Dance, Three winds sink, the rest drive Alon. Anto. Gonz. off. ([Shadwell], 30)

The dance music for the 1660 and 1670s versions of Macbeth has mostly been lost, aside from a few tantalizing scraps arranged for domestic use (Eubanks Winkler ed., Music for Macbeth, vii–viii). Nothing remains of the dance music for the 1667 Tempest, but Giovanni Baptista Draghi composed substantial dance music for Shadwell’s 1674 version. It also does not survive, although Margaret Laurie has suggested that we might find a few of the 1674 dances in the much later Tempest score published by Harrison & Co. (1786) (44).

We do know something about the choreographers for the 1670s Macbeth and The Tempest. According to Dorset Garden prompter John Downes, the dances for the 1673 Macbeth were “Compos’d by … Mr. Channell and Mr. Joseph Priest.” Luke Channell was the Duke’s Company’s first recorded dancing master, but the identity of “Joseph Priest” is unknown; he may have belonged to the family of Priest dancing masters active in London (Downes, 71; Thorp, 199). It is likely that Channell choreographed The Tempest as well, but the French dancer Adrien Merger de Saint-André may have also been involved. The aforementioned Harrison score includes a piece from J.B. Lully’s Cadmus et Hermione, which may have been used to accompany the aforementioned Dance of the Winds. Saint-André was in London and choreographed dances for Shadwell’s Psyche the following year, so he may have worked on the creative team for Shadwell’s Tempest as well (Walkling, 138–139, 143). Regardless, none of the choreographies for these productions survive, nor do we have any iconographical evidence to indicate how characters looked and moved.

Later Shakespeare adaptations take a cue from these earlier Duke’s Company productions. The United Company mounted an operatic version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Fairy Queen (1692–1693). (See Fig. 3.) The adaptation, probably executed or overseen by Betterton, features music by Henry Purcell. Josias Priest, a London-based dancing master who ran a boarding school in Chelsea with his wife, may have done some of the choreography. Thomas Bray’s Country Dances (1699) includes the Act 2 “Entry for the Followers of the Night” labeled as the “Entry by the late Mr Henry Purcell, the Dance compos’d by Mr. Josias Preist” (Thorp, 199). (See Fig. 4.) Whether Priest was responsible for all the choreography or not, dance plays a pervasive role in The Fairy Queen. Fairies dance, as do “Green Men,” and “Haymakers.” There is even a “Monkeys’ Dance” possibly, as Michael Burden argues, danced by actual monkeys (Burden, “Dancing Monkeys”).

Macbeth was also revived in the 1690s with a new score by John Eccles and again in 1702 with a score by Richard Leveridge. Dance music for the witches survives in both, and it is remarkable how much the composers draw upon pre-Restoration antimasque conventions, even at this late date. One call back to the more recent past is explicit: Leveridge’s score reuses one of the witches’ dances associated with the Macbeth productions from the 1660s (Eubanks Winkler, ed., Music for Macbeth, viii).

The stage directions, as evocative as they may be, also gesture towards all the things we cannot know. In some cases, appropriate dance music might be found with little effort. It seems clear, for example, that dances after a chorus might be accompanied by the preceding chorus music, as indicated by variations on the stage direction, “Dance to this Chorus” (Burden, “To Repeat”). In other cases, creative reconstruction is needed, filling the gaps with appropriate contemporary dance music. Choreographic inspiration might be drawn from early eighteenth-century English and French dances in Beauchamps-Feuillet notation. Obviously, some degree of guesswork is involved when working with historical dance, but, as my collaborator Richard Schoch and I discovered when we staged excerpts from Shadwell’s Tempest at Shakespeare’s Globe, London, dance is an integral part of Restoration Shakespeare. (See Fig. 5.) These dances should be staged, for they are key components of the work. In other words, dance is not an optional adornment in Restoration Shakespeare—it is a dramaturgical necessity.

© Amanda Eubanks Winkler, 2022.

For more on Restoration Shakespeare in performance, see Amanda Eubanks Winkler and Richard Schoch’s AHRC-funded project, Performing Restoration Shakespeare.

The discussion of how music was handled in the Macbeth production at the Folger may be of particular interest:

Works Cited

Burden, Michael. “Dancing Monkeys at Dorset Garden.” Theatre Notebook 57, no. 3 (2003): 119–135.

_____. “To Repeat (or Not to Repeat)? Dance Cues in Restoration English Opera.” Early Music 35, no. 3 (2007): 397–417.

Downes, John. Roscius Anglicanus, edited by Judith Milhous and Robert D. Hume. London: The Society for Theatre Research, 1987.

Eubanks Winkler, Amanda, ed. Music for Macbeth. Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era. Volume 133. Middleton: A-R Editions, 2004.

_____. “The Intermedial Dramaturgy of Dramatick Opera: Understanding Genre through Performance.” Restoration: Studies in English Literary Culture, 1660-1700 42, no. 2 (2018): 13–38.

_____. “A Thousand Voices: Performing Ariel.” In A Feminist Companion to Shakespeare, edited by Dympna Callaghan, 520–538. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2016.

_____, and Richard Schoch. Shakespeare in the Theatre: Sir William Davenant and the Duke’s Company. London: Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare, 2022.

Laurie, Margaret. “Did Purcell Set The Tempest?” Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association 90 (1963): 43-57.

Pruiksma, Rose. “Of Dancing Girls and Sarabandes: Music, Dance, and Desire in Court Ballet, 1651–1669.” The Journal of Musicology 35, no. 2 (2018): 145–182.

[Shadwell, Thomas]. The Tempest, or, the Enchanted Island. London: Printed by T.N. for Henry Herringman, 1674.

Thorp, Jennifer. “Dance in Late 17th-Century London: Priestly Muddles.” Early Music 26, no. 2 (1998): 198–210.

Walkling, Andrew R. English Dramatick Opera, 1661–1706. Abingdon: Routledge, 2019.

Eubanks Winkler, Amanda. “Dance in Restoration Shakespeare.” The Shakespeare and Dance Project, edited by Linda McJannet and Emily Winerock, November 1, 2022. Accessed [date].

Updated November 1, 2022.

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