Performing the Queen's Men

Famous Victories : The Sick Chair

Clue 1: Draw the Curtains

Enter KING HENRY IV with his lords.

KING HENRY IV: Come, my lords, I see it boots me not to take any physic, for all the physicians in the world cannot cure me, no not one. But good my lords, remember my last will and testament concerning my son; for truly, my lords, I do not think but he will prove as valiant and victorious a king as ever reigned in England.

LORDS: Let heaven and earth be witness between us if we accomplish not thy will to the uttermost.

KING HENRY IV: I give you most unfeigned thanks, good my lords. Draw the curtains and depart my chamber awhile and cause some music to rock me asleep.

Exeunt lords.
He sleepeth.

The king gives clear instructions to his lords to leave his "chamber," "draw the curtains" and to "cause some music to rock me to sleep." The stage directions then tell us that the lords all exit, leaving the king alone on stage and that the king then falls asleep. These directives seem simple enough on the page, but when staging the scene one has to decide where the king falls asleep. Since it would be inappropriate for a king to sleep on the floor, there must be something on stage for him to sleep in. It is also seems that there should be actual curtains for the lords to "draw," else why refer to them.

One possibility here is that the text is calling for the use of a mansion, or scaffold. The use of mansions is much more common in medieval drama where they were used to indicate different locations in Biblical stories. However, they were still used at times in Elizabethan theatre. A mansion was a mini wooden stage and might have a backdrop or curtains around it.

moveable stage

Mini Wooden Stage1

In Friar Bacon, a stage direction refers to Bacon's "study" which might also be such a mansion. A similar study is needed for another Queen’s Men play, The Old Wives' Tale so it is very possible that the Queen’s Men might have traveled with such a structure. In this case it could have been used to contain a bed on which the king can fall asleep. If it was curtained, then we have actual curtains on stage for the lords to "draw."

This drawing is an artist’s impression of how such a mansion might have been used on the Globe stage. In this instance the mansion is high and is used to depict Cleopatra’s monument, but a lower one could contain a bed. There are references in contemporary texts to beds being pushed on and off the stage, presumably through the discovery space at the back.

1. Hodges, Walter. The Globe Restored. (London: Oxford, 1968) 55.