Introduction: Play Texts and Stage Directions


The King from Famous Victories in his "Sick Chair".

Early modern play texts are complex documents, often difficult to decipher and modern editors go to great lengths to create editions that help the reader understand the action of the plays. In doing so, they often add exits and entrances that are missing from the original text. Without these added stage directions the plays are can be confusing to the reader and to the potential producer of the plays. The best modern editors approach the plays with an awareness of early modern theatre and printing practices and develop editions that indicate their own departures from the first printed editions of the plays: added stage directions will appear in square brackets – like this [Exit], or Enter Hamlet [reading a book] where the original text indicates Hamlet’s entrance but the fact that he is reading a book is the editor’s own interpretation of evidence found elsewhere in the scene. Many editions, however, do not mark the editor’s deviations from the original and without careful attention to footnotes it is not easy to deduce which stage directions were present in the original text and which were added.

The SQM company worked with new modern spelling editions of the plays in which additional stage directions were marked in square brackets. In rehearsal, however, these additional directions were treated as speculative and conditional and all options were considered before the staging of the scenes was finalized. The first printed editions of the three plays all lack important information about the traffic on and off the stage and contain several particularly complex scenes which demanded detailed analysis and experimentation before staging solutions could be found. Our objective was always to develop staging that satisfied the majority of stage directions in the texts. While the authority of those editions is itself dubious, subject as they were to the vagaries of early modern printing practice, they remain the main documentary evidence on the staging practice of the Queen's Men.  

The Queen's Men were a touring company and had to be able to present their performances in a variety of venues. The SQM project was designed to examine the particular challenges created when a company had to prepare plays for multiple venues and different staging arrangements. Working with two different stage configurations and in numerous venues, the actors had to develop blocking protocols that were adaptable to the different spaces.  The SQM case studies are designed to take you through the decision-making process that determined the SQM staging of particularly challenging sections of text from the three plays.