Monsters and grotesque figures on the London stage

We will concentrate on late 17th-century London and the spectaculars in the Dorset Garden theatre. There were plenty of devils and furies around, and domesticated dragons pulling chariots but the number of real monsters is limited. The second act of Dioclesian has one that is definitely alive, as the stage directions tell us that it comes down the stage and splits up into a dance of furies. We will try to reconstruct how this worked, looking at monsters that Betterton must have known from the productions that he had seen, and from his books. We will also look at stage directions for other operas and at how monsters were usually pictured. We'll have a look at what the conventions were. We will also discuss the grotesque figures in Dioclesian, that according to the stage directions come out of the hangings and dance. Grotesques belonged to an iconographic tradition, dating from the discovery of a Roman villa in the late 15th century and later also popular outside Italy. Betterton may have seen the French version of these grotesques both on stage, during his visits to Paris, and in his books. Perhaps there was a English version also, which he may have incorporated.

Frans Muller
Julie Muller
Symposium Title: 
Gods, Men and Monsters – 2001
Author affiliation: 
Freelance designer, Holland
Free University of Amsterdam, Holland