One of the most interesting productions of the Restoration period, so far as stage dancing is concerned, is Thomas Shadwell’s Psyche, first given with music by Matthew Locke at the Dorset Garden Theatre on 27 February 1675. I have written elsewhere about the piece and St André’s choreography for it. Shadwell drew heavily on Lully’s tragédie-ballet Pysché with its text by Molière, Quinault and others, given an exceptionally lavish production at the French court in 1671.
The London Psyche also has an English antecedent – Thomas Heywood’s Psyche; or Love’s Mistress (often titled Love’s Mistress; or, The Queen’s Mask) which was performed several times during the 1660s. Heywood’s play dates back to the 1630s and was one of the post-Restoration revivals from the pre-Civil War theatre. Samuel Pepys saw it on a number of occasions, the last he recorded was at the Bridges Street Theatre on 15 August 1668 when he wrote ‘the thing pretty good, but full of variety of divertisement’, indicating that the production included dancing.
The 1669 revival of Love’s Mistress was attended by two foreign visitors, both accompanying the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo de’ Medici. The account of the play by Lorenzo Magalotti is readily accessible, for it is printed in part one of The London Stage as commentary on the performance at Bridges Street on 24 May 1669.
‘To the story of Psyche, the daughter of Apollo, which abounded with beautiful incidents, all of them adapted to the performers and calculated to express the force of love, was joined a well-arranged ballet, regulated by the sound of various instruments, with new and fanciful dances after the English manner, in which different actions were counterfeited, the performers passing gracefully from one to another, so as to render intelligible, by their movements, the acts they were representing.’
Also with the Grand Duke at that performance was Filippo Corsini, whose account is less well-known, although it was published (in the original Italian as well as an English translation) in Theatre Notebook back in 1980. Corsini described Love’s Mistress as an ‘opera’.
‘It dramatized the marriage of Psyche and was full of scene changes and dances, among them one of the 10 Cyclops and another of the 16 Gods. The play was very stylish to look at, which was all we could enjoy, not understanding the language.’
Both commentators reveal the sophistication of English stage entertainments within ten years of the Restoration. Magalotti, apparently, recognises a specifically ‘English’ style of dancing which seems to have been based on expressive actions.
Heywood’s Love’s Mistress was printed a number of times, first in 1639 with a further edition in 1640, another in the early 1660s (dated ‘1640’ on the title page) and yet another as late as 1792 (which claimed to reprint one of the ‘1640’ editions). I haven’t done a careful comparison of these, but a rapid check of the real 1640 edition against that of 1792 (both of which are accessible digitally) shows that they include the same dances.
In act 1, there is a series of dances each of which is followed by the entrance of a different character, first a ‘Proud Ass with Ears’, then a ‘Prodigal Ass’, followed by a ‘Drunken Ass’, a ‘Usurer’, a ‘Young Gentleman’ and an ‘Ignorant Ass’. The scene ends with a dance before the characters exit. I will not try to analyse these dances, except to point out that the story of Cupid and Psyche comes from The Golden Ass by Apuleius and that Heywood uses Apuleius and Midas as onstage commentators. Midas, of course, was provided with ass’s ears for judging against Apollo in a musical contest.
In act 2, there is a dance by ‘Pan, Clown, Swains and Country Wenches’. All are characters associated with the countryside and rusticity. Pan was the god of shepherds. In the 17th and 18th centuries a ‘Clown’ was an unsophisticated countryman, while swains and country wenches were the common countryfolk, not the refined shepherds and shepherdesses of the pastoral tradition. This dance would undoubtedly have been lively and based around the steps and figures of popular dancing.
In act 3, another dance is performed by ‘a King and a Beggar, a Young Man and an Old Man [in the 1792 edition an old woman], a Lean Man, a Fat Woman’. This must have been a comic dance as it presented a series of contrasts in status, age and physique. It could well have been based on actions as much as dance steps.
In act 4, Vulcan appears for a scene with four of his workmen the Cyclops. Later, they dance together. Their style is likely to have gone beyond the comic to the grotesque. Corsini’s remarks indicate that the speaking Cyclops were joined by several dancing Cyclops.
The final dance comes near the end of act 5 with ‘Cupid, Psiche, the gods and goddesses’. The various entrances beforehand suggest that the gods and goddesses included Pluto, Proserpine, Mercury, Phoebus, Pan, Venus and Vulcan, although Corsini specifies that there were 16 altogether, presumably including Cupid and Psyche. This dance would surely have been based on belle dance, the aristocratic style and technique developing rapidly at the court of Louis XIV, or perhaps the earlier version of it practised at the pre-Civil War English court. It may have been based more on figures than on steps. Was this dance the ‘well-arranged ballet’ with expressive gestures noted by Magalotti?
All of the dancers in act 5 are actors and actresses, but the dances in the preceding acts are by non-speaking characters who enter just to dance and then exit. Were some of these specialist professional dancers? If they were, there must have been at least six of them – perhaps four men and two women. There seems to be no way of determining who they were. Nor do we know who provided the music for the performances of Love’s Mistress during the 1660s, although the link with the King’s Company suggests that it could have been John Banister. No music survives, so far as we know, not even as tunes in the early editions of Playford’s The Dancing Master.
It is difficult to get an idea of ‘English’ dancing at this period, but perhaps Heywood’s Love’s Mistress provides us with some clues.
There are many paintings and sculptures depicting Cupid and Psyche, notably from the late 18th century. This is an Italianate work from the century before Heywood’s Love’s Mistress.