All’s Well That Ends Well may seem like a simple enough play to stage. It is based upon exotic locations like The Tempest, and it does not require any elaborate representation of the outdoors like As You Like It or A Midsummer Night’s Dream might seem to. However you still need to create distinctive locations – we need 2 distinguishable palaces (the king’s and the count’s), the widow’s house, a street scene and a camp. This is easy enough to do in Victorian theatre with it’s elaborately painted backdrops and the expectation that scene changes will take time, but in Shakespeare’s visually simple stage and fast paced theatre it might seem more of a challenge.
So what do we know about how they ‘dressed’ the stage to create location? Sadly we don’t have records from Shakespeare’s own company but happily we do have very detailed records from Shakespeare’s nearest rivals at the Rose Theatre kept by the owner manager Mr Philip Henslowe. In the interests of keeping up with the competition we may assume that Shakespeare’s list of available props would be similar to Henslowe’s.
So here are just some of the many things which Henslowe inventoried (I have modernised the spelling)
1 rock, 1 cage, 1 tomb, 1 hell’s mouth
2 steeples and 1 chime of bells and 1 beacon
I globe, 1 golden sceptre
The City of Rome
1 baye tree
1 lion skin, 1 bear skin, 1 boars head
2 fans of feathers and 1 tree of golden apples
3 imperial crowns and 1 plain crown
It is fun to read over the list and consider which things could have been used in which plays. It is clear that some things would have been used many times – crowns and lances but others were perhaps made for specific plays such as the “Cauldron for the Jew” which would have been used for Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta (but probably not much else). So now you can imagine how it would have been easy enough to signal the different locations required in All’s Well That Ends Well with a few simple props. Perhaps a bay tree in one palace, a golden apple tree in the other and a bedstead in the widow’s home – you can imagine what you like…