12 March 2020
Womack, Peter. “The Comical Scene: Perspective and Civility on the Renaissance Stage.” Representations, vol. 101, no. 1, 2008, pp. 32–56.
This essay uses the famous woodcut illustration of Sebastiano Serlio’s “comical scene” as an unlocking device for understanding ideas related to English and Italian Renaissance theatrical space. Womack’s main point is that the drawing, a representation of a fixed point perspective stage set, portrays Italian theatrical concepts which were built on historicist interpretations of the classical unities (Aristotle) by Renaissance thinkers. Conversely, he asserts, it has little to do with English stagecraft as developed by Inigo Jones with an emphasis on changeable scenery. Womack articulates this point further, and explains how the perspective comical set relates to other theatrical and metatheatrical ideas such as complication, order, urbanity, architecture, universality, tension, comedy, domesticity and sex. One significant and overarching idea in this essay is that Serlio’s sketch perfectly captures the tension between reality and artifice, theater and life.
How does this relate to scenography?
This article is specifically about set design and puts many important scenographical ideas in historical perspective. Furthermore, it presents a powerful understanding of set design not just as decor but as stage space with cultural, social and philosophical resonance. It connects to postmodernism with an emphasis on dual meanings. Additionally, it offers a useful and developed discussion of the concepts of “changeable scenery” and “perspective scenery.”