This article examines the use in early modern English drama of an apparently awkward stage direction, the 'immediate re-entrance.' In its purest form—in which the stage is cleared and the exact same group of characters re-enters, now imagined to be in a different fictional location—this device is extremely rare, and indeed discouraged by the unwritten 'Law of Re-entry.' Yet scattered examples exist, and a remarkable number involve characters in similar situations with recurring images of keys, fate and devils. Studying these 'fatal re-entrances' reveals their earliest appearance to have been in Thomas Heywood's A Woman Killed with Kindness (1603) and The Second Part of The Iron Age (1612-32). A flurry then appeared at the Cockpit playhouse on Drury Lane in the early 1620s: William Rowley's All's Lost by Lust (1619-20) crystallized Heywood's idea into a simpler form that seems in turn to have inspired sequences in The Witch of Edmonton (Rowley with Thomas Dekker and John Ford, 1621) and The Changeling (Rowley with Thomas Middleton, 1622). Two subsequent Cockpit plays, The Spanish Gypsy (Dekker, Ford, Middleton and Rowley, 1623) and The English Traveler (Heywood, 1624), toy with the audience's familiarity with this expanding trope by introducing unexpected variations. For a few years, a group of playwrights turned the disparaged immediate re-entrance into a powerful stage image that could represent physically the act of choosing, and of walking toward the destiny created by that choice.


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pp. 205-229
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