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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: May ::
Stop Your Mouth
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1477  Thursday, 30 May 2002

From:           Phyllis Gorfain <
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Date:           Thursday, 30 May 2002 13:05:18 -0700
Subject:        Stop Your Mouth

I have a query relevant to work I am doing on *Much Ado About Nothing.*
I am curious about the uses and meanings of the proverbial phrase "to
stop X mouth," where X can be a pronoun or even a person's name.

In *Much Ado* 5.4.97, the Quarto and Folio assign Leonato, rather than
Benedick (as in most editions of the play) the line: "Peace!  I will
stop your mouth."  As in most editions of the play, most productions
give the line to Benedick, who issues it as a kind of romantic threat
and immediately kisses Beatrice, thus ending their performed reluctance
to admit publicly they love each other. After this line, Beatrice does
not speak again for the final 28 lines of the script. Michael Friedman
has written her silence during these last lines in his article, "Hus'd
on Purpose to Grace Harmony': Wives and Silence in *Much Ado About
Nothing*" THEATRE JOURNAL: WOMEN AND/IN DRAMA 42.3 (October, 1990):
350-63.

Earlier in the play, 2.1.297, Beatrice herself introduced a variation on
this line to urge Hero to "stop his [Claudio's] mouth with a kiss," so
it is clear that one "meaning" of this proverbial phrase is to silence
someone by kissing her/him. Beatrice's advice to Hero to silence
Claudio's speaking, or reply to it, with a kiss is, incidentally, an
alternative she offers Hero, if Hero cannot herself find words.

In other instances in Shakespeare's plays (in *Henry VI, 2*  II.ii.396
Suffolk urges Margaret "with thy lips to stop my mouth"; in *Troilus and
Cressida* III.ii.132, Cressida asks Troilus to stop her mouth, and he
does so with a kiss) the line is associated with kissing.  In still
other instances in Shakespeare's plays and in other works of the period
(nothing else I have found in a phrase search of Classical Books online
seems to have the figurative sense of kissing), the phrase is used more
literally to mean to silence someone by covering the mouth, stuffing the
mouth with cloth, or bridling or muzzling the speaker -- to end slander,
unwanted speech, or noise.

So, while it is likely that the line works, in *Much Ado*, as a kind of
stage direction for Benedick to give a kiss, even if it is uttered by
Leonato, the phrase could carry less affectionate connotations. If
Leonato speaks the line, he could use it initiate (gesturally, or with a
gentle shove) a kiss between the skittish lovers, and replicate his
earlier intervention in their romance while also repeating the play's
habit of using proxy-speakers and agents.  All the same, the phrase, in
other contexts than Shakespeare's plays, seldom has such romantic
impulses. So when Leonato -- as governor of Messina, uncle of Beatrice,
repeated critic of her sharp tongue -- hushes Beatrice (and, to some
extent, Benedick) we could also hear here his patriarchal voice
resonating with larger histories of the phrase.  What might be the
discursive sense of this phrase?

I have seen an instance of the phrase, which is also not so benign,
apparently used to refer to Queen Elizabeth I, averring that although
she would "stop their mouths with bread," she could not quell criticism
of her policies or rule from her subjects (but I am now having trouble
locating my source for this!).  Does anyone know who is to have said
that and where?

I would greatly appreciate learning about other instances of this phrase
in literary or other documents of the period. Specific citations could
be sent directly to me offline <
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 > Thanks
greatly for assistance.

The listserv might enjoy discussing the larger significance of assigning
this line to Leonato, however.  I have quite a bit to say about it, but
I would be most interested in others' views of restoring this speech
prefix and its consequences onstage. A brief article argues well for the
plausibility of Leonato speaking the line; see Ian House, "*Much Ado
About Nothing*: A Line Restored to Its Speaker," NOTES AND QUERIES
41.239 (Dec.  1994): 487.

Phyllis Gorfain

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