The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1383  Tuesday, 21 May 2002

From:           Christopher Fassler <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 21 May 2002 12:35:28 -0400
Subject: 13.1328 Conspicuous Silence
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1328 Conspicuous Silence

Two issues about conspicuous silences interest me:

First, is there something fundamentally different about silences to
which other characters call attention (e.g. Coriolanus returning to a
fairly boisterous Roman welcome after his initial victories and
eventually acknowledging his wife: "My gracious silence, hail.")?  It's
at least possible to arrange performance so that silences that seem
conspicuous on the page are invisible or trivial on the stage, though I
readily admit that any production of _Measure_ that took such an
approach would almost certainly disappoint me greatly.  But when another
character draws our attention to the silence, we (and performers who
don't cut the lines) have to make something of it.  If Coriolanus turns
to his wife with a more conventional "Hi, honey, I'm home," then her
silence amid the bustle of his return probably passes notice.  But "my
gracious silence" calls our attention to Virgilia's nonconformist
welcome of Rome's newest hero, who (gently?) upbraids her silence and
tears and still receives no response (in the Folio text).  Virgilia
remains silent and Coriolanus (quickly?) moves on to a joking insult for
his friend, Menenius.

Second, though I haven't done a careful study yet, my impression is that
these apparently pregnant silences are more common when the stage is
full.  I'm suspicious of these kinds of arguments, but perhaps
Isabella's silence at the end of _Measure_ and Hermia and Helena's in
_Midsummer_, to cite just two examples, follow at least partly from
casting/doubling decisions that required the more articulate actor to
play a role crucial to the denouement (Mariana and two of the
"mechanicals" in the cases cited above?).  Though it has some
explanatory power, such an argument begs questions: why write an ending
that silences a(n apparently) major character to give the stage to a(n
apparently) minor figure? what does such a decision reveal about the
play, the theater, the audience, the company? what are performers to do
with this silent elephant?  Is anyone aware of performance studies that
address this issue?

Christopher Fassler
University of Uta

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