The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0275  Friday, 7 June 2013


From:        Alan Dessen <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         June 6, 2013 3:25:57 PM EDT

Subject:     Away Tybalt


I much enjoyed Tom Pendleton’s musings on Petruchio et al. in Romeo and Juliet.  He frames his remarks with a reference to what is usually 3.1.90 in today’s texts where in Q2 we find “a line of type, centered and reading ‘Away Tybalt’” (with “Away” in italics) that “looks like a stage direction, and is so taken by most editors” but could just as easily be dialogue.


When Leslie Thomson collected over 20,000 stage directions that became the basis for our dictionary, she did include “Away Tybalt.” We did not, however, set up an entry for “away,” but a quick check reveals over 230 examples, most of them linked to a verb—most commonly “run” but also “turn,” “throw,” “lead,” etc. The only item even close to the usage in Q2 is found in a Caroline play, Brome’s Queen and Concubine: “Enter Petruccio with a Rabble of Souldiers, and two Captains, crying, Come, come, away with him, away with him.


No, I am not trying to extend Tom’s case for Petruchio or his descendants. Rather, what interests me is the phenomenon of X that could be spoken or could just as well be a theatrical signal.  I know of no collection of such items (and would be delighted if someone has or knows of such a list), but two other examples come to mind from the Shakespeare canon.


The first is found in Midsummer Night’s Dream where “Stand forth Lysander” and “Stand forth Demetrius” (1.1.24, 26) are printed as stage directions in both Quarto and Folio but are usually presented as dialogue in modern editions.  Here I have no difficulty with either choice.


In contrast, the second example is dear to my heart (and I have made my case in print as part of a longer essay—see “Massed Entries and Theatrical Options in The Winter’s Tale,” Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England, 8 [1996], 119-27).  In The Winter’s Tale (3.2.9, TLN 1185) most editors change Silence from a stage direction (as printed in the Folio) to a word spoken by the officer.  The New Penguin editor (p. 185) notes that Silence “would be a very unusual stage direction but is a traditional law-court cry.  The entry of Hermione may be supposed to cause some stir in the court, which must be silenced before the indictment can be read”—and, in my playgoing experience, that’s how it’s staged. 


To argue in behalf of “Silence” as a stage direction I draw upon a comparable trial scene in Henry VIII where Queen Katherine, not only onstage but also, like Hermione, the focus of attention, is nonetheless called to “come into the court” (2.4.9). Obviously, as used here “into the court” has a formal, procedural meaning (as opposed to “bring her to this room from some other place”), for, moments earlier, in response to a parallel call (“Henry King of England come into the court”), the king (without moving from his throne) responds: “Here.”  At least in Henry VIII, 2.4, “to come into the court” is formally to acknowledge one’s presence rather than to enter from offstage. The two situations are similar, not identical, but the presence of Katherine from the outset (despite the call for her to “come into the court”) points to the possibility, even the likelihood, that Hermione too is present from the beginning (as would be the case if we take the Folio stage direction that opens the scene literally rather than as a massed entry).


More potential insights into the situation in The Winter’s Tale then follow, for a stage direction spells out Katherine’s response to “come into the court”: “The Queen makes no answer, rises out of her chair, goes about the court, comes to the King, and kneels at his feet; then speaks” (2.4.10.s.d.).  That Katherine “goes about the court” provides further context for the call for Hermione to appear “in court,” for, as is clear in context and in the Holinshed passage upon which this scene is closely based, “the court” consists of some but not all of the figures onstage (so that the queen must bypass this group in order to reach the king).  More important, the signal in Henry VIII that “The Queen makes no answer” suggests that “Silence” in The Winter’s Tale, 3.2 may not be an error (as is assumed when editors turn it into a spoken word at the end of the officer’s speech) but rather is a signal that Hermione initially should not speak (presumably, an appropriate response would have been: “Here”) and thereby (like Katherine) should not recognize the authority of Leontes’ court. 


Is Silence then a stage direction or a word to be spoken?  Which choice makes the most sense in theatrical terms?  If Hermione, like Katherine, is onstage during the officer’s appeal for her to appear “here in court,” a total silence (when all eyes are riveted upon her) could be electric.  What follows Silence, if it is indeed treated as a stage direction, is Leontes’ “read the indictment” (3.2.11) which then can emerge not as a mere procedural command but rather as an act of frustration after her non-response or non-compliance (if she initially refuses to appear or respond as requested—i.e., no “Here” here).  The Silence problem becomes even more interesting when one thinks forward to the famous final scene.  Would a conspicuously silent Hermione in 3.2 prepare us more tellingly for the “statue” later (and for Paulina’s “I like your silence; it the more shows off / Your wonder”—5.3.21-22)? 


To conclude with a question: are there other instances where X could be either dialogue or a stage direction?


Alan Dessen

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