Open Silences in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure:: 20 Works Cited
Length: 6617 words (18.9 double-spaced pages)
Prologue: Playtext. Performance. and Open Silences
In the Preface to his edition of Shakespeare's plays, and even as he vigorously defended the playwright against attacks by other neo-classical critics, Samuel Johnson nonetheless also offered his own survey of Shakespeare's weaknesses. Among the more well-known and provocative remarks is his assessment of the endings of the plays:
It may be observed, that in many of his plays the latter part is evidently neglected. When he found himself near the end of his work, and in view of his reward, he shortened the labour, to snatch the profit. He therefore remits his efforts where he should most vigorously exert them, and his catastrophe is improbably produced or imperfectly represented. [Preface, in Sherbo VII: 71-72.]
That Measure for Measure, in particular, was taken to be an example of Shakespeare's tendency to "remit his efforts," and that these failures created problems about the ending of the play symptomatic about larger issues of genre, is testified to by Charlotte Lennox's often quoted criticism:
The comic Part of Measure for Measure is all Episode, and has not Dependence on the principal Subject, which even as Shakespeare has managed it has none of the Requisites of Comedy. Great and flagrant Crimes, such as those of Angelo, in Measure for Measure, are properly the Subject of Tragedy, the Design of which is to show the fatal Consequences of those Crimes and the Punishment that never fails to attend them. The light Follies of a Lucio may be exposed, ridiculed and corrected in Comedy.
That Shakespeare made a wrong Choice of his Subject, since he was resolved to torture it into a Comedy, appears by the low Contrivance, absurd Intrique, and improbable Incidents he was obliged to introduce in order to bring about three or four Weddings instead of the one good Beheading, which was the Consequence naturally expected. [Lennox, I: 27, quoted in Vickers, 4: 112.]
As we shall see, these strictures reappear in at least one edition of the play, namely in Francis Gentleman's commentary on the play in the 1773 edition (Bell's edition) examined below.
In this presentation, and concentrating on the issues raised by Johnson, rather than the wider issues raised
by Lennox, I explore how productions of Measure for Measure from 1720 to 1929 demonstrate that actors, actors-managers, and directors have rewritten the ending of this play in ways that do indeed reflect a sense that the ending presented in the Folio text is improbably produced or imperfectly represented. (I want to thank the Folger Shakespeare Library, Folger Shakespeare Institute, and the National Endowment for the Humanities for making it possible for me to do this research during my participation in the Folger Humanities Institute on "Shakespeare Examined Through Performance.")
As a means for framing and sharpening the focus of inquiry, I will concentrate on what Philip McGuire has defined as open silences in Shakespeare's plays. Open silences are those silences mandated by a play's text and can be distinguished, as McGuire does, from "those [silences] that a playtext allows but does not require." Measure for Measure provides clear examples of both mandated and optional silences in the last scene . On the one hand, there is optional silence of Isabella after Mariana completes her appeal to Isabella to join her in begging the Duke to pardon Angelo for what they suppose to be judicial murder of Isabella's brother, Claudio. As McGuire reminds us, the actress playing Isabella can choose to immediately kneel and begin the plea mandated by the words Shakespeare's text assigns to her or she may pause, for a longer or shorter time, before beginning to speak those words. Of course the length of any such pause cannot be determined from the text itself but is rather the creative choice of the actors and director composing this production. Furthermore, it is crucial that we realize that such a silence will become a constitutive element in the experience of the spectators as they seek to make meaning from this act of mercy.
In contrast to this optional and delimited silence, there is the open silence the play mandates because no words are given to the convicted murderer Barnardine when he is pardoned by the Duke, advised to "take this mercy to provide / For better times to come" and consigned to the guidance of Friar Peter (V.i.484-485). Here Barnardine, although directly addressed, must remain silent, and yet his silence, with whatever choices the actor makes in playing that silence, must speak. McGuire himself offers this definition:
What is an open silence? . . . An open silence is one whose precise meanings and effects, because they cannot be determined by analysis of the words of the playtext, must be established by nonverbal, extratextual features of the play that emerge only in performance. Such silences are usually required by Shakespeare's words, and they occur most often during the final scene of a play. (xv)
A focus on the open silences is particularly appropriate to this play, since as McGuire further notes, the open silences which so richly appear in the last 80 lines of the play render Measure for Measure one of the most "open" plays in the canon in terms of the range of perfectly faithful yet sharply divergent performances and, therefore, of coherent yet divergent, even contradictory experiences from which we spectators must create meaning.
In what follows, then, I will focus on several of the open silences in the last scene of Shakespeare's Folio playtext of Measure for Measure --the silences of Isabella, Claudio, and Juliet--as well as an earlier open silence in the Act 3 scene between Isabella and Claudio--in order to trace some of the ways in which 18th, 19th, and 20th century productions resequenced, repositioned and, especially added to Shakespeare's playtext in order to close these open silences. I will also point to another interesting feature, namely the process by which a promptbook would became a performance text, and that performance text, in turn, would serve as the basis for a later promptbook, in a chain that at once preserved theatrical innovations while rendering them available for further revision. We will thus also be able to sketch the ways in which key revisions moved from the theater to the performance text and, in some cases, survived for well over a century in the theater.
Extending McGuire's definition, I would say that in most cases an open silence is initiated when one of the dramatic personae is addressed, and especially when that character is addressed by a speaker who seems to request, prompt, provoke, require, or insist on some response. Given this mandated silence, it is still the actor's and director's choice as to what non-verbal response, if any, that character makes. Furthermore, a character may be silent not only in relation to the one who addresses her or him but in relation to one or more other characters to whom she or he might be expected to respond, due either to the bonds between them or to the nature of their last encounter. As the attachment [a copy of the last two pages of the play from the Riverside Shakespeare which marks the open silences in the last eighty lines] indicates, Isabella, Mariana, Angelo fall silent in this scene while Barnardine, Claudio, and Juliet, enter and maintain unbroken silences.
(1) Isabella: Isabella is both the first and the last character to move into an open silence during the concluding 80 lines. Maneuvered by the Duke into a situation in which she chooses to plead for the life of the man she believes murdered her brother, Isabella falls silent after completing her plea to spare Angelo. Moreover, she remains silent when the unmuffling of Claudio reveals her brother is alive, remains silent during the reunion of Claudio and Juliet, and remains silent even as the Duke twice proposes marriage. Isabella's silence is threefold as she does not speak to her brother, her brother's wife, or the Duke.
(2) Mariana: Married to Angelo, the man she has loved even though he broke off their engagement, Mariana pleads for Angelo's life when the Duke condemns him to death for the murder of Claudio. She persuades Isabella to join her in this plea, but she falls silent, not responding to Isabella, nor to Angelo's plea to be executed, nor to the Duke's pardon, nor to the Duke's exhortation that Angelo love her.
(3) Angelo: Compelled to marry Mariana, Angelo says "I crave death more willingly than mercy; / "Tis my deserving and I do entreat it" (V.i.472-73), and then remains silent as he is pardoned and exhorted to cherish Mariana.
(4) Barnardine: Previously convicted of murder, Barnardine is pardoned by the Duke yet he says not a word to indicate how he takes being spared execution, nor how he takes being assigned to Friar Peter "hand" for spiritual guidance.
(5) Claudio: Claudio's open silence is also a three-fold silence: he offers no words when the Duke pardons him; nor does he respond when the Duke offers pardon while addressing Isabel; nor when in the last speech of the play the Duke says that Claudio should "restore" the woman he wrong 'd.
(6) Juliet: Juliet, who is never directly addressed but is referred to in the Duke's final speech, also has an unbroken silence: she does not speak to Claudio or the Duke, nor does she have a verbal response to Isabella.
Rephrasing this from a more performance-oriented stance, we can summarize these silences as a suite of questions, thus:
How, if at all, does Isabel respond to the Claudio? to Juliet? and to the Duke?
How, if at all, does, Mariana respond to Angelo? and to the Duke?
How, if at all, does, Angelo respond to Mariana? to Isabel? and to the Duke?
How, if at all, does Barnardine respond to the Duke? and to Friar Peter?
How, if at all, does Claudio respond to the Duke? to Juliet? and to Isabel?
How, if at all, does Juliet respond to the Duke? to Claudio? and to Isabel?
For purposes of illustration, I will focus on the silences of Isabella, Claudio, and Barnardine as enacted in five productions from 1720 to 1929, including (1) three performance editions from 1720 to 1803; (2) one nineteenth century promptbook, which is itself a marked copy of a published edition; and (3) one early twentieth-century promptbook, which is a typescript that presents interesting challenges as to its origins.
The three performance editions are: (1) The edition based on the performance of 1720, with the text supplied by W. Chetwood, the prompter at the Theatre Royal at Lincoln's Inn Fields and printed in London in 1722.
(2) The single-volume version in Bell's multi-volume complete Shakespeare; this edition was based on the Covent Garden promptbook, "revised by Mr. Younger, / Prompter at that Theatre," and with "An Introduction and Notes Critical and Illustrative" which were added by Francis Gentleman, printed at London in 1773.
(3) The single volume edition produced by John Philip Kemble: Kemble published his first performance edition in January 1795, and republished it in 1803 and 1815. The promptbook I examined is actually a copy of the 1803 performance edition marked by Kemble for his part as the Duke.
(4) Next comes one nineteenth century promptbook, which is also a marked copy of published edition: this is the promptbook created by Samuel Phelps for a production that opened in November, 1846, at Sadler's Wells, and which used a copy of the earlier Cumberland edition as its text.
(5) And finally there is an early 20th-century promptbook used by Henry Jewett for his Boston Repertory production which opened November 16, 1929. One particularly interesting feature of this promptbook is that it not a cut-up printed edition but rather a typescript, bound in a folio-like volume, which Jewett or an assistant created, which clearly draws on the 19th century performance editions [Halstead tersely notes "Resemeblance to Cumberland" (13: 601).]
Isabella's Silence Makes the Duke Speak More: Examining Added Speeches
Perhaps the most striking feature in the 18th century history of Measure for Measure, which starts with the revival of Shakespeare's text in 1720, is the response of the performers and adaptors to the open silence of Isabella in the face of the Duke's proposals. Although an obvious solution would seem to be to end that silence by writing a speech in which Isabella articulates an unequivocal response, the players, producers, or actor managers responded by maintaining Isabella's silence but adding a new speech for the Duke. In fact, these performance editions offer three different new endings to the play. (I would note that these three texts do mark the speeches to indicate they are not part of the original Folio text of Shakespeare, which is not the case with some of the later acting or performance editions.)
The first addition is from the 1720 performance, published in 1722 in a text supplied by the Drury Lane Theatre prompter, William Chetwood. It begins at what is line 534 of the Riverside text [see attachment], and is a bit tricky: it keeps the first line; it keeps the remaining lines of the Folio text but marks them for omission (with a '); and it adds the eight new lines that were actually spoken. On the page, then, it looks like this:
Th'Offense pardons it self. Dear Isabel,
' I have a motion much imports your good,
' Whereto if you'll a willing Ear incline,
' What's mine is yours, and what is yours is mine:
' So bring us to our Palace, where we'll show
' What's behind that's meet you all should know.
Thy virtuous Goodness, which alone has Charms*
To make thee worthy of a Monarch's Arms;
A Monarch who his Peoples Hearts would try,
And shrewdly turn'd a Priest to turn a Spy:
For Empire then he quits the lower Plain;
Resumes the Scepter, and gives Laws again:
On sure Foundatons learns to fix Decrees,
Like the Supreme, by judging what he sees.
But presumably what audiences heard James Quinn speak is as
Th'Offense pardons it self. Dear Isabel,
Thy virtuous Goodness, which alone has Charms
To make thee worthy of a Monarch's Arms;
A Monarch who his Peoples Hearts would try,
And shrewdly turn 'd a Priest to turn a Spy:
For Empire then he quits the lower Plain;
Resumes the Scepter, and gives Laws again:
On sure Foundatons learns to fix Decrees,
Like the Supreme, by judging what he sees.
The second addition is from the 1773 edition, in text supplied by the Covent Garden prompter, Mr. Younger, with notes by Frances Gentleman. It begins at what is line 534 of the Riverside text [see attachment]: it does not print the omitted Folio text, and concludes with the five new lines that were spoken in performance as follows:
Dear Isabel, I have a motion much imports your good,
Shade not, sweet saint, those graces with a veil,
Nor in a Nunnery hide thee; say thou'rt mine;
Thy Duke, thy Friar, tempts thee from thy vows,
Let thy clear spirit shine in publick life;
No cloister'd sister, but thy Prince's kife. / [Exeunt]
The third addition includes not only added lines for the Duke but an added stage direction, and is from the performance edition of John Philip Kemble, as published in the 1803 text of his revival of Measure for Measure at Covent Garden Theatre -- although this ending appears as early as the 1796 text issued by Kemble from his Drury Lane performance. This is a marked promptbook copy for a post-1803 performance, which shows that Kemble cuts the first proposal -- which eliminates one awkward moment caused by Isabella's open silence -- and begins the addition after line 531, as the Duke finishes addressing the Provost by promising "We shall employ thee in a worthier place." This text also omits the remaining lines from the Folio, and runs as follows:
Duke. .... For thee, sweet saint -- if, for a brother sav'd,
from that most ho1y shrine thou wert devote to,
Thou deign to spare some portion of thy love.
Thy Duke, thy Friar tempts thee from thy vow:
(Added in the margin by hand) Isa. is falling on her knee,
the Duke prevents her,--kisses her hand & "In its right" &]
In its right orb let thy true spirit shine,
Blessing both prince and people: -- thus we'll reign,
Rich in possession of their hearts, and warn'd
By the abuse of delegated trust,
Engrave this royal maxim in thy mind,
To rule ourselves before we rule mankind.
It is striking, of course, that the version of the ending offered in Kemble's edition repeats one complete line from the 1773 edition -- "Thy Duke, thy Friar tempts thee from thy vow/s," --as well as echoing two other phrases closely. I think we can infer that Kemble drew on at least the 1773 edition, whose text he may have encountered either when he witnessed a performance of the play in which his sister, Sarah Siddons, starred as Isabella before Kemble himself was able to assume the role of Duke; or when he read the 1773 edition, or perhaps the promptbook on which it was based, when he did assume the role. More specifically, I think that we have evidence that Kemble used the 1773 edition, for if we look at the extensive comments Francis Gentleman offered in that edition we read the following:
... the five distinguished lines, which conclude, are an addition, by whom we know not; however, they afford a better finishing, than that supplied by Shakespeare ... to royal and princely characters it offers a most valuable truth----that nothing is more dangerous, that to trust a seemingly virtuous statesman with too extensive powers of rule over his fellow-subjects; delegated authority being more liable to abuse, than the power which gives it. [1773L 71-72]
Not only is the content of Kemble's last four lines close to this observation, but his use of delegated and abuse seems taken directly from Gentleman's formulation. Gentleman's commentary is also intriguing because, as I noted at the beginning of this essay, it chimes with the commentary of Johnson and Lennox about the problematic elements of this play:
upon the whole of this play, for we cannot stile it either Tragedy or Comedy, there are several great beauties, clouded with much trifling and indecent dialogue; it must always be heavy to the majority of the audience; yet purged of impurities and superfluities, as we hope the readers will find in this edition, it may be entertaining and instructive in the closet.
(As noted later on, Gentleman's comments are applauded 150 years later by Odell.)
When we look at these three performance editions as a set, I think they demonstrate that, like Samuel Johnson, those who composed these added speeches found Shakespeare's ending both improbably produced, specifically in terms of the Duke's textually uncued proposal to Isabella, and imperfectly represented specifically in terms of Isabella's silence in response to that proposal and, one might suspect, the brevity of the proposal itself. Adding the speeches and, in Kemble's case, the stage directions for Isabella to fall to her knees and for the Duke to prevent her and kiss her hand, thus registers the point that for the 18th century producers of the play, the most troubling open silence and the one that most insistently demanded to be closed was Isabella's silence.
Closing the Silences Between Isabella and Claudio -- and Eliminating Juliet
Whereas the 18th century editions register the sense that open silence of Isabella in response to the Duke's proposal is the major flaw needing to be improved, in the 19th century, and perhaps precisely because of how the improvements close this first open silence, a second open silence seems to become thefocus of attention. Thus I turn to examine the silences between Isabella and Claudio and the fate of Juliet in the play's last scene. For purposes of this analysis, we need to turn back to the middle of the play, for the silence between Isabella and Claudio in Act 5 scene l is continuation of a silence that begins in the middle of Act 3, scene 1. In 3.1, Isabella informs Claudio that Angelo will spare Claudio's life if Isabella lets Angelo have sex with her. After Claudio first agrees to die, he changes his mind and pleads with her to make this sacrifice. His reversal provokes a response in which, after calling him beast, coward, and wretch, Isabella continues:
Die, perish! Might but my bending down
Reprieve thee from thy fate, it should proceed.
I'll pray a thousand prayers for thy death,
No word to save thee. [Riverside, III.i.144-147]
And, in her address to Claudio she insists "'Tis best thou diest quickly" (150). Given this horrific encounter, the reunion of brother and sister in Act 5 should elicit intense curiousity from us as spectators, especially coming after Isabella's extraordinary plea to save Angelo, the man she believes has murdered her brother and would have raped her. While we may hope for an immediate and complete reconciliation, we may fear that there will a hard-to-heal or even impossible to heal rupture. What the performance editions and the promptbooks based on performance editions offer is the development of additions that close this open silence. This seems to occur in two phases, with the introduction of additions to close the open silence between Isabella and Claudio in 5.1 and later to close the silence in 3.1.
One simple way for the players to deal with an open silence is to add a disambiguating non-verbal action, and this is the route that Kemble takes:
[(handwritten) Claudio advances at Provost's R.]
Duke. What muffled fellow's that?
Prov. This is another prisoner, that I sav'd
Who should have died when Claudio lost his head:
As like to Claudio, as himself.
Duke. If he be like your brother, for his sake
Is he pardon ' d.
[Claudio discovers himself, -- Isabella runs, and embraces him.] [pages 66-67 in Kemble, Shattuck edition]
The fact that this added action is printed in the text, rather than appearing as a handwritten addition as is the "Claudio advances" stage direction above it, indicates that this was already accepted stage business before the 1803 performance edition was published. Clearly, the aim is to establish unequivocally that Isabella has forgiven Claudio his lapse into self-preserving cowardice, and that Claudio has either overcome his own shame at having lapsed in virtue or forgiven Isabella her momentary willingness to let him die in order to save her chastity, or both. It is also important that Juliet was cut out of the scene entirely, so that the joyous reunion between sister and brother will be the single focus of attention for that moment. Eliminating a silent character does more than eliminate her silence: it eliminates the varied relations that performers might invent prompted by that silence, and thus eliminates the suite of cascading inventions such a silence always makes possible.
But apparently, the possibility that members of the audience might speculate about the rupture between the sister and brother for a period that, by Kemble's own timing [Act 3 = 35 minutes. Act 4 = 28 minutes. Act 5 = 43 minutes], would seem to be about one hour, troubled the actor-managers who followed Kemble. Thus when we turn to the promptbook of Samuel Phelps for his 1845/6 production--a prompt-book that according to Shattuck is based on the Cumberland performance edition--we discover a printed additional stage direction supplemented by a handwritten stage direction. In the Folio text (Riverside editing) we have:
Claudio. Let me ask my sister pardon. I am so out of love with life that I will sue to be rid of it.
But here we have.
Claud. Let me ask my sister pardon. [Crosses to Isabella. and kisses her hand] I am so out of love with life that I will sue to be rid of it.
[Crosses to R.]
Duke. Hold you there: farewell. [Exit Claudio R.]
On the facing blank page for stage manager's notes we find:
O Isabella comes down LC
Claudio X to LC. Kneels, & kisses her hand.
The Duke returns up C.
[Cumberland 32 and facing blank page]
It is striking that by introducing this stage direction to have Claudio address his second line to Isabella, the adaptor changes the function of the dialogue. For when it is addressed directly to Isabella the words become a different speech act: it is now his vow or oath to die to protect her, hence his attempt to resume the status of a gentleman she has claimed he no longer merits. This elegant maneuver preserves yet transforms the Folio speech, and it seems designed to restore or even intensify the bond between brother and sister.
When we return to 5.1 we find that the edition used by Phelps prints a further development. For in addition to repeating the stage direction added to the Kemble text, there is an added line of dialogue for Isabella. I would note that in this text none of these added elements are marked as non-Shakespearean:
Duke. If he be like your brother, for his sake
Is he pardoned.
[Claudio discovers himself--Isabella runs and embraces him--
Angelo falls on his knees Isab. ( ) O, my dear brother.
Thus one crucial silence is transformed into speech to give closure to one of the troubling possibilities left open or not explicitly re/solved in Shakespeare's Folio text, namely that brother and sister remain unreconciled at the end. I turn now to the early 20th century example, from Henry Jewett's promptbook for his Boston Repertory Company's performances of Measure for Measure, November, 1929. Looking at the two moments in the two scenes we have examined, we see how Jewett's script represents an eclectic development of over lOO years of prior editions. In 3.1 we find:
(Isabella comes forward to C)
Let me ask my sister pardon. / I am so out of love with
life, that I will sue to be rid of it.
And examining Jewett's promptbook for 5.1 we find, when Claudio is unmuffled:
(Isabel runs to Claudio and embraces him)
0, my dear brother.
And for the Duke's final speech, we find that the script includes the entire lO-line speech that first appears in Kemble's edition, but with the second line crossed out. The speech as it exists in the script thus runs as follows:
For thee, sweet saint--if, for a brother sav'd,
From that most holy shrine thou wert devote to,
Thou deign to spare some portion of thy love,
Thy Duke, thy Friar, tempts thee from thy vow:
(Isabel about to drop on her knees, the
Duke prevents her, kisses her hand, and then continues
In its right orb let thy true spirit shine,
Blessing both prince and people--thus we'll reign,
Rich in the possession of their hearts, and warned
By the abuse of delegated trust--
Engrave this royal maxim in the mind,
To rule ourselves before we rule mankind. //(all clap hands)
(Flourish of trumpets and drums)
That "Flourish" appears at least as early as the Kemble promptbook, where it is a handwritten addition to the 1803 printed text; and "Flourish of drums and trumpets" appears at least as early as the printed text in the Cumberland edition of 1830. [I have not yet been able to recheck this detail in the 18th century editions: my notes only record an "Exeunt omnes" after the Duke's speech, but it may be the case that I did not record a "Flourish" when I was doing my initial research.] I find that "all clap hands," added to the flourish of trumpet and drums, an intriguing touch. It was meant to function, surely, as a cue to the audience, to see in the Duke what his subjects were supposed to be coming to see: namely a Prince who has come to know himself, as both a ruler and a man, which they and we are to presume is a wisdom that will guarantee the justice of his renewed reign; and a Prince whose marriage to a saint-like maid is the final testimony to his virtuous nature. It functions, that is, to invite the spectator-citizens of Boston in 1929 to unite with the subject-onlookers of an imagined 17th century Vienna in applauding a full comic resolution that they, like Isabella, Juliet, Mariana, Angelo, and Claudio, might conceivably have doubted was possible.
Put in the terms articulated by Samuel Johnson, we might say that the decision to produce the triumphant comic ending as including its own onstage ovation may be seen as one move in an ongoing effort to improve Shakespeare's ending, making it more probably produced and perfectly represented in order to make the play be or become in on the stage unequivocal "comedy" critics often found lacking on the page.
That a stage production might need to insist on the comic nature of the ending and on prompting applause in this fashion is something that may be attested to by the extremely hostile response of George Odell in his famous study of Shakespeare from Betterton to Irving (1920). Here, in one of the first efforts to examine the theatrical history of Shakespeare's plays in a comprehensive, scholarly fashion, and in a book published at the beginning of the decade in which Jewett staged his production, we find Odell bluntly announcing that he finds the play indecent and revolting. Not only that, but Odell announces his own preference in stage editions, and thereby suggests the ways in which attitudes articulated by Samuel Johnson and Charlotte Lennox were still very much alive in the early twentieth century:
Exigencies of arranging by alphabetical order bring on the second of Shakespeare's bitter comedies--Measure for Measure. This like the other--All's Well that Ends Well--has a revolting plot, and its sub-plot is even more indecent than that of its fellow play. Both comedies really deserve the stage-oblivion into which they have fallen, though Measure for Measure held a fair degree of popular acclaim during the regency of Garrick and of Kemble. This vogue I take to be attributable entirely to the assumption of the part of Isabella by several very great actresses, the most notable being Mrs. Yates, Mrs. Barry, and Mrs. Siddons. The Bell version, in which the first two probably appeared, strikes me as more satisfactory than Kemble's by just so far as it eliminates more of the offensive underworld matter of bawds and panders and gentlemen of loose living. I believe that this subplot was necessary to round out Shakespeare's scheme, but I cannot alter my opinion that on the stage it is exceedingly offensive. In, fact, I am not sure that Measure for Measure should be acted, if its rendition necessitates the retention of much, or indeed any of the Froth, Pompey, Elbow, Mrs. Overdone material.
If I am correct in this view, Bell's version of Measure for Measure is almost ldeal; the character of Mrs. Overdone is entirely eliminated. The second scene of the second act omits the loose talk of Lucio and the two gentlemen, and of course the Overdone business; it starts with the entrance of the Provost, Claudio and Juliet, and with Claudio's "Fellow, why cost thou show me thus to the world?" After this, to the close, the editor follows the original. Gentleman's foot-note is, as usual, very charming: "There are three very slight, unworthy pages of the original most properly rejected." A very little of the ElbowFroth-Pompey episode, wherein they meet the Duke in the Street, is retained in Act III, Scene 2, but of the first of these scenes omitted Gentleman writes: "Here follows no less than seven pages of absolute ribaldry, ... the annihilation of them does credit to our author and the stage." Otherwise the stage is fumigated free of these people, except for the necessary retention of Pompey (here called Clown) in the late prison scenes. It would have been well if Kemble had continued the same practice, though candour elicits the statement that he has rendered the group as little maladorous as their retention at all in the dramatic personae would admit. Of course the amusing scenes involving Lucio and the Duke are retained. The main plot is very well handled in Bell's edition, more of Juliet being retained than was usual in later versions.... In general, this is an excellent acting version--its being disinfected of the gross underworld folk makes it unusually pleasing. I am glad to think that Mrs. Yates appeared in such good company. [Odell, 2325; note that in his next paragraph Odell quotes the passage from Gentleman cited earlier, including the non-Shakespearean final speech.]
It is striking to see how Odell's comments connect with Francis Gentleman's commentary from nearly 150 years earlier. (Just as Shattuck later offers an interesting and positive analysis of how, given Kemble's premises, Kemble's adaptation might be seen to improve the play.)
It is also striking to recognize how the criticism of and in some cases hostility to the original text expressed by Johnson, Lennox, and Gentleman, among others, and echoed by Odell, can, in a sense, be seen as being validated by the radically different stagings of the play as a whole of the ending in particular that begin around 1970. The earlier critics recognize the potential disharmonies in the play as written, assume these potential disharmonies are the result of error or carelessness on the part of Shakespeare, and applaud the theater's efforts to complete the play properly as Shakespeare failed to do. Many of the productions of the last twenty-seven years, on the other hand, take advantage of the openness of the ending to offer us, to cite only the most striking difference, Isabellas who either flatly refuse or postpone any answer to the Duke's proposal. They thus seem to demonstrate that Shakespeare did indeed fail to mandate a fully comic ending, but then proceed to seize the opportunity and to suggest, as some critics of the play now suggest, that the greatness of the play, both on the page and on the stage, is constituted precisely by its refusal to end with the flourish and the onstage applause that Jewett offered his spectators; and by the opportunity it presents the players to offer endings whose dissonances (dissonances which can also be seen as in harmony with a dissonance-loving time) impel us to uncomfortable responses to neartragic dilemmas as we leave the theater. In the case of the 1985 production by Yossi Yzraely for the Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival that I hope to wrtte about in the future, for example, we might say that the director uses the openness of the written script to explode the play that he implies both the Duke and Shakespeare seek to write.
As my readers will have noted, the attempt to perfect a "comic" ending can also be read as an attempt to produce a particularly positive image of the Duke as politician, and thereby provides a cue for acknowledging what this essay does not do. For given the focus of this analysis, I have not turned to examining the ways in which new historicist, cultural materialist, and feminist criticism might want to train and has already trained our attention on the wider context of productions of Measure for Measure staged in such different times as 1720, 1773, 1803, 1846, and 1929. But I would hope that this sketch of some of the "internal" theatrical pressures would offer interesting evidence to those who wish to focus on the "external" pressures shaping productions, reproductions, and performance texts of this play.
Furthermore, there is another intriguing area that I have barely touched on, namely the transmission of the revised text as a theatrical convention having its own extended life, such that we can discern continuities between a London productions of 1795 and 1803 and a Boston production of 1929. In her recently published study The Trick of Singularity: Twelfth Night and the Performance Editions, Laurie E. Osborne suggests that we think of what have usually been called "acting editions" as "performance editions," and suggests "Together prompt-books and performance editions preserve the development of acting traditions because they record performance choices" (xii); she continues by arguing that if we frame our inquiries in these terms "The reward is uncovering an editorial tradition based on performance" (xiii). Her formulation point towards an area I hope to explore more fully as I develop the theatrical-critical history outlined here.
Halstead, William P. Statistical History of Acting Editions of Shakespeare. A Supplement to Shakespeare as Spoken. Volume 13. Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI: American Theatre Association, 1983. The section on Measure for Measure is on pp. 593-617.
McGuire, Philip C. Speechless Dialect: Shakespeare's Open Silences. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.
Odell, George C. D. Shakepseare from Betterton to Irving. 2 volumes. (Scribner, 1920, Benjamin Blom, 1963).
Osborne, Laurie E. The Trick of Singularity: Twelfth Night and the Performance Editions. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1996.
Piddick, William, Editorial Director. Shakespeare and the Stage: Series One: Prompt Books from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Washington. D.C.. An Inventory of Parts One, Two, Three and Four of the Harvester Microfilm Collection. Britain's Literary Heritage. Harverster Microfilm. Brighton, England: Harvester Press, 1985. The promptbooks of Measure for Measure are on reel 47.
Shakespeare, William. The Norton Facsimile of the First Folio of Shakespeare. Prepared by Charlton Hinman. New York: Norton, 1968.
Measure for Measure. A Comedy. As it is Acted at the Theatre Royal in Lincoln's-Inn-Fields. Written by Mr. W Shakespear. [With the text supplied by W. Chetwood, prompter at the Theatre.] Printed for J. Tonson. London, 1722.
Measure for Measure. As Performed at the Theatre-Royal, Covent-Garden. Revised by Mr. Younger, Prompter at that Theatre. An Introduction and Notes, Critical and Illustrative, are added by the Author of the Dramatic Censor [Francis Gentleman.] London: Printed for John Bell, 1773.
Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. A Comedy, Revised by J. P. Kemble; And Now First Published as it is Acted at The Theatre Royal in Covent Garden. London: Printed for J. Ridgway ...
And Sold in the Theatre, 1803.
Measure for Measure. John Philip Kemble Promptbooks, Volume 6, edited by Charles H. Shattuck. Charlottesville, Virginia: University Press of Virginia. Published for the Folger Shakespeare Library, 1974. This promptbook is a marked copy of Kemble's own 1803 edition of the play.
Measure for Measure. A Comedy In Five Acts by William Shakespeare. Printed from the Acting Copy, with Remarks, Biographical and Critical, by D--G. As now performed at the Theatres Royal, London. London: John Cumberland .
Measure for Measure. Promptbook of Samuel Phelps for the (November) 1846 production at Sadler's Wells Theatre, London. This promptbook is a marked copy of the Cumberland edition of 1832.
Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. Promptbook of Henry Jewett for 1929 production of the Boston Repertory Company. Typescript based (in part) on Cumberland edition of 1832. In the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington D.C.
Measure for Measure. In The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974: 550-584.
Shattuck, Charles H. , editor. The Shakespeare Promptbooks: A Descriptive Catalog. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965. The section on Measure for Measure is on pages 269-275.
Sherbo, Arthur, editor. Johnson on Shakespeare. The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, Volumes VII-VIII. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1968. Johnson's "Preface" in VII: 59-113.
Vickers, Brian, editor. Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage, volume 4, 1735-1765. (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1976): 110-112.
Vickers offers excerpts from Charlotte Lennox's Shakespeare Illustrated: or the Novels and Histories On which the plays of Shakespear are Founded. Collected and Translated from the Original Authors. with Critical Remarks, vols. I and II (1753); vol. III (1754).