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Rhétorique, discours, silence

“All shadow and silence in it” (3.1.247-48)1: Reticence in Measure for Measure

Denis Lagae-Devoldere


La fin “ouverte” et ambivalente de Measure for Measure, marquée notamment par l’absence de réaction et le fameux silence d’Isabella à la demande en mariage réitérée du duc Vincentio, a suscité des commentaires variés et contradictoires. Par-delà ces interprétations, le motif du silence et son utilisation dramatique, mis en relief par le “stratagème du lit” de l’acte 3, ne fait que confirmer l’importance de la figure de l’aposiopèse qui prévaut dans la pièce. La dernière comédie de Shakespeare peut à cet égard se lire comme une exploration des différentes nuances et “mesures” de l’aposiopèse, dont les résonances touchent des questions dramatiques, linguistiques, politiques et philosophiques. On verra ainsi comment Measure for Measure, pièce de la persuasion rhétorique qui échoue, transforme la réticence en emphase.

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Texte intégral

Introduction. “For the benefit of silence” (5.1.190)

  • 1  All quotations of Measure for Measure are from Lever.
  • 2  Alwin Thaler, Shakespeare’s Silences.
  • 3 Speechless Dialect: Shakespeare’s Open Silences.
  • 4  Aebischer, 1.
  • 5  Mc Guire, 69.
  • 6  Aebischer, op. cit., 1.

1More than eighty years ago, Alwin Thaler suggested that Shakespeare, the master of words, achieved some of his most effective and meaningful dramatic moments through the paradoxical absence of words.2 His analysis of the various occasions on which characters in Shakespeare’s plays stop speaking or fail to speak was taken up by Philip McGuire’s ground-breaking work.3 Isabella’s lack of response to the Duke’s twice-repeated marriage proposal has proved a goldmine for performance studies and gender studies.4 McGuire has looked into what he calls the “final silences” of several characters in the play and explored whether such silences were to be interpreted as “mute, accepting wonder” or expressions of “resistance.”5 No matter how enticing they may be, such interpretations can only be projections, as they imply a shift from the playtext to the performance-as-text, as Pascale Aebischer explains.6

  • 7   Baines, 287.
  • 8  Friedman’s use of the noun “straitness” is apparently a direct quotation from the text: “If his ow (...)
  • 9  Friedman, op. cit., 461.

2Some scholars claim that the quasi nun’s stubborn silence may be construed as a silent acceptance of her tormentor as a husband – a sign of total submission to the patriarchal law and possibly, of the sudden discovery of love. Conversely, others interpret it as a symbol of resistance to the all-powerful phallocentric system, the ultimate triumph of chastity, Isabella’s presumed sole power7: her silence would then be considered a rejection of his proposal and a reaffirmation of the self-determination and autonomy she has found at Saint Clare’s. By the same token, critics have tried to compensate for the lack of verisimilitude and come up with an explanation for the reason behind Vincentio’s proposal. It may be, as Michael D. Friedman explains, that the Duke tries to atone for the sexual offence he has caused Isabella by asking her to lie in public.8 The noviciate’s false declaration having tainted her socially, Vincentio proposes marriage as a way to compensate for her ruined reputation: “at the end of the play,” Friedman writes, “the Duke must live up to the principle of measure for measure and answer the straitness of his own proceeding by offering recompense to Isabella.”9

  • 10  McCandless, 120.
  • 11  Mc Candless, op. cit., 120.

3David McCandless’s reading of the ending of the play combines gender, performance and psychologically-oriented studies: “[Isabella’s] silence,” he writes, “signifies neither ‘yes’ nor ‘no’, nor even ‘maybe’ but enigmatically manifests the impossibility of reply.”10 According to McCandless, Isabella is “still in spectacle [...], part of the Duke’s story”; on the other hand, “her silence creates a space for her own story, evoking an ‘elsewhere’ unassimilable to the patriarchal narrative that has previously contained her.”11

  • 12 Explicitly referring to the newly-built Globe Theatre, Henry V’s Prologue calls for “a kingdom for (...)
  • 13  Bate and Rasmussen eds., 124.

4What is striking and possibly disturbing about such readings, however stimulating, is the fact that they hardly rely on any “textual proof,” to twist Othello’s phrase. They could even say more on the critics’ own critical or ideological agenda than on the play itself. This interpretative fever of Isabella’s closing silence(s) may have found its roots in the history of the play’s productions: what is nowhere to be found on the page was compensated for, on the stage, by directors, and presumably picked up by the audience, thus taking one step further what the prologue to Henry V suggests: the audience’s imagination, with the help of the director and the actors on stage, must bridge the gaps and finish what the “wooden O” could not encompass.12 Peter Brook’s 1950 production of the play at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford was one of the first to lay strong emphasis on Isabella’s final silence(s), an interpretative bias which firmly grounded the play, as Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen note, “in the modern repertoire.”13

  • 14  Trewin, 50-65. Quoted by Bate and Rasmussen, op. cit., 125.
  • 15  Another important production was that of John Barton in 1970 for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Of (...)
  • 16  See for instance the twin reviews of the 2004 simultaneous productions of the play, one directed b (...)

5Peter Brook asked the actress playing the part of Isabella – Barbara Jefford – to make “daring pauses,” for instance when she pleads for Angelo’s life at Mariana’s impassioned request (“Lend me your knees,” 5.1.432). Immediately after saying the words “Look, if it please you, on this man condemn’d” (5.1.445), the director recommended that Barbara Jefford pause each night until “she felt that the audience could stand it no longer. The silence lasted at first for about thirty-five seconds, ”extending to two minutes on some nights.”14 Peter Brook’s production was a watershed in the critical and public perception of Measure for Measure, turning a play whose final sense of indeterminacy and prevailing silence had often been associated with (in)artistic bungling and sloppy plot handling into a scintillating example of meaning-laden aporia which our (post) modern era is so fond of, the problematic having become the norm, if not a badge of honour.15The interpretative slant a director will give to the end’s silence(s) has become one of the main staples – the only one, at times – of Measure for Measure’s performance reviews.16

“Silence that fellow” (5.1.182): aposiopesis and power

6Surely it is significant that, in a play so keenly concerned with rhetoric and the power to persuade, silence or reticence should feature so prominently. The notion of silence, in Measure for Measure, is more often than not to be viewed in its verbal use, in an imperative form and tone and its transitive use. In other words, it is an index of power and coercion, since making others silent, speechless or voiceless may be regarded as a sign of power and/or powerlessness.

  • 17  See Vickers, ed., for quotations from Puttenham’s treatise.
  • 18 The New Princeton Encyclopediaof Poetry and Poetics defines aposiopesis as follows: “It is a speake (...)
  • 19  Hillman, 110.

7Aposiopesis is a rhetorical artifice in which the speaker comes to a sudden halt, as if unable or unwilling to proceed. Such interruption of discourse, leading to the incompletion of an utterance, was described as follows by George Puttenham in his Art of English Poesie (1579): “when we begin to speak a thing and break off in the middle way,” it reveals that “either it needed no further to be spoken of, or that we were ashamed, or afraid to speak it out. It is also sometimes done by way of threatening, and to show a moderation of anger.”17 The term aposiopesis is etymologically linked with silence or reticence, its Greek meaning being roughly equivalent with the phrase “becoming silent.”18 From that perspective, the final act of the play can be considered, Richard Hillman suggests, as a process of gradual “silencing.”19 In that respect, the importance of the ever prattling Lucio, whom the Duke will eventually silence, can hardly be stressed enough. Hillman’s argument could perhaps be taken a step further: if one extended the notion to the play as a whole, Measure for Measure could then be regarded as a dramatic orchestration of reticence or “becoming silent.”

8The play is indeed filled with countless interruptions of discourse, either self-inflicted or imposed from the outside – another illustration of the interior/exterior paradigm at work throughout the play: “no more words,” orders Escalus to Mistress Overdone before she is taken to prison (3.2.200). More significantly, in the highly emotional and dramatic public confession of Act 5, Isabella’s speech stops in mid-sentence when she lies and claims that Angelo has taken her chastity: “Justice, O royal Duke! Vail your regard / Upon a wronged – I would fain have said, a maid.” (5.1.21-22). Such a Sterne-like dash is presumably a graphic equivalent of the character’s modesty and reluctance to “name” what is not or no longer true, echoing Claudio’s reluctance to name his offence (1.2.128-29). It appears as one of the proleptic markers of the forthcoming absolute silence of Isabella as well as of all the other characters – including Lucio. Similarly, a few lines later, Isabella is shown to be out of words: describing Angelo’s arch-villainy, she exclaims: “If he be less, he’s nothing; but he’s more, / Had I more name for badness” (5.1.61-62, my emphasis). Semantic shortage meets with a barely stifled emotional outburst.

9By the same token, Barnardine’s cutting short the Duke-as-friar’s plea (“But hear you“) with a blunty authoritative “[n]ot a word” (4.3.61) is not only an ironical illustration of power reversal – the all-seeing and all-hearing disguised Duke “cut short” by the permanently inebriated convicted murderer on the verge of being “cut short” or “made silent”, i.e. executed. It also provides an oblique parallel between “cutting short” as a discursive interruption and “cutting off” as synonymous with decapitation.

  • 20  Lezra, 260.
  • 21  Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610). Among others, works such as David with the Head of (...)

10Aposiopesis can thus be construed as a discursive equivalent of the beheading motif, and more generally of Measure for Measure’s concern with severing, decapitation and refiguration.20 Ironically enough, the decapitation motif is taken up in Act 5 – i.e. the act where aposiopesis and silence feature so conspicuously. The various shades of “disclosing” or exposure which are presented in the final act may be read as forms of euphemistic decapitation: the unveiling of Mariana’s face, the unhooding of Friar Lodowick by Lucio’s gesture, the unmuffling of Claudio’s head – the alleged decapitated man finally restored to his head. The beheading, another forever elusive yet permanent “presence” in the play, is thus made commensurate with the long-delayed unhooding of Mariana, Claudio and the Friar-Duke himself. Within the process of permutation and variations at work in the play, the physical, literal-oriented mechanism or its linguistic translation (maidenhead – head) is twisted into theatrical exposure, “cut[ting] a little,” in the words of Escalus (2.1.5). Whether taken literally or figuratively, the process of “making silent” which prevails in Measure for Measure is at one with the comedy’s focus on finitude, “the entertainment of death” (3.1.469) as well as with the painted beheadings of Caravaggio, an artist whose work is contemporary with the play.21

  • 22  Condren, 166-67.

11Conal Condren demonstrated that the dramatic use of argumentum in utramque partem, the ancient persuasive art of anticipating and putting to the test both sides of a case, is a central trope in Measure for Measure. It is historically and conceptually linked with aposiopesis, which Condren defines as “the absence of a conclusion” – a very common accusation waged against the play and its notorious absence of closure.22

  • 23  See the Duke’s related reticence “to unfold” “the properties” “of government” at the opening of th (...)

12Interestingly enough, Shakespeare’s play contains two references to concluding. The first one is Lucio’s mocking words to the second gentleman’s blasphemous use of the mother of all conclusions: “Amen” (1.2.6): “Thou conclud’st like the sanctimonious pirate, that went to sea with the Ten Commandments, but scraped one out of the table” (1.2.7-9). The second occurrence is found in Isabella’s use of the phrase “the vile conclusion” (5.1.98). This refers to Angelo’s presumed abuse of power over her chastity. The phrase is intertwined in an aposiopetic micro-narrative with the clear intention not to tell about the vile conclusion: Isabella makes an emphatic use of reticence.23

  • 24  Condren, op.cit., 172. On anamorphotic perspective in Measure for Measure, see Sophie Chiari’s art (...)

13Such a foregrounded discursive self-awareness bridges the gap between the dramatic use of aposiopesis and its legal and philosophical application. If Measure for Measure dramatizes the art of judgment and mitigation in casuistic, conscience-testing circumstances, the verbal implications are made palpable on stage. Condren notes that Shakespeare’s use of casuistry is “at one with the commonplaces of Pyrrhonist scepticism, specifically the fourth and fifth topoi, stressing that what might seem right could change with perspective or circumstance – recalling an anamorphotic vision.24

14The all-pervasive motif of silence at the close of the play is thus a paradoxical index or “measure” of power and authority, or lack thereof. It seems that one of the main goals of the dramatic action, particularly in the public formality of Act 5, consists in silencing others, hushing people, turning this final act into a global aposiopesis. Silencing others, in this particular context, seems to be a means of asserting one’s power, an equivalent of cutting characters off, i..e. beheading them. In the theatre as in the world of law, voicelessness or speechlessness is indeed akin to death. In that perspective, the fact that the garrulous Lucio is the last character to be dealt with is telling. Lucio’s constant and often slanderous chatter and ultimate protests stress by contrast the silent acquiescence of all the other characters. The process has been deferred, first by the Duke himself, once his friar disguise has been exposed: “Sneak not away, sir, for the friar and you / Must have a word anon” (5.1.356-57, my emphasis). Later, as he turns to Lucio and says “Now, sir, to you,” the Duke is interrupted by Mariana (5.1.427). Significantly enough, the slandering “fellow of much licence” (3.2.198), the “prattle[r]” (5.1.183) whose earlier unruly interruptions of speech aggravated Vincentio and threatened his theatrical scenario (“Silence that fellow,” 5.1.182), has to wait for his “opposite” (3.2.160) not being interrupted in order to hear his “recompense” (5.1.514). It is ironical that after having stoically and repeatedly endured, as the disguised Duke, Lucio’s slanderous remarks, the Duke in propria persona is delayed by the business at hand and cannot give Lucio his due as his final “victim.” It is only after punishing Lucio and eliminating the threat that his prattling tongue represents to him – both as ruler and as awkward suitor – that the Duke once again turns to Isabella after the earlier “fitter time” deferment (5.1.491).

  • 25  With the notable exception of Hillman, op. cit., 108.
  • 26  As Jonathan Dollimore argued, the prostitutes, in Measure for Measure, have no voice(s) – or visib (...)
  • 27  The figuration of the ideal wife is one of complete closure, marking the (male) terror of the conn (...)

15Although many critics have failed to notice it25, Isabella’s silence is actually imposed upon her by Vincentio. She is hardly given any chance to speak out, let alone speak up. In both instances of his more than brief love discourses, the Duke prevents her from responding, first by a convoluted structure and a swift change of subject and aposiopesis (“But fitter time for that”) that turns the fleeting allusion into a quasi auricular illusion, then by asking her not to talk but rather to listen: “Whereto if you’ll a willing ear incline” (5.1.533). In keeping with the Elizabethan and Jacobean conduct books advising women to stay silent, Isabella is turned by the Duke into an “invisible”, i.e. silent woman, close to the invisible prostitutes of the play,26 according to Peter Stallybrass’s distinction.27

“There’s more behind” (5.1.526)

  • 28  Somogyi, ed., 195.

16Such a dialectical interplay between silence and speech is what the notorious bed-trick is based upon. Not only is it a highly verbally prepared trick, described at length to Isabella by the disguised Duke in its whys and wherefores, it is never actually shown to the spectators – a concrete variation on the showing and telling paradigm. Ironically enough, the editorial history of Measure for Measure  obliquely reflects such a concern with the two fundamental theatrical dimensions of time and space. In Bawcutt’s edition (1991), the Duke advises Isabella to make sure that “the place may have all shadow and silence in it, and the time answer to convenience” (3.1.248-49). It may be worth noticing that the Folio indicates “time” instead of “place.” The phrase then reads as “that the time may have all shadow and silence in it and the place answer to convenience.” The use of ‘time’ was regarded as an oddity by M. R. Ridley, the author of a 1935 edition of the play, who assumed a scribal or compositional transposition or error,28 and the conjecture crossed over into Lever’s 1965 edition before reaching Bawcutt’s. In the 2010 Norton Critical edition by Grace Ioppolo, however, the text, based on the only authoritative text of the 1623 Folio, the presumed ‘original’ disposition of “time may have all shadow and silence in it and the place answer to convenience” is duly restored.

  • 29  Nevo, 109.
  • 30  Chedgzoy, 58.
  • 31  “[t]hat the place/time may have all shadow and silence in it” (3.1.248-49). In spite of or perhaps (...)

17This editorial criss-crossing of ‘time’ and ‘place’ is all the more fascinating since it occurs at a crucial moment in the play, in the so called ‘blank’ or dead centre of it,29 that is to say immediately after the Duke’s overhearing Isabella and Claudio’s conversation and his subsequent decision to take “measures” against Angelo’s tyrannical use of justice. From then on, as many critics have pointed out, the play is “tortured into a comedy” or “wrenched out of tragedy”, and the Duke-as-friar becomes a full-fledged dramatist, occupying the vacant space between deadlocked extremes in order to restore justice.30 What the bed-trick paradoxically promotes is the erasure – or “razing” (1.2.11; 2.2.174) – of theatre in the most hackneyed theatrical trick and moment, the erasure of time and place whose (timely) outcome is essential to the plot.31 Theatre is emphatically revivified while it is ostentatiously presented as irrelevant. By many standards, the bed-trick is the theatrical translation of “the old fantastical Duke of dark corners” (4.3.154-55) referring to things unseen and unknown, in keeping with his taste for secrecy, “the life remov’d” (1.3.8) and his presumed “dark deeds darkly answered” (3.2.171), as “more behind” (5.1.526).

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 yet behind, that’s meet you all should know. (5.1.531-36)

  • 32  It is a monologue because there are other, albeit silent, characters on the stage. A soliloquy wou (...)

18The adverb “behind” is used twice by the Duke in the self-contained structure of his fifteen-line monologue, verballyearmarking it as significant, all the more so as the repetition is reinforced by the widening of its semantic scope as an antanaclasis.32 The first occurrence is addressed to Escalus and holds promise of future reward and advancement, as indicated by the use of the temporal ‘yet’ – an ironical echo of Lucio’s “punishment in thanks” (1.4.28). The second one refers to space, and its position at the beginning of the last line of the text – within four rhyming couplets – signals its importance, although it may be dismissed as a commonplace of comedic theatrical convention: the characters are invited to repair to a nearby place or palace of pleasure – the pleasure of knowing, in typical Middletonian Calvinist fashion, it should be noted, not feeding, revelling, or bedding as in Shakespeare’s earlier festive comedies.

19At the same time, “there’s more behind” suggests at once a narrow path out of the play’s aporetic ending – aporia meaning no passage in Greek – in some sort of infinite regression, with boundaries or ‘measures’ vanishing far beyond the audience on and off stage while simultaneously extending the recurrent motifs of secrecy, concealment and the enigmatic plural (half) ‘truths’ mentioned by Pompey Bum (2.1.126). The statement resonates far beyond the limits of the play and the gates of Vienna, possibly pointing towards Isabella’s hopeful claim that “there is another comfort than this world” (5.1.52), Claudio’s metaphysical “thrilling region of thick-ribbèd ice” (3.1.122) or the bed-trick’s theatrical “all shadow and silence” (3.1.247-48) – with a possible stretch to Hamlet’s “the rest is silence” (Hamlet, 5.2.311).

20Such an invitation to proceed to the back-door entrance, or exit of the play reads as a revealing reference to metatheatricality which points at the wings, a conventional ‘dark corner’ and forbidden territory for the audience. It also implies an ultimate deferment, unsurprising in the Duke, a character whose main feature is evasiveness. The deferment of the promised “unfolding” is on a par with the last word being offered to Isabella but forever deferred by the text. Isabella’s stony silence makes her physically present but possibly in an ‘elsewhere’ which lies behind the scenes and far beyond the Duke’s palace. As such, Isabella’s “speechless dialect” (1.2.173) becomes authentically speechless, possibly the symbol of a powerful agency, far from the language of seduction she was lured into performing in Act 2. The Duke remains “a complete bosom” (1.3.3), as inscrutable as the truth itself, and the keeper of the bind between the intriguing ‘know’/‘show’ rhymes in the final couplet (5.1.535-36). The audience is left standing in between the inaccessible “behind” and the permanent ‘now’ of deferment.

21The Duke’s second proposal of a match is as tight-lipped as the first: it leaves the potential bride no room for response (“so”). It also places Isabella in the submissive position of a simple recipient, of an eroticized ear, duly inclined – reversing her refusal to ‘bend’ for Angelo and even Claudio (“Might but my bending down / Reprieve thee from thy fate,” 3.1.143-44). The hypallagic ear which Isabella is here turned into slyly recalls Vincentio’s horror of slander. The abuse of ‘will’ and of its polyptotonic declensions (you’ll/ will[ing]) recalls the Duke’s “pleasure” (‘will’ as a sexual pun as in 2.2.26), in his arbitrary dispensation of justice, turning the polite proposal into a not-so-veiled threat, as the verb to meet conjures up ‘mete out,’ suggesting yet another coerced marriage in store, a “sinister measure” (3.2.236) meant to compel will and coerce into consent.


  • 33  Wilson, 131.

22Measure for Measure ends, Richard Wilson writes, with “a sound of grating bars as well as wedding bells.”33 With obvious references to the various sentences to wed – instead of die – passed by the Duke, the critic symptomatically alludes to sounds, albeit in their figurative meaning, to refer to the play’s end, where irresolution either invalidates, that is to say, silences, interpretations, or on the contrary invites their unlimited proliferation.

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Aebischer, Pascale. “Silence, Rape and Politics in Measure for Measure: Close Readings in Theatre History,” Shakespeare Bulletin, Vol. 26, n°4, 2008, 1-19.

Baines, Barbara J. “Assaying the Power of Chastity in Measure for Measure,” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, Vol. 30, n°2, 1990, 283-301.

Chedgzoy, Kate. William Shakespeare: Measure for Measure, Tavistock, Northcote House, 2000.

Condren, Conal. “‘Unfolding the Properties of Government’: The Case of Measure for Measure and the History of Political Thought,” in eds. David Armitage, Conal Condren and Andrew Fitzmaurice, Shakespeare Early Modern Political Thought, Cambridge, Cambridge UP, 2009,  157-75.

Desens, Marliss C. “The Bed-Trick in English Renaissance Drama,” in Measure for Measure, ed. Grace Ioppolo, Norton Critical Edition, London, Norton, 2010, 216-26.

Dollimore, Jonathan. “Shakespeare, Cultural Materialism, Feminism and Marxist Humanism,” New LiteraryHistory 21, 1990, 471-93.

Friedman, Michael D. “’O, let him marry her!’: Matrimony and Recompense in Measure forMeasure,” Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 46, n°4, 1995, 454-64.

Gregori, Mina. Caravage, Paris, Gallimard, 1995.

Hillman, Richard. William Shakespeare: The Problem Plays, Twayne English Author Series, Arthur Kinney, ed., New York, Twayne Publishers, 1993.

Hopkins, D.J. and Orr, Shelley. Theatre Journal, Vol. 57, No. 1, 2005, 97-100.

Lezra, Jacques. “Pirating Reading: The Appearance of History in Measure for Measure,English Literary History, Vol. 56, n°2, 1989, 255-92.

McCandless, David. Gender and Performance in Shakespeare’s Problem Comedies, Bloomington, Indiana UP, 1997.

McGuire, Philip. Speechless Dialect: Shakespeare’s Open Silences, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1985.

Nevo, Ruth. “Measure for Measure: Mirror for Mirror”, Shakespeare Survey, Vol. 40: Current Approaches to Shakespeare through Language, Text and Theatre, Stanley Wells, ed., Cambridge UP, 1988. (Cambridge Collections Online, 2012), 107-22.

Preminger, Alex and T.V.F. Brogan, eds. The New Princeton Encyclopediaof Poetry and Poetics,  Princeton, Princeton UP, 1993.

Shakespeare, William.  Measure for Measure, Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen, eds., Basingstoke, The Royal Shakespeare Company Edition, Macmillan, 2010.

Shakespeare, William. Measure for Measure, N.W. Bawcutt ed., Oxford, Oxford World’s Classics, 1991.

Shakespeare, William. Measure for Measure, Nick de Somogyi, ed., London, Nick Hern Books, 2002.

Shakespeare, William. The Norton Shakespeare, gen. ed. Stephen Greenblatt, New York: Norton, 2008.

Stallybrass, Peter. “Patriarchal Territories: The Body Enclosed,” in Rewriting the Renaissance: The Discourses of Sexual Difference in Early Modern Europe, eds. Margaret W. Ferguson, Maureen Quiligan and Nancy J. Vickers, Chicago, Chicago UP, 1986, 123-42.

Thaler, Alwin. Shakespeare’s Silences, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard UP, 1929.

Trewin, J.C. “Moon and Stars: 1950-1952,” in Peter Brook: A Biography, MacDonald, 1971, 50-65.

Vickers, Brian (ed). English Renaissance Literary Criticism, Oxford, OUP, 1998.

Wilson, Richard. Will Power, Essays on Shakespearean Authority, London, Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993, Chapter 5, “The Quality of Mercy: Discipline and Punishment in Shakespearean Comedy”, 124-37.

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1  All quotations of Measure for Measure are from Lever.

2  Alwin Thaler, Shakespeare’s Silences.

3 Speechless Dialect: Shakespeare’s Open Silences.

4  Aebischer, 1.

5  Mc Guire, 69.

6  Aebischer, op. cit., 1.

7   Baines, 287.

8  Friedman’s use of the noun “straitness” is apparently a direct quotation from the text: “If his own life answer the straitness of his proceeding, it shall become him well” comments the disguised Duke in a conversation with Escalus (3.2.249-50).

9  Friedman, op. cit., 461.

10  McCandless, 120.

11  Mc Candless, op. cit., 120.

12 Explicitly referring to the newly-built Globe Theatre, Henry V’s Prologue calls for “a kingdom for a stage” (l3) and regrets that “this unworthy scaffold” (10) implies stage limitations: “Can this cock-pit hold / The vasty fields of France ? / Or may we cram / Within this wooden O the very casques  / That did affright the air at Agincourt?” (11-14). Further allusions to dramatic limitations, especially time limitations, are found in the Chorus’s mention of ellipsis (“th’excuse / Of time,  of numbers, and due course of things, / Which cannot in their huge and proper life / Be here represented,” 5.1.3-6). In a traditional captatio benevolentiae stance, the spectator’s imagination is called upon to bridge the temporal and spatial gaps of what is represented: “Still be kind / And eke out our performance with your mind” (3.1.35-36).

13  Bate and Rasmussen eds., 124.

14  Trewin, 50-65. Quoted by Bate and Rasmussen, op. cit., 125.

15  Another important production was that of John Barton in 1970 for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Often described as a “feminist” production of Measure for Measure, it ended with Isabella’s stony silence, interpreted as a flat refusal of the Duke’s proposal. See Bate and Rasmussen, op. cit., 145.

16  See for instance the twin reviews of the 2004 simultaneous productions of the play, one directed by Mark Rylance at the Globe in July 2004, the other by Simon Mc Burney at the Royal National Theatre, as described by Hopkins and Orr.

17  See Vickers, ed., for quotations from Puttenham’s treatise.

18 The New Princeton Encyclopediaof Poetry and Poetics defines aposiopesis as follows: “It is a speaker’s abrupt halt midway in a sentence [...] The speaker thinking to impress his addressee the more with a vague hint of an idea too awesome to be put into words. It is sometimes followed by the speaker’s explanation that things are passed over in silence,” foregrounding the fact that there is a blank, a deliberate digression or a swerving of course. (Preminger and Brogan, 81)

19  Hillman, 110.

20  Lezra, 260.

21  Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610). Among others, works such as David with the Head of Goliath (1607), Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist (1606; 1609) or The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist (1608) can be mentioned. On Caravaggio’s cephalophobia, see Gregori.

22  Condren, 166-67.

23  See the Duke’s related reticence “to unfold” “the properties” “of government” at the opening of the play (1.1.2-4).

24  Condren, op.cit., 172. On anamorphotic perspective in Measure for Measure, see Sophie Chiari’s article in the present volume.

25  With the notable exception of Hillman, op. cit., 108.

26  As Jonathan Dollimore argued, the prostitutes, in Measure for Measure, have no voice(s) – or visibility –, since they are, in the critic’s brilliant phrase, “spoken for.” See Dollimore, 474. To a certain extent, the hyperbolically virtuous Isabella is placed on the same level as the silent/invisible, present-absent prostitutes of the play.

27  The figuration of the ideal wife is one of complete closure, marking the (male) terror of the connection between garrulitàs and concupiscentia: in her enclosed body, her mouth is shut and she lives inside a locked house. See Stallybrass. For a comic version of this, see Ben Jonson’s Epicoene, or the silent woman.

28  Somogyi, ed., 195.

29  Nevo, 109.

30  Chedgzoy, 58.

31  “[t]hat the place/time may have all shadow and silence in it” (3.1.248-49). In spite of or perhaps because of Isabella’s depiction, Angelo’s hortus conclusus is a locus to be figured by the spectator’s imagination. The mysterious, unseen and unshown place uncannily recalls the Duchess of Gloucester’s description of Woodstock as “[b]ut empty lodgings and unfurnished walls, / Unpeopled offices, untrodden stones” (Richard II, 1.2.68-69) – a space filled by silence and loneliness, here used in what some defined as a farcical mode. See Desens.

32  It is a monologue because there are other, albeit silent, characters on the stage. A soliloquy would imply that the stage is empty.

33  Wilson, 131.

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Denis Lagae-Devoldere, « “All shadow and silence in it” (3.1.247-48): Reticence in Measure for Measure », Sillages critiques [En ligne], 15 | 2013, mis en ligne le 14 janvier 2013, consulté le 23 mars 2017. URL :

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Denis Lagae-Devoldere

Denis Lagae-Devoldère est Maître de Conférences à l’Université Paris-Sorbonne (Paris IV), spécialiste du théâtre du XVIIème siècle anglais. Il est l’auteur d’une étude du Coriolan de Shakespeare (Armand Colin, 2007) et de From Vienna With Love: Shakespeare's Measure for Measure (PUF, 2012) ainsi que de nombreux articles et chapitres d’ouvrages sur le théâtre élisabéthain, jacobéen et de la Restauration anglaise.
Denis Lagae-Devoldère is a lecturer in Early Modern Literature and Drama at Paris-Sorbonne University (Paris IV). He is the author of a book on Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Coriolanus (Armand Colin, 2007) and From Vienna With Love: Shakespeare's Measure for Measure (Presses Universitaires de France, 2012) and has published numerous articles and book chapters on Elizabethan, Jacobean and Restoration drama.
Université Paris-Sorbonne

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