Friday, November 28, 2014

Benedicke versus Leonato: Who Will Stop Her Mouth?

I have been putting the finishing edit touches to the script of our next production: Much adoe about Nothing, trying to work out the best way for ten actors to play all of the characters.  I’ve had to combine a couple of characters and, unfortunately, completely delete one (apologies, Antonio).  As we’ve blogged about before, there were some lines in the First Folio (the only version we use) that were not attributed to characters but rather to the actors who played them at the time.  Without using modern versions to fill in the answers for us – Andy and I enjoyed working out who should say what.  It was pretty easy to figure out, but still a fun exercise for us Shakespeare nerds.  Then, in Act Five… the last scene…28 lines from the end of the play, there it was: “Peace I will stop your mouth.” delivered by Leonato instead of the usual Benedicke. 

We knew it was coming.  So, now the question: should I, as the director, give the line to Benedicke to say (which audiences will expect and enjoy) or leave it as Leonato’s line (which may throw some for a loop?)
The line is Leonato’s in every Folio and Quarto version I could find: First Quarto (1600), First Folio (1623), & Second Folio (1632) has the line plain as I’ve written above.  In the Third Folio (1664) and Fourth Folio (1685) the line is still Leonato’s, but a comma is added after “Peace”.
In modern texts, there is also a stage direction added: “kisses her”, which is not in any of the Folios or Quartos. 
This begs the question: why give the line to Benedicke and add the stage direction?  Based on the Unrehearsed Cue Script Technique, the actor playing Leonato would have endless options to ‘suit the action to the word’ (an unrehearsed technique rule) with stopping Beatrice’s mouth.  After all, she’s the one who’s talking when this line is spoken.  He’s her uncle and has been living with her brilliant wit for years, day after day.  So, stopping her mouth would mean something else coming from him rather than Beatrice’s soon-to-be husband.  Plus, the added stage direction in modern texts takes the choice away from the actor.  Yes, a kiss is fun and it’s what the audience is waiting for, but letting an actor’s imagination be free to decide how to stop her mouth can be an exciting moment!
But, it’s not what the audience who knows this play expects.  True.  That is what the Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project is all about.  Introducing audiences to this fun, original way of performing Shakespeare’s plays.  It’s fast-paced, true to the text, and as close to the style that Shakespeare’s company would have performed them. 
So, who will be stopping Beatrice’s mouth and how will they do it?  You’ll have to come see our show in 2015 to find out!

-Elizabeth Ruelas
The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project

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