This article builds on Philip McGuire's work on the silences in Measure for Measure to re-examine them in the light of scholarship in theatre history (in particular Tiffany Stern's work on rehearsal and Scott McMillin's reflections on the sharer-apprentice relationship) to suggest that the cue-script and apprenticeship systems combined to put the boy performer playing Isabella in a position which would highlight his momentary embarrassment at being unable to respond to the Duke's proposal. The article produces close readings of the encounters between Isabella and Angelo in the centre of the play and relates those to their silence at the end to argue that the Duke's marriage proposal in act 5 is a replay of Angelo's attempted rape of Isabella in act 2. This observation becomes a springboard for looking at present-day performance practices and arguing that six RSC productions staged between 1970 and 1998 (directed by John Barton (1970), Barry Kyle (1978), Adrian Noble (1983), Steven Pimlott (1994) and Michael Boyd (1998)) each engage with contemporary politics in their respective stagings of Isabella's silence. A complex understanding of the relationship between silence, rape and politics underpins each staging, whether it ends on stunned unresponsiveness, a kiss, or a cathartic slap in the face.
Silence,Rape,Politics,Close reading,RSC,Measure for Measure,Theatre history,Boy actor