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I saw a student production of Measure for Measure as an undergraduate, starring Ian Shuttleworth as the Duke, and with most of the bits with Lucio, Pompey and Elbow cut. Only one thing, to be revealed later, about the production stayed in my mind, so this was basically new territory for me.

The Duke of Vienna takes some time off, leaving the government in the hands of his deputies, Escalus and Angelo. They enforce the sexual purity laws which had fallen into disuse; the brothels all close (leading to much grumbling from former staff and clients) and one Claudio is condemned to death for impregnating his girlfriend. Claudio's sister Isabella pleads for his life: Angelo promises to spare him in return for sexual favours from her. The Duke, who actually hasn't gone away at all but is hanging around disguised as a monk, persuades Isabella to go along with the plan but finds Angelo's brutally dumped ex-fiancee to take her place in his bed. There is a grand final scene in which All Is Revealed, Angelo is forced to marry his ex, Claudio is released and the Duke gets to marry Isabella.

I imagine that in its original environment, this worked rather well: the Duke is an enlightened ruler who exposes his deputy's flaws, rights an old wrong, and ameliorates the effects of bad laws. To today's audience, it's a much more difficult sell: the Duke is a manipulative bastard who could actually have resolved it all by Act 2, but instead humiliates pretty much everyone else in sight in order to assert his authority. The enforced marriage of Angelo to his old flame also works less well today. It would be interesting to see this done with the Duke deliberately portrayed as the villain. The Cambridge student production I saw didn't do that but did end with Isabella bluntly though silently rejecting him.

Arkangel take a difficult script and do it well, with Roger Allam, one of their star performers, as the Duke, Simon Russell Beale as Angelo, and Claudia Gonet, a new name to me, as Isabella; the veteran Christopher Benjamin (Inferno / Talons of Weng Chiang / The Unicorn and the Wasp) is Escalus.

Henry VI, Part I | Henry VI, Part II | Henry VI, Part III | Richard III | Comedy of Errors | Titus Andronicus | Taming of the Shrew | Two Gentlemen of Verona | Love's Labour's Lost | Romeo and Juliet | Richard II | A Midsummer Night's Dream | King John | The Merchant of Venice | Henry IV, Part I | Henry IV, Part II | Henry V | Julius Caesar | Much Ado About Nothing | As You Like It | Merry Wives of Windsor | Hamlet | Twelfth Night | Troilus and Cressida | All's Well That Ends Well | Measure for Measure | Othello | King Lear | Macbeth | Antony and Cleopatra | Coriolanus | Timon of Athens | Pericles | Cymbeline | The Winter's Tale | The Tempest | Henry VIII | The Two Noble Kinsmen | Edward III | Sir Thomas More (fragment)

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
drasecretcampus
Feb. 11th, 2009 11:25 am (UTC)
Somewhere I have a paper which talks about the play as a critique of flawed authority - the Duke abdicates his position of responsibility in favour of the least suitable substitute and then watches the mess. Or he's shirked from his responsibility of enforcing the laws he's created.

Does it form a conversation with Lear about abdication? (I can't remember if its Jacobean rather than Elizabethan - I think it's late)

There's also some debate about the raw deal that isabella (a nun?) gets - with some productions actually showing a wedding, and others showing her rather flabberghasted (as it sounds like your student production did).

Edited at 2009-02-11 11:32 am (UTC)
davesangel
Feb. 11th, 2009 04:51 pm (UTC)
the Duke gets to marry Isabella

Ah - not so, it's very unclear in the original text as to whether Isabella even consents to marry Vincentio. Her silence at the end of the play has led to a wealth of critical debate about her intentions, and about whether Shakespeare even meant for her to choose or whether he wanted to leave it up to his audiences to decide.

I have to say that this has become my favourite Shakespeare play, which surprised me greatly, but I think that the more you get into it, especially if you watch a production (one which is done well) onstage, it's absolutely fascinating. Of course, most productions depict Angelo as the villain of the piece, because of his actions. However, I ran a one-day symposium in my department two years ago, and the plenary speaker focused on the possibility that Vincentio is the real villain and not Angelo. Depending on which production you watch, this is indeed an intriguing argument, particularly as Angelo clearly loves Isabella, albeit goes about everything the wrong way.

I saw a fantastic production of this play on video in the Royal Shakespeare Company archives last year (they taped a variety of their productions from the past decade, although the quality really isn't great). It featured Robert Glenister (Salateen from The Caves of Androzani, and also from Spooks and Hustle) as Vincentio, and Stephen Boxer as Angelo, and it absolutely blew me away...probably not watchable unless you'll ever be using the archives in Stratford-Upon-Avon, but amazingly good nonetheless.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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