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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Thursday, 12 November 2015

"Measure for Measure" by William Shakespeare

A playscript is a first for this blog but I saw this production at the Young Vic and was inspired to read the play.

This is scarcely the bard at his best. In Act 1 Scene 2 Mistress Overdone the brothel keeper knows why Claudio has been arrested and sentenced to death but a few lines later on she has to ask Pompey her pimp for this very information; perhaps two versions were conflated for the final folio.

I found the character of the Duke very difficult. He leaves Vienna in a hurry, to return in disguise to see how his deputy is doing. It is almost as though he has set Angelo up. Later, the Duke lies, repeatedly, to Isabella about her brother being dead; this is cruel and manipulative. At the end the man who claims to be shy orchestrates a final showdown; his final judgement is to pardon those he likes and punish those who have annoyed him personally. Did Shakespeare think the moral dilemmas through here or was this an incredibly subversive comment on a powerful being who seems to set us up, disappears from the strange but keeps us under observation, tricks us, lies to us, and manipulates us, and finally condemns us or pardons us according to his whims?

Isabella is also a difficult character. She pleads half-heartedly (or perhaps hard heartedly) for her brother who has been condemned to death for sleeping with his fiancee but she is clearly disapproving of what he has done and it is Lucio, a dissolute fool, who has to egg her on. She prizes her virginity so much that she is unwilling to sacrifice it to save her brother from execution, even when he begs her. But she is prepared to see Mariana sacrifice her virginity ( a scheme proposed by the Duke, disguised as a holy man! who seems to have no issues with breaking his own laws), incidentally committing the same crime as Claudio has done. But this persuasion of Mariana is done off-stage (and in five lines) missing an opportunity for a great moment of drama; in the very same scene a little earlier Isabella (pretends to) agrees with Angelo to let him have his wicked way with her; another opportunity for a fantastic scene, again done off stage. Was Shakespeare really off his game or is the version that we have abridged and bowdlerised?

Because there are great moments, The scene in which Angelo makes his indecent proposal to Isabella is great. Even better is the moment when Claudio, having resigned himself to death, realises that if Isabella will agree to Angelo he might be saved at which point he first becomes reluctant, dry; almost speechless and then he begs her to save him: "Death is a fearful thing." And she turns on him; her honour is worth more than his life, she wishes he would die quickly. Dramatic diamond.

And there are moments of great irony and Shakespeare does his usual trick of switching between intense rhetoric as the characters make key moral points to bawdy humour with Pompey Bum and Lucio. There is often irony in the counterpoint as well.

This is a play which has the potential to be great but someone Shakespeare takes his eye off the ball. How can I criticise the immortal bard? All I can say is that, at the end, even with both the bed trick and the head trick, I was disappointed.

Charles Nicholls in The Lodger suggests Act 2 Scene 2 (137-8) "Go to your bosom,/Knock there, and ask thy heart what it doth know" echoes the motto of the essayist Michel de Montaigne: "What do I know?"; this predates the scepticism of Descartes; Montaigne's essays were designed to test ('assay') assumptions

November 2015; 114 pages


Other Shakespeare plays reviewed in this blog include:


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