Measure For Measure has
been considered one of Shakespeare's "problem plays", along with All's
Well That Ends Well, Trollius and Cressida, and Hamlet.
I think it's a subjective thing, the approach to Shakespeare. In my
view this play is a problem in that it poses questions not only about
our moral and ethical natures, but also about the nature of the Shakespearian
five act comedy itself.
During rehearsals we often wondered
whether we were in a comedy at all, and yet at times we laughed ourselves
almost to tears. Disguises, jeopardy, bawdy, an angel (Angelo) being
tempted by a devil (Lucio = light = Lucifer), a bed trick, sex and innuendo,
confusion, predicament, an exotic location (the Catholic thing must
have been a bit risky in Elizabethan England to say the least), and
the wonderful dance of resolution that comprises the fifth act with
its marriages and comic punishments, make this play appear to be simply
comic, while beneath these stock forms and situations there lurks I
believe a more serious intent. We can ask questions of every facet of
a play when the writer of that play is a genius who illuminates the
human condition as profoundly as Shakespeare does. There are no accidents
it seems. In finding a new subtlety of meaning or revelation about acting
in Shakespeare, or some new and revolutionary interpretive angle, you
realize that it was more than likely always there.
At the time of writing we have
left several questions unanswered, though the fact that we asked them
was challenging in itself. Does Isabel go with the Duke? Does she forgive
her brother Claudio? Is the Duke a good man? Is Angelo really "New Made"
at the play's conclusion as a man of warmth and humanity? What should
we think about "giving our sensual face the rain"? I am fascinated to
see how we answer them as we run the play into its season.
Shakespeare (whoever he really
was) was a shaministic visionary who still wields an extraordinary power
for us. As actors we can only attempt to climb through the existing
physical and metaphysical form of his plays and hurl ourselves at every
branch he offers with total commitment in order to arrive at the other
end wrung and shriven, a better person for the experience. What a gift!
These third year students have
given it everything. I have loved every moment of these rehearsals.
Working with young, hungry, physical actors is not only energizing it
throws one's own knowledge and experience into a brighter scrutiny and
makes it necessary to commit extremely seriously, as they do, to the
In this case we have the task
of making this problematic, amazing, demanding, brutally brazen at times
comedy stand up vividly and as clearly as possible in the 21st Century--and
that is the best thing!