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Labelled a 'problem play' by F S Boas in 1896, Measure for Measure supposedly borders comedy and tragedy. Comedy in that it follows the conventions of disguise, artifice, coincidence and the typical happy ending with the pairing off of all couples. This is all true, but the overwhelming mood of this play is dark, sinister, and troublesome. 'Tragedy' doesn't cut it really.

 

This is a play about power, justice and sexuality - and the abuse of all of the above. The Duke leaves control of the unruly state of Vienna to the 'precise' Angelo. Meanwhile Claudio finds himself imprisoned, awaiting execution for impregnating Juliet. They aren't married, you see. Isabella, Claudio's sister, is a novice nun and she goes to see Angelo with a view to pleading for her brother's life. Her impassioned speech stirs a passion in Angelo previously unexperienced, and this leads him to make her an indecent proposal. If she will sleep with him he will release Claudio. But Isabella is no Demi Moore and she refuses.

 

However, the sneaky Duke has disguised himself as a priest/friar, in order to spy on his state and test the righteousness of Angelo. When his abuse of power comes to light, the 'friar' intervenes and weaves a web around Angelo.

 

This play is riddled, unfortunate phrase, with allusions to sex, syphillis, prostitutes, brothels, physical sexual disease...it's not a nice world, and the language reflects that.

 

 

The satisfaction of the pairing up of the couples at end is marred by the silence of Isabella. The Duke has been impressed by her moral fortitude, her intelligence, her fiery spirit and proposes marriage. Shakespeare puts no words into Isabella's mouth thereafter and it is only left to us to decide what Isabella does. This has huge implications in performance and gives any director a wide range of creative possibility to play with. I would love to see a few varied performances of this play before I decided once and for all what Isa does.

 

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It's rather an odd mishmash of a play but I've always had rather a soft spot for it.

 

But you can tell how shallow I am by the fact that I came away from a RSC production of it years ago at the Barbican not very worried about Isabella's dilemma - (actually, I was inwardly thinking losing your cherry's not such a big deal) but raving about Alex Jenning's portrayal of Lucio and thought he'll be noticed! He certainly was.

 

Best sign off before being accused of being a luvvie and having no deep moral concerns.

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It's rather an odd mishmash of a play but I've always had rather a soft spot for it.
Absolutely, it has easily become one of my favourites.

 

raving about Alex Jenning's portrayal of Lucio and thought he'll be noticed! He certainly was.
:D Actually, my appraisal of Angelo and his propostition was very favourably viewed and if they chose the right actor for his part? Boy, oh boy, oh boy...The OU production I had to watch featured a rather Edwardian David Tennant playing Angelo, and (shudder) it did nothing for me.

 

Best sign off before being accused of being a luvvie and having no deep moral concerns.

You know, brain and loins engaged - Shakey would approve!
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  • 2 weeks later...

I mentioned that I liked Angelo in a discussion with David and he noted that he didn't. I thought it better to continue our discussion on-board so we can get other opinions and have a bigger discussion.

 

Anyway, yes, I like Angelo. Quite apart from the fact that I will admit to finding his abuse of power quite sexy, he remains consistent at the end. His preciseness doesn't falter when he has been found out, and he asks for the same punishment as he exacted on Claudio.

 

Isabella however, undermines her position quite a few times; suggesting Claudio should marry Juliet, the sado-machoism, agreeing that sin would be charity until she realises what Angelo desires, participating in the bed-trick, allowing Mariana to blemish her character...

 

So first of all, David, why don't you like Angelo?

 

And for others, who do you like in the play and why?

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  • 2 weeks later...

Okay, so why don't I like Angelo...

 

Well, first off this isn't a play that's exactly chock-full of likeable people! There are, however, a great many very human people - in other words flawed, but not on anything like the level of an Iago, or even Macbeth.

 

Angelo, though, is the arch hypocrite. Yes, he's been put in charge of Vienna and ordered to clean up the city's act and that's the Duke's fault and evasion - he is much to blame. Angelo, however, once embarked on that mission lets power go to his head. He doesn't have to act in the extreme ways he does - Escalus tries to convince him of that - but he becomes tyrannical. He notes with great piety:

 

'Tis one thing to be tempted, Escalus,

Another thing to fall.

 

And from that moralisation he proclaims how certain he is of his own temperment:

 

When I that censure him do so offend,

Let my own judgement pattern out my death,

And nothing come in partial.

 

This is all to justify the execution of Claudio for having sex with his girlfriend outside marriage. Yet he's already broken his own vow of marriage to Mariana and goes on to blackmail Isabella into sleeping with him in order to save her brother - though he has no intention of saving him. And what's more, Isabella is a novice nun - a nun! So frankly he wants to sleep with her as much as anything as an exercise of power. It's an intellectual version of rape.

 

I don't think there's a lot to be said in his defence other than the fact that the Duke should not have left him in charge.

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He doesn't have to act in the extreme ways he does - Escalus tries to convince him of that - but he becomes tyrannical. He notes with great piety:

 

'Tis one thing to be tempted, Escalus,

Another thing to fall.

And Isabella tels him that mercy is the greatest example of power and authority, not wielding an iron fist.

 

And what's more, Isabella is a novice nun - a nun!
Yes, but the jury is out on exactly how pious a nun she is - wanting sado-masochistic discipline, recommending that Claudio marry Juliet rather than be punished for his sin, agreeing that there is charity in sin until it is revealed whose sin is up for grabs, participation in the bed-trick...Angelo isn't exactly propositioning Mother Theresa!

 

I don't think there's a lot to be said in his defence other than the fact that the Duke should not have left him in charge.

Ultimately though, he isn't a hypocrite - he asks for death, the same as which he put Claudio to, for his sin. I think Leavis said that if we don't see ourselves in Angelo then we have viewed the play "imperfectly". He is put in a position where he can gratify his desires and when it all goes horribly wrong, he accepts his very own medicine.
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Angelo isn't exactly propositioning Mother Theresa!

:D

 

No indeed, and I agree that Isabella is far from nun material! She's actually very manipulative and self-serving, but she has qualities that endear her to me a little - more so than Angelo, anyway!

 

Ultimately though, he isn't a hypocrite - he asks for death, the same as which he put Claudio to, for his sin.

Indeed he does, but that is right at the very end and by that point my feelings aren't really going to be changed that much. It's simply the convenient learning by the villain that is the convention of the 'comedy', finalised in his doing the right thing and getting hitched to Mariana.

 

I think Leavis said that if we don't see ourselves in Angelo then we have viewed the play "imperfectly".

Yeah, well...Leavis! ;)

 

Perhaps that's my problem - I may see too much of myself in Angelo! :D

 

Yes, of course he suffers the situation that Shakespeare - and indeed many authors - exploit beautifully: if circumstances changed, would you give in to your weaknesses or indeed discover some you never knew? I just find I have far less sympathy with him than I do with many others put in those situations.

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It's simply the convenient learning by the villain that is the convention of the 'comedy', finalised in his doing the right thing and getting hitched to Mariana.

Weeeeeeeeell, now, you could look at it that way! I much prefer to believe that Angelo is momentarily swayed from his preciseness and accepts his fate like a man - judged by the standards he judges others by.

 

Perhaps that's my problem - I may see too much of myself in Angelo! :D

Well, I shan't ask too much about that lest we have our image of lovely David irrevocably tarnished!

 

Yes, of course he suffers the situation that Shakespeare - and indeed many authors - exploit beautifully: if circumstances changed, would you give in to your weaknesses or indeed discover some you never knew?
It is an interesting conceit isn't it? I don't think any of us could be so sure of our actions placed in a tempting position. Maybe that's why I am quick to defend Angelo, because he is us in a given situation.
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Weeeeeeeeell, now, you could look at it that way!

Certainly could! ;)

 

I much prefer to believe that Angelo is momentarily swayed from his preciseness and accepts his fate like a man - judged by the standards he judges others by.

Weeeeeell, now, you cooouuuuld look at it...

 

No, clearly that's an entirely reasonable conclusion, but there is so much in that conclusion that is very 'off' in terms of tone. A key one is, of course, the Duke effectively forcing Isabella to marry him! Just like Angelo he manipulates the situation and she never speaks another word! It's very uncomfortable and that's part of what leaves me feeling very underwhelmed by Angelo's words, spoken in a very public context, remember, for a man who seems keen to have the 'right' image.

 

Well, I shan't ask too much about that lest we have our image of lovely David irrevocably tarnished!

:D

 

But I thought you liked Angelo? :confused:

 

;)

 

It is an interesting conceit isn't it? I don't think any of us could be so sure of our actions placed in a tempting position. Maybe that's why I am quick to defend Angelo, because he is us in a given situation.

Sure, I'm with that 100% and it's one of those concepts that I love in so many different literary examples. I just warm to Angelo very much less than many other characters who prove weak in the face of temptation.

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