Thursday, May 12, 2016

Measure for Measure - Shakespeare

This play opens with the Duke of Vienna deciding to go away and leave matters of justice in Vienna to his Deputy, Angelo.  One of the first cases that he oversees is that of a young lord named Claudio and his pregnant girlfriend, Juliet.  The two are in love and jumped the gun a bit on marriage.  Angelo tells them that they have broken the law and sentences Claudio to death.
Claudio's sister is a novice nun named Isabella.  She is tasked with going to Claudio and begging for a lighter sentence and mercy.  Angelo will not give in to this mercy, but he is struck by Isabella's wit and beauty.  He begins to fall for her.  He postpones the execution and tells her to return the next day.  When she comes back, Angelo tells her that he will be merciful to Claudio if she, Isabella, sleeps with him.
She is horrified by this and uncertain what to do.  She goes to the prison and talks with Claudio.  While there, she is overheard by a friar who is actually, the Duke of Vienna in disguise.  He takes her aside and devises a plan.  Angelo was engaged to be married some years prior, but broke off the wedding after his fianc√© lost her dowry.  The Duke suggest that they enlist the aid of this young lady, Mariana.  They will trick Angelo into bed with her.  They will then wed and Angelo will release Claudio.  Mariana agrees to the 'bed trick' and they're off.
But the plot runs into trouble.  Angelo has sent word to the prison that Claudio should be executed the next morning, no matter what other message is sent.  He also wants Claudio's head brought to him as proof that he has been killed.  The friar (disguised Duke) convinces the Provost to delay the execution.  They even try to hurry the execution of a different man so they can send his head.  That doesn't work but a pirate dies and his head is used.
The Duke then sends word that he is returning to Vienna and he asks to be met at the gate so that he can hear of any case of injustice.  Isabella, believing he brother to be dead, brings suit and is heard.  Angelo protests his innocence but he simply digs himself in deep.  The injustice is soon known and the Duke's disguise is found out.  He knows everything and metes out justice.  Marriages all around, for virtually everyone.

I liked 'Measure for Measure' quite a bit.  After I found it lumped together as a 'problem play' with 'Troilus and Cressida' and 'All's Well that Ends Well', I feared it a bit.  But I was very pleasantly surprised.  The plot is tricky and I'm not sure I understood everyone's motivations, but the questions raised were interesting. 
For instance, Angelo wants to execute Claudio for sex outside of marriage.  He then quickly offers mercy to him, if Isabella will commit the exact same offense with him.  Angelo then double crosses her and withholds that mercy.  I didn't expect any of that.
The play is also filled with some very interesting passages.  Isabella argues for her brother's salvation with great skill.  This prompts Angelo into a moving speech about how she captivates him. 

I liked it a bunch and I'd really like to see it on stage.

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