Measure for Measure, Shakespeare's Globe, London. August 2015.
I confess that I approached this play with some trepidation, the play was a set text earlier this year and I wasn't at all sure what to make of it. Luckily in the hands of the Globe I needn't have worried and this outing has rocketed high into my top ten performances of the year so far.
Measure for Measure is one of the 'problem plays,' both through content and disputed authorship! But as in Taming of the Shrew a few years ago a fine line was steered and the play clarified before my eyes.
Put very simply the Duke of Vienna is tired of his role, his city is out of control and so he decides to appoint a deputy and leave town. His deputy, Angelo, starts off with good intentions but then proves himself as corrupt as the rest of Vienna. However in this play you can see that Angelo's actions are having an effect and that he is improving the city - before the official start the Yard was full of action, bawdy houses were wheeled on and drunks, prostitutes, corrupt law men and religious pamphleteers filled the area with a show. These characters continued to pop up on the stage between scenes throughout the first act, but by the end we rarely saw them and the city was a better place... In his personal decisions Angelo may be corrupt and hypocritical but his ideas for the city as a whole weren't all detrimental.
The ending of this play is morally dubious. After preventing Isabella from being violated by Angelo the Duke all but forces her into giving up the religious life for which she was training and into marrying him. The staging of this version did allude to this slightly - the Duke appeared to realise that his actions towards Isabella were little better than Angelo's, and in the end, it is clearly Isabella who makes the choice for her future. For me I find the Duke's actions as reprehensible as the court in Merchant of Venice when it forces Shylock to convert to Christianity and I was surprised at the laugh this scene raised in the theatre when I was expecting a hiss...
The comedy was very much to the fore in this production and I liked this, the comic scenes felt very much integral to the story and not at all as light relief scenes between the drama. Once more my slight criticism could be that there was too much action off stage in the Yard but this was rarely actual speech, just added colour and so I'll just recommend this play to anyone who can get to London!