Saturday, November 24, 2018

Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare

Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare 


He who the sword of heaven will bear
Should be as holy as severe… ~ the Duke of Vienna

One of the Bard’s lesser known plays, Measure for Measure, written and first performed early 17th Century,  is one of Shakespeare’s three “problem plays” [also All’s Well that Ends Well and Troilus and Cressida]. The problem being is it a tragedy or a comedy? 

I agree with the general consensus that it is a comedy, as things are set right in the end – but it is certainly a dark comedy. I’m not sure I wanted everything set right; I should have liked a little more justice meted out.

Which is ironic as the play is about the merits of justice vs clemency. The conflict is certainly intentional and speaks to the brilliance of this play – how fitting that it is a “problem play”.

It takes place in Vienna as the wise Duke Vincentio goes abroad and leaves his deputy Angelo in charge. Angelo rules with a fist of iron, enforcing laws, with severe punishment, for crimes that have been tolerated under the Duke. Young Claudio is one of the first to be sacrificed on this altar, for the crime of fornication with a maiden. Claudio is sentenced to death, even though he and the woman had vowed themselves to each other, but had not yet sanctioned their union in the Church. 

Claudio’s sister Isabella, a novice of the Church, pleads for Claudio’s life before Angelo.

In private interview, pious Angelo offers an unholy bargain in exchange for Claudio’s life. 

The play is filled with contrasts: purity vs corruption, constancy vs hypocrisy, sincerity vs duplicity, as well as other themes of love, forgiveness, compassion, justice and mercy.

The play reminds me of a favorite quotation, something someone very wise once said:
I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice. ~ Abraham Lincoln

Amen.

Excerpts:

Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt ~ Lucio (friend of Claudio)

Well, heaven forgive him! and forgive us all!
Some rise by sin and some by virtue fall ~ Escalus (reluctant deputy to Angelo)

The law hath not been dead, though it hath slept… ~ Angelo

Better it were a brother died at once than that a sister, by redeeming him, should die forever. ~ Isabella

He who the sword of heaven will bear
Should be as holy as severe… ~ the Duke

.

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