I have a long history with this play, for I was in a production of it directed by the legendary Margaret Webster when doing my MFA at Boston University (alright – I was playing Second Lord – the only Shakespearean role I ever played).
For a number of years I took my Original Shakespeare Company to Cambridge University in the UK to do a workshop on Measure for Measure with the students studying English, since this was the play assigned by their professors as a “hard” task to tackle. It was during these sessions that I became aware of just how often, and how appropriately, Shakespeare has his characters changing from one form of address to another – such as in the second Angelo/Isabella scene when each of them changes from using "you" to "thee," and what it means in acting terms. In each case, we found that what took a long time for the students to work out by analyzing the ideas in the script, was solved instantly by the actors responding to the simplicity of the language in the text. I longed to direct a full version of the play.
Putting the text into Cue Script form – the way the original actors would have seen their lines – also revealed patterns that otherwise might be hidden, such as when Isabella confronts her brother Claudio. The scene starts with him speaking very short simple lines, and she speaking in long convoluted sentences. As the scene progresses, her lines get shorter and simpler, his get longer and more complex, and this reversal of structure must also be reflected in the performances, and the way they change through the scene.
When I started to get intrigued about the placing of the First Folio’s stage instructions, then again this play provided me with some glorious examples – such as the Folio not having the nun Francisca leave the stage when Lucio is being so saucy with Isabella, but leaving her on stage in self-imposed silence as the scene progresses. I also wondered why the Folio had no general “Exeunt” at the end of the play.
The debate about how the play ends produces many conflicting ideas as to what is the final relationship between Isabella and the Duke, and how do they exit the stage? Do they go off together in marital bliss? Does she run from him in disgust? I have staged this ending often in lectures and workshops, asking the participants to “do what Shakespeare asks you to do in the Folio,” not what they intellectually think is appropriate. The results have always been fascinating, and again I could not wait to have the opportunity of placing it in the context of a full production using the Folio stage instructions, punctuation, and lineage. How appropriate that this production should be here at the Blackfriars.
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Actors' Renaissance Season