Measure for Measure

Elena Barbir

Measure for Measure a part of Bard on the Beach’s line-up, and one of William Shakespeare’s more renowned plays is directed by Kathryn Shaw, and runs from June 14th to September 23rd. A&E reviewer Elena Barbir attended, here is her review...

“For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  This quote taken from the book of Matthew (7:2)* is reminiscent of the play’s title -Measure for Measure-  and adequately displays one of the central issues elegantly re-enacted by the noteworthy cast.

            The story is one of conflicting desires: a struggle between truth and hypocrisy, between following the least troublesome path and pursuing the moral route.  Essentially, Measure for Measure is an examination of how much pressure we can withstand while still staying true to ourselves. 

The duplicitous Duke of Vienna, as played by Scott Bellis, finds that the rule of law has lost its iron fist over the city and depravity is predominant.  In an attempt to reinstate order, while keeping his reputation untainted, he appoints Angelo, as played by Ian Butcher, a military officer whom he describes as being “a man of stricture and firm abstinence” as deputy governor.  He leaves the older, wiser minister Escalus, as played by Russell Roberts, as a second in command to advise the freshly empowered officer if need be.  Meanwhile the Duke secretly disguises himself as a Friar to slyly watch the unfolding of his devious concoction.  Angelo predictably starts his rule by strictly enforcing all the previously dormant laws.  Claudio, as played by Kyle Rideout, is unfortunate enough to be one of Angelo’s first victims, accused of fornication, having impregnated Juliet, as played by Tara Jean Wilkin, whom he planned to marry in the near future.  The infraction is punishable by execution.  As a last hope Claudio sends for his sister Isabella, as played by Karen Rae, to use her powers of persuasion to appeal to the Duke’s mercy.  Unwittingly, Angelo is overtaken with lust upon meeting Isabella and allows himself to do exactly what he had criticized Claudio for doing: he falls into his temptation, though Isabella resists as she is to become a nun. 

The entire play is ripe with irony and hypocrisy such as that displayed by Angelo, this perhaps being Shakespeare’s attempt at demonstrating that this is an issue encountered by all personalities.   Kathryn Shaw’s rendition served only to compliment the characters’ struggles, while making them historically significant.  Measure for Measure is set in early 20th century Europe.  This allows her to effectively demonstrate that “[w]hen society is unhappy and chaotic there is a need to assign blame.  The door is [then] open for a rigid leader or a dictatorship to take control…” much like what occurred in pre-war Europe.  This allusion was consistently hinted at with military troops resembling Hitler’s SS, or Mussolini’s Black Shirts, marching through the staged city of Vienna.  This modern thread of significance woven into Measure for Measure served as a good reminder of the universality inherent in Shakespeare’s plays.

            The quality of the cast, the personal atmosphere set by the small theatrical enclosure and the actors’ entrances and exits in between audience seats facilitated a complete immersion into Measure for Measure’s fictional society, leaving the majority of audience members audibly pondering what our current society’s situation is in terms of our own leaders’ honesty, and perhaps secretly wondering “[h]ow do we chart a moral path in a complicated society?”, as Kathryn Shaw pertinently challenges us to ask ourselves.

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  • Posted on: 18 March 2016
  • By: Administrator
  • Author: Elena Barbir