Sunday, October 25, 2015

Measure for Measure, and Agincourt

M4M Curtain call: Sarah Malin, John MacKay, Mathew Wynn, Ivanno
Jeremiah, Natalie Simpson, Romola Garai, Zubin Varla, Paul Ready,
Cath Whitfield,  Raphael Sowole, Tom Eden, Hammed Animashaun
Last night to Measure for Measure at the Young Vic, starring Romola Garai. It's a wonderful play, probably Shakespeare's most theological, all about Justice, Mercy, Truth, Hypocrisy and mis-perceptions.  There are the usual problems of setting the play in modern dress: at one point the Duke has his smart suit trousers clearly visible under his Friar's habit which makes the inability of his people to see the disguise absurd.

Possibly because many of them were film actors the cast were all miked which was also a bit of a pity. It was a strong cast with a fine ensemble and were many excellent performances: Garai was of course excellent as Isabella and I would single out Ivanno Jeremiah as her brother Claudio, John MacKay as Lucio, Tom Edden as Pompey and Sarah Malin in the minor role of Escalus (played as a female Civil Servant rather than "an ancient lord"). The entire play lasts just under 2 hours (no interval) and they have cut Mistress Overdone completely: she is referred to but doesn't appear.

As Zoe Svendsen points out in her short programme note, Measure for Measure is the only Shakespeare play to refer to the Bible in its title. In the Duke's first commission to Angelo he says:
Mortality and mercy in Vienna
Live in thy tongue and heart.
The dialogues between Isabella and Angelo are truly remarkable:
Your brother is a forfeit to the law
And you but waste your words.
                                                  Alas, alas!
Why, all the souls that were, were forfeit once,
And He that might the vantage best have took
Found out the remedy. How would you be
If He, which is the top of judgement, should
But judge you as you are.
"O it's excellent// to have a giant's strength, but it's tyrannous// to use it like a giant."

And of course when Angelo tells Isabella that if she denounced him, no-one would believe her "say what you can: my false o'erweighs your true" there are chilling modern resonances.

The moment when Isabella kneels to plead for the life of Angelo, despite thinking that he has effectively murdered her brother, is enormously moving, and was very well done indeed. It is the emotional and spiritual climax of the play. And indeed the only justification for the Duke's outrageous behaviour is that he really wants to find out whether Isabella is indeed as enormously virtuous as she is beautiful.

Svendsen makes much (as most moderns would) of the unsuitability of the marriages, but I don't think they would have seemed that way in the Shakespearian world. And the Duke is very clear that his love of Isabella depends on her consent and agreement.

Isabella and Marianna are of course variants of Elizabeth and Mary and it is perhaps no surprise that this was written for King James. Interesting also that we have names from two of Shakespeare's most popular plays: Claudio and Juliet.

Today is also the anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. I'm reading Ian Mortimer's rather fascinating 1415: Henry V's Year of Glory and today I skipped to the account of the battle itself. I was invited to an Agincourt Dinner in the Guildhall but couldn't go due to a diary clash. A great pity!

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