Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Reader's Diary #867- William Shakespeare: Measure for Measure

Often when I read one of Shakespeare's plays, I get a few scenes or even a few acts in when I start to question what exactly is going on. At that point I usually turn to the internet for a synopsis, confirming if my understanding is on the mark or clearing up any confusion. At these points, I tend to beat myself up a little. If only I'd slowed down. If only I took the time to analyze what characters are saying. However, I've come to the conclusion that I'm not being fair. I'm not watching the play, it's not the 1600s, and I don't have a prof teaching me about the context or illuminating the finer points. Why shouldn't I have a crutch? The Shakespeare plays I enjoy the most are typically the ones I understand. With that in mind, I looked for the context and synopsis of Measure for Measure before I began reading and it made a world of difference. I quite enjoyed it.

Basically Measure for Measure is the world's first edition of Undercover Boss. The Duke of Vienna says he has to head out of the city for a while and temporarily hands control over to the strict judge Angelo. However, the Duke returns disguised as a friar in order to spy on the government, especially Angelo, and is unhappy with what he finds. Angelo, who seems bent on upholding the law and proving his authority, plans to make an example of a hapless young man named Claudio for fornication with a young woman named Juliet. Claudio is sentenced to death. However, most around him, including the Duke and Claudio's sister Isabella (a nun), agree that Angelo is being overly harsh in his "by the letter of the law" approach. Claudio and Juliet, due to financial problems, didn't observe all the technicalities of a wedding but they, as did almost everyone else (including the Church), believed they were married and thus their act shouldn't be considered fornication but consummation. Angelo, unfortunately, will not be swayed. So the Duke and Isabella set up to prove Angelo an hypocrite, exact revenge, and save Claudio in the process.

It's not tragic and it's not overly funny— though there are some scenes with a particular character who insults the duke to the friar and the friar to the duke, never knowing they are one and the same, which are amusing. But I did enjoy the theme of judging others and the law versus justice. I found myself finding all sorts of ways to adapt this to a modern story, not the least of which was turning it into a story about the Russian punk band, Pussy Riot. Don't worry, it made sense in my head.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

Had I thought to compare Shakespeare to tv reality shows when I was in high school, I'm sure I would have appreciated them far more. Too late!

John Mutford said...

Barbara: To be fair, when we were in high school I'm not sure we had "reality tv." Does Lorne Greene's New Wilderness count?