The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0129 Monday, 25 March 2013
Date: March 24, 2013 10:27:42 AM EDT
Subject: Measure for Measure at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre
The Oxford editors have laid out a case for identifying Thomas Middleton as having put the text of Measure for Measure into its current commonly-known state as we got it from the 1623 folio. The argument seems plausible if occasionally overstated.
As stage by the Goodman Theatre, Measure for Measure keeps comparable company with Middleton’s A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, Michaelmas Term, and A Mad World, My Masters. The curtain rises on the Duke rising, disgusted with himself, from bed with Kate Keepdown, tucking his payment into her panties. The primary reason Vienna/New York has gotten out of control is that he enjoyed the anarchy for a while.
So he brings in Angelo, and I have finally seen the Angelo performance I’ve long thought could be done—not that he is joking, but that he is the joke, Angelo channels the Dabney Coleman character who was the butt of the vengeance in the comedy movie 9 to 5. His self-denial of sexual desire gets its comeuppance in every sense. Yet, again with a Middletonian sensibility more than a Shakespearean, his violation of Isabella degenerates into attempted rape. As another reviewer has noted, that certainly gives her refusal to put out on Claudio’s behalf a greater psychological basis.
I liked all of the above about the production, and the set design putting the play into the 1970s Times Square.
What I have to say next gives a spoiler, and if you are planning to see the play, please quit reading now. Seriously, go no further.
Everyone knows the problem with how to end the play, whether to have Isabella accept the Duke’s proposal, and if so, gladly, reluctantly, or with great objection, or to reject the proposal outright, or, as I’ve seen done recently, to perform the scene as if Isabella simply did not hear what the Duke has proposed. The Goodman production has Isabella giving the Duke a “Hell, no!” look.
And then Barnadine kills her, the Duke with a silent scream cradles her dying, and the curtain drops, all in the play’s last five seconds.
That is neither Shakespearean, nor Middletonian, and it’s the damnednest ending to a Shakespearean play I’ve ever seen. Everything I liked about the production undercut by that conclusion.
I don’t think this play should end with a killing, but I’ve started thinking that if a killing is going to end this play, why not the Duke himself, then? But has this been done before?
I can’t recommend it.