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In "Measure for Measure," Shakespeare gives us no character as an entry
point to this acid discussion of justice vs. mercy, religious faith and
hypocrisy. Virginity, assaults thereon and reputations at stake are
once again pivotal questions. The low comedy characters, often tedious
irrelevancies in other plays, are here in the bordello trade, and for
once their stories resonate with the main narrative.
We must consider "Measure for Measure" as a comedy, since all the characters live and many of them marry at the end, yet we as an audience are not really allowed to get comfortable at the twisty conclusion. The dramatic resolution is strangely prolonged and the aftertaste is a queasy one. I doubt this is the favorite play of all that many admirers of the Bard.
That being said, this video is a very satisfying production. The director, Desmond Davis, keeps the pace up at all times - there is no flagging of energy or movement. The visuals are unfamiliar compared to others in the series that deliberately reference Old Master paintings. Yet the images are uniformly precise, effective and gratifying to behold.
A word of admiration for the tracking shots of characters walking down the endless streets of Vienna. The television studio configuration is often the set constructed at one end and the camera observing at the other. However, for this day's shooting, the street set was constructed in a circle hugging the four walls of the studio, with cameras and cast walking around inside it. Nicely done.
The cast is almost uniformly satisfying. Kate Nelligan, who has been known to be dreary on some occasions, brings off perfectly the goodness and persuasiveness of Isabella, without ever becoming sanctimonious or annoying. Tim Pigott-Smith excels as the predatory hypocrite Angelo, an ancestor of his memorable Captain Merrick in "The Jewel in the Crown." John McEnery as the loudmouth dandy Lucio, Frank Middlemass and Adrienne Corri as the bawds deserve special mention. A highlight is Christopher Strauli's finely calibrated jailhouse speech, in which Claudio first commends his sister's decision not to save his life by giving in to sexual blackmail, and gradually decides that he loves living enough that perhaps she should disgrace herself after all.
A major theme in the whole BBC series is bringing Shakespearian speech down to conversational volume for TV, after centuries of ritualized shouting in theaters. Kenneth Colley as the manipulative Duke almost takes it too far, as his language sometimes descends to liquid baritoning at the expense of diction. He also moves his head too much for the camera, eyes rolling and skull oscillating from side to side.
According to Susan Willis's book, Colley was the 32nd actor approached for the part, the first choice being Alec Guinness, but then you can't always get what you want. Between extended rehearsal schedules and unimpressive money, casting this whole series must have been a mammoth exercise in frustration.
However, these are minor annoyances in the scheme of things. All in all, major cheers for an excellent production of a disquieting play.
Don't let the Shakespeare part frighten you away. Granted this is not an
'easy' film the way that "Shakespeare in Love" was, or even any versions of
"Romeo and Juliet" that you may have seen in the theatre within the past
whatever. This is a tale of the price of lust, the quality of mercy and what
is true justice.
The BBC filmed the complete Shakespeare folio, and this is part of that. More importantly, this is one of my favorite plays and by far THE best adaptation of it I have ever seen. This is one of Shakespeare's later "problem plays" and as such, actors and experts have been debating it's meaning since it premiered. But I think that makes it challenging, not unintresting. Given that, this production is especially fortunate in it's actors and it's directing choices. First and foremost Kate Nelligan's Isabelle is marvelous. Unlike most modern actors, she seems to understand the true beauty and dedication of this character. Also unlike most modern actors, she understands the religious dedication of this character, not as cold fanatism, but as a passionate persons love of religions greater purpose. That as an atheist I respect her portayal of such, is a testament to her skill. Kenneth Colley and Tim Piggot-Smith are also excellent as the seemingly cold and inscrutable characters of the Duke and Angelo, respectively.
In fact, this play's staging 'improves' the play, in that several problems with the time, that Shakespeare just ignored, are nicely resolved. There is some dialogue left out, but most of it is stage direction that is unnecessary in a television production. Yes, the language is authentic, but trust me, you won't notice after awhile, just give yourself time to immerse.
All in all, a good time, despite it's being a few hundred years old, but that's why Will is the man!
In closing let me just say, that I highly recommend this to anyone, but especially if you love Shakespeare.
If you want to see a straight, rigorously faithful adaptation of this not often read or studied play, please watch this version. The play itself is one of the best kept secrets in the Shakespeare cannon. The costumes are colorful and interesting and the sets (though the budget was clearly not hugely substantial) really flesh out aspects of the play you typically miss when reading it. The acting is fine, particularly from Lucio, Pompey (the clown), and the Provost. I will admit that the actor who played the Duke could have put more emotion behind what he was saying, though he did a good job. As a side note, he played Admiral Piett in Star Wars Ep. V & VI (I just thought that was interesting and funny). True this is a kind of no frills version, but, in my opinion, many of the modern 'adaptations' of Shakespeare's plays are weak because people of our age forget the unequivocally beautiful and startlingly profound language that Shakespeare abounded in. He truly offers metaphors that are profound and universal; if you wish to hear this powerful language spoken in a convincing and effective manner, please watch Measure for Measure.
Originally listed as one of William Shakespeare's comedies, Measure for
Measure is now relegated to the status of being a "problem" play,
meaning either that it doesn't fit into any box or that its content and
message is a problem for orthodox interpreters of William Shakespeare's
biography. Whether or not the play is a comedy, a problem play, or a
tragi-comedy, it is a powerful work and one of Shakespeare's best. In
the late 1970s, BBC and Time-Life produced the only filmed version of
Measure for Measure in their series of 37 Shakespeare's plays. Although
I have not seen more than a handful of BBC, Time-Life productions, this
production stands out for the quality of the acting and the impeccable
direction by Desmond Davis.
Kenneth Colley is an appealing Vincentio, Duke of Vienna, who, dissatisfied with the corruption in the city, announces that he plans to visit Poland, handing over governing to his chief deputy, the rigidly puritanical Angelo, convincingly performed by Tim Piggot-Smith, who will be assisted by his wise counselor Escalus (Kevin Stoney). To observe how the city will fare, however, Vincentio travels to a monastery where he is provided with a hooded monk's robe which allows him to return to Vienna disguised as a priest, keeping his face partially covered by his hood.
Taking over the reins of government, Angelo proceeds to enforce every statute, closing the houses of prostitution and arresting Claudio, a young nobleman (Christopher Strauli), for fornication by getting his lover Juliet (Yolanda Vazquez) pregnant, even though he had agreed to marry her. Under Angelo's order, he is to be executed in three days. On hearing the news, Claudio's friend Lucio (John McEnery) tells Claudio's sister, Isabella (Kate Nelligan), who is studying to be a nun, to go to Angelo and use all her power to convince Angelo to spare her brother's life.
While Isabella, as portrayed by Nelligan, is cold and aloof, she is also intelligent and attractive, telling Angelo that "it is excellent to have a giant's strength; but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant." The hypocritical Angelo falls for Isabella, offering to go to bed with her in exchange for Claudio's life. Meanwhile, the "meddling" priest sets it up so that Isabella can escape the humiliation of having to sleep with Angelo by substituting Mariana (Jacqueline Pearce) in a bed-trick to be performed in the pitch-black night.
Mariana is Angelo's former lover whom he had agreed to marry but backed out because "her reputation was disvalued in levity", though no details are provided. Duke Vincentio (still disguised as a friar) tells Mariana she will commit no sin by sleeping with Angelo because "he is your husband on a pre-contract." While Measure for Measure borrows from Cinthio's Epitia and Promos and Cassandra by George Whetstone, the play is a profoundly autobiographical work. If the Oxfordian theory is correct, the play speaks to a poignant episode in Oxford's life when, upon his returning home after his trip to Italy in 1576, his mind was poisoned by his cousin Henry Howard and his receiver, Rowland Yorke, both Catholics and enemies of the Protestant regime, to the effect that his wife Anne Cecil had been unfaithful to him.
They told him that the daughter Anne had just given birth to could not be his since the last time he had slept with her was twelve months ago in October. Indeed, Oxford had not been told that his wife was pregnant until March and word of the baby's birth was not given to him until September, not by his wife but by her father, William Cecil. As a result of Anne's suspected infidelity, Oxford was estranged from his wife for over five years and only later in life became remorseful, reconciling with Anne and accepting Elizabeth Vere as his daughter. As far as the bed-trick is concerned, two separate sources recorded that de Vere conceived his first child by unknowingly sleeping with his wife when he thought he was with a mistress.
One story circulated in The Histories of Essex in 1836 that Anne had been substituted by her father William for one of the Earl's mistresses when the Earl was in a drunken state. Whether this story is true or not (how anyone, no matter how dark it is nor how drunk they are could not know who they are sleeping with boggles the mind), Shakespeare was apparently able to see its dramatic potential, using the bed trick as a device in both Measure for Measure and All's Well That Ends Well. Likewise, in play after play, the male protagonist conceives a strong animosity toward a devoted wife, imagining her unfaithful to him on flimsy grounds, only to be later overwhelmed with remorse: Imogen in Cymbeline, Hermoine in The Winter's Tale, and Desdemona in Othello.
In Measure for Measure, Vincentio and Angelo may represent two sides of the author's character, the noble and good-natured Duke, and the judgmental and unforgiving Angelo. It is a self appraisal in which the author does not escape indictment, though his misdeeds are eventually forgiven - as they were in life (but only after he was imprisoned in the Tower like Claudio for impregnating courtesan Anne Vavasour). While the themes eventually play out to everyone's advantage, the getting there is where the genius lies and the final act of Measure for Measure is every bit as moving and poetic as any of Shakespeare's well-known tragedies.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure" is one of Shakespeare's darker
comedies and has some decent musings on life, love and duty. It
concerns the Duke of Vienna (Kenneth Colley), who decides to
temporarily abdicate his throne and his place he puts the sinister
Angelo (Tim Pigott-Smith). When Angelo decides to put a man to death
for pre-marital sex, his sister Isabella (Kate Nelligan) pleads for his
life. Angelo agrees one condition: she must surrender her virginity to
Tim Pigott-Smith is well-cast as Angelo, and his frightened yet lusty eyes easily convey his character's torn emotions. Kenneth Colley is excellent as the Duke, who disguises himself as a monk and arranges a happy ending for Isabella. Colley has a strong command of the language and propels the story along seemingly without effort. Christopher Strauli is Claudio, the condemned man and Yolande Palfrey is very pretty as his betrothed Juliet.
What irritates about this admittedly well-produced adaptations is their insistence on traditional costume and setting. Combined with 80s TV lighting, it really makes Shakespeare look like acquired taste rather than the vital playwright that he was and still is. The comics in this play, dandy Lucio (John McEnery) and the rustics led by Pompey (Frank Middlemass) get dialogue that sounds unexpectedly contemporary. Lucio describes women as "punks" and Pompey gets a wonderful bit of dialogue about his "bum". Derogatory insults, I know, but how well exchanges like this have played in a contemporary setting...
I enjoyed watching this version of the play, regardless of the limitations imposed on it by the period in which it was filmed and would recommend renting it for those looking for a cheaper alternative to Shakespeare at the theatre.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Shakespeare is a master of suspense, when he wants to be, or isn't he
always? A Duke of Vienna leaves his city and his deputy, Angelo (what a
name for a twisted mind) in charge. But he comes back in disguise to
check upon Angelo and he finds out that the man is corrupt and uses
power to his own advantage, even trying to seduce a nun by sending her
brother to the block where he would be beheaded at the strange time of
four o'clock in the morning. But the Duke prevents the execution of
that brother Claudio and comes back in time afterwards to sort things
out. Shakespeare is a master at making us believe it will not go
through and every step to the truth is immediately countered with two
steps down the abyss, till the very last moment when the deputy is
completely fooled out of countenance by the Duke coming back under his
disguise as a monk mind you and reveals the villainy of his deputy
when this deputy orders the Duke disguised as a monk to be sent to
prison pending execution. Though everything looks really bleak till the
end of the fourth act, the fifth act brings some relief but at the end
of it only, though Shakespeare brilliantly prepares it with Isabella's
cry for justice: "Justice, O royal Duke! Vail your regard / Upon a
wrong'd- I would fain have said a maid! / O worthy Prince, dishonour
not your eye / By throwing it on any other object / Till you have heard
me in my true complaint, / And given me justice, justice, justice,
justice." An opening single cry first and then a closing quadruple cry,
which brings these "justice" cries to five: the diabolical disruptive
pentacle, that the Duke double further on, along with Isabella, to ten
to make the truth stronger, more unavoidable, with six words on each
side and five identical making the sixth one all the more powerful.
"Duke: Nay, it is ten times strange? / Isabella: Nay, it is ten times
true." And the truth of a well balanced decision will come from the
Duke, this time like a final decree: "Duke: 'An Angelo for Claudio,
death for death!' / Haste still pays haste, and leisure answers
leisure; / Like doth quit like, and Measure still for Measure. / Then,
Angelo, thy fault's thus manifested, / Which, though thou wouldst deny,
denies thee vantage. / We do condemn thee to the very block / Where
Claudio stoop'd to death, and with like haste. / Away with him!" But
Shakespeare being Shakespeare he manages to sort things out in a final
ruling, as square a ruling as square can be. Mariana is married to
Angelo and she is the happiest woman when Angelo is pardoned and
escapes the block. Isabella is reunited to her brother Claudio. Lucio's
slandering against the Duke sends him at first to prison to be whipped
and then hanged, because he had called the Duke "a fool, a coward, one
all of luxury, an ass and a madman", a diabolical pentacle of insults,
but the Duke yields to popular demand and pardons the slandering
provided he marries a prostitute this very Lucio had mishandled, which
is equal to death in Lucio's words: "Marrying a punk, my lord, is
pressing to death, / whipping, and hanging" which is another formal
square though "marrying" is equaled to the three others: "pressing to
death", "whipping", "hanging". And finally the Duke is moving towards
his own marriage with Isabella. Four couples are reunited, even if one
is brother and sister and another is a slanderer and a prostitute. And
three marriages in that square ending. This production adds a detail at
the end that does not seem to be in the tale which is the coming to the
forefront of a woman and a newborn baby that is at once acknowledged by
Claudio which makes a fourth real marriage, but I would have preferred
the Shakespearian ending that is somewhere slightly awry and hence a
big tongue in a big cheek like the final ternary speech of the Shrew
when finally tamed into marriage and obedience.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne, University Paris 8 Saint Denis, University Paris 12 Créteil, CEGID
This is an excellent, comprehendible and thoroughly enjoyable version of William Shakespeare's most disturbing comedy. Hats off to Kenneth Colley for his amazing portrayal of Vincentio, the eerie stage-manager of this unique drama. This is an all-around well done production: a must-see!
Back in the 1970s, someone in England had the extraordinary idea of producing a made-for-television version of all the plays attributed to The Shakespearean Poet, who hid behind the name and person of "William Shakespeare". The idea was hubristic and more than a bit silly, since the usual practice in such an undertaking would be to produce an "all-star" version"--casting the best actors available for each part as Herbert Von Karajan tried to do when he recorded versions of famous operas for posterity. In this case, the choice of actors often seemed to be based on no discernible nor announced purpose; and the result was filmed versions of 37 plays which were extraordinarily uneven in quality, with many lines being read by youthful actors lacking classical training and/or ability. The best of all these version, in many ways, for actors and writers alike I believe to have been "Measure For Measure". Those seeking the true identity of "Shakespeare" could do worse, I suggest, than by starting with the fact that the playwright set three plays in 'Bohemia', which he must have visited to gain the knowledge of its constitution he showed, that he was fundamentally a Medieval not a Renaissance mentality and that by his writing's complexity, length and contexted idea-quality he was obviously over forty-five years of age when he began writing for the public stage in 1590. Bohemia was a kingdom independent under a moralistic government as early as 1530. Here it offered the playwright a chance to demonstrate the difference between personal belief and an enforced religious puritanism which lacked all the qualities of a true religion and none of those of an authoritarian dictatorship. The play involves a seemingly virtuous fellow, Angelo, who with the city's leader gone, is in charge in his place--even though he is being tested by that worthy without knowing this is so, for the leader remains to watch his course of action. His major problem involves young Claudio, who violates a statute by impregnating one Mariana outside of wedlock. He is willing to marry here, happy to do so, except that he has been clapped into jail and is awaiting execution. Isabella, his sister, speaks for him, with great effect; too great, since the future nun is propositioned by Angelo--he will spare her brother if she will let him make love to her. The effects of this triangle, as the cowardly Claudio begs his sister to submit, becomes dramatically tense. Will the Duke step forward and intervene? Will Angelo relent? Will Isabella surrender herself? Will Claudio be murdered by the iron letter of the law/ The plot is unusually strong, of course; and most everything is resolved by the ending. But the revelation of the difference between true faith, the monastic sort, which even agnostics can admire in Isabella and the puritanical-dictatorial pseudo-religion of Angelo which is worldly, divisive and totalitarian and utterly impractical is revealed here very clearly...A word of caution to post-1994 sufferers from theocratic pretensions from the Renaissance's minds is strongly spoken by the Shakespearean Poet here. This is unarguably largely a photographed stage play; but some minor dialogue has been excised, some clever camera-work introduced; and the production's entire middle section moves along quite effectively--the internal "dream sequence" between the exposition and first statement and the resolution of a theatrical work often works well with a bit of trimming when a play is translated into cinematic space-time events. Odette Barrow's costumes are good and Stuart Walker's production design is unobtrusive and serviceable at all points. Desmond Davis directed the production and by any standard I know his work appears to have been admirable by its results. Kate Nelligan's impersonation of Isabella is award-caliber and a lasting tribute to her dramatic ability. She is tragic, sweet, intelligent, sympathetic and desirable all at once. As Angelo, Tim Piggot-Smith does quite well in a difficult part for a young act; his intelligence and his ability to read a good one-liner serve him well. As Claudio, Christopher Strauli gets a good deal out of a part that in lesser hands can be repetitive. As the comical Pompey "The Great", Frank Middlemass has his finest cinematic part ever. Kenneth Colley is likable and interesting as the watchful Duke who tests Angelo, and as Escalus Kevin Stoney has a difficult part filled with reactions, remonstrations and nuances which he handles very professionally by my standards. Others in the cast include Adrienne Corri as Mistress Overdone, Eileen Page as Francesca, Yolanda Vasquez as Juliet, Jacqueline Pearce as the long-suffering Mariana, John Mcenery as Lucio and several more, all well-cast and more than adequate to their tasks. This is an attractive production which I find to be interesting as an ethical and moral question and well-paced as a realization of the playwright's intention. of all the series of BBC Shakespearean productions, this is the one I regard as the most cinematic and the most successful. I recommend it to the viewer whenever it is shown, if only for Kate Nelligan's lovely achievement.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This production is terrible. It blatantly sets aside or resolves ambiguities essential to the play's central metaphor; can there be charity in sin?
Mr. Davis, who obviously had no academic understanding of Measure for Measure, has managed to destroy this amazing play.
How can Lucio, a notorious womanizer be constantly and consistently colored with such paints of homosexuality as a heavy cake of rouge and a pearl stud in his left ear?
How can Claudio lovingly embrace his sister who, at their last meeting promised to pray for his death a thousand times, accused him of incest and told him that if she could save him but by bending down would let his execution proceed?
How can Isabella, a moral absolutist of the highest regard, who would not find charity in fornication to save her brother's life and who has found station as an initiate in a nunnery, so willingly accept the Duke's marriage proposal?
How Can Angelo set aside all cunning and tricks of his office to approach Isabella with such aggression that it at times borders on violence?
If I want Shakespeare, and I want the BBC involved, I'll stick to Trevor Nunn, thank you.
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