Measure for Measure Essay

“Give me your hand and say you will be mine,” proposes the Duke to Isabella (5.1.564).  As a director in a production of Measure for Measure, it would be my duty to assess the dialogue of the Duke and Isabella to choose the best facial expressions and body language for my actors in order to give the audience a feeling of satisfaction at the end of the play.  Without a written response from Isabella, it would be up to me, the director, to use unspoken communication to answer the Duke’s proposal.  The audience has formed a bond with these characters throughout their plight and Isabella’s response needs to feel plausible.  In my direction of the play, I would not have Isabella eagerly accept the Duke’s hand in marriage because it is not plausible for her to vehemently abhor sexual intercourse then quickly turn around and readily accept a man’s hand in marriage.

Isabella is vehement in her opposition to sex.  When Lucio arrives to tell Isabella of her brother’s arrest, she is asking Francisca if there were any more restrictions as a nun, “I speak not of desiring more / But rather wishing more restraint / Upon the sisterhood, the votarists of Saint Clare,” (1.4.3-5).  She further solidifies her abhorrence for sex when she first meets Angelo to plead for her brother’s life.  “There is a vice that most I do abhor / And most desire should meet the blow of justice,” (2.2.42-43).  Whether she speaks of fornication or sex in general, when coupled with the fact she wishes stricter restrictions for herself, it must be concluded that Isabella is opposed to sexual intercourse for herself.

Isabella refuses to exchange her virginity for her brother’s life.  “Then I shall pose you quickly / Which had you rather, that the most just law / Now took your brother’s life, or, to redeem him, / Give up your body to such sweet uncleanliness / As she that he hath stained?” (2.4.53-57). She tells Angelo that by giving up her body, her soul will be forever shamed.  And so she answers him, “Better it were that a brother die at once / Than that a sister, by redeeming him / Should die forever,” (2.4.114-116).  A rather painful choice for a person about to take her vow as a nun – either yield her virginity or her brother’s life.  She soon tells Claudio her choice, “That I shall do what I abhor to name / Or else thou diest tomorrow…Be ready, Claudio, for your death tomorrow,” (3.1.114-115, 121).  She further reinforces her decision when she tells Friar Lodowick (the Duke), “I had rather my brother die by the law than my son should be unlawfully born,” (3.1.212-214).

There is no indication in the play’s dialogue of Isabella’s romantic interest in Friar Lodowick, who, unbeknownst to her is the Duke.  With her mind focused on her attempt to pardon her brother, she has no time to flirt with any man, especially someone who appears to be a friar.  As she previously stated her wish of become a nun with stricter restrictions upon herself and her detest of sex, it would not be plausible for her to think romantically of Friar Lodowick.  As a director, I would contemplate the emotions Isabella would feel after realizing that the friar she confided in was not a friar at all, but rather the Duke.  Would her appreciation of him saving Claudio from execution and protecting her virginity be enough to reject the votarists of Saint Clare, marry the Duke, and yield her virginity to him?  Her vehemence was rather strong and she repeatedly chose her virginity over her brother’s life.  As a director, I am not entire convinced the Duke’s actions are enough to overturn her convictions.

In my production of the play, I would not have Isabella passionately accept or refuse the Duke’s proposal.  Although not prepared to accept his hand at the end of the play, Isabella has softened in her convictions through the actions of the Duke.  This leaves a potential for marriage at a later point, thus I would have the Duke and Isabella not embrace at the play’s end, but have the Duke and Isabella smile at each other as the Duke prepares to leave.  With this conclusion decided, I am able to decide on their facial expressions and body language for the rest of the play.  The Duke falls in love with Isabella so he would smile more often than she as well as have a longing in his eye anytime they part.  Isabella is unaware of any potential romance so she would not have any facial expressions or body language to suggest anything to the contrary.

Throughout the entire play, Isabella was vehemently against sex, which is required to consummate a marriage.  As a director, given the strength of Isabella’s determination to save herself from yielding her virginity, and her quick response to Angelo’s proposition of her virginity or her brother’s life, the actions of Friar Lodowick/the Duke, are not enough for Isabella to enthusiastically accept the Duke’s hand in marriage at the end of the play.

Measure for Measure

The Duke of Vienna announces he must travel to Poland and leaves all executive and judiciary power to his second in command: Angelo.  Modestly, Angelo declines, the Duke tells him again that all life and death matters will be his concern until the Duke’s return.  Angelo accepts.  Unbeknown to everyone except a Friar, the Duke has not left Vienna, but is rather in disguise as Friar Lodowick.  Claudio has been sentenced to death by Angelo for fornication (sleeping with Juliet who is nearly 9 months pregnant now).  Instead of the typical forced marriage, Angelo is using Claudio as an example of his stricter enforcement of laws.  Claudio pleads to Lucio to fetch his sister who is about to take her vow to be a nun to plead with Angelo for his life.  Isabella goes to Angelo and pleads for her brother’s life.  Infatuated with her, he gives her a proposition – yield her virginity to him or her brother dies.  She refuses to sleep with him and thus she has condemned her brother to die the next morning via the chopping block.

The Duke, as Friar Lodowick, has overheard this dilemma and attempts to persuade the Provost to help him save Claudio’s life.  Friar Lodowick and Isabella trick Angelo to sleep with Mariana, whom Angelo was previously engaged to but broke off the engagement when her brother and dowry drowned at sea.  More trickery and disguising occurs to keep Angelo and another prisoner, Barnadine, alive.

In the last act, Friar Lodowick reveals himself to be the Duke, to the astonishment of everyone.  His subjects spoke frankly with him about their opinions of the Duke and of their past.  The Duke pardons some transgressions and forces Lucio to marry the prostitute he begot with child.  Confronted with the trickery, Angelo is forced to marry Mariana who still pined for Angelo.  Lastly, the Duke proposes to Isabella and though there is no scripted answer, it is implied by most theatre companies that she shakes her head yes.

I struggled though the first read of the play, which is not surprising as Shakespeare’s language is difficult to read, despite knowing its in iambic pentameter.  As I did with Twelfth Night, I watched the BBC production of the play while following along with the book.  The book and BBC version were 98% identical which was helpful to see facial expressions and body language as well as hear the spoken lines.  With the movie and book together I understood the play much more and rather enjoyed it.  It is typically classified as a “dark comedy” as it still falls in line with comedy expectations, but the audience begins to see a bit of tragedy that occurres in his later works begin to take root.

I would recommend Measure for Measure to read as well as the BBC production.  I still feel as though I am watching a play, as the background and props are simple and typical for stage plays, but have the benefit of a complete background that does not need my imagination to fill it in.  I can concentrate significantly more on the dialogue.  The BBC production of nearly every Shakespeare play was done in the late seventies and throughout the eighties, which actually adds to the charm and feeling of seeing a stage play.