Measure for Measure at the Old Vic. To the Editor of The Times
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[ 567 Measure for Measure at the Old Vic To the Editor of The Times The Times (14 Dec 1933), 10 Sir,−IfIamnottootardy,andifyouhavethespaceforthiskindofbriefcommunication ,IshouldliketoendorseMr.JohnGielgud’sappealinyourissueof December8onbehalfofthecurrentproductionofMeasureforMeasureatthe OldVic.1 Theopportunitytoseeaplay–andaverygreatplay–ofShakespeare which is so rarely produced should be enough of an attraction; but it has been also an opportunity to see some very fine acting and, apart from a few minor blemishes, as satisfactory a presentation as one is likely ever to find. As the blame for any lack of popularity of the production cannot be laid upon the players,itmustbeattributedtoShakespeare; but even those whose principles prevent them from approving either the subject-matter or the profoundly Christian spirit of the play might profit by seeing it so very well performed. I am, Sir, your obedient servant, 24, Russell Square, W.C.1, Dec. 11. T. S. Eliot Notes 1. John Gielgud (1904-2000), then a young Shakespearean actor who had achieved stardom with his performances of Richard II and Hamlet in his first two seasons of the Old Vic (1929-30), and who had become its leading actor, was not in the cast of Measure for Measure, which ran from 4 to 20 Dec; however, he wrote in the issue of 8 Dec to urge the public to see an “unfamiliar and unpopular” play “which makes me very proud to belong to the English theatre. . . . I wish it might be shown to the English provincial towns and to New York, for it seems to me quite complete and perfect in its way, entirely original, and modern in conception, and yet executed with a sureness and power worthy of the best and oldest traditions of our stage” (10). The production featured Charles Laughton as Angelo, Athene Seyler as Mistress Overdone, Lawrence Baskcome as Pompey, and James Mason as Claudio, in performances which the reviewer of the Times found “rich and satisfying, full of subtle penetration and expressive gestures” (5 Dec, 12). TSE wrote to Alistair Cook on 8 Dec: “The new company at the Old Vic made an extremely good job of Measure for Measure which I saw last night. Charles Laughton is not yet a perfect Shakespearean actor, and apologises for not knowing how to speak blank verse, but he is extremely keen, and I think may be really first-rate in time.” TSE taught the play in his 1918 Extension course, focusing on “the thought and versification” (1.755), took the epigraph for “Gerontion” from the play (III.1.32-34), and in “Hamlet” (1919) described it as a “profoundly interesting play of ‘intractable’ material and astonishing versification” (2.124). This page intentionally left blank ...