- Measure for Measure
Reviewing the Globe Theatre Company's 2004 production of Measure for Measure for Shakespeare Bulletin, Peter J. Smith asked, "What is wrong with the Globe?" He wrote of the show:
Call me a purist, but Measure for Measure is not a funny play; that [John] Dove's production of it repeatedly brought the house down, and often at the most delicate points in the script, demonstrated either an audience philistinism or an unusually bathetic approach to the play.(143)
Having seen the traveling version of Measure for Measure a year and a half later, I would credit the former explanation, for the audience at St. [End Page 85] Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn seemed keenly responsive to the play's dark overtones in a way that Smith's Globe Theatre audience may not have been. Perhaps Shakespeare simply draws a different crowd on a summer's day on what used to be the wrong side of the Thames than on a winter's night on what used to be the wrong side of the East River. Or perhaps an audience seated in a low-slung converted warehouse is more restrained, and hence more primed to respond to pathos, than one standing in the Globe's sunny yard. Yes, the company still brought down the house, but the audience's laughter just as readily gave way, during the play's weightier moments, to stunned silence. Charles Isherwood, writing for the New York Times, said that the traveling production "floods this famously dark play with continuously roaming beams of comic light." This show's triumph was that its comic sensibility illuminated darkness without dispelling it.
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Mark Rylance brilliantly set the tone for this production of Measure for Measure by playing Duke Vincentio as a well-intentioned but distractible old man, a Hamlet who has lived long enough to become a Polonius. Rylance's Duke trailed off in the middle of windy discourses and flew into rages when he heard of injustice. Playing the Duke as a man of great intelligence struggling to stay clear-minded allowed Rylance to reconcile [End Page 86] the often contradictory aspects of this character, and to make endearing and sympathetic a character who can easily be read as a high-handed meddler. Of course, there is no arguing with taste, and perhaps every audience member must decide for him- or herself whether Rylance threw away the Duke's philosophical speeches and reduced a Machiavellian figure to a clown. For my own part, Rylance's performance moved me to more than laughter, for his Duke Vincentio recognized his own diminution. In this respect, Rylance took his cue from the lynchpin of the play's plot: Vincentio transfers his power to Angelo not only as a means to test his second-in-command, but because the duke knows that his own decrees, like a father's unused rod, have become "more mock'd than fear'd." Is it therefore a distortion of the text for there to be an air of befuddlement and incapacity—something eminently...