The Shakespeare Project: Measure for Measure

but man, proud man! Dress’d in a little brief authority,– most ignorant of what he’s most assured, His glassy essence, — like an angry ape, Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven As make he angels weep; who with our spleens; Would all themselves laugh mortal.

One of the reasons I started this was to find plays I was unfamiliar with but would enjoy. Measure for Measure is definitely one. It doesn’t reach the heights that Shakespeare is capable of and the humor isn’t very strong. But one of the advantages of being a “problem play” is that it has a large share of drama that works well. The confrontation between Angelo and Isabella, from the above quote is drawn, is one of the better parts as is the subsequent scene in which Claudio eventually asks his sister to sleep with Antonio for his life. The plot ties together a little too neatly in the end, sharing a narrative trick with All’s Well so that everyone ends up married. And the Duke ex Machina ending drags out a bit.

But, as always with Shakespeare, it’s how you get there that’s the fun part. Antonio, in particular, is a good villain — the archetypal small man who should never be given even a modicum of power. (It’s nice to know that hypocrisy from hyper-moralistic politicians is nothing new.) It’s a pity that he has to be spared to fit in with the comedy.

Next Up: The Comedy of Errors