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Posts Tagged ‘Measure for Measure’

By Kevin Costa

Whenever I begin a Shakespeare play with my students in my two-year course, The Institute for Shakespeare and Renaissance Studies at McDonogh School, I get the class working on text from just about Day One. I don’t spend a lot of time setting up with talk about Shakespeare’s life or with the history of the period — there’s plenty of time for that later, if at all.

Owiso Odera (Othello) and Ian Merrill Peakes (Iago), Othello, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2011. Photo by Carol Pratt.

Owiso Odera (Othello) and Ian Merrill Peakes (Iago), Othello, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2011. Photo by Carol Pratt.

When I first started this course, I would choose the play we’d cover for two years, but this fall I took a different approach. My students and I looked through the Complete Works, and we read bits and pieces of plays that I thought they might like. This year, I think we may have looked at the moment in Othello where Iago helps convince Othello that Desdemona has been unfaithful (3.3). Then we also read through the two scenes in Measure for Measure where Angelo propositions Isabella to sleep with him (2.2 & 2.4).

If you have a choice of play from which to chose, this is a compelling way to have students own their experience from the get-go. In other words, get students hooked by offering some of a play’s “greatest hits.” Once they have a taste of something they like, they’ll certainly want more since a well-chosen scene can really awaken their curiosity for the whole work.

If you don’t have a choice in play, that’s no problem at all. Here are some ideas for some of the most-taught titles.

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I was speaking with Folger Theatre’s resident Dramaturg, Michele Osherow, this morning as she prepared for an on-camera interview. While catching up, I mentioned that my husband would be working on a performance of Measure for Measure during his first year of graduate school – one of my least favorite plays. Michele replied that Measure for Measure is one of her favorites because it is so messy and unsettling, the same reasons I don’t like it.

Isabella (Karen Peakes), Mark Zeisler (Duke), Measure for Measure, Folger Theatre, 2006. Directed by Aaron Posner. Carol Pratt.

Isabella (Karen Peakes), Mark Zeisler (Duke), Measure for Measure, Folger Theatre, 2006. Directed by Aaron Posner. Carol Pratt.

Michele went on to point out that while her college students express distaste for Measure for Measure or Troilus and Cressida during her class, those complicated and uncomfortable plays are the ones they return to explore in their final papers and presentations. They’re the plays that stick in their minds because there’s so much to explore even as it discomfits us.

My favorite plays tend to contain comic banter. I like how the words intersect and dance around each other, especially out loud, in plays like Much AdoTwelfth Night, and Romeo and Juliet (before it becomes a tragedy). I also enjoy the bumbling comic characters in Midsummer, as you already know, because I feel so close to Shakespeare as a player in those scenes. I enjoy talking about the use of language and the playing with the several meanings of words in performance.

Kate Eastwood Norris (Beatrice), P.J. Sosko (Benedick), Much Ado About Nothing, Folger Theatre, 2005. Directed by Nick Hutchison. Photo: Carol Pratt. Carol Pratt.

Kate Eastwood Norris (Beatrice), P.J. Sosko (Benedick), Much Ado About Nothing, Folger Theatre, 2005. Directed by Nick Hutchison. Photo: Carol Pratt. Carol Pratt.

For Michele, those complicated plays are very close in nature to modern theatrical experiences. They make us question how we feel and what we think about the world we live in – just as Shakespeare’s audience must have felt and thought. Is marriage a reward or a punishment? Is your best friend a good or bad person – are you? Who do you relate to: the villain or the hero – or is there a character you can identify as either role?

This reminded me of several videos in our Teacher to Teacher series – especially ‘Beauty in Difficulty‘ from Kristyn Rosen on plays that will challenge her students. Additionally, there is a whole section of videos related to teachers responding to the question “What is your favorite Shakespeare play to teach?” They cite relatability, good discussions, fun, and playable moments as their best reasons for one play or another.

What is your favorite play to read, see, teach, or talk about?

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Image from Shakespeare’s Globe

As I mentioned in my post, “Oh, to Be in England” on May 3,  Shakespeare’s Globe is presenting a marathon of 37 plays with acting companies from around the world. But if you can’t get to the Globe to Globe Festival, there is now an alternative. A UK site called The Space is running  full-length videos of them for free. And the best part is, you don’t need to stand in the cold and rain as the audiences seem to be in these videos.

Here are the ones available at this posting:

Image from The Space

  • Twelfth Night by Mumbai’s Company Theatre is a colorful and musical version, filled with dancing, performed in Hindi with scene descriptions in English. Lyn Gardner in London’s Guardian wrote, “The beguiling, melancholy heart of the play is ignored in favour of non-stop jokes. Fun? Definitely. Accessible? Completely, even if you didn’t speak the language.”

Image from The Space

  • Measure for Measure is performed in Russian (with English subtitles) by Moscow’s Vakhtangov Theatre. Critic Veronica Lee said of this production in The Arts Desk, “What a joy this once-in-a-generation season is. From Moscow comes this free-wheeling production of Shakespeare’s great morality play.”

Image from The Space

  • Pericles is performed in Greek with scene description in English. “Thanks to a slapstick production courtesy of the National Theatre of Greece, and the Globe’s ambiance (helped by the fact that the rain stayed off), better than you might imagine – not least because London’s Hellenic community seemed to be out in force to watch it,” wrote Alex Needham in The Guardian.

Image from The Space

  • Venus and Adonis is performed in a variety of languages by the Isango ensemble from Cape Town, South Africa. Spoken in IsiZulu, IsiXhosa, SeSotho, Setswana, Afrikaans & South African English, the production is musically and visually thrilling. While this is not a play but a narrative poem, it counts as number 38 for the Globe.

Image from The Space

  • Richard III is  performed in Mandarin (with scene descriptions in English) by the National Theatre of China. According to the Year of Shakespeare Blog, “the production was preceded by Dominic Dromgoole, the Globe’s Artistic Director, announcing that all of the production’s equipment was in a shipping container stranded somewhere between Beijing and London.  The costumes and props we were about to see, he explained, had been cobbled together at the last minute from the Globe’s stores.”

Image from The Space

  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream is performed in Korean (with scene description in English) by the Yohangza Theatre Company. According to Adele Lee, “Performed in a mixture of Korean theatre styles, including song, dance, mime, acrobatics and martial arts, the production was vibrant, energetic and immensely enjoyable, and the cast did a great job of overcoming the language barrier and forming an excellent rapport with the predominantly English-language speaking audience. “

So far that’s all the videos that The Space has posted, but if you want to see the rest of the Globe’s season, keep checking it out. And if you do watch any of these full-length productions, be sure to add your comments below.

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