Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” mirrors modern day issues


Naomi Mirny

Lucio (Baker-Lerner), who serves as a bridge between the citizens and the government, engages with commoners in the corrupt streets of Vienna. Lucio’s presence often spurs dance parties.

Sidonie Brown, Arts Editor

A man abusing his power to prey on women is an unfortunately familiar image. It is the story that has occupied countless headlines, provoked outrage and caused victims to come forward themselves. Now, this narrative has taken the stage in the form of this year’s production of “Measure for Measure,” one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known pieces.

Contributed by Naomi Mirny
Seniors Cait Donahue and Zach Grinspoon serve as comic relief in a dark play.

In the midst of the #MeToo movement and the Kavanaugh confirmation, the play proves very relevant and resonates with matters of the moment.

Set in the age of “tomorrow,” the opening scenes reveal Viennese streets riddled with vice and prostitution. Disappointed with these conditions but unable to rule with an iron fist, the Duke, Vincentio (junior Freddy Sell), temporarily abandons his post in order to observe what happens during his absence. In his place he leaves Angelo (junior Chris Jennings), a morally-rigid and authoritarian leader.

Angelo promptly gets to work, enforcing the law that forbids extramarital sexual acts by imprisoning perpetrators left and right. As opposed to the drum circles and dancing that livens the stage under Vincentio’s rule, Angelo’s regime is characterized by dark lighting and nightly patrols. The stark contrast between these two administrations raises a weighty question: Which is worse—a society run amok with promiscuity and crime or one purged of liberty?

Contributed by Naomi Mirny
Duke Vincentio (middle) goes undercover as a friar to observe his ruling area from afar. In the process, he tries to stop Claudio’s (right) execution.

Meanwhile, when Claudio (senior Roger Burtonpatel) is targeted for impregnating his girlfriend Juliette (Dee-nah Wattana), he is sentenced to death as an example to all. Upon hearing this news, his sister and a nun-to-be, Isabella (senior Devasha Solomon), throws herself into preventing his execution with the help of the Duke disguised as a friar.

Isabella comes to Angelo to plead for her brother’s pardon, but the interim Duke’s following actions reveal his hypocrisy and malevolence: Angelo promises to release Claudio and save him from death in return for Isabella’s virginity. When she responds in anger, vying to inform the public of his atrocities, Angelo simply asks, “Who will believe thee, Isabel?” Isabella’s tears in this charged moment are heartbreaking.

It is this question that has stopped countless women from speaking up about their sexual assault, and it is in this scene that “Measure for Measure” first finds its political footing and timeliness. The play comments on the ability of powerful men to manipulate others, the hegemony that allows for that abuse and the effects on the victims that result from them. There are many moments of magnitude that further cement these messages, and a final scene that places Isabella before a panel of doubtful people even calls forth striking parallels to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Despite all of this dark and heavy content, the play finds amusing ways to insert humor and elegantly entertain. From the over-the-top owner of the Kinks & Queens night club, Lucio (junior Clay Baker-Lerner), to the comical trio of Provosts (seniors Naomi Michelson, Eva Stanley and Alyssa Parkhurst), the cast fantastically delivered levity and whimsy while dealing with controversial subjects.

The actors were also never afraid to push boundaries. Throughout the play, the stage hosted twerking, blow-up dolls as prostitutes and protest chants such as “Claudio is not a ho!” and “We should not be hanged just because we banged!” Along with the synthesized beats during transitions and ripped jeans, courtesy of senior Summer Barnes, the costume designer, these components put a fresh spin on the aged tale and language.

With our progressive values and contemporary mindsets, it can be hard to give time to stories of the past. This rendition of Shakespeare reminds us why classics manage to survive long after their period. Testifying to the fact that the #MeToo movement was centuries in the making, “Measure for Measure” resounded with societal significance in its time and it only rings truer today.