Measure for Measure marked Shakespeare’s final comedy before embarking upon the series of tragedies, which confirmed his legacy. Written after the monstrous Hamlet and succeeded by Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth, it seems appropriate that this tale of corruption and immorality stands as the most cynical and disturbingly inconclusive of perhaps any of Shakespeare’s plays, but most certainly of any the comedies.
Measure for Measure opens tonight at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in Urbana.
Measure for Measure follows the Duke of Venice as he bequeaths all of his power to the coldly, moralistic Antonio who in turn decides to enforce the moral codes of the city which he feels have been ignored under the Duke’s rule. His adherence to this strict moral vision results in the young Claudio being sentenced to death for impregnating an unmarried woman and Claudio’s sister Isabella, a devout nun, must decide whether or not to save her brother’s life by giving into Angelo’s lusty demands.
Shakespeare, however, tackles not only the hypocrisy of legislating morality, but also the efficacy of morals themselves. The play becomes fascinating for the way in which the audience observes not only the tribulations of the characters, but the way in which a master of the comedic form struggles against the form itself, the symmetry of the structure incapable of containing his stark vision. The jokes all seem to ring a bit hollow, any heroism is marred by the overwhelmingly flawed heroes, and the attempts at romance resolve into something of a horror show. The audience is left with much more to contemplate than to chuckle about.
Robert Anderson directs the University of Illinois’ Theatre Department’s production of Measure for Measure at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts (500 S. Goodwin Ave., Urbana). The play runs March 27-29 and April 2-5 at 7:30 p.m. and April 6 at 3 p.m. For tickets, call the box office at 333-6280.