Measure for Measure was hardly staged at all for centuries. The play puzzled critics and actors. Hazlitt, for example, complained that there was ‘a want of passion’ to engender real interest in the play’s moral argument. Nineteenth-century audiences demanded spectacle but Measure for Measure lacked, or seemed to lack, opportunities to dazzle them. If the play was an extended moral debate, ‘full of genius as it is of wisdom’, as Hazlitt generously put it, there was still a problem, because the play’s morality was confusing. Marianna gets to marry Angelo ‘whom we hate’, Isabella is too ‘rigid’ and the Duke too ‘absorbed’. At some point in the twentieth century, attitudes to the play shifted as a series of performances, most notably Peter Brook’s 1950 production for the RSC, showed that the play could be spectacular and that its moral complexity had something to say to modern audiences. Left to languish in the margins of the performance canon since the sixteenth century, Measure for Measure was recovered in the twentieth century as a very modern exploration of power and sexual politics: arguably, it is the most modern of all Shakespeare’s plays and in the theatre it has been open to all manner of topical interpretations.
Swipe to navigate through the chapters of this book
Please log in to get access to this content
To get access to this content you need the following product:
- Key Productions and Performances
- Macmillan Education UK
- Sequence number
- Chapter number