News from the Dramaturg
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
In the creation of this production, the creative team was faced with several questions. Where are we? What are the rules of this world? Does Measure for Measure lend itself more to the genre of tragedy or comedy?
One of the major questions we encountered was, why did William Shakespeare write this play? It is a question often discussed among readers, theater-makers, and scholars. Since we don’t have the luxury of asking the playwright himself, or referencing any other primary sources that deal with this question, the answer is a matter of interpretation. To help imagine why, we conducted considerable research and engaged in many discussions.
In 1603, following the death of Queen Elizabeth, King James IV of Scotland became King James I of England. By the time James I ascended to the throne, England had been experiencing more than fifty years of harsh religious persecution. As a result, they were desperately hoping a new king, moreover a new dynasty, would bring an end to their suffering. Sadly, in the first few months of his reign, King James I made several displays of weak leadership, for example, liberally granting over 300 knighthoods, and living an extravagant lifestyle while his people continued to live in poverty. England needed a ruler who could be strong without being tyrannical. Although James did sometimes practice temperance, he was often brutal.
On December 26, 1604 Measure for Measure was first performed in the banqueting hall at Whitehall Palace. Among the audience members sat King James I, a devoted supporter of the playwright William Shakespeare. Today, after much textual analysis and historical study, many have theorized that Measure for Measure was meant to be a “lesson” for the new king. The character of the Duke is seen to represent King James as a ruler who wants to help his country but has not been successful in doing so. To avoid having the lesson be too obvious, the play’s setting is ambiguous. We know that the show is set in Vienna, yet through the names of certain characters, there appears to be an Italian influence as well. It seems that Shakespeare purposefully avoided an exact setting in order to steer clear of political persecution. In the end, our team concluded with this theory and used it as the foundation for the creative process.
Just as Shakespeare was unclear as to where his play took place, the time and location of our production are also a bit cryptic. This concept was continually explored in rehearsal and has helped shaped what is now Ithaca College Theatre Art’s production of Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare.
“O, It is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant” (Measure for Measure Act II, sc ii, 108-110)
-Katlyn Rapini, Assistant Dramaturg
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