Spenser, Poetry and Performance, 12-13 June 2017

Dr Jane Grogan of UCD is co-organising this exploratory research event, which takes place on 12–13 June at Shakespeare’s Globe in London in collaboration with the International Spenser Society.

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Stream the Shakespeare’s Globe production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Did you miss the live stream of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Emma Rice, last Sunday? You can now watch it on the BBC website from anywhere in the world. It will be available for six months. Let us know what you think!

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Review: Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare’s Globe

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The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Caroline Byrne for Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, 6th August 2016

Reviewed by Emer McHugh, NUI Galway

For the last year or so, I’ve kept an eye on the programming schedules for the major theatres in the UK and Ireland for 2016. When you work on Shakespeare and Ireland in a major anniversary year such as this one – a Shakespeare 400/1916 double whammy, as you’ll have seen looking at this blog’s archives – looking at how major theatrical institutions mark these commemorations becomes of major interest. (I even had a makeshift scorecard at some point.) For example, the National Theatre are doing The Plough and the Stars; the Abbey did the same, as well as bringing Joe Dowling back to the theatre with Othello (interestingly, it was initially marketed as a ‘state of the nation’ play, a description that disappeared from the website as the run began). But, I don’t think I ever would have expected a combination of both commemorations to come from Shakespeare’s Globe. Then again, new artistic director Emma Rice continues to be full of surprises. And thus, we have Caroline Byrne’s The Taming of the Shrew, set in 1916 Ireland with an Irish cast and crew.

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To be sure, this Shrew deals in a broad, globalised, commoditised Irishness – the musicians played their jigs and reels (strikingly reminiscent of Riverdance at times, of course) on the bodhrán, tin whistle, fiddle, and guitar for the crowd’s pleasure: all the audience needed were pints of Guinness and we’d be at a seisiún right there and then. The characters’ accents and dispositions varied from person to person, region to region: Edward MacLiam’s Petruchio was reminiscent of the Limerick comedian Tommy Tiernan, with slight Northern tones. Aaron Heffernan’s Lucentio and Imogen Doel’s Tranio sported broad Dublin accents, as did Aoife Duffin’s Kate and Genevieve Hulme-Beaman’s Bianca who were both portrayed as upper-class Dubliners. And Colm Gormley’s Hortensio also spoke in a Northern burr. Characters either wore flat caps and breeches, or looked as if they had just stepped out of a Bloomsday celebration (take Raymond Keane’s Gremio and his boater hat and suit as an example of the latter). The text was altered to add elements of Hiberno-English such as ‘Jaysus’, ‘mo chara’, and ‘go raibh mile maith agaibh’. The world of the play, too, was noticeably Irish Catholic: during her wedding, Kate sat on top of two staircases that folded together to display a neon-light cross, whereas Petruchio’s admission to Gremio that ‘me father died’ was met with numerous members of the cast blessing themselves with the sign of the cross. None of this is necessarily a criticism of the production, per se. A lot of this Irishness generated much humour from the proceedings, and certainly I found it funny given how recognisable it was to me as an Irish member of the audience. (And, so it seemed, from a lot of the audience as well.) However, given that this was performed at the Globe, and therefore for a majorly non-Irish audience, it makes me wonder whether this Irishness would manifest in the same way were it premiering at the Abbey, for Druid, or at the Lyric.

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Production shot, Shakespeare’s Globe

Another important context to take note of is the #WakingTheFeminists movement: it’s particularly satisfying that a production set in 1916 responds to a movement born out of the response to a programme of events commemorating that same year. And generally, it’s satisfying to encounter feminist [Irish] Shakespeare on a major British stage, too. From the get-go, the production is sympathetic to Kate, and suggests that her taming by Petruchio is unnecessary and unneeded. From her spoken-word songs about how ‘the nation promised equality’, to her newspaper being ripped out of her hand by her own father, to the production refusing to shy away from the psychological and emotional abuse Petruchio subjects her to (she spends the second half in her torn wedding dress, sleeping on a bed with only Petruchio’s cowskin cape as a duvet) – this Shrew emphasises the implications of a patriarchal Irish Catholic society on the lives of women. In doing so, it does not provide easy answers: Kate delivers her final speech in resignation, anger, and frustration at the world she is forced to inhabit, and her relationship with a troubled-looking Petruchio is left up in the air. Additionally, it emphasises these women’s voices: instead of Petruchio, Kate is given the production’s final words through song, and Amy Conroy’s Widow has a much more expanded role to play: always watching, always waiting, quietly despairing at what unfolds in front of her. Throughout the production, she acts as Kate’s chain-smoking de facto feminist fairy godmother, providing unheard counsel and advice – to the point where the final scene appears to be a battle between her and Petruchio for Kate’s soul. (A Pyrrhic victory for Petruchio is implied, of course.) As Byrne comments in her programme note, ‘[i]t’s not a play about the Easter Rising, but it attempts to chime with the experience of Irish women’: Kate’s journey, and her trauma, is depicted sensitively and with nuance, and, in my view, provides a model of what feminist Shakespeare performance should look like.

It’s not unusual for Irish Shakespeare performance to respond to and to engage with the politics and issues of the here and now. If we reach back as far as 1999, Conall Morrison’s The Tempest premiered at the Abbey echoing the Good Friday Agreement a year before. Very recently, Wayne Jordan’s Twelfth Night at the Abbey acted as a response to Pantigate, a year before Ireland went to the polls on marriage equality, whereas his Romeo and Juliet at the Gate explored the ramifications of patriarchal societal structures. Shrew, whereas it may not have premiered in Ireland, speaks to particularly Irish concerns: Byrne states that ‘Irish women are still seeking equality to this day’, and this is reflected in the ongoing efforts of Lian Bell and her team to attain equality and equity in all sectors of Irish theatre, as well as the ongoing campaign to repeal the eighth amendment on abortion by many feminist campaigners (most recently seen in the Two Women Travel Twitter account and Brianna Parkins’ comments at the Rose of Tralee). Of course, I am not sure if all of this was in the mind of Globe audiences throughout the production’s run. I am also not sure if the production’s feminism was in every audience member’s mind either: judging by the ‘Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!’ chant Petruchio encourages the crowd to partake in very early on in the evening, as well as the cheering and whooping that greets a later kiss between the two. Both times, Duffin’s Kate is uncomfortable and unwilling to participate. So the next step, then, is for Byrne to bring her feminist Shakespeare to Irish audiences. If she does, I look forward to it. Her Shrew is vital, fearless, and willing to ask difficult questions.

Emer McHugh is an Irish Research Council-funded doctoral researcher and tutor at the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance at NUI Galway, where she researches the cultural politics of Irish Shakespeare performance in modern and contemporary Ireland. Follow her on Twitter at @emeramchugh.

Review: Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare’s Globe

This review is by Dr. Sally Barnden, who writes her own theatre reviewing blog Euston Street Diaries. Sally recently completed here PhD on Shakespeare & photography at King’s College London.

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Edward MacLiam as Petruchio, Aoife Duffin as Katherine. Photo credit: Marc Brenner

 

Rebellious women

 

Globe, 06.08.16, with Giulia, Nicola, Marco, and others

 In a year of multiple anniversaries, Caroline Byrne’s Taming of the Shrew stages two at once: Shakespeare celebrating his 400th death-day against the centenary of the Easter Rising. This is a striking, elegant and thought-provoking Shrew, with an excellent all-Irish cast, lengthy interludes of Irish music at the top of each half, and added songs which attempt to situate Katharine’s personal rebellion in relation to a historical political uprising. The Dublin setting is a relatively token framing gesture – mentions of Padua, Pisa and Mantua in the text go unchanged – but it is an effective collision of ideas insofar as it draws attention to the voices left behind by any given revolution. An Irish staging of this play notorious for its gender politics also seems particularly appropriate at a time when the Waking the Feminists movement has so much energy in Irish theatre.

Though its unusual setting makes this production seem on the face of it to be a different beast from other Shrews, it ultimately comes with all the same dilemmas: what do you do with a play which clearly believes itself to be a comedy, but whose cruel ending we cannot possibly celebrate? The final scene is the acid test: Katharine, formerly famed for her outspokenness and independence, lectures the other women at some length on the obedience a wife owes to her husband. We can only assume this was a desirable conclusion at the time of writing – Shakespeare and his audience must have believed that neither Katharine nor Petruchio could live happily ever after without her capitulation. The Globe’s convivial atmosphere tends to encourage productions to play for laughs, which compounds the existing issue – the space and the text both want us to accept a comic and indeed romantic understanding of Katharine and Petruchio’s relationship by the end of the play. A lot of productions have tried to recast the moment as a practical joke played by the couple on the other characters. Bolder productions play it straight, shaming the play for trying to be a comedy and shaming the audience for wanting it to be one (the most uncomfortable moment in this production is when the audience are encouraged to chant ‘kiss, kiss, kiss’ at Katherine). In this case, Katharine’s speech is sincere and exhausted; the other characters respond with growing horror as she goes on, as though realising for the first time that ‘taming’ is not particularly good joke. Naturally, given that this is the Globe, the serious mood does not prevent an exuberant jig afterwards.

The whole of the second half has an underlying bleakness to it which anticipates the finale – Kate stays in her wedding gown, which becomes more and more ragged, exposing the skeletal underskirt; the marriage bed is just a wooden frame at a precipitous angle on a heap of dirt. It’s quite a shift of tone from the first half. The shenanigans perpetrated by Bianca’s many suitors are played up with physical comedy and oversized elaborate props, including a full-sized model skeleton, an abacus, and (of course!) a globe. Lucentio enters on a scooter, beaming at the audience. The jazzy tweeds and plaids of the men’s costumes contribute to a comic mood. The surfeit of suitors makes this plot-strand work best as broad slapstick, in this case providing a foil to a much more serious treatment of the Katharine/Petruchio plot.

Aoife Duffin gives an impassioned performance as Katharine – she defiantly reads a newspaper in an early scene, unapologetically scratches her arse and picks her nose in front of her sister’s suitors, sings the interpolated ballads with enormous feeling, and gradually withers with exhaustion as the second half goes on. Amy Conroy as the widow gets a lot of laughs out of a near-silent performance, staring into the audience in indignation as the male characters casually pass around misogynist insults. All of the male servants are played by female actors – perhaps as a commentary on the play’s inbuilt assumptions about a woman’s role in marriage. Imogen Doel’s Tranio stands out – nearly every line comes with a wink at the audience and a lot of energetic clowning; the production also gets a lot of comic energy out of the size difference between her and Aaron Heffernan’s handsome but gullible Lucentio.

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Aaron Heffernan as Lucentio. Production shot from Shakespeare’s Globe website

My main reservation about this production – which is partly a criticism of the whole season rather than of this show – is how little it seemed to belong in the Globe. In the first half, some of the sexist jokes were addressed directly to audience members, but as it got dark the stage lights came up, enforcing a division between stage and audience that I’ve never felt in that theatre before. The set was effective and adaptable, but it effectively boxed in the whole existing backdrop and replaced it with the kind of multi-level set that could have been seen in any indoor theatre in London. The jig and the last-night ritual of speeches and rose-tossing restored the Globe’s familiar atmosphere, but it was clear here as in Macbeth that adding more lighting and sound equipment to the Globe stage has a significant effect on the experience.

 

Report: World Shakespeare Congress

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After a solid week of Shakespeare-related talks and events as part of the World Shakespeare Congress programme, it’s hard to know what to say in summation. So I’ll confine myself to the satisfyingly large but manageable topic of, you guessed it, Shakespeare & Ireland.

It wasn’t hard to find connections between Shakespeare and Ireland in 2016, as abundantly obvious from the #Shakespeare400 programme of events running throughout the year and promoted on this blog. At the Congress, Irish academics were out in force, but the Irish connection didn’t stop there. The country’s first president, Douglas Hyde, was singled out in Gordon McMullan’s opening remarks at the Globe for his contribution to Sir Israel Gollancz’s A Book of Homage to Shakespeare (recently re-issued by Oxford University Press for the 100 year anniversary). McMullan dwelt on issues of translation, citing how Hyde’s contribution in Gaelic was in parts toned down by the translators to be less overtly anti-English.

The following day saw the Irish not simply spoken about, but speaking. Director Caroline Byrne took her place alongside directors from Serbia, Nigeria and the USA for a panel on Global Shakespeare led by Tom Bird on the Globe stage. She spoke eloquently about her desire to commemorate the women of 1916 Dublin who had been ‘airbrushed out of history’, and how that informed her production of The Taming of the Shrew that has just finished its run in the Globe theatre. While Tom Bird asked her and others on the panel whether there was any post-colonial unease engendered by Shakespeare, the answer was a polite but firm ‘No’ from all corners (although Arin Arbus of Theatre for a New Audience did speak of an insecurity with the language among American actors).

 

In terms of Irish academics/academics from Irish institutions, I’m very happy to report that there were more in attendance than any one delegate could see. Shakespeare in Ireland’s own Edel Semple (UCC) led a wonderful seminar on ‘Paratheatrical Entertainments in Shakespeare’s London’ with Donald Hendricks (Kansas State University), which had Tiffany Stern as a respondent. Colleague Andrew King (UCC) was also in illustrious company, appearing on a panel alongside Helen Cooper and Hester Lees-Jeffries. From Trinity there was Ema Vyroubalová as well as her PhD student Shauna O’Brien, while Emer McHugh did NUIG proud (hopefully she will be appearing on the blog again soon with her thoughts on Caroline Byrne’s Taming of the Shrew). Maynooth’s Stephen O’Neill carried the banner of Digital Shakespeare, and Queen’s Belfast had both faculty and post-graduates in attendance, including Mark Thornton Burnett, Mia Hewitt and Matt Williamson. Your current author, Derek Dunne, was pleased to be part of a great seminar on ‘Everyday Shakespeare’, and tried in vain to keep up with congress tweets #WSCongress16 [Forgive me if I’ve left anyone out – will happily amend]

The Congress had its flaws, and a quick look at the dearth of academic tweeters in attendance (perhaps 20 regular tweeters, plus more occasional users and institutional tweets) tells you something about the delegate demographic. This is inevitably linked to the high registration fee, which did not seem to justify itself either in terms of conference swag (SAA 2016 gave every attendee a brand new book), or swanky receptions (Globe coffee breaks did not extend to biscuits). Similarly, the conference programme was by no means state of the art, with neither Table of Contents nor Index (RSA’s app this year clearly pointed the way forward in this respect, but WSC failed to follow the signs). Questions have also been raised about issues of diversity, particularly gender, as eloquently argued by Nora Williams in a recent post on her blog. One thing I cannot complain about is the marginalisation of the Irish, who were centre-stage at various points throughout.

Report: ‘Gesture on the Shakespearean Stage’ – UCD / Abbey Theatre Shakespeare

Guest post by Erin A. McCarthy.

On Friday 27th May, the Abbey Theatre hosted Dr Farah Karim-Cooper (Head of Higher Education & Research, Globe Education, and Visiting Research Fellow of King’s College London), whose talk, ‘Gesture on the Shakespearean Stage’, was the third lecture in this year’s UCD/Abbey Theatre lecture series. In order to advance the series’ goal of linking scholarship to theatrical practice, Dr Karim-Cooper was joined by actor Marty Rea, who is playing Iago in the Abbey’s current production of Othello (reviewed by Dr Edel Semple here). Rea read extended quotations from Shakespeare’s plays throughout the lecture, and while he’s always impressive on stage, it was amazing that he somehow managed to inhabit several markedly different characters while reading from a printed page and wearing street clothes.

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Marty Rea in rehearsal as Iago – Othello at the Abbey Theatre

The lecture comprised two main parts. The first half introduced the kinds of evidence available for the study of early modern gesture, including manuals on gesture and conduct as well as textual evidence from stage directions, textual annotation, and deictic cues, and Dr Karim-Cooper suggested that scholars’ understanding of early modern theatrical gesture has developed rapidly over the last thirty years. She then turned her focus to one specific kind of evidence, the ‘reported gesture’, or an offstage gesture described onstage by a character who witnessed the action. Attention to such gestures not only gives us a sociological perspective on how bodies could have interacted in early modern England but serve the theatrical purposes of moving plots along and highlighting broader themes.

Dr Karim-Cooper focused on reported gestures in the second half of her lecture, paying particular attention to Ophelia’s account of Hamlet’s visit to her chamber in Act II, Scene 1 of Hamlet. Hamlet’s hand gestures, Dr Karim-Cooper showed, not only wrought an emotional impact on Ophelia but also evoked iconic images of intervention, incapacitation, and dominance all at once. A brief but lively question and answer session followed, and Rea also responded to some questions about Othello.

Dr Karim-Cooper’s lecture drew upon material from her recent book, The Hand on the Shakespearean Stage: Gesture, Touch and the Spectacle of Dismemberment (Arden, 2016). The event was also recorded and will be made available as a podcast.

The UCD/Abbey Theatre lecture series, organised by Dr Jane Grogan (UCD), is now in its fifth year. This series concludes on 9th June with a conversation between UCD’s Prof Danielle Clarke and Prof Margaret Kelleher. I’ll look forward to attending future installments of this compelling lecture series in the years to come.

Guest post by Dr Erin A. McCarthy, Postdoctoral Researcher on ‘RECIRC: The Reception and Circulation of Early Modern Women’s Writing’ at the National University of Ireland Galway.

Image of The Globe from The Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare, edited by Edmund Malone (Dublin, 1794), by kind permission of UCD Library Special Collections.

Related events of interest

The final lecture in the 2016 UCD/Abbey Theatre Shakespeare lectures sees Prof. Margaret Kelleher (UCD) and Prof. Danielle Clarke (UCD) discuss ‘An “Irish Mode”? The Literary Writings and Legacy of Thomas MacDonagh’, and will be supplemented with selected readings from MacDonagh’s works performed by the UCD Ad Astra Drama Scholars. The lecture takes place on 9th June in the National Library at 7pm.

For more on Shakespeare 400 in Ireland see earlier posts on the blog and on Twitter: #ShaxIrl400 #Shakespeare400 #ShakespeareLives

Review: Measure for Measure – Globe on Screen

Review by Edel Semple

The Globe’s Measure for Measure, screened live around Ireland on May 10th, was artistic director Dominic Dromgoole’s farewell to the Globe mainstage in 2015 and what a farewell it was. I watched the play from the comfortable environs of one of Movies @ Dundrum’s smaller cinema screens. As the screening was well-attended – the Shakespeare fans responded in time with the playhouse audience and buzzed during the interval – and as the elegant décor incorporated a mock proscenium arch, the venue had a pleasing and moreover fitting theatrical ambiance.

The feeling that we were in the theatre was intensified by the improvised preamble to the play; the camera moved amongst the groundlings who looked on bemused as pimps touted their trade and prostitutes hit on unsuspecting audience members. One prostitute even dragged a customer into a brothel (a miniature hut), which cannily included a window so that we could catch glimpses of what services were on offer (the structure was later torn down, on Angelo’s orders). With Mistress Overdone and the prostitutes in gaudy makeup and over-flowing bodices, Pompey the pimp drolly commenting on the action, and the beadles dashing about like Keystone Cops, the play began as a kind of Carry On Vienna. The opening scene however, staging the Duke’s departure, brought a sober note to the proceedings.

The youthful, likeable Duke was by turns sombre and apprehensive, and hyperactive and witty. He seized Angelo enthusiastically, for instance, when the puritanical deputy entered, babbled about his plans, but then resisted the pleasantries of his subordinates to exit hastily with a grave “fare you well”. The Duke’s sudden urge to overturn Vienna’s civic morality was thus understandable as a quirk of personality, and he stood as an embodiment of this Jacobean problem play’s shifts in tone and energy.

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Dominic Rowan as the Duke at the finale – Globe’s Measure (2015)

In this production, Measure’s dark undertone – Vienna is in the grip of moral decay, an economic downturn, and a sexual health crisis – was treated alternately with cheerfulness and deadly seriousness. Disguised as a friar, the Duke sometimes preached hellfire and brimstone (roaring at the pregnant Julietta, for example) but more often he was bumbling and ineffectual, lackadaisically blessing anyone who passed. Arrested in Overdone’s brothel and arraigned before Escalus, the gentleman Froth ended up naked from the waist down in some hilarious physical comedy; his bare backside waving at the audience again recalled the antics of a Carry On film. Froth and Escalus then congratulated each other on how funny they both were (puns, the height of humour!), before the young gent was set free; the old boys’ network was alive and well in the city. The urban sex workers however fared much worse. During scene changes, a beadle dragged a screaming prostitute through the crowd and later we saw her branded on the face for her crimes.

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Petra Massey as Mistress Overdone , with Dennis Herdman as Froth – Globe’s Measure (2015)

 

At the helm of the harsh new regime is Angelo, the Duke’s deputy. Dressed in black, Angelo was puritanical and logical, but he was wholly thrown by his sudden passion for the young novice nun, Isabella. We were reminded of the lack of the ‘fourth wall’ in the Globe and the fantastic uses its absence can be put to, when, stricken and genuinely at a loss, Angelo looked to the audience for answers asking, “The tempter or the tempted, who sins most?” After his attack on Isabella – a near rape, which he halted at the last second – the deputy naturally fell back on his status as his trump card. Prone on the floor in her novice’s shift, Isabella’s plight (“Did I tell this, who would believe me?”) was emphasised further by the swelling of a plaintive violin.

For all the moral wrangling and soul-searching of the play’s main protagonists, it was Lucio and Pompey who stole the show in this production of Measure. Lucio took nothing seriously and, it seemed, he had never had to take responsibility for anything in his life. The duty of securing Isabella’s aid was thus a new experience for the foppish man-child, and he visibly preened at being Claudio’s intimate before dashing – his signature mincing walk was endlessly comical – to the convent. Lucio’s levity – his avid gossiping, his casual groping of a nun’s breasts, his mockery of the arrested Pompey, and his derision of the absentee Duke – came to an abrupt if humorous halt when he learned of the punishment for his dissolute life. At the Duke’s announcement, no less than three women, standing amongst the groundlings, identified themselves as “wronged” by Lucio, but they speedily lowered their hands at the prospect of marrying this “lewd fellow”. If Lucio thought marrying a prostitute was a death sentence, the women affirmed that marriage to him was equally fatal.

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Dominic Rowan as the disguised Duke and Brendan O’Hea as Lucio – Globe’s Measure (2015)

Pompey Bum, the bawd with the great posterior, affected the air of a sage by leaning on his cane and dispensing wisdom learned from his observations of the average citizen. His insights were lost on Escalus, though the audience lapped up his chicanery in explaining what was done to Elbow’s wife in the brothel (whatever it was, it wasn’t done once!). Again making full use of the Globe’s space, Pompey, newly employed in the prison, picked out audience members as current prisoners and past clients of the brothel. Vienna was a corrupt city and we were all implicated in its vices.

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Petra Massey as Mistress Overdone and Trevor Fox as Pompey – Globe’s Measure (2015)

The play’s finale was thoughtfully and carefully handled. Mariana, who initially appeared like a female Orsino enthralled by love and music, had her say and delivered some punishment for her suffering by landing a hearty slap on Angelo’s face. Kneeling before the Duke, Mariana and Isabella positively oozed power. Although the women were pawns in the Duke’s scheme, this was a forceful and moving spectacle. The sight of such sororal unity also highlighted the conflict between, and moral ambiguity of, the ruling males. The Duke’s sudden proposal of marriage to Isabella was comically awkward, and he hastily turned his attention to Lucio in order to give the young novice some time to think. When the Duke proposed again, his “So…” hung and lingered, awaiting a response. Isabella was uncertain, but it was clearly her choice, and she stood to take his hand. The play’s final lines then blurred seamlessly into the beginning of the concluding dance, led by Vienna’s newest couple.

Overall, in its compelling exploration of the dualities at the heart of Measure, and its willingness to see the fun in and seriousness of the play’s moral questions, the Globe production made for a smart and engaging staging of this problem play. As suggested in a recent guest post by Kate Timperley of Arts Alliance (the distributors of Globe on Screen), these screenings are the next best thing to actually being at the Bankside theatre. Sitting in the cinema, we may not get to mingle with Mistress Overdone, Lucio, and Pompey, but with the high quality of these filmed productions we get pretty close – ladies and gentlemen, mind your purses and your morals!