Theatre Review: Measure for Measure

Words: Alex Kuster
Saturday 29 February 2020
reading time: min, words

Our very own Nottingham has had a visit from the big smoke: The Royal Shakespeare Company have graced us with their thespian tendencies for a few days at the Theatre Royal. We went to see their production of Measure for Measure to see what all this men in tights malarky was about…


Measure for Measure has to be one of Shakespeare’s most timeless plays, with the themes addressed feeling as potent and relevant today as they ever were. To break it down, the play is set in Vienna and centers around the fate of Claudio, who has committed adultery and made a woman pregnant before they were married. He is condemned to death by Angelo, as the Duke is out of town. Only the Duke is actually dressed as a friar, overseeing the city’s antics whilst in disguise.

Claudio’s chaste and holy sister Isabella goes to Angelo to try and convince him to spare her brother’s life, only to find that her way with words makes Angelo fall in love with her. He tells her that the only way to save Claudio is to sleep with him - hence the whole idea of measure for measure: an eye for an eye, and so on. Nothing is ever simple… in a typical Shakespearian twist, the friar (aka Duke in disguise) gets involved, sending Angelo’s ex to sleep with him in place of Isabella, because her virginity is more sacred than others apparently...

How different are Shakespeare’s words from the ongoing #MeToo movement?

By placing the comedy in the early 1900s of Vienna, the play almost has a Gatsby-esque twinge of glamour, and all the more space for religious values, hypocrisy and sex. The characters each hold their own, and the result is a brilliant array of acting talent. Tonally, the play strikes the perfect balance of comedy, drama and tragedy.

For me, the moment which was most applicable to the modern day comes after Angelo asks Isabella to sleep with him. After she declines, he says: “Who will believe thee?” How different are Shakespeare’s words from the ongoing #MeToo movement? How far have we actually come as a society? 

I was most impressed by an ending that adroitly tied everything together. Angelo was punished, Claudio was saved, good prevailed. Things were okay for all. That is, except Isabelle who, instead of being allowed to return to nun-training, was told she would be with the Duke. All that protecting of her chastity only for it to be removed by another, albeit slightly better, man in power.

There was never a dull moment with plots unfolding as the play progressed. The characters floated around the stage seamlessly, and it was a joy to watch true professionals applying their craft. Measure for Measure had me laughing, gasping and gripped with every scene. There were no half-measures to be found, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Measure for Measure is on at Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 7 March

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