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Desperate Measures: Politics and the Process of Performance
Cary M. Mazer

Shakespeare scholars like to begin their articles and lectures with quotations from the plays, however irrelevant. So do permit me to begin that way too. My epigraph is taken from the play that I will use as my test case today, Measure for Measure. You will recall that Vincentio, Duke of Vienna, observing that his Dukedom has fallen into licentiousness and chaos through his neglectful government, has pretended to leave Vienna and has turned over the government to Angelo, his upright and up-tight Deputy; and that the Duke has resolved to remain in Vienna, in disguise, so that he may observe how Angelo's character is revealed or transformed in the crucible of the power with which he has been invested. The Duke tells Friar Thomas, who is party to the plot:

Lord Angelo is precise,
Stands at a guard with envy, scarce confesses
That his blood flows, or that his appetite
Is more to bread than stone. Hence shall we see
If power change purpose, what our seemers be. (1.3.5-54)

My subject is how "power" changes--or at least influences--"purpose." But the "purpose" in question is not, as in the play, the government of a city or of a state, nor even (as in the case of Angelo) the government of one's psychological and physical appetites, but the creation of a work of art, of a theatrical performance. Talking about Angelo, the Duke poses his assertion as a conditional: he wishes to test "if power change purpose." My hypothesis is that, in the theatre, power does indeed change purpose.

I base this hypothesis upon several premises: that the theatre, as a complex collaborative art form, depends upon the coordination of the talents and temperaments of a wide range of individuals; that, in the theatre, these individuals must be organized into a process which inescapably involves the establishment and articulation of power; that theatrical artists are, by their very nature, sensitive, egotistical, easily offended and ultimately cajolable, and therefore particularly vulnerable to the articulation of lines of authority and the exercise of power; that the primary raw material of the theatre is the actor and the dramatic character he or she is playing; that plays in performance are constructed from the subjective, sensitive, malleable and yet ultimately uncontrollable raw material of human beings in action; that, therefore, the theatre event is particularly sensitive to the slightest breeze, not to mention the gale-force winds, of exercised power; and finally--and this may be my most controversial, and possibly even unsupportable, premise--that the effect the exercise of power has on the theatrical process inevitably makes its way into the theatre event created by that process, and is ultimately perceivable by the audience in the theatre. In claiming that power in the theatre does change purpose, I am in fact asserting that process affects meaning.

Now, before I go too much further, I should tell you that theatre does not, by itself, necessarily mean anything. Or, to put it more precisely, theatre doesn't, ideally, make statements about anything. Rather, theatre happens. Things happen in it. What happens in theatre is human experience: characters, embodied by actors, undergo a course of events, experiences, emotions, and understandings; and the audience experiences the theatre event itself, and watches, vicariously though empathetically, the experience of the characters.

But while I believe that theatre does not, by itself, mean anything, I do believe that the theatre generates meanings. As a performing art, theatre is, by definition, temporally immediate: it exists only while it is actually happening. And it is, also by its very nature, a social art form, occurring in public, before spectators. Because theatre is temporal and social, the human behavior occurring in the theatre event--the behavior represented by the fictional story being told by the drama--is inescapably seen through the prism of the larger, more public society which is watching it. Even the most private and intimate scene is, in the medium of theatre, presented in public; the most private thought or emotion is displayed before a public gaze. The interactive behavior of any two people on the stage is viewed by the audience as a social event, a manifestation on the interpersonal level of a larger social dynamic that gets played out in the larger society--in the community temporarily formed by members of the public as they come together to form an audience in the theatre, and in the larger community that these audience members rejoin when they leave the theatre. Theatre is social, both in terms of what the audience watches, and in terms of how the audience watches. The interaction of the characters in the play is emblematic of the interaction of social groups and social forces in the real world. And the aesthetic contract between the audience and the theatrical event, as the audience watches the play in performance within the theatre, is a smaller version of the social contract that binds individuals into a community outside the theatre.

Occasionally a play will take as its subject the social contract itself. Measure for Measure is one such play. The first words of the first substantive speech spoken in the play are, after all, "Of government." The play seems to be using the medium of theatre, an art form that presents human behavior in a social arena, to explore whether one can possibly invent a way of organizing the social world that can compass the more anarchic, messy, and problematic aspects of human behavior.

But even if a play does not take as its subject matter a social or political issue, the meanings generated by the theatre event are, by virtue of the medium, social and political. Recapturing these social and political meanings, as they existed in the moment of the play's first performance, is the central project of a great deal of contemporary, so-called "New Historicist" Shakespeare scholarship. New Historicists see the play in performance as a cultural manifestation of issues and concepts being acted out in the society at large. The theatre in Early Modern England (the preferred New Historicist term for "The Renaissance") dramatizes a society's fault-lines, the culture's collective anxieties about concepts and paradigms that are shifting in meaning and definition: kingship, government, authority, ownership, marriage, kinship, sexuality, gender, the human body, and the constitution of the human psyche, to name only a few examples. Armed with new documents and new historiographic tools, New Historicist scholars attempt to define what social meanings Shakespeare's original audiences derived from the plays they experienced in performance, both from the human behavior presented and represented in the play, and from the social and aesthetic act of theatregoing itself.

I am not, by either inclination or training, a New Historicist; I am a historian of Shakespearean performance. And so I am less interested in the social and political meanings that the plays had when they were originally performed at the Globe and the Blackfriars Theatres in the fifteen-nineties, sixteen-oughts and sixteen-teens, as I am in the aesthetic forms they have assumed, and the social and political meanings they have acquired, when they were performed in subsequent centuries, down to the present day.

Nor (parenthetically) do I care whether these social and political meanings are the ones that the dramatist intended the plays to have when he wrote them. For that matter, the social and political meanings that Shakespeare hoped the plays to have in performance, even if these were knowable, are not necessarily relevant to the political and social meanings the plays actually might have had in their original performances either. For the dramatist is not the ultimate, and certainly not the only, authority in the creation of a theatre event. A theatre event is created collaboratively by a group of theatre artists from available theatrical raw material. This raw material includes, among other things, the talents and bodies and souls of the actors, the physical conditions of the stage and the auditorium, the occasion of the performance, and--first but not most--the script. The author of the script may envision a theatrical event that can be created from it. But the theatre event is created, using the script, not by the author, but by the theatre artists rehearsing and performing it. The performance does not realize a script; a script enables the performance--a performance created by the directors and designers (if any); the actors, musicians, and technicians; and, last but not least, the audience.

As an actor and co-owner and co-manager of a theatrical company, Shakespeare was one of those theatre artists who created the theatre event from the scripts that he had written. But he has not been around for the last 377 years, during which time a countless number of theatre events have been created using his scripts as raw material. My question in general is: What types of theatre events are these? On what aesthetic principles and theatrical conventions are they based? What meanings and significances do they acquire in performance? The theatre artist's fidelity to Shakespeare's original meanings, or even to his original theatrical means, is of only secondary importance here, if it is of any importance at all. From the theatre historian's point of view, a performance based on a canonical script is often most interesting when it makes no claims to fidelity at all, when it willfully transforms the raw material into a different type of theatre event altogether. Frankly, though, I am most interested in performances that are faithful, or, more accurately, those performances created by theatre artists who think they are being faithful to what they confidently believe they know to have been the author's intentions. Let me put this another way. Theatre artists use a script to tell a story in theatrical terms. Some artists consciously know that they are telling their own story, and not the playwright's, in creating their performance from the playwright's script. Others think that they are only facilitators, using the playwright's script to tell the playwright's own story. But their confidence in knowing what the playwright's story is is based on their own ability to read; and their act of reading is based on any number of historically, culturally and temporally specific ways that they understand society, human behavior, and the art of the theatre. Even when they believe that they are faithfully telling the playwright's story, they are really telling their own.

So: what means do theatre artists employ to tell the story of Measure for Measure in performance? What stories are they in fact telling? And what stories do we read from the experience of watching the performance? My suspicion is that the story that we can read from the performance is both the story told by the script, and the story of the theatrical process itself.

The story of Measure for Measure--if I can even dare to say what I think is its story, given what I've just said about the fallacy of anyone presuming to know what story the playwright was trying to tell--is, at the very least, about human behavior as it is organized into a larger community, a city. The Duke has failed to organize his subjects into a healthy, orderly, tidy community; so he wanders in disguise throughout his city and observes just how complex the human needs and human behaviors that constitute a community really are, and learns the insufficiency of any simple solutions.

Here are all of the elements from which theatre artists can create a theatre event: individual human needs, in their physically and emotionally messiest form, untidily organized into a complex, flawed, and largely dysfunctional community. We watch the members of this community deal with the limitations of their emotional resources and the obstructions they face to the fulfillment of their emotional needs. We watch and experience and assess their behavior as they watch and experience and assess themselves. And we watch while the Duke watches and vicariously experiences and assesses both the behavior of his subjects and his own growing sense of the ways that this seething human material might be organized, or reorganized, into a society. We watch the Duke as he watches and reassesses his own understanding of how human behavior, human needs, and human society work; and we watch as he reassesses his own behavior, and his own very human needs.

Put in these terms, creating a performance of Measure for Measure--telling the story of Measure for Measure by theatrical means--will inevitably generate political meanings. For the act of watching human behavior--the act that is at the core of any theatrical experience--is the play's subject as well as the play's medium. Just by watching, we are implicated in the issues at the center of play's story. The play forces us to ask ourselves what we are to make of the human behavior we are watching. Any answers to that question that we, or the play, provisionally provide is, therefore, political.

So: What factors affect the way we view the human behavior on display to us when Measure for Measure is performed? What means can the theatre artists creating a theatre event from the script of Measure for Measure employ to shape our experience of the play's events, and to shape our understanding of these events? In short, how can a theatre artist shape the way the play signifies?

There is no one answer to these questions that applies to all periods of theatre history, and I don't mean to present a comprehensive survey today of the play's performance history over the past three centuries. But you will no doubt be familiar from your own theatregoing experience with some of the wide range of devices available to contemporary theatre artists. One common way is to manipulate the audience's sense of the world in which the events of the play are taking place. Over the last half century, directors and designers have felt free to set plays in any period: in the period in which the action is ostensibly set (classical Rome, 14th-century British history, etc.); in the period in which the plays were written (early 17th-century England); in the present day; or in any historical period in between. I draw your attention to the quotation in the study guide from Robin Phillips, who set Measure for Measure in the years before the First World War, a period he has used for many of his Shakespeare productions. Here, and in a production directed by Jonathan Miller, the Vienna of the play becomes the Vienna of Sigmund Freud, of haute-bourgeois malaise and repressed sexuality, of declining empire and a world-wide geo-political death wish. Other productions have set the play in the 18th century, in the 1920s, in a Bismarckian Ruritania, and--at the National Theatre in London in the 1980s, and in Central Park --in a post-colonial Caribbean republic.

This technique is so common that it almost does not warrant comment. But there is an aesthetic mind-set behind a director's decision to set a play in a particular, contextually specific time and place. In asking "What type of world does this play occupy?," the director is effectively asking, "How can I provide a context for the human behavior being represented in this performance that will enable the audience to understand the behavior they are witnessing in the way I want them to understand it?" The director asks all of us in the audience to nod and say, "Oh, I see; Isabella cannot deal with the prospect of adult sexuality because, as an upper-class lady in fin-de- siecle Vienna, she has psychological obsessions not unlike those of Freud's analysands, like Dora"; or "Oh, I see; the Duke's desire to test Angelo, and his failure to control human behavior once he becomes actively involved in manipulating the events of the plot, are the result of his unacknowledged colonialist-racist condescension."

For the most part, this performance approach works. But note the set of aesthetic assumptions about the theatre event that this approach is based upon. This approach assumes that the fictional world being represented on stage is complete unto itself, internally consistent and coherent. Even if the play is set in the present day, the world of the stage is separate from the world of the audience. From its vantage point in the auditorium, the audience can view the action of the play as being part of an explicable and internally consistent world. And the audience can draw a variety of political conclusions from what they have seen. They can universalize (call this the Republican approach): "Now I understand, from this context, how people behave; and so I conclude that people throughout history always behave this same way. There are eternal truths that govern human emotions and human behavior. How nice." They can condescend nostalgically (the "times were simpler then" approach): "people behaved that way then; don't you wish we lived that way now," or "people behaved that way then; thank God we don't live that way now." Or they can historicize (the Brechtian approach): "I have seen how people behave under those circumstances; I now understand how circumstances condition character and behavior, and I can make choices in my actions that will enable me to create a world in which other conditions exist and other decisions can be made."

Setting the play in a coherent, self-contained, historically or geographically contextualized world gives the audience the tools to assess human behavior. And the medium of human behavior is the character and the actor. Theatre, after all, is a mimetic art form in which the medium of representation (human behavior) is identical with the thing being represented; during the span of the performance, the actor is the character. When we say, in the modern theatre, that an actor "creates" a character, we mean that the actor has found a way of accounting, psychologically, for the actions, emotions, and decisions of the character, and has found a way of representing these through the medium of his or her own body and emotions.

Now, I am not by any means suggesting that this is the way that acting always works, and I am especially not suggesting that actors necessarily worked this way when the plays that Shakespeare wrote were first performed. Actors then may have been primarily verbal rhetoricians, or theatrical demonstrators, rather than artists who embodied the emotions of the characters through the medium of their own emotions. We just don't know. But whatever they were, they certainly had their own understanding of what constituted an emotion, an emotional state, a motivation, or the bodily expression of an emotion; and these understandings are probably not identical to our own.

Actors in the twentieth century work within a paradigm of human behavior and of the actor's emotional craft which was forged at the end of the nineteenth century. Read any contemporary account of how an actor has prepared a role, and you will notice phrases, for example, about having, or not having, "found the man (or woman)." Twentieth century actors conceive of their characters as embarking, at the beginning of a play, on a "journey," travelling a path which leads to a series of self-discoveries, to changes in emotional state or self-conception, or to a new understanding of the rest of the world. Even actors and acting teachers specializing in the technical demands of Shakespearean verse-speaking--remarkable teachers like Cicely Berry of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and Tina Packer's colleague at Shakespeare and Company, Kristin Linklater--speak in these terms: Shakespeare's verse allows the actor, not to report upon emotions already felt or decisions already made, but to display the moment of feeling, the moment of discovery, the moment of decision. Language, and the speaking of language, is emotion, is thought.

This approach to dramatic character and theatrical performance is based on assumptions about the "self," about psychological "interiority," and even about such basic emotions as love, envy, and desire, which New Historicist scholars have rendered problematic. People did not have any definition of a coherent, private, psychological "self," such scholars argue, until at least a century later. Dramatic characters from the period (and, incidentally, even the word "character" is anachronistic and problematic) cannot be discussed in these terms; and they certainly ought not to be represented theatrically by acting methods predicated upon such ahistorical and anachronistic concepts.

But, New Historicist carping notwithstanding, this is the way contemporary actors work. And it is the way that contemporary audiences understand the emotions and actions of the characters they see embodied by actors in a contemporary theatre event. By making choices about their characters' psychological constitutions, about their dramatic journeys, and about the emotions they feel and express along the way, contemporary actors shape the way the audience responds to them. What twentieth-century actors most want is for audiences to believe them, to believe that the performance they are watching is a life actually being lived before their eyes.

Since a play's social and political meanings are, as I have argued, generated by the way human behavior is understood in a social context, the actors' conception of their characters is part of the director's raw material in shaping the political meanings generated by the theatre event. What does the Duke want? What does he learn? Does he learn anything? Is his learning intellectual, or emotional; or, ideally, are the things he learns inseparably intellectual and emotional? What type of a person is Isabella? Is she justified in her choice of her own chastity over her brother's life? Is her ethical stance, based no doubt on her psychological constitution, viable in the world outside the cloister? Where does her journey take her by the end of the play? The political fable of the play--the story that a director uses the script to tell in performance--is, in the contemporary theatre, primarily based upon the answer to these very human, character-based questions.

A director preparing a production of Measure for Measure, will work with his or her actors to create a set of individual journeys which together generate political meanings and help to tell the story of the play. The director and the actors will work to discover the significance of each speech, each exchange, each emotional moment generated by the words and situations. If, as Berry and Linklater insist, speech represents thoughts and emotions being thought and felt at that very moment, then every speech becomes a signpost on the character's journey, and therefore a moment which will allow the audience to mark the trajectory of that character's behavior in a social world. Each line reading, each pause, each piece of business or physical bye-play, is potentially loaded with dramatic and therefore ideological significance.

Measure for Measure certainly lends itself to this type of speculation. The Duke, disguised as the friar, deliberately lies to Isabella and tells her that, despite the bed-trick that she and Mariana have arranged with Angelo in exchange for his pardoning Claudio, Angelo has reneged on his promise and Claudio has been executed. In the final, public scene of disclosure and judgment, Isabella demands retribution, and the Duke, now in his own persona, exacts, or at least pretends to exact, measure for measure, a punishment that fits the crime. And yet, at the behest of Mariana, Isabella kneels and pleads for the life of Angelo, asking forgiveness for the man who has shown no forgiveness to her own brother. Here, certainly, is a moment which allows the actor and the director to tell the story of the play by specifying the path of the character's emotional journey. This moment was key for Peter Brook when he directed the play at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1951. For Brook, Measure for Measure is a play that navigates between different styles, different values systems, and different ways of looking at the world: "between the Rough and the Holy," he writes, "we discover a play about justice, mercy, honesty, forgiveness, virtue, virginity, sex, and death: kaleidoscopically one section of the play mirrors the other, it is in accepting the prism as a whole that its meanings emerge." For Brook, Isabella's kneeling was one such prismatic moment: "I asked Isabella, before kneeling for Angelo's life, to pause each night until she felt the audience could take it no longer. The device became a voodoo pole--a silence in which all the invisible elements of the evening came together, a silence in which the abstract notion of mercy became concrete for that moment to those present."

Other moments in the play provide similar opportunities for the actors and the directors to tell the play's story in emotional, character-based terms. The script tells us that the Duke offers Isabella his hand in marriage at the end of the play. It doesn't, of course, tell us whether she takes it. It therefore became something of a production cliche in the1970s and 80s to have Isabella refuse the Duke's hand, or to leave her decision inconclusive. Robin Phillips had Isabella turn towards the Duke, then turn towards the wimple which she was now holding in her hand, and then continue turning until she was again facing the Duke, until she was spinning like a slow-motion top as the lights faded to black.

We train our actors, directors, and critics to think in these contextual, psychologically realistic terms. We teach our audiences to expect theatre to work this way, and we train our audiences to be able to understand the ideological codes at work within this conventional system. But this is not the only way that theatre can work, nor the only way that theatre can signify. A production can teach its audience the codes by which it works within the first few minutes of the performance, and in doing so, the audience can be taught which theatrical signs are meaningful and which are not. For example, the whole question of "non-traditional casting"--the casting of roles without regard to race or ethnicity, or even age, gender, or physical handicap--is based, not only on the notion that racial minorities deserve to have the chance of playing roles they are not normally permitted to play, but on the notion that traditional theatrical signals can be made not to signify. A production of Measure for Measure set in an Afro- Caribbean nation governed by a white Duke, for example, says that race is a meaningful theatrical sign; but a production that, say, casts a black actor as Isabella and a white actor as Claudio says that race is, for the moment, not a meaningful theatrical sign.

Once a director realizes that there any number of aesthetic systems by which the theatre event can work, the very choice of an aesthetic system becomes a choice laden with potential political meanings. A character's behavior does not have to be governed by standards of modern psychological consistency, and need not follow the path of an emotional journey over the course of the performance. The stage need not represent a separate, contextualized world, and objects on the stage need not carry an exact one-to- one mimetic correspondence to objects in that world. The director can play by different theatrical rules of his or her own choosing. The director can even change the rules from one scene to the next. The only rule might conceivably be that there are no rules, or at least that no one rule prevails over the course of the entire theatre event. I won't say much more about this here, but it may be useful to bear it in mind when you see Marc Milbauer's production of Measure for Measure. Remember that the logic of character, acting, time, and place may change from one scene to the next; that, freed from narrative logic, the performance need not adhere to the sequence of the scenes that Shakespeare dictated in his script; and that the changing ways that you understand the performative acts unfolding before you are potentially as filled with political significance as are the political phenomena being represented in any individual scene.

Let me mention in passing one more way that a play in performance accrues political significance, and that is in the occasion of the performance itself. A Shakespeare Festival, for example, asserts by its very existence that a particular set of plays by a particular playwright carry a particular culture value in our society, and that this cultural value should be annually celebrated and renewed. This, and the economic conditions that govern theatrical production and that govern the act of theatregoing, all have an effect on the theatre event as an event occurring in a real time and in a real place. As Alan Sinfield has argued, the ideology of Shakespeare productions by the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1960s and 70s is directly related to the theatre company's status as a state-funded institution with a royal charter, as a tourist-mecca, and as an emblem of British and European post-imperial culture; and that even a production designed to have a progressive-left ideological agenda--such as the Wars of the Roses history cycle directed by Peter Hall and John Barton in the 1960s--takes on a different set of determinist, Manichean meanings when produced by the RSC under these conditions. Consider the nature of the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, the difference between a production mounted on the "mainstage" and a production designated as "experimental" performed at the company's second theatre. Consider the difference in the productions' budgets and publicity; the differences in training, salary, and professional status of the actors in each production's cast. Compare the target audience of the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival--particularly on its Colloquium weekend--with, say, the audience of the free Shakespeare performances in Central Park in New York. Compare the audiences that the New York Shakespeare Festival is pretending to reach by offering free Shakespeare in the park with the audience that actually has the time to queue for the free seats. These material conditions not only affect the aesthetic choices that are made which in turn shape a play's ideological meanings in performance, but they also affect the way that audiences coming to the theatre read the politics of the theatre event they are witnessing.

I would like to turn now to the last major way that performances can be made to signify, by returning now to my initial assertions: that power does change purpose in the theatre; that the process by which a theatre event is created affects the nature, and the political meanings, of the event that is created; and that one of the many stories that a play can tell in performance is the story of the process by which the performance was created.

Theatre professionals and theatre gossip-columnists are used to thinking in these terms when a production fails conspicuously. It is often remarked that there is only a hair's breadth distance between a brilliant success and a godawful failure, and that that difference is often caused by a temperamental conflict between actors or between an actor and the director, or by the lack of sufficient rehearsal time to develop a late-breaking interpretive discovery. Experienced directors know that a rehearsal process can peak too early, that it can find its stride in final runthroughs, rather than having an energizing nervous edge of uncertainty and expectation when it is put to the test of a live audience in previews. The process by which a performance is created leaves its fingerprints on a performance that fails; certainly the process must also be perceivable in a production that succeeds.

The key, in the case of both theatrical failure and theatrical success, lies in the organization of theatrical authority, in the ways that one or more of the participants in the delicate collaborative process by which a performance is built are invested with power. And I'd like to illustrate this phenomenon with two productions of Measure for Measure : Barry Kyle's production for the RSC in 1978, and Adrian Noble's production for the RSC five years later.

Paola Dionisotti, who played Isabella in the 1978 production, recalls her discovery that her acting style-- interactive, process-based, and emotionally alive--differed from the style and method of Michael Pennington, the actor playing the Duke, which she characterized as "rhetorical, essentially private," an actor whose "decisions are reached independently of interaction with his fellow actors." Now, even though Dionisotti characterizes this as a bad thing, I would argue that it need not be. She believes that a unified method of acting was necessary to unify what she calls the "compartmental" nature of the play's disparate elements. But, as Peter Brook points out, the play's energies in performance can potentially be generated by the friction between these disparate elements.

The problem with the production, though, was not the simultaneous presence of conflicting aesthetics, but the way these conflicting aesthetics were harnessed in service of the play. In this case, evidently, they were not harnessed at all. And something else was going on altogether. As Dionisotti reports, the director came to her dressing room before the performance on the night after the press opening and suggested, much to her chagrin, that she change her approach to her role that very night. In effect, the difference in working methods between two characters in the play-- one of whom emotionally manipulates the other--had been replicated by the difference in working methods between the director and the actor, one of whom holds the authority to shape both the actor's performance and the ideological interpretation of the production. Or, moving in the opposite direction, the power relationship, between a male director and a female actor whose working methods he did not respect, was being replicated in the tensions being played out on stage between a male character with power--the Duke--and a female character subjected to that power.

All this took place in a production that was not regarded as having succeeded. In contrast, the two lead actors in Adrian Noble's production of Measure for Measure in 1983 concur about the production's aesthetic and critical success. And, in separate essays in two different books, they describe the story they were each telling in their performances. The interesting thing here is that, on the evidence of their essays, they were telling very different, possibly incompatible, stories with their respective performances. And, once again, the difference in the stories they were telling replicates the power relationships the actors each had with the director.

Daniel Massey, playing the Duke, describes Adrian Noble as a director who "shares his experience of the play with you and invites you to share yours with him. It is this that gives the work its freedom, and breeds the confidence with which to project it." And, Massey adds, "with Shakespeare confidence is everything."

Massey describes the Duke as a character who similarly shapes theatrical processes, but who does so by not sharing. In the fifth act, he writes,

The stage is now peopled by accomplices to the Duke's scheme, some who know about the plot and some who don't. Preparations have been made before the Duke arrives, of which he is, of course, keenly aware. He is aware, too, as they are, that to succeed, the plan must work to the precision of a watch. And it is vital that all those who both do not know and should not know, MUST NOT KNOW what is going on. As if this were not enough to be going on with, it is clear that if the scheme goes according to plan, it will affect the psychological state of the main protagonists in ways that are subtle, grave, and complex.

Meanwhile, Juliet Stevenson, the remarkable actress playing Isabella, was charting her own emotional journey through the play, a journey which depended upon the emotional state and ethical awareness of virtually all of the other characters in the play. Just as the Duke tests Angelo, and ultimately tests the other characters and himself by taking on a disguise and manipulating th plot, Stevenson's Isabella tests other people: Isabella faces the limitations of her own moral and ethical systems once she has assessed the behavior of the characters she interacts with: Angelo, her sexual harasser; Claudio her brother; and, finally, the Duke himself. For Stevenson, as for many other actors who have played Isabella, the character's journey in the play ends with her response to the marriage proposal; and Isabella accepts--if she accepts--because of the distance she and the other characters have travelled on their journeys. For Stevenson, the last step on her journey depended on what she sees the Duke has learned about himself:

[W]e discovered that a resolved ending really depends on the Duke. He's the one who has set in motion everything that has happened in Measure for Measure; he's the one who has manipulated the whole sequence of events, and most of the characters. The last act is a trial that exposes everyone but also gives them a chance to redeem themselves. The last character to be put on trial is the Duke. Having meted out al those judgements, he turns around, and there's Lucio! And the Duke says, `Hang him!'

As Isabella, I stood and looked at him. Watched to see what he would do. Because unless the Duke takes on the trial of himself which involves bringing himself to let Lucio off the hook, he hasn't learned the capacity for mercy from Isabella, and there is no justification for a `happy' ending. Nothing mutual has been established between them. He watched me watching, turned back to Lucio, and reprieved the death sentence.

But notice Massey's description of this sequence. According to Massey, the Duke's punishment of Lucio is absolute. "In a very real sense," Massey writes, the Duke "is celebrating the re-establishment of an autocracy. . . . The Duke assumes the privilege of judge and jury. . . . It cannot be shirked. It is the authentic sound of the arrogance of autocratic power, and it has returned once again to the city of Vienna."

How can two actors have remembered the same moment so differently? I don't have an answer. But isn't it interesting that the actor who had praised the director for sharing in a process of empowerment chose to play his character as one who ultimately represents total, autocratic power? If the director was so adept at enfranchising his actors in the interpretive process, then how is it that the principal actress had so wrongly perceived the emotional trajectory of a character with whom she interacts so crucially at the end of the play? Evidently, Juliet Stevenson was not as much a beneficiary of the director's shared authority as Daniel Massey was, the actor playing the character who replicates the director's authority within the fiction of the play. As in the fifth act of the play, "the stage is now peopled by accomplices to the Duke's scheme, some who know about the plot and some who don't." Stevenson evidently didn't.

I am not offering this as a metadramatic or metatheatrical reading of the play. People who write about Shakespearean "metadrama"--about the way theatre refers to theatre--argue that the plays use theatre as a metaphor for life: all the world's a stage, and all the men and women mainly players; the Duke, like a director, manipulates the other characters and, like a playwright, creates scenarios for them to play; etc., etc.

I am, I believe, arguing something else altogether. The play is not alluding to its mode of performance to tell its story. The play and the performance are simply telling the same story: a story about the same power relationships that informed the process by which the performance was created. It's not that life is like the theatre. It's that the play and the performance and the theatre in general are built upon the raw materials of life: upon wayward human beings struggling to work together to live with one another in the world. The story that any production of Measure for Measure tells is that power, in the theatre as in life, changes purpose. Just as the Duke tests Angelo, when we go to the theatre, we go to see, "If power change purpose, what our seemers be."

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