Main Menu - HomePage - The Play

Performance Activity for Measure for Measure 2.3
Edward L. Rocklin


(1) To enable students to practice transforming the words on the page into speech in action.
(2) To introduce students to the complex task of creating a full action from the less than full cues provided by the text as script.
(3) To model how one can create the seeds for a performance through interpreting the text in writing.
(4) To model how the choices made in a characters first or early appearance can create the range of possibilities for subsequent scenes, subsequent development; And
(5) to offer students an array of performances that illuminate how divergent the performances of a single scene can be.

Let me add that there are a number of reasons to explore this apparently small scene. Although it is not the longest scene for the Provost, it is a moment of intimacy and apparent compassion that can establish his keynote for all that follows. For Juliet it is her second appearance, her only textually mandated appearance without Claudio, and the best opportunity for the actress to create a specific, unique Juliet rather than generic person created in many productions. And for the Duke it is his first appearance as Friar, hence the moment when he begins to establish how he plays this role--which is to say how well or ill he impersonates this holy office he has assumed. The scene establishes a baseline for all that follows since he remains in this guise until the last half of the last scene of the play.

For these reasons and for the pedagogic purposes of focusing students' attention on the range ways a role can be transformed into a character, I have made each of the three scenarios presented here center around only one of the dramatis personae. Whereas in performance one might experiment with all three in quite varied permutations, for purposes of this activity the aim is to make each scenario artificially illuminate the producible interpretations of a single role. Obviously, if you find the results rich enough and decide you can devote more time to this scene~ you can continue to experiment with more complex permutations of these single ranges, now integrated into a single performance.

Nine students in groups of three: each scene needs a Juliet, Provost, and Duke as Friar.

Nine copies of the text of Measure 2.3.

30 minutes for explaining the activity, letting each group rehearse, the three performances, and some discussion--more time if you want fuller discussion, especially if you want students to articulate some of the principles for reading differently inherent in the activity.

Talk very briefly about the importance of small but relatively early scenes for establishing how a role can be transformed into a specific presentation of a character, and how as readers we often neglect such early small scenes.

Explain that, both to explore this play and to help them acquire new skills at reading playtexts, nine of them will be rehearsing and performing in three versions of 2.3. And that in order to help them discover some key variables in this type of reading and rehearsing, each group will work with a different scenario which specifies some but not all of the choices for one role.

1. Choose groups or let students choose groups or work with ongoing groups.

2. Hand out one scenario to each groupor simply explain that scenario orally. Here are the three scenarios:

Scenario 1: Juliet. Juliet is the woman who participates in and coconstitutes the only marriage we see as freely entered into and based on mutual love as well as the only marriage that will produce a child. (Kate Keepdown's child, fathered by Lucio, is born out of wedlock and Lucio only marries Kate under duress.) This scene is the best opportunity to establish not only each production's Juliet but also offer a moment where this particular Juliet can project how she understands and assesses her own actions and the nature of her transgression or sin. For this first scenario, the key is to present Juliet as absolutely sure of what she is doing, secure in her love for Claudio and trusting his love for her, and, while aware that they have sinned, completely unable to accept the validity of the law they have broken. She repents of the act, but not of her love or the child to be. These are sources of joy to her. And her certainty impresses, perhaps even nonplusses, the Duke Friar even as it moves the Provost's compassion. Her interruption of the Friar is thus respectful and yet self-assured. Her objective here is to both repent and yet maintain her sense of her own integrity and the validity of what she sees as a perfectly legitimate marriage as indeed it is under the civil if not canon law. She has no idea that Claudio really might be and indeed has been condemned to death, and the news is a horrifling shock to her.

Scenario 2: Duke as Friar. The Duke finds new authority as he tests out the role of Friar--it seems to offer him a chance to do good for his subjects in a new way, perhaps even to redeem the evil his acknowledged laxity has encouraged. He performs impressively, demonstrates genuine concern for and care of Juliet, and truly does abhor the sin yet love sinner. The performance here should make us see that his manipulations are not only justified but will eventually insure a wise outcome. This is a Duke who does indeed seem saintly if not Godlike. And he is aware that this first performance is also a test of his own human resources as well as of his ability to perform a sacred office which places upon its human occupant an especially charged burden. Thus his primary objective is to confess Juliet property for her soul's sake, while his secondary objective is to perform the Friars part with integrity. And the assurance with which he achieves these objectives should, in an ideal performance, let us see his own sense of the demands made upon him: he should be assured but not certain he can do this, and above all not blind to the potential for abuse and failure in this new role. Furthermore, his performance should at once impress and reassure both Juliet and the Provost.

Scenario 3: Provost. The Provost, like Escalus, has grown into his office, and has achieved a wisdom, a balance between the strictness necessary to deal with hardened criminals and the compassion to deal with redeemable sinners and those who do not deserve full punishment. (This is to say that he has the exact balance that the Duke should have.) Assuming that this Friar, with his self-proclaimed extensive experience, has achieved a similar balance, and trusting to his discretion, he tells the Friar that Claudio is to die tomorrow, even though his compassion and hope for reprieve have led him to withhold the news from Juliet. Thus at the end of the scene when he realizes that the Friar is going to indiscreetly and thoughtlessly blurt out this news, and aware of how dangerous such a shock may be to Juliet's unborn child, the Provost is appalled. Stunned, he nonetheless is quick witted enough to seek to stop the Friar while not letting Juliet see what he is doing. He is angered by what the Friar does, exasperated at himself for not preventing this small disaster, but most of all concerned to help Juliet deal with this frightful fact. As the Friar exits, therefore, he is left to comfort the shattered Juliet while needing to yet barely able to contain the shock and anger he feels at the Friar. Indirectly, the Provost's reaction will prompt spectators to recognize that the Duke-as-Friar has betrayed a confidence in a manner that bodes ill for what happens later in the play . The scene not only causes intense suffering for Juliet, then, but should also make some or perhaps all of the spectators uneasy about the Duke's ability to control the new state of affairs he has unleashed.

4. Each group has 10- I5 minutes to grasp the scenario, work out ways to enact that scenario, including many details the scenario does not mandate, and rehearse their performance several times.

5. The first group performs the first scenario. When they are done, everyone has two minutes to take notes on whatever interests them. Repeat for second and third performances. (Students who have just completed their scene can be asked to write a note about what they discovered during the actual performance.)

6. Whole class discussion follows, looking at what each performance communicated, what surprised the spectators in each version, and what the range of versions suggests. You have an option to ask students to articulate what they have learned about how to read playtexts from this activity.

Discussion should start with observations about the different performances, and especially what the way in which each performance may surprise some spectators as the words and actions create versions of each role they had not imagined: you have the option to keep a sharp focus on the language and how each speech can be made to do quite different actions. Observation of each scene moves naturally into the differences between scenes. And discussing the dfferences should also lead directly into the consequences of each scenario for later scenes in the play and for our relations with each of the characters. You may want to pursue questions about how to integrate several of these performances, and how they might either harmonize or create effective dissonances. Last, you may ask students to articulate, as best they can, some principles for reading playtexts that they can apply to later scenes in this play and scenes in subsequent plays (you can also assign specific students to play out this model with later scenes in this play).


Pennyy Gay, As She Likes It: Shakespeare's Unruly Women (Routledge, 1994) Chapter 4 "Measure for Measure: Sex and power in a patriarchal society."

Brian Gibbons, editor, Measure for Measure (Cambridge University Press, 199 1), see the Introduction (50, 5 1) for a discussion of Juliet and Barnadine which makes many of the points that will emerge in discussing the performances generated by the scenarios.

Robert Hapgood, Shakespeare the Theatre Poet (Oxford, 1998), Chapter 7 models the practice of conducting "imaginary rehearsals."

Russell Jackson and Robert Smallwood, editors. Players of Shakespeare 2 (Cambridge University Press, 1988) and Players of Shakespeare 3 (CUP, 1993). Each volume has an essay by an actor who has played the Duke (Daniel Massey and Roger Allam respectively).

Philip McGuire, Speechless Dialect: Shakespeare's Open Silences (University of California, 1985): Introduction and Chapter 4 "The Final Silences of Measure for Measure."

Graham Nichols, Measure for Measure: Text and Performance (Macmillan, 1986).

Carol Rutter, et. al., Clamorous Voices: Shakespeare's Women Today (Routledge Meatre Arts Books, 1989) Chapter 2 "Isabella: Virtue Betrayed?"

Interestingly enough, as Measure has received both more diverse performances and even more divergent (and heated) critical attention, critics and actors have also paid more attention to the smaller roles, such as Juliet, and to the range of performances possible not only for Juliet but for, say,, the Duke as Friar. Here, for example, is Brian Gibbons, in the recent Cambridge edition of Measure for Measure (1991), offering a reading of the roles of Juliet and Barnadine that meshes well with this activity, and certainly with my own sense of the potentials of this scene that this recipe is designed to help students discover:

"Barnadine and Juliet are remarkable for the clarity with which they assert themselves as individuals, a clarity which renders them immune to browbeating or mystification. In confrontation with the Duke, where in each case a life is at stake, the youthful Juliet and the hardened Barnadine each assert a conviction which makes the Duke appear callous as well as inept in his role and his plotting. With Juliet (2.3) the Duke apparently anticipates that his interrogation will expose, first, her immature confusion at finding herself unmarried and pregnant, and, second, her lack of formal religious education and understanding. Instead it is the Duke who rapidly gets out of his depth. Juliet cuts off his moralistic; platitudes. Her quiet but succinct statement

I do repent me as it is an evil
And take the shame with joy

is a perfectly contrite formula, but at the same time it expresses simple joy in love and pregnancy. The Duke as Friar has to tell her then, with the crudest abruptness, that Claudio is to die 'tomorrow. The official tone exposes the gap between Juliet, who lives by the holiness of the heart's affections, and the public authority's blank heartlessness.

Juliet, as a young pregnant woman, might seem to be powerless, but after the interview it is the Duke who must appear a weaker figure. Barnadine is not a youth but has long experience in resisting the law as well as a natural hostility to being pushed around. He declares he will not die for any mans persuasion (4.3.5 1), and indeed everyone can see that to execute him is to serve the Duke's emergency, which has nothing to do with him, looks suspiciously like a form of judicial murder.

Barnadine is coarse and apparently brutal, but he is so stark in his will to live, an 'unaccommodated man,' that his refutation of the Duke (and his fancy plot) is vindicated. His refusal to die exposes the gap between the Duke's bizarre plotting (and the mystical adumbrations of writers of tragi-comedy) and the actual world where men rot away in prison or perish on a scaffold, depending on a word from a prince.

Central to the play is the question of faith versus credulity, love versus deceit. Like the lover, the lawyer, or the poet, the playwright uses rhetorical arts to persuade. The mode of tragi-comedy at this time offered extraordinary techniques for manipulating audience response: thus manipulated, audiences be persuaded--against their normal judgment, perhaps--to believe the strangest transformations, or to accept the strangest extenuating circumstances to justify actions which otherwise were wrong. In certain other tragi-comedies Shakespeare calls attention to the dramatic art and rhetorical techniques of the mode (as he certainly does in Measure for Measure) to show an audience that to accept certain kinds of truth must be an act of faith, in life as in theatre. In Measure for Measure it remains possible, however, that although an audience is meant to feel tempted to see things as the Duke would have them seen, they should nevertheless think again. Perhaps that is why the figures of Barnadine, brutally instinctive, and Juliet, human and loving, stand out, desiring only to be free from the inhibition or stupefaction of bad law and bad governors." (50-51)

Gibbons also illustrates a point that I make in classes, and that recent critics such as Stephen Orgel and A. K Braunmiller have made, namely that even in introductions to editions of the play and especially in extensive critical interpretations, critics are often if not always (already) staging the scene they seem to describe or seem to think they are only describing. This is so even if some of those critics--although probably fewer than 30 years ago--might believe they were merely offering a score neutral reading.
Main Menu - HomePage - The Play