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Performance Activity for Measure for Measure 4.3
Daniel Colvin

Once students learn that performance choices help define and communicate a character, they need to consider how those choices affect (and effect) later action and character development throughout the play. At the end of Measuref or Measure, the Duke has the opportunity to pardon several people--Angelo and Lucio, most significantly, but also the Provost and to propose to Isabella. How he has related to these characters earlier will have a significant effect on the ending of the play. This exercise is designed to provide students with an opportunity to experiment with several readings/scenarios from early in the play and then to discover how the earlier readings will affect later stagings (as well as later audience perception). In each case, an early scene is given with several possibilities. Then, the appropriate sections from Act 5 are noted. Have the students develop each scenario; then have the class discuss the various presentations. Next, have the group present the section from Act 5 and discuss how the earlier readings affect that final moment.

First Reading: Isabella is crushed by the news and passively accepts Friar Lodowick's control. Isabella collapses into a puppet. Her grief overcomes even her rage at Angelo, and she can do little on her own but bewail her situation. The Duke is master of the moment, cold and even cynical in his hypocrisy, seeming to show concern for her but actually gloating at his absolute control over his pawn. A number of his lines may be read in an ironic way, or in such a way that the audience cannot miss his duplicity. His position is superior to Isabella's in every way; at some point, she may actually sink to the ground at his feet.

Second Reading: After hearing the news that their plot to save Claudio has failed, Isabella doubts the Friar's promise to obtain redress of her grievance. Facing disaster, Isabella coolly assesses the situation. The Friar's advice to save her brother's life has failed. Can he be trusted further? Can his extravagant promises be believed? She has good reason to be critical of the credibility of a man whom she has known so briefly.

Here, a self-possessed Isabella is shown in the process of independent judgment. Her anger at Angelo is icy and she does not lose control when her tears come. When she agrees to be directed by the Friar still further, she is motivated not by respect for the Friar but by the desire to punish Angelo, which she cannot accomplish alone. Isabella's famous pauses may now number three: she may wait to make up her mind before her line, "I am directed by you," and when she delivers the line, she may not be completely resolute on the matter.

The Duke may be interested to see her reaction to his false information or he may be setting up his test of her capacity for forgiveness in the trial scene. His stage position may be on a level with that of Isabella, or even inferior to it.

Third Reading: Hysterical, Isabella blames Friar Lodowick as well as Angelo for her brother's death, and only her desire for revenge on Angelo makes her agree to follow the Friar's direction further.

Women are ten times frail, after all. Isabella has a terrible temper to struggle with, and she also has a judgmental streak. When she hears that the Friar's elaborate intrigue has not saved Claudio's life but has cost it, she lashes out at the Friar. She would like to "pluck outē Angelo's eyes most of all, but she may transfer some of her rage onto the man before her whose plan has ended in disaster. She may be unwilling to stop weeping when the Friar asks her to stop; she may even attempt to strike him.

This Duke may be anticipating an outburst from Isabella, but even so he may be surprised at its ferocity. He may be condescending toward Isabella, kindly or sternly so. Her reaction may tend to legitimize his "taking her in hand," since she clearly needs lessons in self-control. This Isabella may attempt to gain the stronger position and the Duke may give stage in self-defense, but these positions may be reversed by the end of this encounter.

Fourth Reading: Amidst her grief for her brother, Isabella realizes that she is in love with Friar Lodowick.

Isabella may be distressed at the news the Friar brings, but the Friar has gone so far into her affections that the blow is cushioned by his presence. Without reluctance, Isabella listens to the Friar's advice and gives signs of agreement. She recovers almost immediately from her grief and sets about the task of redressing her brother's wrong. Her confldence in the Friar is unshaken.

The Duke may show signs of affection however decorous. His heavenly comforts of despair seem already to have begun. This Duke and this Isabella may be on a level in terms of stage position and dominance.
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