Measure for Measure Marathon, 2024

It’s ten in the morning. Participants take their seats around a folding table in Humanities Gateway 1010, holding copies of Measure for Measure. Iced tea and homemade cookies beckon from the back table. It will be a long day.  

On Saturday, June 29, 2024, the New Swan Shakespeare Center hosted its first Shakespeare Marathon, a six-hour reading of Measure for Measure. Chelsea Lee, New Swan Fellow and English PhD candidate, led the discussion, while Neah Lekan, dramaturg for Measure for Measure, shared tidbits from this summer's production. Julia Lupton provided her own running commentary, beginning with memories of Measure from her dissertation and first book.

Although classed as a comedy in the First Folio, Measure for Measure is often called a problem play, a drama that addresses social issues and often features unlikeable or difficult characters in impossible situations. Measure for Measure follows the trials of a soon-to-be nun named Isabella who is asked to sleep with an authority figure named Angelo. Questions surrounding sex and morality as well as law and justice are at the forefront of the play. 

"We were all entranced by the words before us, the development of what was unfolding, and the skill of the discussants,” said Eve Fudge, a New Swan patron. 

At the beginning of the play, the Duke of Vienna appoints Angelo, a young nobleman, to take charge while he is away. Some participants wondered why the Duke chose Angelo over Escalus, a trusted magistrate with more political experience. In the New Swan production, Escalus is played by a woman (Geri-Nikole Love), suggesting that the Duke prefers to appoint a man over a woman as his representative.  

When Angelo expressed his desire to sleep with Isabella, participants considered whether he was in love or if he was simply cracking under pressure of his new job. Some said he's obsessed with power, while others felt he was confused. 

Once participants finished the play, everyone answered two questions. Who is the villain of the play? And how should Isabella respond to the Duke’s unexpected proposal?   

Over half the room said the Duke was the villain for lying about his identity and manipulating Isabella’s emotions. The rest said that Angelo was the villain for abusing his political power. 

Some participants believed that Isabella might enjoy using her keen persuasion skills to better society. She would want to marry the Duke in hopes of becoming a lawyer and advocate for others. Others asserted that Isabella should become a nun because of her spiritual values and her desire to live with other like-minded women. 

The Measure for Measure marathon gave participants the opportunity to meet the characters, discuss social problems, and learn about the production before seeing the play themselves. At the end of the day, the cookies were gone, but the conversation kept going.

By Jessica Rosenow, Shakespeare Center Intern