Measure for Measure is, without question, one of Shakespeare’s most problematic plays. Frequently called a “problem comedy,” it contains both textual and performative cruxes that have puzzled directors, actors, and scholars alike. One possible explanation for these incongruities lies in the play’s textual and production history. Measure was first written and performed in 1603–4 and later revived by the King’s Men, probably in 1621. The only surviving version of Measure is the 1623 First Folio text. Textual analysis suggests that our one surviving copy is based upon a posthumous revival, for which the text was adapted by the playwright Thomas Middleton. (For a breakdown of the dating evidence and Thomas Middleton’s involvement, please see John Jowett’s introduction to Measure for Measure in The Collected Works of Thomas Middleton [Oxford: OUP, 2007] and John Jowett and Gary Taylor’s “‘With New Additions’: Theatrical Interpolation in Measure for Measure” in Shakespeare Reshaped: 1606–1623 [Oxford: OUP, 1993].) The presence of two hands, representing playwrights with vastly different political and aesthetic sensibilities, creates a playtext that at times feels schizophrenic: a text that pulls against itself and seems to unravel any attempt at moral certainty. It also leaves us to wonder what the play might have been like before Middleton’s adaptation.
Hoosier Bard’s two performances of Measure attempted to answer this question. Hoosier Bard is the “theatrical arm” of the New Oxford Shakespeare Center at IUPUI in Indianapolis. Since its inception in 2010, Hoosier Bard’s productions have put theatrical research on its feet, staging the early quarto version of Hamlet; a reconstruction of Shakespeare’s lost play, Cardenio; and these two back-to-back versions of Measure. Hoosier Bard differentiated the two productions by referring to the first as Ferrara and the second as Vienna. The Ferrara production’s playtext, based on Jowett and Taylor’s research, attempted to excise the hand of Middleton, while the Vienna staging presented the text as it stands in the First Folio. The setting changes were based on Jowett and Taylor’s supposition that Middleton changed the setting from Ferrara to Vienna (Collected Works 1544). (To read these playtexts side-by-side, see the Collected Middleton’s version of Measure, where text believed to have been deleted by Middleton is produced in grey and text believed to have been added by him is printed in bold. All citations from Measure in this review are taken from these texts.)
The two productions retained the same cast (with the exception of Pompey, in whose case a family emergency necessitated a casting change) and staged the two versions on back-to-back weekends. This allowed spectators who experienced both the opportunity immediately to compare and contrast the differences in the emotional and moral impact of the two versions. Such differences were noticeable. Surprisingly, they emerged not simply through changes made to the leading parts, but also through both performative and textual shifts in the supporting characters’ roles.
In the Ferrara production, David Mosedale played a wise and judicious Duke. This Duke was very much in keeping with the Duke from Shakespeare’s source text, Promos and Cassandra. The Duke’s justice appeared benevolent and all-knowing. Throughout this production, Mosedale’s Duke watched, listened, and then worked to right wrongs. By the play’s end, Ferrara’s moral disorder had been corrected, with all characters eventually happy (or at least not expressing outward dismay) with their final, enforced couplings. Director Terri Bourus’s blocking at the play’s end emphasized this, with the couples all paired but still in line with other couples.
The soul of this production, though, lay in the Provost, brilliantly played by Aaron Cleveland. Jowett speculates that lines given to Lucio in act two, scene two of the Folio text, where Isabella first encounters Angelo, were originally assigned to the Provost. Lines such as, “You are too cold. If you should need a pin, / You could not with more tame a tongue desire it. / To him, I say” and “Ay, touch him; there’s the vein” (2.2.45–7; 72) lost their double-entendre when the Provost spoke them. When these words are placed in Lucio...