Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Measure for Measure

... God in my mouth,
As if I did but only chew his name,
And in my heart the strong and swelling evil
Of my conception.

Along with Richard II, it is my favorite: Measure for Measure. It is neither wise nor satisfying. Its end is ludicrous, or horrible; everything holy is trampled on. The Duke of Dark Corners is indeed God as Renaissance England conceived him; righteous, capricious, irresponsible, putting people through agonies for their own unexplained and unexplainable good. Present when he likes and absent when you call on him. Never apologize, never explain. God learned his statecraft from Disraeli.

Death is a fearful thing. There is nothing edifying in this play. To lie in cold obstruction, and to rot. We are reduced to the brute resistance of Barnardine: I'll not consent to die today on any man's persuasion.

Why do I love this horrible play? Because it's Shakespeare at the ragged edges, Shakespeare out of control. There's no play that better reveals the strange vampiric opportunist that drove the Lord Chamberlain's men. It solves nothing. Shakespeare doesn't fall back on the empty grandeur and stagewide desolation with which he brilliantly and dishonestly begs the question in Hamlet and Lear. There's nothing here but the poet, the man who can't stop seeing.

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