Friday, June 25, 2010

Measure for Measure part 2 - a summary of Act I

Welcome to Measure for Measure, a comedy with serious bite to it. So serious that this play is sometimes categorized as a "problem play" rather than a comedy, since it involves someone's execution along the way and since the marriages at the end are not all voluntary events, as you shall see.

New characters will be italicized when first introduced. Actual quotes from the text will be in quotes or blocked. The rest is my doing, for which I apologize.

Act I

The whole play is set in Vienna. Ostensibly.

Scene 1 Inside a room in the Duke's palace.

Duke Vincentio: Hey Escalus. I've got a hankering to go . . . somewhere. Somewhere . . . else. Which I will not disclose. I'm leaving you and Angelo in charge.

Escalus: Angelo is a the worthiest man in town. Nobody better or more pure in heart than Angelo.

Angelo: *enacts the We're not worthy scene from Wayne's World* Where is it you're going again?

Duke: Away. And no, you can't escort me. It's top-secret Duke vacation time. Peace out. *exits*

*Escalus and Angelo confer about the meaning and extent of their powers*


Scene 2: In a street

*Enter Lucius and two no-name guys to engage in witty repartee involving religion and venereal disease. The dialogue is exceptionally witty and pun-laden and was undoubtedly pee-your-pants funny in Shakespeare's time, since he's dancing around the edges of sacred territory with the religion jokes and straying into nether regions with the STD talk, but it does not lend itself to summarization. If you wish to read it, you may do so here.*

*Enter Mistress Overdone - she's a prostitute/madam, and her name means she's been "done" too many times. Get it? Because Shakespeare's contemporaries certainly would have.*

Mistress Overdone: Check it out. Claudio has been arrested and is to have his head chopped off in three days' time!

Lucio: Say what?

Mistress Overdone: Yep. Knocked up his fiancée.

Lucio: We'd best go chat with him.

Other guy: It'll let us find out more about the proclamation.

*Exit Lucio and two no-names, enter Pompey*

Pompey: "Yonder man is carried to prison."

Mistress Overdone: "Well; what has he done?"

Pompey: "A woman." Also, there's a proclamation says all the whorehouses in the suburbs of Vienna have to be torn down. Those in the city are allowed to stand because some smart burgher stood up for them.

Mistress Overdone: *sings "What Will Become of Me?"*

Pompey: Don't worry. You'll be taken care of. *Exits with Mistress Overdone, but not before a here comes Claudio moment*

*Enter Claudio, Juliet, the Provost and others*

Claudio: Dude. What's with the parading? Can't I just go straight to jail, do not pass GO, do not collect $200?

Provost: Your Monopoly reference is anachronistic. Also, Angelo said the parade was mandatory.

Claudio: Figures.

*Enter Lucio w/cronies*

Lucio: "Why, how now brown cow, Claudio!" What's with the chains?

Claudio: It's the result of too much liberty. Liberty so big one could say I was a libertine. I made a bit too free, let's say.

Lucio: Was it MURDER?

Claudio: Nope.

Lucio: Lechery?

Claudio: That's as good a word as any. You know how I've been engaged to Juliet? Well, we were waiting to get married because we were hoping for a dowry, but, well, we did the nasty and now she's with child, and the new douche deputy duke decided to enforce the law that makes premarital sex illegal. He's trying to make a name for himself, I guess.

Lucio: Bogus! Send after the duke and make an appeal.

Claudio: Tried that. Nobody knows where he went. Do me a favor, Lucio. Go find my smokin' hot sister, Isabel. She's entering a convent today, but hopefully you can catch her before she takes orders. She is a very persuasive orator, and I hope you can convince her to plead my case. Between her youth and beauty and her verbal skills, I figure she's my best chance at getting not-dead.

Lucio: Tally-ho, and awaaaaay I go!


Scene 3: At a monastary (NOT the convent)

*Enter Duke Vincentio and Friar Thomas*

Duke: I'm here in hiding because, in short, I've been rather lax as a ruler and I figured I'd give the reins to Angelo. He's a bit of a hard-ass, you see, and will enforce the letter of the law and then I can go back and relax things just a bit, but have them tighter than they were.

Friar Thomas: Dude, that was your job, and would have made more of an impression on the populace if you'd done it.

Duke: Yeah, I figured since I allowed them not to obey the law, that my enforcing it against them would be too much like a trick. I figure that while Angelo's sorting things out, I'll disguise myself as a friar and walk among my people and also check up on Angelo. Here's why:
. . . Lord Angelo is precise;
Stands at a guard with envy; scarce confesses
That his blood flows, or that his appetite
Is more to bread than stone: hence shall we see,
If power change purpose, what our seemers be.
Scene 4 A nunnery. The convent kind, not the whorehouse kind.

*Enter Isabella and Francisca*

Isabella: I just want to make sure I understand all the nun rules before I sign on. I kind of wish there were more of them, really, because I like restraint.

Francisca: Nope. That's it for rules. *hears knocking at that door* Sounds like there's a man at the door. You answer and talk to him. Since I've already taken my vows, I can't speak to him unless the prioress is here or my face is covered, but since you haven't taken your vows, you needn't worry about that stuff.

*Francisca leaves, Lucio enters*
Lucio: I see by the pink of your cheeks that you're a virgin. I'm looking for Isabel, sister of the unhappy Claudio.

Isabella: What a coincidence! I am she! But why do you call Claudio "unhappy"?

Lucio: In short, he's in jail.

Isabella: Woe me! for what?

Lucio
For that which, if myself might be his judge,
He should receive his punishment in thanks:
He hath got his friend with child.
Isabella: You're having me on.

Lucio: Am not. I mean, usually I would be, but you being a nun, you're as good as a saint.

Isabella: Don't mock me.

Lucio: Sorry. Don't mean to. Allow me to explain the situation crassly, using agricultural terms:
Your brother and his lover have embraced:
As those that feed grow full, as blossoming time
That from the seedness the bare fallow brings
To teeming foison, even so her plenteous womb
Expresseth his full tilth and husbandry.
Isabella: Is it Juliet? Why doesn't he marry her?

Lucio: . . . to sum up, duke's gone, Angelo's a hardass, and he's condemned to die. And about Angelo - he is:
. . . a man whose blood
Is very snow-broth; one who never feels
The wanton stings and motions of the sense,
But doth rebate and blunt his natural edge
With profits of the mind, study and fast.
I hope you'll go plead Claudio's case to Angelo.

Isabella: I doubt . . .

Lucio:"Our doubts are traitors/ And makes us lose the good we oft might win/ By fearing to attempt." Go talk to Angelo. Men often succumb to the pleas of young women, especially if they kneel and cry.

Isabella: "I'll see what I can do."

Lucio: And step on it, sister.

Isabella: I'm on it. I'll just tell the reverend mother what I'm up to and then I'm off to see Angelo.

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