« Ein tragiches Dilemma ? » Thomas Ostermeier’s production of Mass für Mass (William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure) at the TNO from the 4 th to the 14 th April 2012.

Par Stéphanie Mercier
Publication en ligne le 14 juin 2012


Thomas Ostermeier’s production of Measure for Measure1 seeks to undermine the perfect balance suggested in William Shakespeare’s title of the play2. To do this, he addresses the issue of the grey zone to be found between the seemingly clear-cut divide between justice and redemption : « die grauzone zwischen moralisher konsequenz und inhumaner Grausamkeit auslotet3». Indeed, Shakespeare’s juxtaposition of body and soul in this play serves as a catalyst for Ostermeier’s creativity with regards to achieving the impossible equilibrium of self-abnegation and self-fulfilment within a tight authoritarian framework – something which should inevitably call for compromise. In other words : « rules of virtuous and sociall living, and not to be snares to trap your good subjectes : and therefore the lawe must be interpreted according to the meaning, and not to the literall sense […] And as I said of Iustice, so I say of clemencie […] Nam in medio stat vitus4 ». My review will thus discuss how Ostermeier stage manages Shakespeare’s tragi-comedy and whether his craft brings down the balance on one side of the « dilemma » or the other.

La mise en scène de Mesure pour Mesure de Thomas Ostermeier cherche à ébranler l’équilibre parfait suggéré dans le titre de William Shakespeare. Pour ce faire, il examine la zone d’ombre qui se trouve entre les deux thèmes principaux de l’action, la justice et la rédemption : « die grauzone zwischen moralisher konsequenz und inhumaner Grausamkeit auslotet ». En effet, la juxtaposition shakespearienne du corps et de l’esprit sert de catalyseur pour Ostermeier afin de mettre en exergue l’impossibilité d’un accord parfait entre la réalisation et l’abnégation de soi dans le cadre d’une extrême autorité. Ce qui devrait amener inéluctablement à un compromis, autrement dit : « les lois ont été ordonnées pour être les règles de conduite vertueuse et sociale, non des pièges destinés à surprendre tes bons sujets : d’où il ressort que la loi doit être interprétée selon l’esprit et non selon la lettre. Et surtout, mesure ton amour pour chacun à la mesure de sa vertu5 ». Ce compte rendu examinera ainsi comment Ostermeier met en scène cette tragi-comédie de Shakespeare et analysera si son art fait pencher la balance d’un côté du « dilemme » ou de l’autre.

Texte intégral

1Mesure for Mesure, probably first performed on St. Stephen’s Day in 16046, has been described as one of Shakespeare’s « problem plays7 » for about a quarter of its existence. This, because of its apparently mongrel theatrical status8 and seeming refusal to give out any clear response to the questions it poses at its close :

Le secret de Mesure pour Mesure est contenu pour longtemps dans son silence final. C’est dire que la pièce est un miroir (ou un vaste piège, si l’on préfère) qui reflète surtout la société que la met en scène. Plus que jamais « un texte est un espace blanc qui vit sur une plus-value des sens introduite par le destinataire » (Umberto Eco). La clé du texte appartient au metteur en scène9.

2When it was first written, however, the « distinct fictional sources and a wide, alluvial tract of literary and historical influences in which the play was orientated10 » would probably have been more widely accepted. Indeed, Jacobean audiences, to whom « the importance of the via media may have seemed paramount in real life and likewise in dramas concerned with contemporary issues11 », may have been more tolerant of the play’s idiosyncrasies than to those seeing the play today. The key to Ostermeier’s 21 st Century production is perhaps then what Anny Crunelle-Vanrigh terms as Shakespeare’s « silence final » or, as she later notes : « Know est incidemment le dernier mot de la pièce, confirmant l’aporie où elle demeure12 ». My review of Ostermeier’s version of Shakespeare’s play will revolve around the seemingly inevitable disavowal of « knowledge » resulting from the interaction between a 16 th Century playwright and a 21 st Century producer, or as J. W Lever would have it : « It is futile to debate whether a chessboard should be considered black or white ; not only is the chessboard chequered, but it is in the nature of the game that it should be so13 ».

3Thus, in this discussion of how Ostermeier stage manages the « blank space » (or potential void) between his production and the audience, I shall begin by considering how he positions his actors and props in what may be seen as a battle of wits with, and against, the playwright. In other words, how he reverses Shakespeare’s metaphorical chess board so as to upend the characters’, and our own, preconceived ideas about the tragedy. From this initial standpoint ofdistorted values, I shall then look at how further antagonistic forces move to turn rigid precepts upside down, both physically on stage and mentally as the action takes on nightmarishly comic proportions. To close this analysis of a seemingly unending, and possibly impossible, quest for understanding, I will examine how Ostermeier keeps his audience in the dark as to a plausible happy end to the plot.

« Dass ist meine letzte Hoffnung/To th’ hopeful execution, I do leave you » (I.1.59)

« When I would pray and think, I think and pray/ to several subjects » (II.4.1)

4The muddy brown14 stage is littered with actors and props as the play begins. A huge chandelier lies upturned in the foreground whilst a high pressure hose and broom seemingly wait in attendance centre right. The actors have taken position – Isabella in the white tunic of a novice, her brother, Claudio, in white boxer shorts, the Duke light-suited, Angelo dark-suited, suited and Lucio in pink tight-fitting trousers and oversized sun glasses – like pieces in a psychedelic game of chess. The ostentatiously modern costumes contrast with the opening tableau where the actors come front stage to sing a Renaissance canon (in French, whereas the rest of the play, except a final « Bonsoir », is in German) accompanied by trumpet and guitar. So, Ostermeier’s use of costumes, colour, music and language turns the tables on theatrical canon and exploits the play’s potentially ambivalent nature from its outset15. Indeed, we cannot adopt a Manichean approach to the play for if, as Daniel Loayza notes in the programme :

A qui voudrait condamnera Angelo, on fera ainsi remarquer qu’il y a de l’ange dans son nom, et qu’il a du moins pris conscience de la gravité de ses fautes ; à qui s’étonne de la sévérité du duc envers Lucio, on rappellera qu’il y a du Lucifer chez ce gaillard-là, et que ses calomnies, qu’il imagine sans gravité, n’en sont que plus graves (le diable, le diabolos, n’est-il pas avant tout le grand Calomniateur ?)16.

5Anny Crunelle-Vanrigh underlines the difficulty of trying to nominally catalogue characters and the need to adopt a more ambivalent approach :

(Escalus) Premier mot de la pièce, ce nom à résonnance allégorique évoque la balance de la justice et annonce la parenté de Mesure pour Mesure avec la moralité médiévale. Mais Escalus est écarté au profit d’Angelo, figure des extrêmes (l’« ange » fera la bête). Angelo incarne le déséquilibre qui constitue le point de départ quasi obligé des comédies. Ce premier remplacement est le premier d’une longue série. […]

Le nom de Lucio évoque de façon ambivalente la lumière et le diable (Lucifer) il est donc celui qui voit clair et/ou le calomniateur par excellence17.

6Thus, when the Duke gives Angelo his crown, in a synecdochic gesture, the « taking up together », becomes synonymous with the on-stage power – and portrayal – sharing. As Angelo caresses the crown, the chandelier is hauled up to illuminate what should be the beginning of a virtuous era in the duchy of Vienna : « as implied by the Duke’s precepts at the beginning of the play18 ». However, the harsh reality of continuing debauchery is epitomised in Lucio’s early morning masturbation (to the continuing Renaissance music) and then a cold shower to calm his ardour – in a misplaced act of purification. What is shown is that the Duke’s well-intentioned, though arbitrary, decision to retire19, and let Angelo deal with the wrongs plaguing Vienna, sets a totalitarian machine in motion which will sweep away compromise and lead to potential disaster. Thus, the nascent conflict, and confusion, between authority and desire20 is established from the very beginning of the play :

Through the main action […] the properties of grace and nature are dissociated and juxtaposed. […] In the absence of virtue as a moderator, sexual function turns into the abuse of lechery, and celibacy becomes cold-blooded self-regard. At the spiritual level, excessive zeal is corrupted to pride, and cloistered holiness subordinates charity to chastity21.


Stefan Stern as Lucio © Arno Declair.

Lucio is the only fully independent underworld character on stage (Escalus doubles up as Mistress Overdone – which is a wry commentary on past government22) as Ostermeier cuts much of the sub plot23. He has thus both a lifelike and emblematic part to play in the action.

« Ich sehe was ich tun kann/ I’ll see what I can do » (I.4.83)

7The Duke’s retirement is not, however, synonymous with epistemological renunciation. As he is now disguised as a friar, his sphere of understanding seemingly passes from worldly to spiritual although, as Lucio would have it : « Cucullus non facit monachum : honest in nothing but his clothes24 » (V.1.261). Nonetheless, the Duke still wants to control, without dirtying his own hands – in a Machiavellian thirst for manipulation25 – and thus keeps himself informed via substitution : « Hence shall we see/ If power change purpose, what our seemers be » (I.3.54)26. Indeed, as Lucio joins Isabella, who is on her knees in prayer, to tell of her brother,Claudio’s, death sentence (for pre-nuptial sex with his de preasenti spouse27, Juliet), Angelo, listens in a corner of the stage – white gloved in a negative print image of the stereotyped murderer. This is also fitting, as he is the character who should rule over his subjects Nam in medio stat vitus but instead becomes responsible for meting out a justice that kills.

8Angelo then takes the hose and sluices down the stage. Black slime dribbles down over Claudio who is huddled in a corner as the Duke’s substitute confirms the death sentence. As the Renaissance music strikes up again, Angelo approaches Claudio and nearly drowns him with the hose water. His determination is represented visually as he sluices away every prop to the exception of a chair and the crown – the metonymical representations of his dissonant tyranny. Even the musicians are hosed away in a sign of increasing discord and will only again appear sporadically to hint at a possible, though fleeting, hope for renewed harmony. Ostermeier’s message is that there is no way back and that the way forward is one of increasing darkness and uncertainty. Thus, Isabella’s : « I’ll see what I can do » (I.4.83), is an ironic premise to her future submission : she is coerced into transferring sacred to secular capitulation.

9In Act II, Scene 2 Isabella’s first entreaty to Angelo on behalf of her brother – with Lucio as both a spectator to and a participant in the action – is perhaps the best example of this transfer. Isabella follows Angleo around the now soaked stage whilst he moves to his « throne » (Ostermeier’s commentary on petty dictatorship is obvious as the « throne » is in fact a rickety cane-bottomed dining chair). She then metaphorically corners him, whilst her arguments against his intransigent authority cause him to literally slip up (as he walks around the elevated structure that surrounds the set). Angelo and Isabella are confronted here with : « die Schwierigkeit, das Richtige zu tun28 ». However, both miss the opportunity to « do » the right deed that Christian teaching or common sense humanity should have dictated. Put another way : « Virtue, as each of them conceives it, is still a partial and abstract thing, still an imposition of the reason planted a little aridly upon a whole world of sentiments and reactions which remain outside it29 ».


Lars Eidinger as Angelo, Jenny König as Isabella © Arno Declair.

10The two characters are thus trapped in their own ideological prisons, Ostermeier shows this on stage as Angelo stuffs his hands into his pockets whilst refusing Isabella’s entreaties – like a petulant child determined to have his own way – and Lucio too easily pushes naive Isabella back into the arena to beg for mercy. Her juvenile gestures – she puts her hand on Angelo’s heart or implores him on her knees – heighten the disturbing impression that justice is in immature hands. Indeed, by the end of the scene, Angelo arches over and vomits on stage – the physical consequence of the realisation (by someone too young for the burden that has been placed on his shoulders) that he has succumbed to Isabella’s charms. Spectators observe Lucio, bareheaded (he has removed the pink wig that coifs him for much of the play), a silent and shameful observer to this theatre of Viennese injustice. He has become a spectator to, and a participant in, a courtroom drama with which he, as Angelo and Isabella, is poorly equipped to deal with :

Foucault écrit de cette « culture de la honte » : « [le peuple] est appelé comme spectateur : on le convoque pour assister aux expositions, aux amendes honorables ; les piloris, les potences et les échafauds sont dressés sur la place publique ou au bord des chemins… Parce qu’il faut qu[e les gens] aient peur ; mais aussi parce qu’ils doivent être les témoins, comme les garants de la punition, et parce qu’ils doivent, jusqu’à un certain point, y prendre part » (Surveiller et punir, p. 70). Le mot « spectacle » superpose le judiciaire et le théâtral, parce l’un et l’autre sont affaire de regard. Les entrevues de la pièce se déroulent rarement hors de la présence d’un tiers spectateur […] Lucio [assiste] à celle d’Isabella et d’Angelo30.

« Vovon Traum ist es ?/ What is’t I dream on ? » (II.2.179)

11By now, and because of the intimate and potentially disturbing effect of us watching characters who are themselves watching other characters, Ostermeier has placed the audience in an almost voyeuristic position with regards to the action which now progresses towards its tragic climax. We look on as the chandelier moves down and a half pig is brought on stage, thrown down and then hitched up on the light fitting to be hauled up as if on a butcher’s hook. The brightness that should have illuminated Vienna with the advent of Angelo’s rule is now suspended over dead meat – an emblematic representation of Isabella’s body, which has become an object of exchange, and the premise of her brother’s imminent demise.

12Furthermore, it is here that Juliet, the audience only sees her once and she only appears as a near silent incarnation of the universally symbolic pregnant woman (a solitary appearance that undermines the potential renewal of the play’s textual ending) appears to sing solo in a musical and figurative commentary on the unnatural state of affairs that Angelo’s intransigence has provoked. When, in Act III, Scene 131, the duke enters «[disguised] », it is not then to throw any light on the situation but to work towards a denouement brought about in a dream-like state of opacity and confusion. The Duke’s sceptical remarks on Claudio’s fate further undermine his sanctimonious facade. Thus, his speech on worldly existence, and Claudio’s inevitable putting to death – whilst the Provost cuts out the pig’s entrails and blood drips onto the stage – becomes an irreverent commentary on moral righteousness as personified in church-sanctioned public torture and execution :

“Friend has thou none ;
For thine own bowels32 which do call thee sire,
The mere effusion of thy proper loins,
Do curse the gout, serpigo, and the rheum
For ending thee no sooner. Thou hast nor youth, nor
Age ;
But as it were and after-dinner’s sleep
Dreaming on both ; for all they blessed youth
Becomes as aged, and doth beg the alms
Of palsied eld : and when thou art old and rich,
Thou hast neither heat, affection, limb, nor beauty
To make thy riches pleasant. What’s yet in this
That bears the name of life ? Yet in this life
Lie hid moe thousand deaths ; yet death we fear
That makes these odds all even.” (III.1, 28-41)

13And incest33 becomes a pardonable offence when it is to : « save a brother’s life » (III.1.133)


Bernardo Arias Porras as Claudio © Arno Declair.

The actor who plays Claudio also doubles up as Mariana – Isabella’s substitute and Angelo’s de futuro spouse (a contract to take place some time in the future but liable to dissolution – and Angelo has dissolved it) – thus underlining the metaphor of incestuous relations running throughout Ostermeier’s production.

« Vater/ Heaven hath my empty words » (II.4.2) – An upside down crucifixion.

14Traditional ideas and moral principles have been metaphorically crucified. As Claudio is given the knife used to butcher the pig’s belly, Angelo climbs onto the chandelier. The carcass falls to the stage and Angelo is now suspended – upside down – in a visual representation of upturned moral values. It is a St. Peter-like statement about unworthy self and state government.


Lars Eidinger as Angelo © Arno Declair.

15Still suspended, Angelo takes off his tie – as if untying the trappings of his office – before climbing down and contemplating the pig’s carcass. He then re-crowns himself and sits on his « throne » – by now a mere parody of the ruler that he aspired to become at the beginning of the play. The musicians and actors strike up an increasingly grotesque Renaissance ballet, including acrobatics over and around the pig and walking on hands in a joyfully disrespectful Danse macabre. All in all, Ostermeier is pointing towards the ultimately trivial nature of existence and, to the fact that, if we cannot control our own destinies and emotions, then all that remains is to laugh at them.

« Was sagst du, mein Brüder ?/ What says my brother ? » (III.1.114)

16In the production Angelo’s monologue comes before the « seduction scene » in which Isabella has to face the impossible choice of losing her virginity or letting her brother die. The comic switch over has not yet happened but the facetious demonstration of mirth in the face of death has already softened the tragic tone of proceedings. Thus we can laugh at Angelo’s perspicacity with regards to Isabella’s naivety : « either you are ignorant,/ or seem so, crafty ; and that’s not good » (II.4.74-75). However, and as Angelo’s ardour becomes increasingly pressing and Isabella’s refusal to yield remains as stubborn, the laughter wanes. Angelo moves behind Isabella and physically encompasses her in a symbolic gesture of microcosmic power stifling macrocosmic influence (see photo supra.). He literally breathes in her words – suffocating her life force – and then takes the hose as if to purify himself but decides otherwise : « Who will believe thee Isabel ? » (II.4.153), he asks, and then puts one hand over her mouth whilst the other is placed between her legs34. Angelo pushes Isabella to the ground (her head lies on the pork belly whilst Angelo takes some of its blood to stain her robe at the spot of her sexual organs) then he stamps on the dead pig’s head just next to hers. The seduction scene becomes the scene of a crime – as undeveloped authority rapes youthful innocence.

17In a play saturated by doubling, Ostermeier’s management of the next scene, between Isabella and Claudio, mirrors the previous one. Revolving around Ostermeier’s pivotal pun : « Porc impudique ! » (« O, you beast !/ Ô, bête brute ! » (III.1.135), in the two editions used for this review), sister and brother, seemingly intertwined, tumble over the carcass. Kneeling on the blood splattered stage ; Isabella takes her brother by the throat but then caresses him strangely, as Angelo did to her. Both their costumes are now stained with blood so, when the disguised Duke emerges from the audience to explain Angelo’s « true » intent to Claudio : « Angelo never had the purpose to corrupt her ; only he hath made an assay of her/ virtue, to practise his judgement with the disposi/tion of natures. » (III.3.160-163), we cannot be sure of anything as filial, moral and religious boundaries have been blurred. This becomes especially apparent as the : « go to you knees, and make ready/ mettez-vous à genou et préparez-vous » (III.1.169), becomes a strident : « Prie – Nom de Dieu ! » and is accompanied by a forced genuflexion, to underline the fact that things are perhaps not what they seem.

18Indeed, under Ostermeier’s direction, the play becomes : « weder Tragödie noch Komödie35 », and the close juxtaposition of the two makes the audience’s interpretation, rather than the play itself, increasingly problematic. For instance, the Duke lets his own passions run rife and, whilst explaining Marina’s continuing attachment to Angelo to Isabella : « His unjust unkindness, that in all reason should have quenched her love,/ hath, like an impediment in the current, make it/ more violent and unruly » (III.1.240-242), he moves to embrace the would-be novice himself, before moving aside in a gesture of prayer for forgiveness. As Lucio emerges from the audience, in a theatrical mise en abyme, to tell the « Friar » some home truths about the Duke, he is merely putting into words what spectators have already seen themselves :

“the Duke, I say to thee again, would eat mutton on Fri-
days. He’s now past it ; yet, and I say to thee, he
would mouth with a beggar though she smelt brown bread and garlic” (III.2.175-178)

19This double vision36 is perhaps a potentially frustrating one for audiences and readers, as the Duke is never punished, either for his poor government, or for his own misdemeanours.

« Nur […] dunkeln/ Upon the heavy middle of the night37 » (IV.1.35)

Mariana’s bed trick

20A further veil is thrown over the action as duality takes on an increasingly artificial nature38. Bernardo Arias Porras, who plays Claudio, now doubles up as Mariana, fittingly so with regards to J.W. Lever’s analysis : « Claudio’s impulses have led him, in his ignorance of the nature of justice, to a spiritual and moral paralysis39 ». Indeed, he/she now appears almost paralysed, as a bow-legged, masked and disarticulated doll. In other words the straw man/woman, or nominal third party is used to cover up the Duke’s activities. In this way Ostermeier gives the lie to Angelo’s intransigence at the beginning of his governance : « We must not make a scarecrow of the law » (II.1.1). But he has done just that. The pig’s head, recently hitched up with the carcass onto the chandelier, which has now become a metaphorical gallows, is severed (with an electric saw), thrown in the swill bucket and coiffed with the mop head. This, instead of Barnardine’s head and in response to Angelo’s orders : « For my better satisfaction, let me have Claudio’s head sent me by five » (IV.2.121).

21When Angelo reappears, carrying « Claudio’s » head in a plastic bag, Isabella puts a (marriage) veil over « Mariana » and the stage is once again hosed down whilst Angelo soliloquises. This, in realisation of the desolation wreaked by his personal interpretation of authority and the inherent ambivalence of human nature :

This deed unshapes me quite ; makes me unpregnant
And dull to all proceedings. A deflower’d maid ;
And by an eminent body, thatn enforc’d
The law against it ! But that her tender shame
Will not proclaim against her maiden loss,
How might she tongue me ! Yet reason dares her no,
For my authority bears so credent bulk
That no particular scandal once can touch
But it confounds the breather. He should have liv’d ;
Save that his riotous youth, with dangerous sense,
Might in the times to come have ta’en revenge
By so receiving a dishonour’d life
With ransom of such shame. Would yet he had lived.
Alack, when once our grace we have forgot,
Nothing goes right ; we would, and we would not.

22However, and as we are aware that tragedy has been averted, we can almost laugh at Angelo, despite this sad enlightenment. In this way, tragedy is merged with comedy, which brings forth a mixed response despite the pathos in the Duke’s substitute’s lines.

« Tod für Tod/ An Angelo for Claudio ; death for death » (V.1.406)

23Any final scene in a Shakespearian (tragi) comedy should have the function of righting wrongs and putting societal or moral reversals back in order. Here, though, the Duke’s reappearance to judge the transgression perpetrated in his « absence » has a decidedly hypocritical flavour. This is because the Duke is hardly a paragon of virtue himself. Indeed, once Angelo is married to Mariana and Lucio to his prostitute « sweetheart » : « I beseech your Highness, do not marry me to a/ whore. […] Marrying a punk, my lord, is pressing to death,/ Whipping and hanging40 » (V.1.512-521), the Duke’s understanding of justice can be exposed, along with Claudio (V.1.487)41.


Erhard Marggraf as Escalus, Gert Voss as the Duke and Lars Eidinger as Angelo © Arno Declair.

24So, once Angelo is married penniless42, the Duke is free to make an offer to Isabella that is nearly imopossible to refuse : « Dear Isabel,/ I have a motion much imports your good ;/ Whereto if you’ll a willing ear incline,/ What’s mine is yours, and what is yours is mine » (V.1.532-534). Indeed, the final twist to the plot brings us to question which character the « corrupt magistrate » source material43 refers to. Furthermore, Ostermeier’s production even seems to end mid-air – or rather remain un-ended – as if Isabella’s silence in response to the Duke’s marriage proposition is the final commentary on the equivocal nature of the issues debated throughout the play.

25Thus, Ostermeier’s stage management of Shakespeare’s play is one which exposes an impossible choice between wrong or right. The message is that we are bound to make decisions which will bring the balance down on one side or another because we are essentially imperfect and evolve in a society which is ultimately victim of its own contradictions. On a plaque commemorating the revolutionary activist and liberal thinker, Thomas Paine (1737-1809), in the street leading up to the theatre44 we can read the following : « Lorsque les opinions sont libres, la force de la vérité finit toujours par l’emporter ». This ground-breaking line of thought puts into perspective Ostermeier’s « truth », which is one of a liberty of expression exemplifying his own stance with regards to Shakespeare’s text and which leaves us the authority to come to our own conclusions as to the potentially tragic, or comic, « dilemma » at the play’s close. All in all, the ending to Mass für Mass is a more of a beginning. Put another way, a transition from the death of any illusions concerning a perfect balance between vice and virtue in ourselves or in others to the birth of self-awareness, as well as the realisation that we are free to laugh at human, that is to say our own, folly.


Mass für Mass, « Dossier d’accompagnement pédagogique » http://www.theatre-odeon.fr/fr/la_saison/les_spectacles_2011_12/accueil-f-386-3.htm

SHAKESPEARE, William, Measure for Measure, éd. J.W. Lever, London, Cengage Learning, coll. “TheArden Shakespeare”, [1965] 2008.

SHAKESPEARE, William, Mesure pour Mesure, Traduction Nouvelle de Jean- Michel Déprats, Analyse, documents et notes de Anny Crunelle-Vanrigh, Paris, Editions théâtrales, 2001.


1  The play was first staged in the Landestheater in a co-production with the Salzburger Festspeile, in Berlin on the 17th August, 2011.

2 « Measure for Measure […] signifying (i) just retribution and reward or the exaction of revenge (Tilley M  801). Originating in Matth. , vii.2 : « With what mesure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again » […] (ii) modertation or temperace as a virtue. ‘He that forsakes measure, measure forsakes him’ (Tilley M 803). » William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, (ed.) JW Lever, London, Arden Shakespeare (Cengage Learning), 1965; 2008, p. 3.

3  Texte de présentation de la Schaubühne:

4 The Basilicon Doron of King James VI, (ed.) James Craigie, 2 vols. (1944), p. 137-143. In William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, op.cit., Introduction, p. xlix.  

5  Jacques Ier, Basilikon Doron (Edimbourg 1599 ; Londres 1603), Dossier d’accompagnement  pédagogique, http://www.theatre-odeon.fr/fr/la_saison/les_spectacles_2011_12/accueil-f-386-3.htm

6  « In the Revels Accounts a play called ‘Mesur for Mesur’ by ‘Shaxberd’ was listed as having been acted in the banqueting hall of Whitehall on St Stephen’s Night (26 December) 1604. » E.K. Chambers, William Shakespeare (1930), II. 331. 2. N.C.S., 104-105.  William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, op.cit., Introduction, p. xxxi. Note that St Stephen’s Day, currently known as Boxing Day, was a time traditionally associated with charity - a sentiment pointedly lacking throughout the plot.

7  « The term “problem play” seems to have been first applied by Boas, Shakespeare’s Predecessors, in 1896, and “unpleasant play” by E.K. Chambers in his edition f the play in “The Red Letter Shakespeare”, 1906. Cf. W.W. Lawrence, Shakespeare’s Problem Comedies (1931), E. M. W. Tillyard, Shakespeare’s Problem Plays (1951), Ernest Schanzer, The Problem Plays of Shakespeare (1963). » Ibid., Introduction, p. lvi.

8  Even if the « tragi-comic » genre had acquired a respectable status by the time Shakespeare wrote his work: « Guiarini’s Compendio della Poesia Tragicomica (1601) set forth a closely reasoned defence of “true” tragicomedy, as distinguished form tragedy twisted to a happy ending or the loose medley of English tradition. […] It employed a ‘mixed’ style, ‘mixed’ action, and ‘mixed characters – ‘passing form side to side, it works amongst contraries, sweetly tempering their composition’. […] It is in his explicit stress on the virtues of moderation as upheld by the Duke that Shakespeare comes nearest to the spirit of the Compendio. The significance of this stress is often lost sight of or misrepresented in our own age. » Ibid., Introduction, pp. lxi-ii.

9  William Shakespeare, Mesure pour Mesure, Traduction Nouvelle de Jean- Michel Déprats, Analyse, documents et notes de Anny Crunelle-Vanrigh, Paris, Editions théâtrales, 2001, p. 137. This was the edition used on overhead video projectors to « over title » (sur-titre) the play.

10  Literary sources included « Giraldi Cinthio’s Hecatommithi, (1565), Part II, Década 8 Novella 5, Cinthio’s posthumous drama Epitia (1583) ; George Whetsone’s two-part play The Right Excellent and Famous Hisotrye of Promos and Cassandra (1578); and Whetstone’s story in his Heptameron of Civil Discourses (1582), republished as Aurelia (1592). »William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, op.cit., Introduction, p. xxxv. Historical influences revolved around James I’s ideas on government (cf. supra.) and «a number of factors operative in the winter of 1603-4 : the continuance of the war with Spain; the plague I London; the treason trials and executions in Winchester […] A proclamation dated 16 September 1603 called for the pulling down of houses and rooms in the suburbs of  London as a precaution against the spread of the plague by ‘dissolute and idle persons’. The measure, which was strictly enforced during the following months, bore heavily upon the numerous brothels and gaming houses which proliferated on the outskirts of the city. » Ibid., pp. xxxi-ii. The source is Steele, Catalogue of Tudor and Stuart Proclamations (1910), I, no. 969. Ibid., p. xxxi.  

11 Ibid., p. lxiii.

12  William Shakespeare, Mesure pour Mesure, op.cit., Notes, p. 172-173.

13  William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, op.cit., Introduction, p. lix.

14  The stage is reminiscent of an abattoir and its overall hue is that of dried blood.

15  « L’expérimentateur (appelons-le ainsi) est le personnage qui impose à autrui, plus ou moins à l’insu de celui-ci, de répondre à une situation qu’il n’a pas choisie ; ensuite, que ce cobaye est censé le faire librement, de façon à manifester sa véritable nature en toute spontanéité ; enfin, que l’épreuve qui lui est ainsi imposée risque souvent d’excéder ses forces. Dans Mesure pour Mesure, cet expérimentateur est avant tout le duc Vincenzio, et son cobaye l’insoupçonnable Angelo. [… ] pourquoi délègue-t-il quelque temps ses pouvoirs à Angelo ? Vise-t-il à mettre les qualités de son subordonné à l’épreuve du réel ? », Mass für Mass, Theatre programme in French, Daniel Loayza, 29 mars 2012.

16 Id.

17  William Shakespeare, Mesure pour Mesure, op.cit., Notes, p. 169, 174.

18  William Shakespeare, Mesure for Mesure, op.cit., Introduction, p. lxxiv.

19  Either a reflection of James I’s supposed dislike of popular acclaim (an idea that J.W. Lever disagrees with in Mesure for Mesure, op.cit., Introduction, p. lxxxiii) or a last « hope » in a Morality ars moriendi tradition.

20  «the Duke delegates authority by investing his deputies with both ‘terror’ and ‘love’» Ibid., Introduction, p. lxv.

21  William Shakespeare, Mesure for Mesure, op.cit., Introduction, p. lxxiv.

22  « In Wien geht es drunter und drüber »  Texte de présentation de la Schaubühne 

23  For details of the plot cuts and changes see

24 « A holie Hood, makes not a Frier deoute » William Shakespeare, Mesure for Mesure, op.cit., p. 137.

25  « der Herzog, der sich aus politischem Kalkül die finger nicht schmutzig machen will » Texte de présentation de la Schaubühne  http://www.theatre-odeon.fr/fr/la_saison/les_spectacles_2011_12/accueil-f-386-3.htm

26  « Each half of line 5 contains an accusative noun clause, the object of ‘see’, the second marking the antithesis of seeming and being. » Ibid., p. 22.

27  « Claudio is introduced as an acquaintance of Mistress Overdone and one of Lucio’s circle […] Yet in reality Claudio’s case is of a very different order. His union with Juliet was “upon a true contract…she is fast my wife”: the two are bound by de praesenti spousals, recognised by English common law as valid marriage, […] Morally, indeed, Claudio’s conduct remains a kind of fornication, and therefore sinful: nevertheless in the eyes of a Jacobean audience secular justice should certainly temper any local law calling for the death penalty. » Ibid., Introduction, p. lxv-lxvi.

28  Texte de présentation de la Schaubühne 

29  D.A. Traversi, Scrutiny, XI, 1942, p. 52, in William Shakespeare, Mesure for Mesure, op.cit., Introduction, p. lxxxi.

30  William Shakespeare, Mesure pour Mesure, op.cit., Notes, p. 170.

31  Displaced in this production to give more emphasis to Angelo’s « seduction scene » (II.4).

32  « The Duke’s scepticism adds children’s neglect to that of other kinsmen and friends. own bowels: children form the biblical ‘child of my bowels’. » William Shakespeare, Mesure for Mesure, op.cit., p. 68.

33  « since through Isabella’s shameful intercourse her brother would be ‘born’ again. The hysterical conceit [Is’t not a kind of incest, to take life/From thine own sister’s shame?] is in keeping with the speech as a whole [O, you beast! O faithless coward! O dishonest wretch!... (ls. 135-136)] » Ibid., p. 75. Note too that:  « [Shakespeare’s] two drastic innovations [to Cinthio’s novella] were to make the heroine, Epitia, sister instead of wife to the condemned man, and to change the original offence from murder to the forcible seduction of a virgin. » Ibid., Introduction, p. xxxviii.

34  « Er will das Todesurteil aufheben, wenn sie dafür zum Sex mit ihm bereit ist. » Texte de présentation de la Schaubühne  http://www.theatre-odeon.fr/fr/la_saison/les_spectacles_2011_12/accueil-f-386-3.htm

35  Id.

36  « Brother » implies here filial, secular, sexual and religious doubles - and by this stage in the play it is increasingly difficult to know which way to look.

37  « Ham., I.ii.198 : ‘the dead wast (F, Q2) and middle of the night’ […] ‘Heavy middle’, like ‘waist’ carries an association with ‘pregnant’, figurative or actual. » William Shakespeare, Mesure for Mesure, op.cit., p. 98.

38  « Contrairement à d’autres expressions artistiques, le théâtre reste lié à une certaine forme de naturel qu’on ne peut pas nier, qu’on ne peut pas ignorer puisqu’on ne peut pas quitter le corps. Même la danse est plus artificielle que le théâtre puisqu’elle a pratiquement pour programme de dépasser le corps. Mais le jeu d’acteurs sur les scènes allemandes est devenu […] très artificiel. J’ai l’impression que ce sont les jeunes metteurs en scène surtout qui se battent contre le mur de cette corporalité, alors qu’elle est tout simplement là, par la nature même du corps humain. […] le théâtre parcourt seulement actuellement, sous l’influence des jeunes metteurs en scène, une phase d’abstraction que d’autres arts ont connue beaucoup plus tôt. » Peter Michalzik, ‘Entre ironie et vision du monde, Nouvelles tendances des jeunes metteurs en scène allemands’ in Alternatives théâtrales, n° 82 http://www.theatre-odeon.fr/fr/la_saison/les_spectacles_2011_12/accueil-f-386-3.htm.

39  William Shakespeare, Mesure for Mesure, op.cit., Introduction, p. lxx.

40  « pressing to death] the penalty of peine forte et dure, imposed on those who refused to give incriminating evidence », Ibid., p. 148. This is exactly what Lucio has done as far as the Duke is concerned throughout the play – but it is Lucio, and not the Duke, who is punished.

41  The porcine running joke continues at this point in Ostermeier’s production : « Quel tour de cochon Angelo ».

42  He renounced any idea of marrying Mariana when she lost her dowry (III.1.217).

43  William Shakespeare, Mesure for Mesure, op.cit., Introduction, p. xxxv.

44  10, rue de l’Odéon, 75006, Paris.

Pour citer ce document

Par Stéphanie Mercier, «« Ein tragiches Dilemma ? » Thomas Ostermeier’s production of Mass für Mass (William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure) at the TNO from the 4 th to the 14 th April 2012.», Shakespeare en devenir [En ligne], N°4 - Saison 2011-2012, L'Oeil du Spectateur, Adaptations scéniques, mis à jour le : 14/06/2012, URL : https://shakespeare.edel.univ-poitiers.fr:443/shakespeare/index.php?id=589.

Quelques mots à propos de :  Stéphanie Mercier

Stephanie Mercier est agrégée d’Anglais, en poste dans l’enseignement secondaire. Elle travaille actuellement sur « Le Conte d’hiver,ou l’hégémonie mise en pièces », ou comment cette œuvre shakespearienne semble donner libre cours à la contre-hégémonie pour, en fait, mieux l’endiguer.