The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Sunday, 26 January 2014


Another BBC Shakespeare review, dating from 2006 as you will probably be able to tell from the topical references.


Bit of a cock-up on the Shakespearewatch front. I was intending to watch these chronologically - well, sort-of chronologically - and so should really have watched Love's Labours Lost next. However, the similarity of the titles confused me and I watched Measure for Measure instead.

Shakespeare scholars consider Measure For Measure a 'problem' play. The problem being that it is not quite a comedy and not quite a tragedy either. There are funny bits and there are tragic bits, but neither comfily sits with the other bits. So Shakespeare scholars are divided as to where to place this play - which category does it fall into? This is the sort of thing they write theses about, along with discussing the various continuity errors, inconsistencies, misattributions, references and logical implausibilities, along with trying to work out what the criteria is for deciding what is canon and arguing over when Shakespeare did leapeth overtwixt the shark.

So Shakespeare scholars are basically just as bad as Doctor Who fans.

I don't see the comedy/tragedy thing as being a problem. I don't think it is a separate genre - I think Mark Lawson is wrong with his 'tragi-com' nonsense, and he has a head like someone has drawn a face on a buttock. I think it's more of a something-for-everything approach. Like Cold Feet, or Life on Mars, or Doctor Who.

Okay, so what actually happens in Measure For Measure? Well, the scene is set with the opening prologue

We walketh in the air so cold
Our breath doth freeze 'pon yonder window pane
We tarry and we wait awhile
As t'man in the dark in the picture frame
So mystic and soulful
A voice! Reaches out in a pierce cry!
It stays, with you, anon
The feeling hast gone. Only you and I
This means naught to me.
This means naught to me.

Oh, we must be in Vienna.

The play concerns the Duke of Vienna, Vincentio. He has a problem. He likes being popular with the people of Vienna, which means he has been rather liberal, and has turned a blind eye to sexual misdemeanours. Live and let bonk. Unfortunately, things have rather got out of hand, and the people of Vienna are shagging each other as though it's going out of fashion. Bonk bonk bonk. Whores, adulterers, bastards, you name it.

Vincentio's solution is to do a bunk and put Lord Angelo in charge for a bit. You remember Angelo. Long ago, high on a clifftop, in Mexico. Well, this is an entirely different Angelo. He's not that Angelo. This Angelo is a bit of a Tory - family values, back-to-basics, no-sex-before-marriage. And like a Tory, he doesn't always practice what he preaches. Of which more later.

The Duke's plan is to be out of town whilst Lord Angelo sorts things out - and makes himself unpopular in the process - so that when the Duke returns his reputation will be untainted. It's a traditional political manoeuvre - the delegation of 'can carrying' to the person most expendable.

So Lord Angelo closes down the whorehouses. This leads to some 'comedy' scenes with Constable Elbow and Pompey the pimp (or 'bawd' as they are called here). These comedy scenes are f*cking tiresome. Constable Elbow is quite amusing but Pompey can f*ck right off.

More pertinently, Lord Angelo discovers that there is a girl in Vienna who has got pregnant out of wedlock! She's called Julietta, and the man who sauced her goose is Claudio, her fiancé. Nothing wrong with that you may think, and indeed, this sort of thing happened all the time under the Duke's tenure. But not under Lord Angelo! He is tough on shagging and tough on the causes of shagging. He sentences Claudio to be hung to death the next morning.

Note: Some confusion arises on this point, as Claudio is not due to be executed the next morning, but on the morning the day after that. At nine o'clock. Or eight o'clock. It is this sort of inconsistency that leads the Shakespeare scholars to conclude that this script hadn't seen a script editor. Let's face it, Terrance Dicks would never have let this through. Though heaven knows what the script would have been like if it had been filtered through the madness of REDACTED.

Back to the play! Claudio sends his mate Lucio to fetch his (Claudio's sister) Isabella. Isabella is in a nunnery. She's a virgin nun - her wimple is immaculate and intact. Isabella is saintly, and easy on the eye, so the plan is for her to talk to Angelo and get him to pardon Claudio.

Plan backfires. Isabella sees Lord Angelo. Angelo gets one stonker of a hard-on. This leads to a rather clever, if overlong, scene where they both argue about the inconsistency in each other's morality, to whit (using Morris notes translation):

Angelo: If you think it's okay for your brother to shag out of wedlock... why not give us a shag, then?

Isabella: Yes, but if you think it's a hanging offence to shag out of wedlock... why would it be okay for you to shag me?

Angelo: Because I want to. Go on, give us a shag. I'll pardon your brother if you do, can't say fairer than that.

The sight of Isabella causes Angelo to turn into a hypocrite. He wants to pork that nun and nothing is going to get in his way. Except she says no. Not even if it means her brother being executed, she's wimple intacta and going to stay that way.

Meanwhile - and here's where the plot gets twisty - what about the Duke? Has he really done a bunk? No! He's dressed as a monk! He is back in Vienna, incognito, pretending to be a friar. He's back in the habit and literally monkeying around.

The Duke's plan is to wander around Vienna - mainly the prison, but other places too - and find out what is really going on. So he has a chat with Claudio, and finds out that Claudio is a nice guy, oh so repentant, and that Juliette is a nice girl, who loves Claudio. He also finds out that Lucio is a bit of an arsehole - Lucio starts bragging about how well he knows the Duke, and starts slagging him off - little realising that he is talking to the Duke wearing a hoodie! Nooooo! And then he starts boasting about how he once got a prostitute pregnant - and left her and the baby!

Seeing Lucio put his foot in it is all rather fun.

Anyway, upon hearing of what Lord Angelo has been up to, the Duke formulates a cunning plan. It is, it has to be said, a slightly implausible one. But it is this:.

Lord Angelo, it turns out, used to be engaged to a girl called Marianna. But he ditched her when it turned out that the boat carrying her dowry had sunk (in the Marianna trench). But Marianna still has the hots for Angelo, so...

If Claudia agrees to let Angelo shag her - but does so on condition that they do it in complete darkness, without making a sound - then they can substitute Marianna and Angelo will shag her instead!

Would you believe it, this plan works. I'm not quite sure how. Shakespeare, to his credit, doesn't go into detail. But apparently Lord Angelo doesn't notice that there has been a substitution. They must be the same cup size or something.

Which does make you think. Would that sort of thing work today? I don't know, but I've suggested it to Debbie that it might be a nice surprise for my birthday for her to be replaced by Kate Winslet so if she goes for it we'll see how I fare at the 'Pepsi' challenge.

Back to the play! Lord Angelo thinks he's bagged a nun - and, let's face it, nuns are hot stuff, with their stockings and suspenders and red lipstick and they're already on their knees most of the time anyway so why not? - when in fact he has bagged his ex, Marianna. But does Lord Angelo pardon Claudio, as promised? No, he doesn't. HE AM A SHIT!

Lord Angelo wants to see proof that Claudio has been executed - he wants Claudio's head to be brought before him. But the Duke has a cunning plan (this is where it gets even more like Blackadder II - 'Head'). The prison have just executed someone else - so why not give his head to Lord Angelo instead and just say it's Claudio's? I mean, yes the head will look completely different, but you can just put that down to people never looking the same after being beheaded, can't you? Less necky, for a start.

Let's face it, this is a play where people can have sex with a different woman without noticing Someone not noticing that he's been given the wrong corpse's head is realistic by comparison. In fact, it's pretty much the same thing - Lord Angelo keeps on getting the wrong head!

This is what I like to think is a recurring theme. The genius of the Bard.

Would you believe it, this plan also works. So Claudio is safe for the time being, and Angelo thinks he's got away with murder, and shagged the sister into the bargain. Back of the net!

Right? Wrong! Because now it's act V, and it's time for the Duke to return. Now, this is a lovely act, with two fantastic reveals, but it does go on a bit. The Duke returns and gets Angelo to tell him his side of the story, and pretends to believe him. Then the Duke says, 'Scuse me, just got to pop off for a wazz' and nips off - only to come back on as the friar! And then, as the friar, he accuses Angelo of all his wrongdoings. Angelo orders the friar to be thrown into jail - but just before this happens, the friar reveals himself to be the Duke.

Everyone applauds.

And then Angelo is confronted by a woman claiming to have been bonked by him. Except she has a veil over her face. Angelo thinks it's Isabella but then... would you credit it, it's Marianna!

Everyone applauds.

And that is basically it, except for the Duke to make a speech pointing out that, essentially, you should live by the justice you dispense (Measure For Measure! He says the title of the play! Woo!). He sends the traitorous Lucio to be married to the prostitute (the one Lucio boasted about), whipped and then executed (and in that order and no other). He then gets Angelo to marry Marianna and pardons Claudio so he can marry Juliette.

And then - spot the hypocrisy - he says he'll marry Isaballa himself.

The moral of this story is clear.

Everyone loves a nun.

A few other thoughts. There is a funny scene with a drunken prisoner - some good jokes where he says he can't have his head chopped off because he's tired and wants to go back to sleep, and the executioner says why not have your head off now and have the sleep afterwards?

The character of Lucio is problematic, as he’s lots of fun, but he should also be unlikeable. I think the guy playing him the BBC adaption, John McEnery, misreads the part. Lucio is a scoundrel, a bastard, and a philanderer. He is not Lord f*cking Snooty. And I think dressing him like that was a mistake too. For the play to work, we have to find it both appropriate and funny that he gets executed at the end - so he shouldn't be sympathetic. But John McEnery is in full Shakespeare mode, enunciating in a stentorian fashion like some sort of Theatre Studies git in a large hat.

Who else is in this weeks' Marple of a cast? Well. this one was a f*cking treat, let me tell you. As Angelo, Tim Piggot-Claws of Axos-Smith. As Mistress Overdone, Adrienne Leisure Hive Corri. As Abhorson, Neil Power of Kroll McCarthy. As Escalus, Kevin Invasion Stoney. As Juliet, wait for it, wait for it...

Yolande Terror of the Vervoids Palfrey!

Yes, everyone's favourite blusher-cheeked Mogarian-murdering space stewardess!

And as Claudio, Christopher Only When It Hurts Strauli. Which leads to me to ask - whatever happened to Christopher Strauli? He was great, as the guy in the bed one along from James Bolam, and I thought he was rather good in largely-forgotten ITV chalk-and-cheese flatshare sitcom Full House too. But he seems to have vanished off the face of the planet. Maybe he should do a Big Finish, they've had Sabina Franklin so if they had him as well they’d be half-way to having a Full House full house.

But I haven't come to the best casting of all. Mariana. Who plays her? Well, let me give you a clue with her introductory speech, as she enters the scene wearing a flowing white gown...

Break off thy song, and haste thee quick away
I must to allay my comfort thine awake
If only I couldst get these finger-nails dry
I will have the Liberator, and Blake!

Yes, it's


Next up: Romeo & Juliet

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