Monday, October 4, 2010

Mercy and Resistance

Last Thursday, I saw “Measure for Measure” by William Shakespeare. This breathtaking spectacle was performed by the American Shakespeare Center. A theme of mercy coincides with the work of literature we covered in class, “The Gilded Six-Bits” by Zora Neale Hurston. In both plots, compassion overcomes revenge for the evils of the wrongdoer. Another common theme is sexual resistance in the play and “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell.

When I walked into McManus Theater, I was greeted by the sound of lovely music. I was amazed at their musical talents, hearing different and complex harmonies. I sat in the front row and shortly thereafter, the show began. I had no predispositions or previous knowledge about the play’s quality or plot. The first actor, the Duke of Vienna, came onstage and executed each of his lines with charismatic brilliance. Being only five minutes into the play, I was already enthralled and transported to a new time and place.

The play was about the importance of justice, honesty, and mercy. The Duke of Vienna pretended to leave his court on a trip, so his inferior, Angelo, would take over power while he was away. Meanwhile, the Duke disguised himself as a Friar to spy on him. Angelo had enforced stricter laws dealing with sexual immorality, though he did not follow these laws himself. He had sentenced Claudio, who impregnated his lover premaritally, to death. His sister, Isabella, petitioned for his life and unknowingly caused Angelo to form a deep desire for her. Isabella agreed to the Friar’s plan to trick Angelo into thinking he was having her at night when it was really his fiance Mariana. Because of this agreement, Angelo said he would let her brother free, but he turns back on his word and keeps Claudio’s death sentence. At the climactic scene of the play, the Friar exposes himself as the Duke when Angelo denies the claims by Isabella about his deceits. This shocks everyone as the truth is revealed about Angelo’s mischief.

Mercy is a key subject in the play. The greatest act of mercy was when Isabella petitioned for Angelo’s life when he is sentenced to death. Mariana pleads her to do so and she then convinces the Duke to rescind the sentence. It took Isabella great strength and forgiveness for her to be able to ask for Angelo’s acquittal. He attempted to force her to bed with him, lied about his agreement, condemned her brother to death, and denied her accusations in front of the Duke. Yet she still finds compassion in her heart to feel Mariana’s pain and plead for him. The Duke also displays mercy when he listens to the pleas of Mariana and Isabella and revokes his original penalty of death for Angelo. He only forces him to marry Mariana and prays that he will cleanse his soul of his evils.

This major theme of mercy in the play reminded me of Joe in “The Gilded Six- Bits” by Zora Neale Hurston. In the story, Joe caught his wife, Missie May, cheating on him with the wealthy ice cream parlor owner, Otis Slemmons. This creates a tear in their happy relationship which causes Missie May to think of her husband as a stranger. After Missie May gives birth to their son, Joe goes back to the candy store and buys sweets that he used to hide for Missie May to discover during their weekly playful rituals. Because of this act of forgiveness, their marriage had a necessary rejuvenation.

Another theme in the play is sexual resistance. The play comedically intertwines friars and nuns with prostitutes and pimps. When Angelo condemns Claudio to death, Isabella begs for his freedom. Angelo decides he will accept if Isabella will have him in bed. She immediately refuses and tells Claudio to prepare for death. She loathes Angelo so greatly that she is willing to accept the death of her brother rather than sacrifice her virginity. In Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”, the speaker wishes for his lover to ‘seize the day’, carpe diem, and sleep with him. He says “Had we but world enough, and time, this coyness, lady, were no crime” (lines 1-2). Because his mistress is refraining from sex, the speaker informs her there is not enough time in life to spend being abstinent. He is pressuring her to consent and reminding her of their immortality when he says “then worms shall try that long preserved virginity” (lines 27-28).

“Measure for Measure” was a wonderful play excellently performed by the American Shakespeare Center. The acting was truly brilliant and a once in a lifetime experience. I related the play to “The Gilded Six-Bits” because they both had showed the main character displaying humanity towards their wrongdoers. This quality shows that they have generous hearts and a benevolent nature. I also related the play to “To His Coy Mistress” because there is an underlying pressure of sexual relations with someone who is not willing.

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