On the Frailty of Human Nature in “Measure for Measure”

David Anthony Lewis and Cindy Im
David Anthony Lewis and Cindy Im

The Atlantic is currently running a series in which selected authors share and discuss their favorite passages in literature. Linguist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker chose to discuss a passage from Measure for Measure that served as an epigraph to a chapter called in Inner Demons in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature.

            But man, proud man
Drest in a little brief authority
Most ignoratnt of what he’s most assur’d’
His glassy essence, like an angry ape
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven,
As make the angels weep

Pinker takes apart the passage line by line to probe how Shakespeare (much like a modern psychologist) captures the flaws of human behavior, yet does it with such poetry.

This particular paragraph of Pinker’s caught my attention given the atrocities we’ve been hearing about in the news lately:

History is replete with Angelos. If you were to add up the number of killings by people in pursuit of what they think are moral aims, whether it’s personal vengeance, implementing justice, or hastening a utopia or messianic age, the body count would surely be higher than the victims of amoral predation and exploitation.

Pinker’s exploration is worth the read if only to be reminded how Shakespeare, again and again, is a writer for all ages.

 

Read the Article

Wrapping Up a Momentous Year

We’ve been taking time to reflect on the year gone by and to start setting our sights on the horizon. It’s been a busy and exciting time for the company, and we are enormously proud of the achievements of the past year. When we compared our personal lists of highlights, they differed slightly, so we decided to share them both with you.

George: Richard II was definitely a highlight. Rosa Joshi’s simple yet beguiling production really resonated with audiences. It was heartening to learn that our audience would respond to this challenging and infrequently produced work.

John: Our subscriptions have grown for the 8th year in a row, reaching another all-time high. A 75% increase in season ticket purchases over the past 10 years is something to celebrate.

George: Victor Pappas crafted a sparkling, side-splittingly funny The Importance of Being Earnest that once again showed Oscar Wilde as one of the wittiest writers in the English language. It was great to see houses packed night after night.

John: Every year it just gets better and better. Our Bill’s Bash auction is surely the most fun that anyone will have at a fundraiser, and last spring it hit a high mark. Big thanks to everyone who rolls up their sleeves to make it happen.

George: From March through May a 6-actor troupe serve as our ambassadors across the state. Last spring’s touring productions of Romeo and Juliet and Othello played to more than 15,000 people from Spokane to Orcas Island. They really are our unsung heroes doing the work of inspiring a new generation of Shakespeare lovers.

George: Having director Shelia Daniels back is always a high point. Her King Learwas achingly sad with Dan Kremer’s Lear and Michael Winter’s Gloucester together for a devastating and pitiful Act IV encounter. I was moved every time I saw it.

John: How could anyone not enjoy our rollicking and rocking Wooden O production ofThe Two Gentlemen of Verona? It was also thrilling to see so many powerful and accomplished actresses bring an all-female Julius Caesar to life in the parks. Wooden O is truly my greatest summer treat, and it’s wonderful to know that nearly 10,000 people in 11 different cities also enjoyed free Shakespeare.  And, we returned to Walla Walla after a two year absence to perform Julius Caesar at the Gesa Powerhouse Theatre. A great cap to the summer.

John: I was tremendously proud of George’s staging of Waiting for Godot at ACT Theatre. He captured both the dark tones and the extraordinary humor of the play. George was also the driver behind the Seattle Beckett Festival, a unique, city-wide celebration of Samuel Beckett, with 20 different organizations involved. A wonderful and wide-ranging representation of this great artist’s work.

George: Bringing director Jon Kretzu back for Twelfth Night was a delight. His moody yet merry production surpassed sales expectations and had several folks returning to see it more than once.

John: Our Education Luncheon this fall, chaired by Laurie Stusser-McNeil, drew a full-house of supporters to help fund our state-wide education efforts. And our Power2Give campaign to help underwrite free Shakespeare workshops in schools hit its goal.

John: It was an honor to be invited to participate in ArtsFest with the Spokane Public Schools for the first time this past November. Our education staff provided the theatre component and taught acting skills, stage combat, Elizabethan dance, and scenes from Romeo and Juliet to 10 students from each of the five high schools that participated.

Clearly we (and that means you, too) have a lot to celebrate in these accomplishments. So what’s ahead? Well, for now it’s Measure for Measure with award-winning director Desdemona Chiang at the helm. Then it’s a very full spring filled with Tartuffe andOthello, a tour that already has 60 different schools set in its schedule, a full slate of school residencies, our blow-out auction Bill’s Bash, and much more.

Thank you for being a part of our community and our success.

Have a Happy New Year Year!

Best regards,


George Mount
Artistic Director


John Bradshaw
Managing Director

 

Sex in the City: Measure for Measure

It has been 12 years since Seattle Shakespeare Company last produced “Measure for Measure,” and prior to that it hadn’t been on our stage since 1993. This hard edged fable of justice, morality, and power can be a challenge to stage since it has such a cynical tone even though it is considered a comedy.  How often have you seen the play staged? Take a look back at our previous productions.

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Who were these people? Audiences in Shakespeare’s Day

Globe audiences 2

In Shakespeare’s day, London theaters like the Globe could accommodate up to 3,000 people watching popular plays. With theaters running most afternoons, that could mean as many as 10,000-20,000 people could see a play every week! Who were these people? Shakespeare’s audience was the very rich, the upper middle class, and the lower middle class. All of these people would seek entertainment just as we do today, and they could afford to spend money going to the theater. Royalty might attend the theater in a private gallery, or they would summon the players to perform at their court, as Elizabeth I and James I did.

Globe IllustrationTo get into the Globe, it would cost a penny (there are 240 pence to one pound). In Elizabethan England, one penny would buy a loaf of bread, a pint of ale, or a ticket to the theater. Those who paid just one penny would be known as Groundlings, because they stood on the ground in what was known as “the yard,” which is the area closest to the stage. For another penny, they could sit on a bench just behind the yard. For a penny more, they could sit more comfortably on a cushion. To get into the upper galleries, which were covered and had seats, cost would start at 6 pence.

Audiences in Shakespeare’s time behaved much differently than what we think of today when we go to the theater. In general, audiences were much more rowdy and directly involved in the show than we are today. There was not electricity for special theater lights, so both the stage and the audience were in broad daylight, allowing them to see each other and interact. Shakespeare’s soliloquies would be said directly to the audience, who could potentially answer back! The audience would move around, buy food and ale in the theater, clap for the hero, boo the villain, and cheer for the special effects. The audience might dance at the end of a comedy along with the characters onstage. If an audience didn’t like a play, they might even throw furniture and damage the theater!

Globe audiences 3Shakespeare used several tricks to get and hold his audience’s attention. One that you may notice is that his plays rarely begin with the main characters onstage; usually a minor character begins the first scene. This was because at an Elizabethan theater the lights could not dim to indicate the beginning of a play, it would just begin with characters walking onstage and beginning to speak, usually over the audience’s noise as they settled in to watch the play. The first scene would usually set the mood of the play, but the opening dialogue would not be vital because it might not be easily heard.

Another trick that Shakespeare used was to break up the main action of the play with clowning. In most of his plays, there is comic relief in the form of “clown” or “fool” characters sprinkled throughout the show, making jokes or clowning around onstage. This ensured that even during a 3-hour history play, there would be something that appealed to everyone.

Being an Audience Today

Audiences today can take a cue from Elizabethan audiences to inform how to watch a Shakespeare play. Here are some tips:

  • Remind yourself that the first scene mostly sets the mood of the play, and rarely has vital dialogue, so if you miss some of the words at the beginning, that is ok. It can take a couple minutes to tune your ear to Shakespeare’s unusual language. It’s a little bit like listening to a friend with a heavy accent speak; at first it can be difficult to understand, but after a minute or two it’s easy. Our actors are professionally trained to make sure that you understand the words, so you’ll catch on quickly!
  • Enjoy the play, and feel free to express your enjoyment. Laugh at the clowns, clap for the heroes, gasp at important revelations, and applaud for the actors at the end to thank them for their work. This will keep you engaged in the show, and help let the actors know that the audience is paying attention and enjoying the play.
  • Remember that in a play, unlike in a movie, the actors can see and hear you, too! Even with more sophisticated theater lighting that keeps the stage lit and the audience dim, the actors are often very close to the first few rows, and they can definitely hear the audience. That means please don’t talk to your neighbor during the show, don’t allow your phone to make noise, and don’t text (it lights up your face!) – these can all be very distracting.
  • And finally, remember that the theater is for everyone. In Shakespeare’s day it was a very affordable form of entertainment that appealed to everyone. Theater is not meant to be only for the upper class, only for college graduates, or only for older people. Shakespeare’s plays can speak to you whether you have seen lots of plays or no plays at all, if you’re rich, poor, young, old, or if you enjoy cheap jokes, amazing speeches, or action sequences. Shakespeare wrote his plays to be for everyone, and that still shows through today.

 

Illustrations from “Rebuilding Shakespeare’s Globe” by Andrew Gurr and  John Orrell.

Casting News: Tartuffe

Get ready for some mayhem with Moliere as we will soon be welcoming a new cast to our stage for Tartuffe. Although there are still a few parts that we’re waiting to cast, we’re very excited to share director Makaela Pollock’s company with you.

R. Hamilton Wright will play the wily title character Tartuffe. Wright previously appeared in our 2012 production of Pygmalion. Making their SSC debuts will be Peter Lohnes as Orgon, the master of the household, Quinn Armstrong and Maya Sugarman as the struggling lovers Valére and Mariane, and Suzy Hunt as Madame Pernelle, Orgon’s mother. Bhama Roget will play the clever maid Dorine who tries to expose the trickery of Tartuffe.

Brandon J. Simmons and Alex Matthews, both last seen at SSC in Richard II, will play Orgon’s brother-in-law Cléante and Orgon’s son Damis. Bill Johns, last seen in As You Like It, will play the Officer.

Update: Christine Marie Brown (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) joins the cast as Elmire, Orgon’s wife.