Adapting Measure For Measure

I did ‘Measure for Measure’ for my a-levels, and in one lesson our teacher asked the class what we would do to adapt it for stage or screen. My 18-year-old mind immediately jumped to the ‘set it in space’ idea. It’s a simple formula: lasers make good stuff great. Problem solved.

But I’ve grown dissatisfied with that since then. It’s been bugging me. Recently, I’ve had a brainwave. Any future directors are herby encouraged to steal this idea and make it a reality, because I can’t wait to see it executed.

‘Measure for Measure’ is a noir. The city of Vienna, where the play is set, is basically an early modern version of ‘Sin City’ -- brutal law and order, corrupt politicians, diseased prostitutes. The Duke is exactly like the villain from ‘Chinatown’ -- a twisted, unknowable evil pulling all the strings. Lucio is the detective/journalist who stumbles on the plot of the play, and tries to fathom what’s going on behind it.

The interplay between the ‘Duke of dark corners’ and Lucio, who shines light on them, is perfect for the light/dark division in noir. The night is when the plots get woven by the bad guys, the hero has to unravel them during the day. Also, the plot in ‘Measure for Measure’ gets increasingly unintelligible and ridiculous, much like many noir classics e.g. ‘LA Confidential’.

A bit of a stretch, maybe, but Isabella could be played as a femme fatale. She could be seen to use her allure to get Angelo to do what she wants (then again, the text suggests she does it unwittingly). More problematic is that she is not fleeing from the machinations of the Duke into the arms of the hero (a classic noir set-up). She is the active agent in driving things forward and saving her brother -- a role usually reserved for the male hero.

At the end of the play, Isabella has no one to run to -- everyone is married off. Her silence at the prospect of marrying the Duke can and should be played as disturbing. The play ends seemingly happy, but in fact the happiness of the multiple marriages is deeply problematic. ’Measure for Measure’ builds a world where people are a rancid collection of lusts, who must drink in order to forget the terrible emptiness of their natures. Vienna’s politicians have the impossible task of managing such a diseased and corrupted city, and in the end they are revealed to be either even more corrupt (Angelo) or unknowably mad (the Duke). Such ideas scream noir -- where endings are also left open, with the heroes trying to understand and come to terms with the unstoppable evils of the world.

Right. There’s your pitch. Go and make it.


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