April 26, 2015

Bard on the Blogs || Measuring Up "Measure for Measure"

In case you missed it, I'm teaming up with Alyssa of Books Take You Places for Bard in the Blogs! Alyssa and I share a mutual love for William Shakespeare and his work, so we decided it would be an excellent idea to celebrate with a little blog event. I'm so thrilled to have so many wonderful people guest posting on both my blog and Alyssa's blog, so a big thank you goes out to those who volunteered to share with us! I hope you enjoy all the posts (and look out for the giveaway too)! Today's post is by Alisa of Papercuttts. She's sharing her thoughts on an audiobook of Measure for Measure today!


My experience with Shakespeare has always been positive. I’ve been fortunate in that every interaction I’ve had with his great works has been easy to understand and a delight to take in.  I’ve never been forced to drudge through reading play scripts. In fact, I’ve never read anything by Shakespeare. The only things I know about him are through the plays that I’ve watched.

“Gosh, maybe I’m just a super genius, but I’ve never had trouble understanding Ye Olde English, or getting Shakespeare’s jokes,” I would mumble to friends who were bemoaning their lifeless English lit classes. A wiser, more humble Alisa knows that the reason it was easy for me was because the actors and directors did all the hard work. There are two languages happening when you watch a play: spoken language and visual language. Reading a play from a piece of paper takes away 50% of what’s being communicated. It’s the job of the actors to communicate the other 50%, the visual language, to the audience in a way that makes sense.

Too bad I can’t go to the theatre and see a Shakespeare play whenever I want. Thinking audiobooks would be a good compromise between reading a play and watching a live performance, I thanked my fairy bookmother when I saw that my library had lots available. I selected the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s recording of Measure for Measure for a few reasons. First, I knew nothing about the plot. Second, the OSF is pretty famous for doing great productions. Lastly, the summary promised mariachi music and a contemporary setting while still staying true to the roots of the story.

The basic plot is this: a guy misses one small technicality in the process to become legally married, gets his wife pregnant, then is thrown in prison by a zealous judge. Fornication is punishable by death, so he’s now on death row. The guy’s sister, a nun-in-training, learns of the news and pleads with the judge to keep her brother alive. The judge agrees, if she gives him her virginity. I won’t spoil the ending, but the corruption gets worse before it gets better.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival cast (from 2011 in this recording) is pretty stellar. There are one or two actors that were hesitant and jerky for some reason that I can’t explain (this was recorded in a studio, not with a live audience). But the important characters communicated feelings, emotions, and humor with their voices.

There was one major problem that ruined my experience. While I could have recognized different characters on stage because of their faces and clothes, I didn’t get any of those details in the audio-only recording. There are a handful of female characters that have very different voices and accents, but many of the male characters sound the same. Some scenes have several males who never addressed each other by name, so I had no idea who was talking, what their relationships were to the other characters, or even how many people were on the stage. About halfway through the two-hour play, I was so frustrated that I paused and read a detailed plot summary on Wikipedia. Only after that did things make sense.

As far as the contemporization goes, the director tried to place it in a 1970’s latino setting, I think. Sex out of marriage is a big fat no-no, and is central to the plot, so it’s an okay fit with conservative Catholic culture. Many of the characters had Spanish accents, and the transition music was contemporary urban mariachi. Sometimes the actors substituted Spanish words or phrases in place of older Elizabethan English. Thee’s and thou’s were still in full use, however. And the city remained, as in the original, Vienna, Austria. That made me scratch my head. Like, if you’re already making the characters say things in Spanish, why in the world wouldn’t you change the name of the city?

The story itself is timeless, and sadly, the gross injustices that it addresses are still recognizable 411 years after its writing. It’s a good conversation piece for societal perceptions of men who have sex vs women who have sex. I would definitely pay to see this on stage. But this particular production lacks forethought and logic, and fails to deliver an understandable, fluent masterpiece to the audience. Bottom line: ditch the director, stick with Shakespeare!


Thanks for sharing, Alisa! I've never listened to a Shakespeare audiobook before, and can only imagine what it must have been like for you. You have reminded me, however, that it's been quite some time since I've read Measure for Measure so I'll have to check it out soon.

As previously mentioned, Alyssa & I also teamed up for a giveaway. We're going to be picking TWO WINNERS to pick the SHAKESPEARE RETELLING of their choice. Best part? It's open INTERNATIONALLY (as long as Book Depository ships to your country). For an idea of what retellings you can pick, here's a handy list. You can enter via the Rafflecopter form below.


  1. Christina @ Between BookendsApril 26, 2015 at 8:53 AM

    I've tried listening to a dramatic audio production of Romeo and Juliet and had the same problem where I couldn't tell some of the characters a part. Maybe if I listened to a play that I knew VERY well I wouldn't have the problem as much. Or maybe confusion is just a natural part of listening to something that was made to be watched.
    I had someone tell me that Measure for Measure was one of their favorite plays so I decided to read it. When I got a bit into it I thought it was going to go in a very different direction than what it did. My end reaction was "What the heck was that?!".

  2. Woohoo, I'm glad I inspired you to do a re-read!


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