Venetian Law at The Globe

It was a last minute thing. Zoe, her roommate, Kelly, and I were in the kitchen Sunday night, and we started talking about the things we wanted to do in London. Shakespeare’s Globe naturally came up. Thirty minutes later we had tickets for Measure for Measure for the next day (thanks to the magic of WiFi).

Shakespeare's Globe. © Violet Acevedo
Shakespeare’s Globe. © Violet Acevedo

I love Measure for Measure. Most people have never heard of it (including Zoe), but I think its Shakespeare’s deepest and most complex comedy. Besides the usual themes about love and relationships, it also deals with sexuality, duty, purity, hypocrisy, feminism, and more. I read it for a writing class and have been smitten with it ever since.

The play takes place in a bawdy version of Vienna where people are constantly having sex outside of marriage and prostitutes are visible in the public sphere. (It’s probably not far from the real Shakespearean Vienna, but that’s not the point.) The Duke of Vienna wants to crack down on this immoral behavior but doesn’t want to seem like the bad guy. So he runs off, leaving his hard-ass deputy, Angelo, in charge. Angelo takes it upon himself to enact various old, very strict laws and sentences a guy to death for getting his finance pregnant. This guy’s sister, Isabella, who is minutes away from taking her vows as a nun, is sent for to help persuade Angelo to show mercy. Meanwhile, the Duke disguises himself as a friar and inserts himself into the crisis. Drama and hilarity ensues.

My ticket. © Violet Acevedo
My ticket. © Violet Acevedo

I would’ve jumped at any chance to see Measure for Measure live, but to see it at the Globe was something I couldn’t miss. I probably was the driving force behind our hasty ticket purchasing, but it was worth it. It helped that our tickets were pretty cheap. You see, because we’re poor college students in one of the most expensive cities of the world, we bought the £5 standing tickets.

It far from diminished our experience, though. Described as the “best seats in the house” by the Globe’s website, the area where we stood was where the common man in Shakespeare’s day would’ve stood. By standing there, we became “groundlings.” The walls and pillars of the theater towered over us and the actors looked out over our heads like giants, all of which enhanced the power and experience of the play.

The directors also staged the actors so they interacted with the standing audience. The prostitutes in the beginning pushed through the crowds, laughing and “drinking” literally feet from where we were standing. They even pulled the man in front of us up on stage with them. As we shuffled out of the way, Zoe and I looked at each, an expression of utter excitement on both of our faces. We both couldn’t believe what was going on, that a play could be so up-close and personal.

The view as a "groundling."
The view as a “groundling.” © Violet Acevedo

Things settled down once the Duke entered and all the actors stayed upon the stage above us. We were still so close that we could easily see the tears on Isabella’s face and the stitching in the Duke’s robe. To me, it was the most intimate a play has ever felt.

Overall, save for the occasional plane passing overhead, it was a fantastic performance. The acting was marvelous (especially Mariah Gale as Isabella and Dominic Rowan as the Duke). Everyone played their parts with the perfect blend of outrageous humor and somber drama. They perfectly captured all that I love about the play and more. I would see it again, and indeed I might.

There have been plenty of moments lately in which I can’t quite believe that I’m here in London doing these things. I felt like that the whole night, especially when I stepped out and ended up moving with the flow of the crowds across the Millennium Bridge towards St. Paul’s. The Globe behind me, the Thames below me, the lights of London in front of me, I almost couldn’t grasp what was happening to me…Almost.


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