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Playing Shakespeare’s Monarchs and Madmen

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Edited By Louis Fantasia

Playing Shakespeare’s Monarchs and Madmen is the third volume in the Peter Lang series, Playing Shakespeare’s Characters. As in the previous volumes, a broad range of contributors (actors, directors, scholars, educators, etc.) analyze the concepts of monarchy, leadership, melancholy and madness with not only references to Elizabethan and Jacobean studies, but also to Trump, Brexit, cross-gender and multi-cultural casting. What does it mean to “play the king” in the 21st century? What is the role of an “all-licensed” Fool in the age of spin? Who gets to represent the power dynamics in Shakespeare’s plays? This volume looks at the Henrys, Richards, Hamlets, Lears and various other dukes and monarchs and explores the ways in which men—and women—approach these portrayals of power and the lessons they hold for us today.

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5. Measure for Measure (Elaine Turner)

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Elaine Turner

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”

Matthew 6:14 (KJV)

“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

Matthew 7:2 (KJV)

The enactment of power and its consequences are addressed in virtually all of Shakespeare’s plays—in some more directly than others, of course. Sometimes they are matched for comparative discussion. For example, in two of the plays a usurper murders the ruler, and his reign is elaborated through the dramatic action. At least three rulers give away their kingdoms while still expecting the benefits of power. Leaving King Lear aside, we find two more rulers handing over the job to a second in command. One, Prospero, so that he can go to his library; the other, the Duke in Measure for Measure, cannot bring himself to enforce the draconian laws he himself has created. The Duke fears his popularity may be at stake if he enacts these laws. His solution is to appoint a deputy, Angelo, to take his place and enforce the laws while he, the Duke, observes in the background, his reputation for kindliness intact.

If all rulers have fools, at first glance one might expect that Angelo, the recipient of the Duke’s poison chalice, is the Duke’s fool. But...

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