There have been a few Saturdays when I have been invited to two birthday parties on the same day. Always, these birthday parties were for Veronica’s friends.
Yesterday, the second birthday party was for one of my friends. And we were all going to have a picnic at Shakespeare in Griffith Park.
Griffith Park is Hollywood–all the way Hollywood.
They were performing Measure for Measure which is very NOT Hollywood.
This is what I have learned about Hollywood from living here, and from experiencing the huge amount of entertainment that this juggernaut puts out:
Hollywood does not go deep. There is a limit to how deep you can go in a movie.
I like books, and a book can go deep. So deep.
I think that books turned into movies often are so disappointing. There are things that one can do with the material of a book that doesn’t translate into film, and vice versa.
Measure for Measure is Shakespeare’s ambitious exploration of justice and mercy. A town that’s gotten too lax with their morality, so the Duke decided to tighten things up and goes out of town so his deputy Angelo can do the job for him. Angelo immediately sentences a nobleman to death for getting his fiancée pregnant.
The doomed nobleman had a very moral sister, who postponed taking her vows to join a convent to save her brother’s life.
The conversations between Angelo and the sister really allow for this idea to be discussed. Isabella the nun could speak with innocence on the matter. Few can. Even Angelo, who condemns the sinning nobleman, proves that he is not innocent.
The idea of this play reminds me of Crime and Punishment, Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece exploring whether a crime can be excused because of the greatness of the man who commits it.
Also, Isabella reminded me of Antigone, the Greek heroine of the play that gives up her life for honor.
Plays are best in expressing action. Books are better at showing thoughts.
I first read Measure for Measure when I was more of Angelo’s mindset. I had a lot of iron-clad judgments. I didn’t know how to break free of them.
Isabella was caught between love for her brother and her dedication to a chaste life. Still, she can see how he deserves mercy because she loves him so much.
There are not so many people dedicated to trying to be perfect. Isabella represents the contrast. She DID play by the rules. She was an ascetic, but she still found mercy in her heart.
Shakespeare did some exploration of the problem, some rhetoric in iambic pentameter. But the reason this play works is because the arguments are not as compelling as the actions.
The act of killing the nobleman is too far. Arguments are not enough to cover the wrongness of taking this man’s life.
Even in Crime and Punishment, the deep sticky thoughts of the hero would have remained only his business except that he acted.
And Angelo acted. He sentenced a man to death.
The action took it out of ideas and into reality.
Books are ideas. Plays are action. They are performed in Acts, for goodness sake!
The idea of judgement and mercy is a toy until it comes down to the action. And the act is the most real thing ever.
I have learned how to release judgement by this time. I have learned how to choose a better action than condemnation. Which means I can encounter this book or play in a different way. Which is part of what the glory of art is about.