Measure for Measure: Casting the Star

  • Ralph Berry


What is the star part for a male actor? Extraordinary in this as in other issues, Measure for Measure gives a shifting answer to the simplest of questions. It is hard to be equivocal over the standing of the major Shakespearean parts; the ratings are confirmed on an exchange over four centuries. One might shade one or two ratings, certainly. Julius Caesar is probably considered a rather better part than in the past — a miniaturized major role, rather than a decent middleorder role. An actor might fairly hesitate between Laertes and Horatio,1 or choose Caliban over Prospero. But these are marginalia. One knows where one stands. All the more astonishing, then, is the shift in Measure for Measure. The thesis is that the star part used to be Angelo, and now, from the early 1970s, is the Duke. This thesis is stated with exemplary clarity by Adrian Noble of the RSC, in interview. ‘When I first saw Measure for Measure, here in Stratford in 1970 — John Barton’s production — the leading character was Angelo, without doubt. Nowadays the leading character is either Isabella or the Duke — probably the Duke.’2


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  1. 1.
    Michael Redgrave tells how he persuaded Tyrone Guthrie to change his offer from Horatio to Laertes. ‘Laertes by all means if you prefer, though I’d call Horatio the better part.’ Michael Redgrave, In My Mind’s Eye (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1983), p. 96.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ralph Berry, On Directing Shakespeare: Interviews with Contemporary Directors (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1989), pp. 167–68.Google Scholar
  3. 11.
    Jane Williamson, The Duke and Isabella on the Modern Stage,’ in The Triple Bond: Plays, Mainly Shakespearean, in Performance, ed. Joseph G. Price (University Park and London: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1975), pp. 149–69.Google Scholar
  4. 16.
    Irving Wardle, The Times, 2 April 1970.Google Scholar
  5. 17.
    Michael Billington, Guardian, 5 September 1974.Google Scholar
  6. 18.
    Irving Wardle, The Times, 5 September 1974.Google Scholar
  7. 19.
    Hilary Spurling, Observer, 8 September 1974.Google Scholar
  8. 20.
    Richard David, Shakespeare in the Theatre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), p. 9.Google Scholar
  9. 21.
    Irving Wardle, The Times, 14 August 1975.Google Scholar
  10. 27.
    Michael Bogdanov’s thinking on Measure for Measure can be gleaned from an extensive review of his production at Stratford, Ontario, in 1985.Google Scholar
  11. In it he cast two leading Canadian actors, Alan Scarfe and Nicholas Pennell, as the Duke and Angelo, with the focus on the Duke. See Herbert S. Weil, Jr., ‘Stratford Festival Canada,’ Shakespeare Quarterly 37 (1986), 245–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Ralph Berry 1993

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  • Ralph Berry

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