Gregory Doran explains why he is so excited to be directing Measure for Measure, one of Shakespeare’s so-called 'problem plays', in 2019.

THE PLOT

Measure for Measure has particular resonance today. A young woman appeals to a man in authority to save her brother’s life. He agrees on condition that she sleeps with him. When she threatens to expose him, he asks who would believe her. She turns to the audience and asks, 'To whom should I complain?' #MeToo!”

THE SETTING

Gregory has moved the play to 20th-century Vienna, the birthplace of psychology and “the centre of an explosion in thought, creativity and art. Just think of the people who were working there: Mahler and Schoenberg, artists like Klimt, Schiele and Kokoshka, and the advances in architecture, philosophy, and political thought.

“But it was also the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which would shortly collapse in the First World War along with many of the royal houses of Europe. The sacred and the profane sit closely together in that city. It had one of the great cathedrals in St Stephen’s, but was also notorious for having some of the most successful brothels in Europe.”

Gregory Doran in a dark blue shirt leaning on the balcony
Artistic Director Gregory Doran.
Photo by Ellie Kurttz © RSC Browse and license our images

THE THEMES

“The play has been called Shakespeare’s farewell to comedy. It is certainly the darkest of the comedies. He wrote it shortly after writing Troilus and Cressida, and while it doesn’t reach quite the rancid depths of that play, it certainly probes about in some pretty murky ponds. But I think that makes the play very contemporary. The Jacobean period was a time of uncertainty. The world seemed to have lost its moorings. Moral absolutes were being questioned. I think we recognise that today. We are suspicious of neat happy endings. Life is not like that, and Shakespeare here seems to feel the same.”

Measure for Measure runs in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon between 28 June – 29 August 2019.