One of the huge blessings of modern life is that you can carry the complete works of Shakespeare around in your pocket, to be read whenever you like, or have got tired of Angry Birds.
I last read Measure for Measure in 1995 and don’t think I was paying as much attention as now. In any case, I am not sure how it ends, which is delicious as the plot is set up beautifully. I have just read and reread that wonderful scene between Angelo and Isabella where the latter pleads for her brother’s life, the brother being condemned for getting his girl pregnant. In the course of it all, Angelo evokes classic principles of justice from an unforgiving right wing point of view.
Be you content, fair maid;
It is the law, not I condemn your brother:
Were he my kinsman, brother, or my son,
It should be thus with him: he must die tomorrow.
Prevention by fierce example:
The law hath not been dead, though it hath slept:
Those many had not dared to do that evil,
If the first that did the edict infringe
Had answer’d for his deed: now ’tis awake
Takes note of what is done; and, like a prophet,
Looks in a glass, that shows what future evils,
Either new, or by remissness new-conceived,
And so in progress to be hatch’d and born,
Are now to have no successive degrees,
But, ere they live, to end.
Yet show some pity.
I show it most of all when I show justice;
For then I pity those I do not know,
Which a dismiss’d offence would after gall;
And do him right that, answering one foul wrong,
Lives not to act another. Be satisfied;
Your brother dies to-morrow; be content.
So you must be the first that gives this sentence,
And he, that suffer’s. O, it is excellent
To have a giant’s strength; but it is tyrannous
To use it like a giant.
Isabella also makes some beautiful points about how authority gets away with different standards:
Thou rather with thy sharp and sulphurous bolt
Split’st the unwedgeable and gnarled oak
Than the soft myrtle: but man, proud man,
Drest in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he’s most assured,
His glassy essence, like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,
Would all themselves laugh mortal.
That in the captain’s but a choleric word,
Which in the soldier is flat blasphemy.
The irony comes as Angelo falls in love with Isabella and finds himself tempted to the very same crime he wishes to punish with summary execution. This all reminds me of Tory ministers, back to basics, 1994-7, lots of after-confessions. (though I can’t helping thinking, with Twitter and McClennan and all that, that it is now the Captains who are not allowed the choleric word, while the mere soldiers blaspheme all too readily).
I am otherwise reading Sandel’s Justice. Will be very interested to know if he uses any Shakespeare, who is quite clearly superior to every clunking political thinker in history.