Thanks to a couple of nearby anniversaries, we are hearing more than ever not only what great theatre Shakespeare is, but also what a positive influence he is. By and large, this is true. But the commemorative coin has another side, which is Shakespeare’s repeated mobilisation by fascists, racists and regimes we despise. Firstly, this is a story worth telling. Secondly, what does it mean for the plays today? Ahead of a talk on the subject in Oxford on 11th May, Sheldrake thinks aloud.
It’s difficult to know what, and particularly who, to talk about in Othello. Iago is a distraction, Othello likes to inflate his own sense of himself, whilst Desdemona can seem even less than she is. Which is odd, because the characters too find themselves not quite knowing how to interpret what they see in front of them. Or they misunderstand completely and interpret too easily. Their perspective is awry. And because Shakespeare wants to show us just how easy it is to do that, he makes audience after audience lose their perspective too.
In a resumption of normal service that is perhaps not quite the triumphant return he would like, Sheldrake confesses himself drawn more to the ideas of Measure for Measure than its drama. The discussions of Virtue and Justice in the play are strikingly front and centre, and the social aspects of these philosophical ideas form the matter of this episode. Dodging the comedy/dark comedy/tragicomedy/problem play debate, Sheldrake gives you Measure for Measure; a play about the nature of society.