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Measure for Measure - Character Breakdown

May 3, 2018

M – Male; F- Female; NS – Non-specific
 

N. B. Our production will be set in Italy in the 1960s, and the production will be in the visual style of
La Dolce Vita. Therefore be aware that the characterizations will be more modern and movie-Italian
than is traditional for this play. The only accents are for the wiseguys and for Elbow.

 

The actors who have one-scene or otherwise brief roles will be invited to be part of The Paparazzi.
 

Chorus – NS Any age/No age – Comments on moments and characters using either the text of this
play or of other Shakespeare plays. A sort of “host/hostess” for the evening, intended to put the play in
context.

 

The Duke M – 30-50 Charming, intelligent, a bit careless about others. Tends to improvise rather than
thinks things through. Would like to be a stern and feared leader, but his instincts are kinder and more
sensitive. A very large, extensive, and even contradictory role. In the original, has more lines than
Lear, Richard III or Macbeth.

 

Isabella - F 20-30 A novitiate about to take her vows, her eloquence in asking for a pardon for her
brother arouses lust in the formerly cold Angelo. She feels so strongly about her religious calling that
she does not hesitate to refuse Angelo's advances, believing her vows and her chastity to be more
important than her brother's life. (This role was probably written before Portia in The Merchant of
Venice and may be a “rough draft” of that character.)

 

Claudio – M 20 -30 Condemned to death for impregnating his fiancee (as was common), he is at first
bitter at Isabella's refusal to compromise herself for his life, then later resigned to death. He speaks
much of the best poetry in the play.

 

Angelo - M 25-40 Selected by the Duke to substitute for him because of his coldness and lack of
mercy. He is unexpectedly aroused by the eloquence and strength of Isabella and proposes she sleep
with him in exchange for pardoning her brother, an extreme lapse in his behavior. When he is caught,
he wishes for death rather than marriage to his rejected fiancee. Severely judgmental, even with
himself.

 

Escalus -NS – 40+ Escalus is a patient counselor to the Duke, and thence to Angelo who advises the
latter to be more merciful. Loyal to the Duke and seeks to carry out his orders justly, but cannot go
against Angelo's will. Has a number of scenes as “straight man” to the clowns in the play, exasperated
with their foolishness and immorality.

 

Lucio – M 25-45 Makes his living doing a bit of this and a bit of that, all of questionable legality.
Over-dressed and a motormouth – think Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. When the Duke is disguised as a
priest, Lucio gets himself in trouble by telling the “priest” what a liar and whoremonger the Duke is.
He protests his punishment, being forced to marry the whore he has bragged of impregnating.

 

Juliet – F 20-30 Claudio's loyal fiancee. Very limited dialogue.
 

Mariana F - 20-30 - Angelo's erstwhile fiancee, whom he rejected when her dowry was lost at sea
(along with her brother); she loves the stern Angelo enough to agree to substitute for Isabella in bed;
and later to ask Isabella to plead for Angelo's life, even though it is believed that Angelo has had
Isabella's brother killed.

 

Mistress Overdone - F 30+ A madam not far past her own working days, stressed and hassled by
Angelo's orders to close down the brothels.

 

Pompey - M 30+ Pompey is a pimp for Mistress Overdone's house, who, while imprisoned, agrees to
assist the executioner in exchange for clemency. In our production, think Paulie Walnuts.

 

Provost -NS 30+ Law enforcement officer detailed to the Duke's service. Calm, impartial.
 

Jailer – NS 30+ Operates the jail and is less concerned with punishment than with taking care of
his/her charges. Very sympathetic to Claudio and other prisoners.

 

Elbow - NS 30+ Elbow is a dim-witted constable who arrests people for misconduct, particularly of the
sexual variety. He speaks in malapropisms and provides comic-relief throughout the play. Auditioners
interested in the role may be asked to read in an Inspector Clouseau bad French accent.

 

Barnadine - M 30+ A mad, profane, disrespectful murderer and pirate who has spent nine years
awaiting execution and doesn't give a damn anymore. When the Duke does pardon him, he curses the
Duke out. A bad-tempered John Belushi.

 

Father Peter M 30+ A kind and helpful cleric who assists in the Duke's plans, particularly for
Mariana.

 

Froth M 30+ A clown role, caught by Elbow for immorality, and seeks to argue his way out of it.
Could be a “Wiseguy” as well.

 

Francisca F 25+ A nun, friend to Isabella, who has taken her vows. She is surprised at Isabella's
strictness and extreme devotion to her faith.

 

Abhorson NS 30+ The executioner, exasperated with the idiocy and laziness of his new assistant,
Pompey.

 

The Swarm – A group of men and women in elegant evening wear (plus some shabbily dressed
journalists) who slink across the stage as a single unit, gabbling (silently), taking photos, writing down
notes, carrying cigarette holders and martini glasses, representing the amoral mass who move from
party to party either as invitees or as the press, solely for the purpose of getting attention and passing
notoriety. They are the embodiment of the social conditions that the Duke's lax and vacillating
standards have produced. They will appear between scenes to convey us from one place to another;
and in some of the court scenes, as well as the final public scene.

 

 

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