A Muslim 'Measure for Measure'? That's one updated version of Shakespeare I'd love to see

Plus: Absurd person singular in Mohsin Hamid's new novel and "feel-good" isn't good enough for Parks and Recreation

Share
Related Topics

Does Shakespeare always have to be our contemporary? Many theatregoers will surely have had moments when they answered "no" – when the prospect of a period production of the play they're watching will have risen up like a tantalising mirage, overlaying the storm-troopers or the city bankers or the Edwardian toffs who have been selected to refresh our sensibilities. It's even happened to me now and then – and I count myself as pretty easy-going about these things. But it can be very soothing, sometimes, to think of a production that dispenses with all forms of conceptual seduction and simply lets the language do the work.

The other day though I found myself daydreaming about a high-concept production which (as far as I've been able to determine) has never been attempted but seemed to fit at every angle. That's often a problem with contemporary productions. An ingenious setting will make perfect sense of one aspect of the play but generate all kinds of problems at another. But in this case the setting and play seemed to snap together like two Lego bricks, with a solid click that no more conventional production could hope to match – in part because the assumptions around which the play was built have steadily peeled away from the ones we – in this country at least – live with every day.

What I'd like to see – quite eagerly, now that I've spent some time thinking about it – is a Muslim Measure for Measure. One reason is that it's one of my favourite Shakespeare plays and I'm always happy to see another production. But another is that an Islamic setting would make it less of a problem play than it usually is. Think about it. The setting isn't Vienna any more but a minor Gulf state. The Duke is in fact an Emir, educated at an English public school and thus susceptible to a certain relativism in the application of the moral code. Angelo is a mullah, rigid in his application of Sharia law, but prone to temptations. Isabella, as the historian Tom Holland pointed out when I mentioned this on Twitter, would be perfect as a pious hijabi, while Claudio makes pretty good sense as one of those rich young Gulf state playboys, nightclubbing and racing their Maseratis along some desert corniche. The more dubious lowlives could be British expats, shocked to find that the blind eye suddenly isn't so blind any more.

It isn't just that a contemporary setting can be made to fit Shakespeare's original one though, but that the modern location revives, as vividly real concerns, dilemmas that a secular audience is inclined to address at one remove. Isabella can easily look neurotic in her defence of virginity to a non-religious audience, but not, surely in this case – in a culture which prizes sexual honour so highly. Claudio's plight – in attempting to prostitute his sister for his own life – recovers some of the intensity it has inevitably lost. And the debate between Angelo and the Duke, between unyielding literalism and a more flexible attitude to human weakness is a live issue for many Muslim societies. Even the beheadings and the arranged marriages at the end would make a little more sense. Do the play like this and you plug it into a live source of current which makes all kinds of things in the text light up again.

The only problem being, I guess, that there's no earth. Would anyone dare touch the thing for fear of electrocution? You'd have to plan for pickets – given the eager readiness of some sections of the Muslim community (mostly unrepresentative sections, it should be said) to take offence. The pickets though would be proof that this was more than a gimmick. I'd love it if someone took the risk.

Absurd person singular

You pick up a novel and discover that it is written in the second person singular. Your heart sinks, because you've never been entirely sure about this form of narration. It seems to promise a greater immersion. And since How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, the new novel by Mohsin Hamid, pictured, presents itself as an unusually literate self-help book you see there's reason for this form. But, as it continues, you can't help but feel continuously pushed out of the story, particularly when it starts making demonstrably false statements about "your father" and "your background". You read on, muttering.

Aren't all comedies feel good?

I was a bit startled to hear a BBC continuity announcer the other night introduce Parks and Recreation as "the feel-good comedy". Had she watched it at all? "Feel awkward comedy" might have worked, given most of the big laughs in Greg Daniels and Michael Schurs' series come from the mismatch between the central character's dreams of public service and the banality of her day-to-day work. Leslie Knope, we understand, is irrepressible but her colleagues never give up. Of course you do end up feeling good – or better anyway – after watching, but shouldn't that be true of any decent comedy? I can't help thinking that a descriptor so bland (often code for 'not terribly funny but it should make you smile') isn't good enough for Parks and Recreation

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Account Manager

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SEO Account Manager is requi...

Guru Careers: .NET Developer / Web Developer

£35-45K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a .NET Developer / Web ...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Manager - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Commercial Manager is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Hollywood: Stop trying to make Superman cool. The world needs a boy scout in blue

Matthew Daly
A man enjoys the  

If you really want to legalise cannabis, then why on earth would you go and get high in a park?

Peter Reynolds
Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders