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

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

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
A suited man eyes up the moral calibre of a burlesque troupe  

Be they burlesque dancers or arms dealers, a bank has no business judging the morality of its clients

John Walsh
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star