Letter: Universal truth and oppositional subtlety justify Shakespeare's lasting appeal

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The Independent Online
Sir: Howard Brenton plainly does not understand Measure for Measure ('Will of the people?', 2 June). The happy ending may have satisfied James I, but surely most audiences are not taken in by Vincentio's pasting over the cracks?

The play is as oppositional as you can get - the same Duke takes back the reins of power, having proven himself as, if not more, irresponsible than at the outset. This is not King Lear, in which the eponymous hero has recognised his errors, and become a better person before he dies.

Much more realistically, the same old regime is very much alive. It has retained control, having dabbled with the lives of citizens who are powerless to criticise. We leave the theatre with doubts gnawing at our guts.

As Brenton suggests, 'there was no possibility in the 1590s and the 1600s that a play could be in any way oppositional'. Not overtly, perhaps, in a world that lacked the freedoms Brenton enjoys, and in which attacks upon authority had to be handled rather more subtly than he can usually muster. Shakespeare's ironic ending asks us to question the establishment, Viennese and English, ancient and modern.

If I sought to censor plays, I would be far more inclined to have Measure for Measure on my hit list than anything Brenton has written.

Yours faithfully,




2 June