In 1985 my wife and I went to the renowned Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario, Canada, expecting a refreshing Elizabethan respite from life in postmodern America. Instead, we found ourselves transported right back to the seamiest side of Chicago. Actors and actresses wearing skimpy leather-and-chains costumes sidled up to theatergoers in the lobby. There was whispered talk of transvestites, nightclub raids, and drug charges.
When the play began, strobe lights and the wail of police sirens filled the hall. The provocative characters who had visited us beforehand were now locked in a cage, writhing obscenely and fondling each other. One woman held the key: the nun Isabella, spotlit in a flowing white dress, the heroine of Shakepeare's play.
Measure for Measure deals with the issue of personal and public morality. To stem the tide in decadent Vienna, the Duke has appointed the stern Angelo to enforce a strict new code of morality. As a showpiece of his crackdown, Angelo arrests young Claudio, a man who got his fiancée pregnant. The plot thickens when Claudio's lovely sister Isabella, a virgin aspiring to the convent, visits Angelo to plead for her brother's life.
Angelo makes Isabella a cynical offer: only if she becomes his lover will he free her brother. Otherwise, Claudio must die. Thus the state's official enforcer of morality will show mercy only if she agrees to an even worse crime. Isabella weighs the consequences. Which is worth more, her own virtue or her brother's life? On one person's integrity hung the future of society.
A Muslim acquaintance once said, "In the Qur'an, I can find nothing to teach us how to be a minority religion, while in the New Testament I can find nothing to teach Christians how to be a majority ...1