Rigid or Pliant

The Duke and Isabel in Measure for Measure.

“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” ~ Joseph Campbell

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” ~ Robin Williams

“They say best men moulded out of faults;
And, for the most, become much more the better
For being a little bad; so may my husband.” Mariana in Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare

I’m preparing to direct a lesser known Shakespeare play, Measure for Measure this spring. If you don’t know it, it might be worth your while to read, listen to, or watch it. Here is a brief synopsis of the play:

The Duke of Vienna is facing a dilemma. Licentiousness is overtaking the the city. The laws are harsh against this behavior, especially sexual misconduct. The Duke has not enforced these laws for nine years, presumably because he doesn’t agree with them, or perhaps he has just inherited his title and is unsure of how to proceed.

He goes out into the city disguised as a friar to observe and listen to the regular people. In his place he leaves Angelo, one of his deputies – who is thought to be a pious and upright man – in charge with the Duke’s full powers. He asks Escalus, another deputy, to be Angelo’s second in command.

The minute the Duke is gone, Angelo begins to show his true colors and abuses his power. He makes an example of Claudio and his betrothed, Juliet, by arresting them because they are about to become parents. Angelo condemns Claudio to death within a few days time.

Isabella, Claudio’s sister goes to Angelo to plead for her brother’s life. Angelo is taken with her and tells her he will release her brother if she will “love” him.

The Duke hears of this and sets about exposing Angelo and saving Isabella, Claudio, and Juliet.

In a conversation with our guest artist, who has done this play seven times in one capacity or another, he pointed out that both Angelo and Isabella are rigid, inflexible people. That was an idea I had not considered as I was studying the play once again. That idea got me wondering why that might be. What is it about these two people that make them want to keep such a tight reign on their emotions? At first I didn’t understand them, until I remembered that when I was a teenager, I had very much the same attitude.

Perhaps it was because my mother kept telling me that I needed to control my emotions, or it might have been because of the fact that we moved a lot as I was growing up. I attended two different elementary, junior high, and high schools. Over the years I became very guarded in my interactions with the other students. I wanted to retain as much control over myself and my environment as possible because who knew when we were going to pick up, move again, and I’d have to start all over with a new school environment and set of friends.

Slowly, as I graduated high school and sought out new experiences, I began to open up and become more flexible. But as I did, an interesting thing happened. I was confronted over and over again by inflexible people who wanted to control my life decisions. I learned something very valuable from those controlling people. Trying to make life fit into the little box of one’s belief systems is a death sentence for the soul. We are confronted with all kinds of life experiences and often what we had planned for our lives gets shattered in some way and we have to regroup.

People who are flexible, open their eyes to all the myriad possibilities that might be better than what they originally planned for themselves. They learn to accept their flaws, mistakes and wrong assumptions, and use them to become better people.

Inflexible people have it much harder. They become judgmental, or depressed, or angry, or live lives of quiet desperation because they don’t want to do any self-examination.

In Measure for Measure, it’s unclear whether Angelo and Isabella embrace the chance at self-examination and growth. The play ends before we know their decisions. But Mariana’s line that I quoted above (she’s Angelo’s rejected betrothed) is, to me, the main theme of the play. The fact that she gets Isabella to forgive Angelo, and the Duke to rescind his order to have Angelo executed, is an indication that her loving and open nature will have a profound effect on all three of the main characters in the future.

That line has already had a profound effect on me. It has made me want to release more of my rigid thought patterns and become even more open and pliable so I can be of better service to those around me.

In closing I want to share one of my favorite quotes from the Tao Te Ching. When I first read it, the truth of the words resonated deep within and cemented my resolve to become a flexible person. This has been a lifelong process.

Tao Te Ching 41 (76) New translation by Victor H. Mair

“Human beings are
soft and supple when alive,
stiff and straight when dead.

The myriad creatures, the grasses and trees are
soft and fragile when alive,
dry and withered when dead.

Therefore, it is said:
The rigid person is a disciple of death;
The soft, supple, and delicate are lovers of life.

An army that is inflexible will not conquer;
A tree that is inflexible will snap.

The unyielding and mighty shall be brought low;
The soft, supple, and delicate will be set above.”

These are just some things I’ve been thinking about as I’ve studied this most interesting play.

Thanks for reading, liking and commenting. I appreciate your thoughts.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2018

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel, and is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, and print-on-demand at Amazon and other fine book sellers. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

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