Watching Measure for Measure — performed as part of the Old Globe’s “Globe for All” program, which injects free productions into unconventional venues all over town — I got deja vu listening to Angelo, the autocratic deputy hell-bent on cleaning up licentious Vienna, excuse himself from the moral culpability of ordering Claudio’s execution:
- “Be you content, fair maid.
- “It is the law, not I condemn your brother.
- “Were he my kinsman, brother, or my son,
- “It should be thus with him. He must die to-morrow.”
- Where have I heard that sentiment before?
Oh. Right. The Supreme Court.
Now, everybody heard all about that “mere factual innocence is no reason not to carry out a death sentence properly reached” quotation, which was, in all fairness, a borderline libelous misconstruction tailor-made to fit Twitter-length pseudo-journalism. Still, late-Justice Antonin Scalia often made headlines for his hard-ass approach to the humanitarian causes that come before the ad hoc political entity posing as the nation’s highest court. When Lawrence v. Texas struck down draconian sodomy laws in Texas, Scalia bemoaned (and with his brilliant intellect predicted) the inevitability of legal gay marriage on the grounds that because the Constitution doesn’t give gay people any special rights, why should he? He famously brushed off a Boston Globe reporter with a rude-ish gesture, and don’t get him started on abortion.
Ignoring his salty disposition, Justice Scalia arguably changed the image of the judge from the executor of wise discretion to the dispassionate arbiter of the law — a position that, by the end of Act II, Measure for Measure demonstrates is untenable. So great was Scalia’s influence, that by the time John Roberts sat down for his confirmation hearing in 2005, the future Chief Justice claimed his role would be like “an umpire.”
You know, one of those “life-and-death” umpires.
Despite the 400+ candles on its birthday cake, Measure for Measure is still surprisingly relevant. That big, glaring vacancy on the Supreme Court will be filled by someone who must at least pay lip service to the “umpire” conceit in order to pass the Senate hearings. Maybe if everyone just boned up on his Shakespeare we wouldn’t still be having this debate.
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Measure for Measure runs through November 20.