Crime, Sex, and Punishment: The Shakespearean Experience

By Keyonna Gellin, Collin Bouressa, Lauren Knisbeck & Valeria Tavarez


The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay’s Theatre & Dance department put on a production of William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. The play ran from November 2nd to the 4th. The play tackled heavy topics such as sexual oppression, gender politics, the role of the church, and abuse of the state and the criminal justice system.

Collection of photos and information regarding Measure for Measure outside of the University Theatre in Theatre Hall. Photo by Keyonna Gellin

History of the Play

Measure for Measure was published in Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, a collection of plays by William Shakespeare and is commonly known as the First Folio. The collection was published in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death. This collection is widely considered one of the most important texts in literary history. It was the first published collection of Shakespeare’s plays, and without this publication, at least 18 of his plays may have been lost forever since they never received printed editions. Measure for Measure is an example of one of these pieces.

Measure for Measure was first performed in 1604. Literary scholars argue about the basis of the play, but many agree that the Bible, specifically the Gospel of Matthew, is thought to be one of the main influences for the plot. There is a focus on themes of sin, restraint, mercy, and rebirth. The play was considered controversial in Victorian times. Additionally, Oxford University decided it needed to be edited when it played on their stage in 1906. The play has been running ever since its inception in the early 1600s.

In the play, the main source of conflict surrounds Claudio, a man who impregnated his fiancée, Juliet. Due to a newly reinstated law, Claudio is to die for this crime. Angelo, the interim law enforcer in the absence of the Duke, draws a hard line when it comes to the law but is willing to excuse Claudio for his crimes if his sister, Isabella, sleeps with him. Being a pious woman, Isabella is torn between her vow of chastity and her brother’s life. A plan is devised to save Claudio’s life and trick Angelo into sleeping with his ex-fiancée Mariana while thinking it was Isabella. The Duke returns with new intel after having been disguised as a friar and hearing confessions from several townspeople. As the Duke, he punishes people for their wrongdoings and, in the end, proposes to Isabella.

The set of Measure for Measure ready for opening night, November 2nd, 2023. Photo by Keyonna Gellin.

The Comm Voice staff attended the show opening night to talk to attendees and actors about their opinions and experiences with the show. Jenny Witt, who plays Duke Vincentio, says that theatre allows the audience to learn from perspectives other than their own. “You can learn so much through theatre that you may not be exposed to otherwise. It allows for a deeper connection when you have the opportunity to be exposed to these stories live.” Rose Witthuhn, who played Mistress Overdone, said, “Theatre and the arts as a whole are deeply important because of the opportunities they provide to give voices to the voiceless.”

Sophomore Maddy Hartmann says this was her first time seeing a play here at UW-Green Bay: “I did like the show. I did a play with Shakespearean language in high school so I could understand what they were saying. It was hard.” Assistant Professor and Measure for Measure Director Alan Kopischke reiterated that sentiment to The Comm Voice. He said that it may be difficult to understand the play if audience members haven’t read or seen Shakespeare’s work. Since Hartmann was in theatre in high school, going to the play was a great way to relive her memories.

Kopischke says that the play is deeply relevant to the audience. “[The play] delves into abuse of power, sexual coercion (#MeToo), leaders seeking to impose stricter’ morality codes’ on their citizens while engaging in similar behavior themselves.” Kopischke added, “Part of Shakespeare’s brilliance is he can leaven the content with humor in witty, clownish characters and absurd situations.” Kopischke counted how many hours were invested in production, with the precise number being 317 hours. “It roughly breaks down to about 100 hours before casting the show, 100 hours in rehearsal, and 100 in design/production meetings, prep time for rehearsals and meetings, and other marketing and logistical planning.”

Deciding what production the theatre department will be showing isn’t a one-person decision. “A committee of the Theatre & Dance Department faculty works many months ahead of time to solicit proposals, vet the scripts, and determine which plays fit together best to form a balanced season that provides our students the best opportunities to grow while giving our audiences great theatrical experiences,” Kopischke stated.

Measure for Measure actors believe that access to theatre is essential to the human experience. Alexandra Smith recounts her inspiration to act, “I would see these talented performers on a stage looking like they were having the best time ever. They looked like they belonged up there. And I wanted to be just like them.” Witt added, “[Theatre] allows for a deeper connection when you have the opportunity to be exposed to these stories live,” Witthuhn believes “[Theatre] as a form of personal escapism to be able to process emotions and step out of myself.” She expressed, “Everyone needs to step out of themselves at some point, whether to face the problems of the world or to set down their own burdens for a moment.” Hartmann explained that after this performance, she will definitely come back for more UW-Green Bay productions.

Measure for Measure cast members (listed left to right, top to bottom): Theo Forster, Olivia Smith, Audrey Soberg, Jenny Witt, Alexandra Smith, Carter Bauer, Samuel Lownik, Miles Lasee, Ava Brewer, Mia Bolyard, Mollie Paquette, Alax Stylinson, Autumn Johnson, Rosencrantz Witthuhn pose for a picture after opening night. Photo by Keyonna Gellin.

The Theatre & Dance program, its students, and professors are passionate about providing people with these live experiences. Kopischke proclaimed, “We bring people together in one room for a highly curated experience that engages all our senses through story, humor, color, design, sound, movement, conflict, resolution, light, voice – everything the human mind and body can produce.”

The Comm Voice gives a special shout out to Measure for Measure’s hard-working crew: Harm Snellenberger, Brea Malueg, Grace Bedell, McKenzie “Kenny” Thompson, Carter Beauer, Ava Brewer, Donovan Cote, Chase Jansen, Katherine Jaculynn McAdaragh, Kayley McLain, Sarina Radspinner, Ethan Schuelke, Alexandra Smith, Audrey Soberg, Alax Stylinson, Jenny Witt, Rosencrantz Witthuhn, David Cook, Ben Dover, Kellyn Gagner, Xana Small Fry, Aubrey Stein, Kaoime E. Malloy, Aaron Schoffelman, Maddie Seiler, Jacob DeLeon, Ben Hansen, Blake Larson, Barix Black, Mia Bolyard, Autumn Johnson, Kory Karls, Marcus Moss, Mckella Oakley, Molly Paquette, Olivia Smith, Dillion Weist, Julia Igl.

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