To what extent can a process of collaborative creation unseat Shakespeare as a source of cultural authority?
In February 2016, a group of professional performers gathered in an abandoned shop front in Exeter’s city centre to formally begin a devising process with Shakespeare and Middleton’s Measure for Measure that had been incubating in my mind for almost a year. Nearly a year later, in January 2017, an unrelated group of secondary school students began a similar process, with the same text.
What began as a persistent sense that these long-dead writers had omitted an important perspective in their play has evolved into Measure (Still) for Measure: a project blending Shakespeare, physical theatre, devising, and intersectional feminism. Its goals are threefold: to reorient the 400-year-old play around its female protagonist, Isabella; to facilitate difficult conversations about consent and rape culture; and to instigate policy change in educational institutions. It is not a coincidence that the school hosting the project’s pilot phase recently announced an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against one of its former teachers.
In this article, I attempt to write through the two project phases completed to date and, in the process, demonstrate methods for disrupting Shakespeare's authority.