Measure for Measure Casting Breakdown

Director's Note

Hi, Everyone!

I’m so looking forward to directing Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure this winter and I hope you’ll come out and audition. I wanted to give you a little bit of insight into how I’m conceiving this production.

There are a million websites where you can read the plot of Measure, but in summary: The Duke leaves Angelo in charge of Vienna, where he quickly condemns Claudio to death for immoral behavior. Angelo offers to pardon Claudio if his sister, Isabella, sleeps with him. Isabella agrees but has Angelo's fiance switch places with her. The Duke returns to spare Claudio, punish Angelo, and propose to Isabella.

To me, this is a play that deals heavily with morality, vice vs. chasteness, the role of government in a society, law and order, class cultural consciousness  - themes weigh heavily on our minds today as we find ourselves members of a divisive society. I wanted to do this play because it’s messy and juicy. It’s referred to as one of Shakespeare’s problem plays in part because it’s neither a true comedy or tragedy. Is there a better kind of play to do in 2021?

I’ve decided to set the play in the throes of the “Wild West” era. In our production, Vienna will be in the form of a Kansas cattle town (the reference point being Dodge City in the 1880’s). Kansas is now the 34th state in the union, the civil war is over and Cowboys are driving large herds of cows between Texas and Kansas and along the Chisholm Trail.  The intersection of morality and sin come with the establishment of prohibition in 1880 - a means to curtail the rowdy cattle towns and their bustling economy of alcohol, gambling and prostitution.

I think we will have a lot of fun exploring this classic text, this fascinating period and all the ways the play resonates with our world today! I hope you’ll come out and audition!


In this production of Measure for Measure, the city of Vienna will take the form of a Kansas cattle town, not dissimilar from Dodge City in the 1880’s. All roles are open to actors of any race, ethnicity, and gender identity. Some roles may be doubled.

The Law

  • Vincentio, the Duke - Duke Vincentio is the Governor of Vienna. He is a very private man who has allowed the laws in his city to slip. He is afraid the public will hate him if he gets stricter, so he pretends to leave Vienna and hands power to the harsher, but less experienced Angelo. The duke then disguises himself as a friar to observe how Angelo governs in his place. The duke has many good intentions and uses his disguise to right many wrongs, although some of his methods are unorthodox.
  • Angelo - Angelo is Duke Vincentio’s deputy and is known for his strict morals. He is given the opportunity to govern Vienna and immediately enforces harsh laws, shocking both the people and his colleagues. When he meets the pious Isabella, he is revealed as a hypocrite by offering to save her brother’s life if she sleeps with him. Unaware that the duke is testing him to see if he misuses his power, Angelo continues to lie and deceive until he is tricked by the duke’s plan and revealed publicly.
  • Escalus - Escalus is a wise lord and adviser to the duke. He is the natural choice to rule in the duke’s absence but he supports his decision to give power to the less experienced Angelo. He is a fair-minded and responsible man who shows sympathy for the people he encounters. Although he advises Angelo to be less severe, Escalus tries to understand his decisions and gives him as much support as he would give to the duke. He trusts Angelo and is shocked and disappointed when his crimes are revealed at the end of the play.
  • Varrius - Varrius is a lord and a friend of the Duke’s. He accompanies the Duke during his absence.
  • Elbow - A well-meaning but overworked constable who causes confusion by getting his words wrong.
  • Abhorson - Abhorson is an executioner, who takes great pride in his job.
  • Provost - The Provost is in charge of the jail and its prisoners. He is responsible for carrying out Angelo’s orders.
  • Justice - A Justice attends on Angelo and Escalus as they discuss how they will bring back the laws in full force.
  • Servant - A Servant is Angelo’s doorman, in charge of letting him know when people wish to speak with him.
  • Messenger - A Messenger brings Claudio’s final death warrant to the Provost with warnings from Angelo to have it executed quickly.

The Streets

  • Claudio - Claudio is a young gentleman of Vienna. He is brother to Isabella and engaged to Juliet. He is one of the first victims of Angelo’s strict new government when he is arrested for getting Juliet pregnant outside of marriage and sentenced to die. The harshness of his sentence shocks everyone. Claudio is an honest and well-meaning man.
  • Lucio - Lucio is a fop well-acquainted with brothels, who turns everything to dirty jokes. He is a friend of Claudio and is horrified when Claudio is arrested and is one of the first to speak out against Angelo’s strict punishment. Claudio trusts him to persuade Isabella to beg for his life and Lucio takes an interest in Claudio’s fate from then on. He represents a ‘voice of the people’ and remains outspoken throughout the play, adding some much needed humour to its serious themes.
  • Mariana - Mariana was engaged to marry Angelo but, after her dowry was lost in a shipwreck which also killed her brother, Angelo abandoned her and lied to everyone, saying that she was unfaithful. Since then, Mariana has shut herself away from the world, still obsessed with Angelo and wrapped up in grief. She agrees to the duke’s deception in order to win Angelo back as a husband.
  • Boy - A Boy attends on Mariana, singing sad songs to her to ease her boredom.
  • Juliet - Juliet is Claudio’s fiancée and is pregnant with their baby. She is heavily pregnant and a symbol of both vulnerability and sin. At the start of the play, her pregnancy is public knowledge and we see her taken through the streets, accompanying Claudio to jail. Juliet only escapes the death penalty herself because she is about to have her baby but she is still kept in prison. Even though she regrets her sin, she is told her crime is greater because she is a woman. At the end, she is reunited with the freed Claudio.
  • First Gentleman - The First Gentleman is a fop, who spends a fair deal of time in brothels but is certain he has not caught any diseases there.
  • Second Gentleman - The Second Gentleman is also a fop, but one outclassed in wit by Lucio and the First Gentleman. He is not much of a churchgoer.
  • Froth - Froth is a foolish gentleman who spends a great deal of his time in taverns.
  • Mistress Overdone - Mistress Overdone is the manager of a brothel in Vienna. She discovers that Angelo is closing down her business and worries about what will become of her.
  • Mistress Overdone - Mistress Overdone is the manager of a brothel in Vienna. She discovers that Angelo is closing down her business and worries about what will become of her.
  • Pompey - Pompey Bum is a pimp who also works as a barman in Mistress Overdone’s brothel. He is also a thief and represents the seedy criminal underworld that Vienna has become under the duke’s rule.
  • Barnardine - Barnardine is a murderer who has been in jail for nine years without being executed.

The Church

  • Isabella - Isabella is a chaste young woman and sister to Claudio. She is joining a convent. When she hears her brother is to be executed unfairly on Angelo’s orders, she begs passionately for his life and is horrified when Angelo offers to spare Claudio if she sleeps with him. She is an intelligent woman who values her chastity above all things and, with the disguised duke’s help, succeeds in protecting her virginity and accusing Angelo publicly.
  • Francisca - Francisca is a nun of the order of Saint Clare, who is in charge of instructing the novice Isabella as she prepares to take her vows.
  • Friar Peter Thomas - Friar Peter Thomas is a monk who helps the Duke in his deception, giving him his monk’s robe and teaching him how to play the part convincingly.