The Measure of “Measure”: Angelo

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In our “The Measure of Measure” series, we interviewed castmembers of Measure for Measure about how they approached their characters in this challenging play. Our second interview addresses our villain, Angelo.

  1. Who are you and who do you play?angelo pic.png

My name is Glen Hochkeppel, and I play Angelo.

  1. What prior Shakespeare experience do you have?

This is my first appearance in a Shakespeare play, though I’ve directed several of his plays for my students at Stone Bridge High School over the years–Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, and Macbeth.

  1. Tell us about your character. What motivates him?

He wants to play God–and be master of every situation. Angelo is handed the reins of power, to enforce the laws as he sees fit. He thinks the Duke’s newly-conferred power has validated his uptight fundamentalism, and feels justified in immediately sentencing a man to death on a minor morals charge. And when the man’s sister, Isabella, strikes his fancy, he can look his guilt right in the face for a moment. But like all hypocrites, he can also instantly re-think the situation, putting himself back in the position of righteousness.

  1. Angelo is one of Shakespeare’s most insidious villains. How do you approach playing such a repulsive character?

Lots of villains don’t see themselves as villains–mass murderers couldn’t thrive if humans weren’t such superb rationalizers of evil. What’s tricky in Angelo is–he has moments of clear vision of his sin, and he is properly aghast. But if you call everything by the right words in your head, you can compartmentalize–or believe you can!–and get through the day very smoothly. Like when Angelo first shares with the audience that Isabella has charmed him: he is more shocked than they are–since he has spent decades imagining himself to be too exalted for such a base feeling as lust. He can’t square his own vision of himself to this low hunger, but luckily lands on the devil as a scapegoat. He then can congratulate himself on overcoming the temptations of the Enemy.

When you have such an extreme worldview of behavior, in one moment, you can flip from extremely “holy” to extremely demonic. And if you want to sin, you know which master you must visit. Angelo can’t console himself that “he’s only human”, overcome his impulses, and do better…like a normal person: he must be in the throes of a pitched battle with Evil. And so he thinks he can satisfy himself only by practically selling his soul to the devil, and letting his passions and bloodlust guide his actions.

I see characters like him almost as two characters –the practiced Politician, nimble at self-justification and blind to self, and the no-holds-barred Dionysian whom the Politician must deny, though he’s always angling for the controls. Luckily, with the direct address of soliloquies, the audience is able to eavesdrop on those moments of self-disclosure, tracing his frightened rationalizations, and contrast it with the highly controlled “political” self Angelo usually portrays.

  1. What else do you feel the audience should know about your character and the play itself?

Shakespeare’s comedies don’t always revolve around such dark characters–this is no Malvolio, essentially a harmless killjoy–as Angelo is immediately issuing orders for real beheadings, and that’s before we even approach sexual assault. Shakespeare creates a Vienna where such crimes can almost play out “safely”; since its duke is such a MacGyver-like puppet master, he doesn’t let his own schemes get completely out of hand, even contriving the usual brace of Act V marriages. But the whole thing is much more uneasy than the end of, say, Twelfth Night. It’s as though he poured the morality play ingredients into the comedy pan…and some might miss the “Punish the Wicked” frosting.

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