In our “The Measure of Measure” series, we interviewed castmembers of Measure for Measure about how they approached their characters in this challenging play. This interview addresses Mariana, Angelo’s erstwhile fiancee who proves critical to the plot.
- Who are you and who do you play?
My name is Amy Griffin and I am playing Mariana. This is my second production with B&H and I’m really excited to be doing Measure for Measure! I’m originally from DE but am happy to be calling VA home again. When I’m not onstage I enjoy tea time, traveling and board games.
- What prior Shakespeare experience do you have?
I first fell in love with Shakespeare in high school, despite everyone telling me that Shakespeare was a bore and impossible to understand. I’m so glad I never listened. Since then I’ve played Cassius in Julius Caesar, Ursula in Much Ado About Nothing and Hippolyta in A Midsummer’s Night Dream. One of my all time favorite experiences with the Bard was the time I directed Twelfth Night in college. I had just gotten back from a summer semester in Morocco and inspired by all the colors and sounds of the region we set it there, complete with original music. After college it was some time before I got to return to Shakespeare, but when I got the opportunity while working at Colonial Williamsburg to write a program about Shakespeare in the 18th Century I jumped at the chance. We performed scenes from some of the most popular productions of the day, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet along with entr’acte songs written by Henry Purcell for The Tempest. Fun fact: The first troupe of professional actors, the Lewis Hallam Company, made their debut performance in Williamsburg, VA, in the first permanent playhouse in British North America, with The Merchant of Venice.
- Tell us about your character. What motivates her?
Mariana is a young lady, once betrothed to Angelo, who has been living alone in her “moated grange” since Angelo jilter her five years ago when her fortune was lost at sea. Though it has been 5 years her love for Angelo has not diminished and she is ready to aide Isabella when she and the disguised Duke come to Mariana for help. Though she’s someone who’s been wronged but she doesn’t let it tear her apart; she would never want to be pitied. Instead of losing it, she derives such a sense of resolve from her situation and that allows her to do what she does in this play.
- Mariana is kind of a fan favorite to Shakespearean scholars. To a modern audience, her arc can be a little difficult. How do you as an actor work to develop her, especially given her limited time onstage?
I confess I didn’t know much about Mariana when I was first offered the role but I’ve really fallen in love with her during the rehearsal process. To modern eyes I think it’s very easy to label her as either “desperate” or “too good for him” in regards to her relationship with Angelo. On one hand she could be “desperate’ because of how she so quickly (about 6 lines alone with Isabella as the Duke monologues) she agrees to Isabella’s “bed trick” and on the other hand she could be “too good for him” because once all is revealed of Angelo’s behavior with Isabella and his personal slights against her (jilting her and publicly accusing her of impropriety) she still takes him back.
Indeed, to a modern audience it has all the marks of an emotionally abusive relationship but I think it’s too easy to make Mariana a sweet damsel in distress that is mooning over an old love who probably isn’t worth the trouble anyway. Moreover, it cheapens her plea for Angelo’s life at the end of the play. One of the many themes in this play is forgiveness in spite of confessed guilt; we see this with both Claudio and Angelo. Isabella’s quest for mercy for her brother allows her to extend forgiveness to Angelo at the play’s end and the Duke’s position gives him the power to pardon the crimes of all. Mariana’s arc is probably most difficult to portray because it has already taken place before we even meet her in Act 4. She has forgiven Angelo long ago and is so sure of her course that it makes it easy for her to say yes to Isabella’s shocking request of her.
I think the surety that she has of her own character makes her a good judge of one as well. She immediately sees Isabella as a true friend just as she knows that Angelo is worthy of redemption. I’ve tried to portray that confidence while giving the audience a character that they can still relate to. For who hasn’t seen a spark of something in someone that they love that is worth fighting for, despite their admitted faults and what the rest of the world says against them.
- What else do you feel the audience should know about your character and the play itself?
Justice vs. mercy and forgiveness is one of the biggest struggles in Measure for Measure. I mentioned before the key role that forgiveness has throughout the play. In terms of their personalities no two people better personify those dueling themes than Angelo and Mariana. Angelo is a man of the law through and through, so much so that he seems to miss the forest for the trees. He is so tied to the letter of the law that he misses the true difference between right and wrong. In fact, you could argue that it’s what drives him to give up Mariana in the first place. I personally believe that they were both in love, but when the law robbed her of her fortune he felt duty bound to leave her and I think that he makes up his slanderous accusations against her to justify to himself that “according to the law” he was in the right. Mariana on the other hand is driven by her own personal conviction of what’s right and wrong, which allows her to act contrary to the law when Isabella asks her to. It also allows her to see what drives Angelo and makes her believe that if he experiences the kind of forgiveness that transcends the logic of the law, that he can be redeemed. What the play leaves to our imagination is whether or not these two sides can be resolved. For what it’s worth, I think that if Angelo will let himself be truly forgiven by Mariana, they will be able to find happiness within their now lawful marriage.