Shakespeare and The Sound of Music: A Little Connection

In high school, I read Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hamlet, and Othello. (I also got to see performances of Macbeth and Twelfth Night, and the summer before my freshman year at Fordham, I acted in a production of Kiss Me, Kate, which is basically The Taming of the Shrew. During my freshman year at Fordham, I happily added The Winter's Tale to my attendance list.) I also reread Othello during my sophomore year. So, I'm no expert, but I am a loyal Shakespeare fan. A week ago, I went to see a free performance of Measure for Measure by Brown Box Theatre. (It was great, and, if you live in the Northeast, you should definitely check them out.) I'd never read or seen Measure for Measure before, but I did know the plot from a book on Shakespeare which I've had since I was little: (spoiler alert) In Vienna, a man named Claudio is sentenced to death for fornication (his fiancée is pregnant), and his sister, Isabella, pleads with the Duke's deputy for his life. The deputy, Angelo (a clear spiritual ancestor of Disney's Judge Claude Frollo of Hunchback fame, by the way), agrees on the condition that she sleep with him. Isabella, who is planning to become a nun, feels that she cannot do this. Through a clever scheme, the disguised Duke saves the day, and he asks (forces) Isabella to marry him in gratitude. It's up to the production in question to handle how Isabella reacts; the one I attended clearly implied a desperate sorrow at this on Isabella's part. How does this have to do with The Sound of Music? Well, The Sound of Music, of course, is about a postulant who marries rather than take her vows. It is, as you probably know, based on a true story, and its genesis has nothing to do with Measure for Measure. There is a coincidental connection, however: the real-life Maria von Trapp (as she revealed in an autobiography written after The Sound of Music made her story famous world-wide) did not really want to marry the Captain; in fact, wanting to be a nun, she was terribly mad about it until she came around later to the unexpected change in lifestyle. (Another coincidence: as related in The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, the book by Maria which ultimately was adapted into The Sound of Music, it was gossipped that the Captain married her because she was pregnant before marriage.) Maria was abused as a child by the relative who raised her, and their flight from the Nazis of course involved escaping from all the abuse they inflicted on millions. Isabella and Maria, then, are sort of theatrical cousins after all. (And let's not forget that both stories happen to take place in Austria!) Why is this significant to me? Well, I happened to be in The Sound of Music during my junior year of high school, and I was in A Midsummer Night's Dream during my senior year. Shakespeare, more or less, will always be the critics' darling; The Sound of Music, despite audiences' love for it, not so much. The coincidental theatrical connection in my experience points to the importance of theatre in its essence (to put it one way) regardless of how we judge a work's quality. And, at any rate, the intersection of religious callings and socially-imposed suffering is hardly not worth our interest.

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