Skip to main content
Shakespeare & Beyond

Measure for Measure + Dido and Aeneas: A Shakespeare-opera mash-up from 1699 takes the stage

Sometimes characterized as a “problem play,” Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure was first performed in the early 1600’s and was printed in the 1623 First Folio where it is listed as a comedy. During the Restoration, many of Shakespeare’s plays were adapted to suit the times, and Measure is no exception. Playwrights deleted problematic characters, moral complexities, and language that Restoration audiences would have found objectionable.

In his 1665 adaptation of Measure for Measure, William Davenant made considerable revisions and even took the liberty of inserting Much Ado About Nothing’s characters Benedick and Beatrice into the play—Benedick as Angelo’s brother.

Working from Davenant’s play, Charles Gildon later produced his own adaptation in 1699 at Lincoln’s Inn Field, in which he removed Beatrice and Benedick and combined the simplified story of the play with a full performance of Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas.

This fall, Folger Shakespeare Library’s early music ensemble-in-residence, Folger Consort, has brushed the dust from this Shakespeare-opera mash-up to bring it to the stage first in California’s Napa Valley and then at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, on Oct 1. 

Plans for the production arose out of a Folger Institute weekend workshop on “Performing Restoration Shakespeare,” led by Amanda Eubanks Winkler and Richard Schoch in November 2014, in which scholars collaborated with actors and musicians to stage scenes from Gildon’s work.

Fast forward two years, and there’s Derek Jacobi playing Measure for Measure’s Angelo in a production directed and adapted by Richard Clifford.