A measure of green

So there I am, watching "Measure for Measure" at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, when eco-themed lines start jumping out at me.

When you start thinking about the environment, you realize that references to it are EVERYWHERE. (Never mind that the word "environment" actually means everything around us.)

It's the first scene of Shakespeare's play, and Duke Vincentio (Anthony Heald) is preparing his deputy Angelo (René Millán) to rule Vienna while he travels. Meanwhile, a delightful Mariachi trio, disguised as a cleaning crew, is slipping away from the Duke's office.

The Duke is telling his deputy that it's not enough to be virtuous if you aren't helping others.

"Nature never lends / The smallest scruple of her excellence, / But, like a thrifty goddess, she determines / Herself the glory of a creditor, / Both thanks and use," the Duke says.

What we're given, we're meant to be thankful for and use responsibly. And, perhaps most importantly, what we're given isn't ours for the keeping. We're expected to share it with others and, ultimately, leave it the same as we found it, according to the Duke.

The Boy Scouts call this "leave no trace."

It's a pretty simple concept, but it's hard to carry out, especially in today's fast-paced, throw-away culture.

When we don't live near a landfill, it's easy to forget that every piece of plastic we throw away ends up in one. When we don't drive the trucks that travel thousands of miles to deliver us exotic fruit, it's easy to forget about the oil that uses and the pollution it generates. When we don't feel the impact of pesticides immediately, it's easy to forget about the damage they can do to our land and wildlife after generations of use.

But, apparently, even it Shakespeare's times, this concept was hard to carry out.

I won't give away the play, but suffice it to say Angelo does not quite live up to the Duke's expectations. (The Mariachi trio, on the other hand, is excellent.) OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch, who directed "Measure for Measure," decided to set the play in the '70s to expound upon these themes.

"In 1970s America, economic woes and political corruption combined with moral confusion to create a toxic, but dynamic, brand of urban blight," he says in the festival's playbill.

"Measure for Measure" shows that even if you fail to do the right thing the first time, there's hope. There's still hope for those of us who are neglecting — or even harming — the environment.

Rauch goes on to explain this in the playbill:

"When we were selecting 2011 titles, the head of the Festival's stage operations crew said: 'This play is about forgiveness. We should do it every season.' And I say: Amen."

It might get a little old to see the same play every season, but it probably wouldn't hurt to think about forgiveness. For what we've done to the environment, we have a lot to be forgiven for.

But I don't think nature's holding a grudge. It's never too late to give "thanks and use" what we've been given responsibly.

"Measure for Measure" plays in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Angus Bowmer Theatre through Nov. 6. For more information, visit www.osfashland.org.

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com. For past columns see dailytidings.com/ecologic.

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