Measure for Measure
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Measure for Measure is a play by William Shakespeare, written in 1603. This is one of the playwright's three problem plays, so-called because they cannot be easily classified as tragedy or comedy.
Performance and Publication
The earliest recorded performance of Measure for Measure took place on "St. Steven's night," December 26, 1604. The play was first published in 1623 in the First Folio.
During the Restoration, Measure was one of many Shakespearean plays adapted to the tastes of a new audience. Sir William Davenant inserted Benedick ad Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing into his adaptation, called The Law Against Lovers. Samuel Pepys saw the hybrid play on Feb. 18, 1662; he describes it in his Diary as "a good play, and well performed"—he was especially impressed by the singing and dancing of the young actress who played Viola, Beatrice's sister (Davenant's creation, not Shakespeare's). John Rich presented a version closer to Shakespeare's original in 1720.
Isabella, a novice nun, is a virtuous and chaste young woman who faces a difficult decision when her brother is sentenced to death for fornication. Isabella does not approve of her brother's actions, but she pleads for his life out of loyalty and sisterly devotion. It could be noted that many of her decisions during the play go against the morality she claims to believe in, and she is very unpredictable.
The Duke The other central figure is the Duke, who spends most of his time dressed as a friar, Lodovic, in order to observe what is happening in his absence. He is seemingly unfailingly virtuous, good, and kind-hearted. He has tended to rule a little softly, which is why he has enlisted Angelo's help. In the First Folio, The Duke is listed in the Dramatis Personae as "Vincentio," but this name appears nowhere else in the play.
Claudio is Isabella's brother, a young man sentenced to death for impregnating an unmarried woman. He was engaged to her by a common-law agreement, but they had sexual intercourse before the legal marriage took place.
Angelo is the villain of the play, a man who rules strictly and without mercy. He has his own weaknesses, however, and he is loathsome more for his hypocrisy than for anything else. He presents Isabella with a difficult proposition, to sleep with him in exchange for her brother's life, but then does not hold up his end of the bargain.
Escalus is a wise lord who advises Angelo to be more merciful. He is loyal to the Duke and seeks to carry out his orders justly, but cannot go against Angelo's will.
Lucio, described by Shakespeare as a "fantastic," is a flamboyant bachelor who provides much of the play's comedy. He is a friend of Claudio, and tries to help him.
Mariana was intended to marry Angelo, but he called the wedding off when she lost her dowry in a shipwreck that killed her brother.
Mistress Overdone runs a brothel in Vienna.
Pompey is a clown who works for Mistress Overdone.
The Provost runs the prison, and is responsible for carrying out all of Angelo's orders.
Elbow is a dim-witted constable who arrests people for misconduct, particularly of the sexual variety. He provides some comic relief through his frequent use of malapropisms in his speech.
Barnardine is a long-term prisoner in the jail, sentenced to be executed. The Duke originally considers him hopeless and therefore dispensable but later changes his mind.
Juliet is Claudio's lover, pregnant with his child.
Vincentio, the Duke of Vienna, makes it known that he intends to leave the city on a diplomatic mission. He leaves the government in the hands of a strict judge, Angelo. Under Vincentio's government, the city's harsh laws against fornication have been laxly enforced, but Angelo is known to be a hard-liner on matters of sexual immorality.
Claudio, a young nobleman, is betrothed to Juliet; having put off their wedding, he makes her pregnant out of wedlock. For this act of fornication he is punished by Angelo. Although he is willing to marry her, he is sentenced to death. Claudio's friend Lucio visits Claudio's sister Isabella, a postulate nun, and asks her to intercede with Angelo on Claudio's behalf.
Isabella obtains an audience with Angelo, and pleads to him for mercy. Over the course of two scenes between Angelo and Isabella, it becomes clear that he harbours lustful thoughts for her, and he eventually offers her a deal: Angelo will spare Claudio's life if Isabella will sleep with Angelo. Isabella refuses, but she also realises that (due to Angelo's austere reputation) she will not be believed if she makes a public accusation against him. Instead she visits her brother in prison, and counsels him to prepare himself for death. Claudio vehemently begs Isabella to save his life, but Isabella refuses.
The Duke has not in fact left the city, but remains there disguised as a friar, in order to spy on his city's affairs, and especially the actions of Angelo. In his guise as a friar he befriends Isabella and arranges two tricks to thwart the evil intentions of Angelo:
- First, a "bed trick" is arranged. Angelo has previously refused to fulfill the betrothal binding him to Mariana, because her dowry was lost at sea. Isabella sends word to Angelo that she has decided to submit to him, making it a condition of their meeting that it occurs in perfect darkness. In fact, Mariana agrees to take Isabella's place, and she has sex with Angelo, although he continues to believe he has enjoyed Isabella. (In some interpretations of the law, this constituted consummation of their betrothal, and so marriage.)
- Contrary to expectation, Angelo goes back on his word, sending a message to the prison that he wishes to see Claudio's head, which necessitates the "head trick." The Duke first attempts to arrange the execution of another prisoner whose head can be sent instead of Claudio's. However the villain Barnadine refuses to be executed in his current drunken state. As luck would have it, however, a pirate named Ragozine, of similar appearance to Claudio, has suddenly died, so his head is sent to Angelo, instead.
This main plot concludes with the "return" to Vienna of the Duke in his own person. Isabella and Mariana publicly petition him, and he hears their claims against Angelo, which Angelo smoothly denies. The scene builds a sense that the friar will be blamed for the "false" accusations levelled against Angelo. The Duke leaves Angelo to be judge of the cause against the friar, but returns in disguise moments later when the friar is summoned. Eventually the friar reveals himself to be the duke, thereby exposing Angelo as a liar and Isabella and Mariana as truthful. He proposes execution for him -- with his estate going to Mariana as her new dowry, for a better husband. On Mariana's pleas for Angelo, the Duke is merciful to him, but forces him to marry Mariana. The Duke then proposes marriage to Isabella. Isabella makes no reply, and her reaction is interpreted differently in different productions: her silent acceptance of his proposal is the most common in performance.
A sub-plot concerns Claudio's friend Lucio, who frequently slanders the duke to the friar, and in the last act slanders the friar to the duke, providing opportunities for comic consternation on Vincentio's part, and landing Lucio in trouble when it is revealed that the duke and the friar are one and the same person. His punishment, like Angelo's, is to be forced into an unwanted marriage: in his case with the whore Kate Keepdown.
The play deals with numerous issues, contrasting themes such as lust and piety, altruism and egoism, mercy and anger, politics and ethics, and lastly, justice and compassion.
Politics come first. Love comes second.
Forgiveness and mercy are more important than purity and chastity.
The main source of the play is George Whetstone's 1578 lengthy two-part closet drama Promos and Cassandra. Whetstone took the story from Cinthio's Hecatommithi, and Shakespeare seems to have consulted the Cinthio story as well as a dramatization of the story by Cinthio. It was in Cinthio that Shakespeare discovered the story he would adapt for his next play, Othello.
The title, which appears as a line of dialogue in the play, may be related to the Bible, Matthew 7:2:
- For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
"Cucullus non facit monachum" - Lucio
"The baby beats the nurse, and quite athwart goes all decorum" - Duke Vincentio
- "Has he affections in him,
- That thus can make him bite the law by the nose,
- When he would force it? Sure, it is no sin,
- Or of the deadly seven, it is the least." - Claudio
"Groping for trouts in a peculiar river" - Pompey
- "Our natures do pursue,
- Like rats that ravin down their proper bane,
- A thirsty evil; and when we drink, we die." - Claudio
"O Cunning Enemy, that, to catch a saint, With Saints dost thou bait thy Hook!" - Angelo
- "We must not make a scarecrow of the law,
- Setting it up to fear the birds of prey,
- And let it keep one shape, till custom make it
- Their perch, and not their terror." - Angelo
"virgin violater" - Isabella
- Measure for Measure
- Measure for Measure - searchable e-text
- Measvre, For Measure - HTML version of this title.
- Measure For Measure - plain vanilla text from Project Gutenberg