Written in 1604 when James I--a king particularly concerned with the religious aspects of his leadership--was fresh on the throne, MEASURE FOR MEASURE is a reflection of its time. In it, a sovereign's role in the legislation of morality is explored, as two extreme poles of government are navigated--the Duke's over-leniency as the play opens, and his deputy's rigid judgement that precipitates the tragicomedy. When the Duke realizes that his rule is too lax, he appoints his deputy Angelo to reinforce authority. However, forgiveness, a Christian virtue and therefore an implied virtue of the play's Christian government, is not a characteristic of Angelo, who, reviving an old morality law, condemns Claudio to death for impregnating Juliet. The dilemma of the drama is presented when Claudio's sister Isabella leaves the cloister of the convent to plead for Claudio's freedom. Scandalously, Angelo agrees to free Claudio if Isabella will sleep with him. An estranged wife, a bed trick, and a subplot concerning a pimp present further complications, but ultimately lighten the atmosphere to lead a tragic drama toward a comic resolution. Shakespeare drew on many sources that were themselves inspired by a real 16th-century event in which an Italian man who was condemned to death was promised freedom after his wife accepted a ****** proposition from the judge in exchange. The first records of performance point to December 26, 1604. The next documentation recalls a performance one hundred years later. Though records certainly get destroyed, such scant evidence indeed suggests poor public reception of the play. MEASURE FOR MEASURE was the last of Shakespeare's comedies, and intense tragic material surfaces in it that is fully developed in the plays to come, including OTHELLO, KING LEAR, and MACBETH.
- Drama, Family + Relationships
- Continental European, Siblings, General, Ethics + Morals, Sexuality
- June 1, 2005
- June 1, 2005
- William Shakespeare