Not So Meek: A Review of Christian Analysis of Measure for Measure

Darryl Gless begins Measure for Measure, the Law and the Convent essentially by refuting every criticism written about Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. Though it is certainly a statement that gets people’s attention, anyone that reads Gless’ book will learn that there is a self-congratulatory, arrogant air to his writing. He groups the criticisms into two ‘hostile camps’ – those that don’t acknowledge a Christian theme as central to the play, and those who see it as an embodiment of Christian beliefs. By creating distance from the other parties, Gless brings himself in agreement with many tendencies they, and many other critics have, which is that once criticism is fully understood in Measure for Measure, ranging from the comprehension of the biblical references to the understanding of the marriage laws in Vienna, all of the variables that have made the play difficult to analyze will be dismissed.

Gless assigns two chapters in his book to ‘immediate intellectual background’ in which he takes more time to assert that he is more or less the only critic worth taking seriously. He describes the background of his critical procedure and while revealing materials that will solve questions that halt other critics – giving more credit to other critics ‘procedural inadequacies’ than his material. He then explains that he wishes to provide a general understanding of what the text means while accounting for the range of details in the play.

He does this by first identifying ‘parent genres’ that provide the different semantic ranges that Shakespeare manipulates and then explaining how they create implications that establish an individual meaning within that range at specific points. He claims that the implications are established by two things: Christian commentaries on the New Law, and the tradition of antimonastic satire.

The conclusions Gless makes stress the Duke’s role as divine intervention, and offers commentaries on the roles of the other characters. Angelo is wholly devoted to his own pride and is overly committed to the Old Law. Isabella is also extremely proud and overly devoted but she is without any self-observance. He suggests that the Duke behaves like God’s Providence that leads many characters to a ‘povery of spirit’. The last scene in the play suggests the return of a divine justice that will end suspense of judgment. He explains further his earlier statements regarding antimonastic satire, which identifies a tone in the first scene between Lucio and Isabella at the monastery, and the later scenes in which Isabella explains her choice to live a monastic life.

Gless gives a complete description of the plays attention to the theme of judgement. His meticulous responsibility to the commentary, from which he believes the play draws its orientation of problems of Christian lifestyles, disperses the problems that are found frequently in the arguments of ‘stubborn secularists’.