Processing Measure for Measure as a twentieth century female is terrible. It is uncomfortable to say the least, to watch a pious virginal woman be forced to choose between her brother’s life and her agency over her body. Not only does Angelo want Isabella’s, body and virginity, but he also wants her consent. He wants Isabella to want to have sex with him—freeing him of guilt perhaps? And so, Isabella, in quiet the bind, decides to manipulate the situation and the comedic trick titled ‘The Bed-Trick’ by A.D. Nuttall, in his article for the Shakespeare Survey, occurs.
In Measure for Measure, Shakespeare plays with themes of Puritanism. On a micro, specific level, Isabella is a Puritanical character. Her devout repudiation of sexual intercourse and her choice to remain chaste in the name of God to preserve her immortal soul, exemplifies Puritan values. However, the entire play can be seen as a discussion of the “Puritan campaign” because Shakespeare situates the characters in a world where “that sexual offenses like fornication, adultery, and bastardy [can be punished] by death” (Policing). Continue reading
The past debates around Isabella’s worth as a character perturb Marcia Riefer, author of “ ‘Instruments of Some More Mightier Member’ : The Constriction of Female Power in Measure for Measure.” Riefer, combatting past interpretations of Isabella as either an “angel” or a “vixen” develops a clear argument about the damaging effect of patriarchy in the play Measure for Measure, dividing her argument into six clearly articulated and logically flowing points. Continue reading
Among the elements of comedy that ultimately are placed under uncomfortable strain in the eyes of the audience, the bed trick in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure is an particularly palpable one. Although an element of romantic comedy, the bed trick has long represented a problem of both morality and realism in its usage.
To the reverent eyes of modernity, Shakespeare’s fame is infallible. His very name has almost been chiseled into a byword for literary genius, and accords a respect approximately proportionate to say, Einstein in terms of the sciences. Yet, simple investigation often shocks readers when they discover that Shakespeare’s plays are often, on the schematic surface, markedly derivative of prior cultural productions. Often lifting or borrowing entire plots and characters, Shakespeare’s plays skirt towards imitation, superficially at least, to a degree that would furrow the brows of modern-day anti-plagiarism culture. The instinctive reaction can be disillusionment. Entire visions of romantic inspiration shatter when any adequate glossary explains that Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a rehashing of a popular tale, and a contemporary poem The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet (the companion edition of G.B. Harrison, in my case). Measure for Measure is no exception to this practice. Yet dissecting the inspirations, influences and derivations is not necessarily to abolish Shakespeare’s genius, or dramatically rip the mask from literature’s idol. Instead, as critical analysis has long accepted, detecting Shakespeare’s sources only contextualizes his plays, not as spontaneous innovations, but as deeply imbedded in a society chafed by rapidly modernizing views of injustice, yet festering with crime proportionate to unprecedented urbanization.
There are two posters that I’ve carried with me throughout my Dartmouth Career. I’ve schlepped them from room to room, rolled them up every ten weeks and then unrolled them, flattened them out, and pinned them up. One is my dad’s poster of John Belushi as Senator Blutarsky, and the other is the final stage direction from Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.
A Doll’s House famously ends with Nora, the protagonist of the play, leaving her husband and children with the door slamming behind her. I adore A Doll’s House, and find the ending deliciously satisfying in a way that I could never find the ending to Measure for Measure.
Louise Schleiner, in her essay “Providential Improvisation in Measure for Measure”, takes a closer look at the play’s Duke Vincentio. In doing so, Schleiner examines biblical parallels and allusions within the play and their implications on the characterization of the duke, as well as the insinuations about Shakespeare’s society that stem from the duke’s character. Continue reading
In the English painter Thomas Kirk’s “Measure For Measure – Act V, Scene I” painting, he renders the last dramatic scene of the play as a powerful moment of moral vindication. By the end of Act 1, the themes of mercy and justice, vice and piety, appearance and reality have been established but collide in the last scene of the play. Kirk expresses this sense of dramatic tension by capturing the moment of the Duke’s reveal, if the Duke’s bared head and the looks of shock or shame on the faces of the bystander are anything to go by.
The Duke in Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure plays a role in nearly every affair between characters throughout the play. Whether he is explicitly fulfilling his role as the Duke of Vienna or in disguise as a friar, the Duke acts as a puppeteer and pulls most of the strings throughout the play. Continue reading
Why does Isabella fail to persuade Angelo to spare Claudio’s life? Bernice Kliman, in her article, Isabella in Measure for Measure, states that it is because she fails to use the formulaic rhetoric established by ad Herennium, one of Shakespeare’s sources for Measure for Measure. But is Kliman’s characterization of Isabella true to the text or colored by the literary comparisons she chose to make?