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Brothels and convents in renaissance and measure for measure essay

Share via Email About 50 or 60 years ago, at the end of a century or more of unenthusiasm, Measure for Measure came into its own. A largely moral or metaphysical explanation of its quality helped it to enjoy, like the uncles in Larkin's wedding-poem, "success so huge and wholly farcical". That critical moment has passed, like the Modernism which contributed to it. Measure for Measure isn't invariably now thought to be a great play. Perhaps our own more political and literalistic culture has made it harder to sustain that kind of response to the arts, and has brought with it a certain withdrawal of intensity of attention.

The play is most often found interesting but deeply flawed, sometimes described as profound but more or less always called 'broken-backed'. It isn't with much conviction experienced as a comedy Dantesque or not. Above all, in the loss of a critical agreement, of a sense of what it is that is 'flawed', the work seems to strike readers and audiences as strange, even bewildering. This sense of strangeness is a right reaction to a comedy that finally advertises however ironically its own strangeness: That Angelo's forsworne, is it not strange?

That Angelo's a murtherer, is't not strange? That Angelo is an adulterous thiefe, An hypocrite, a virgin violator, Is it not strange?

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Isabella is here in the fifth act acting, and she doesn't know the whole of it yet. But the play does have an extraordinary quality for which I have chosen the word 'peculiar' rather than her 'strange': Measure for Measure startles us, it is outre, it goes far too far - but it also has a marvellousness wholly its own, original. How peculiar it is becomes clear immediately it is compared to comic predecessors. The fullness of the Shakespearean output around the turn of the century histories, romantic comedies, a Roman history-tragedy, tragedies, problem comedies makes it hard to argue sequence or precedence, particularly since there is interbreeding.

It is possible, though, to make a case that Measure for Measure must precede All's Well that Ends Well and is the more original thereby - and this based on their use of that peculiar factor, the bed trick. In All's Well the bed trick is merely part of the source story. But in Measure for Measure it is the means by which the dramatist solves the 'monstrous ransom' in the source, where a wife must choose whether to save her husband's life by sacrificing her fidelity to him in sleeping with the unjust judge who has imposed the penalty.

Isabella must choose whether to save her brother, Claudio, by sleeping with Angelo, the Duke's unjust deputy.

  1. Measure for Measure begins with the ugly public exposure of a Claudio likely to lose his head and ends with the showing of another Claudio's unlost head; beginning and end are joined by the head of a dead pirate - "Heere is the head, Ile carrie it my selfe. Above all, in the loss of a critical agreement, of a sense of what it is that is 'flawed', the work seems to strike readers and audiences as strange, even bewildering.
  2. The superbly dense texture of Measure for Measure, throughout simultaneously public and private, powered by love and hatred if there is any difference , comes nose to nose at some central point with the exchange of piratical heads.
  3. At one of the most genuinely funny moments of this savagely serious comedy, the Duke hopes to save Claudio by substituting for his head that of the prisoner Barnardine, but is foiled by the criminal's obstinate insistence that he needs his head; the Duke is saved by a kindly Provost's suggestion that he should miss out the justice and just supply the head, since he the Provost just happens to have one, formerly belonging to a sick pirate, now ideally to hand. Hire Writer The only woman who kind of breaks the trend of the lowly women is Isabella, who has the courage to stand up to Angelo for her chastity.

The situation is resolved by the substitution of Mariana, who loves Angelo, for Isabella; it is not acceptably resolved in any other version. In fact, it looks as if this centuries-old and widely disseminated story might derive ultimately from the problems of classical philosophy, such as the problem of the Cretan Liar, constructed to prove that not all questions can be answered: With poetic if not philosophical brilliance, Shakespeare sees that the choice is impossible, and breaks its back.

He produces a broken or two-part play. The wife's crisis is resolved into the resolution of two women, and it turns on the bed trick; the husband's crisis is dissolved into the intelligence of the Duke and the head of a dead pirate: This is as far as possible from a mere shift: On this basis, it seems clear that Measure for Measure came first, and that the dramatist turned later to the discouragingly undramatic narrative of All's Well Measure for Measure's story is fiercely dramatic because he had found out what the bed trick could do for him.

These earlier plays have courtly and pastoral or rustic settings, each given a strong coloration of fantasy; their romanticism speaks through the exquisite musicality of both, a cantabile that says that love is harmony.

  • As such, it is a perfect - and perfectly ironical - reversal of the source situation, which is a complex of terrible but mere happenings;
  • In fact, it looks as if this centuries-old and widely disseminated story might derive ultimately from the problems of classical philosophy, such as the problem of the Cretan Liar, constructed to prove that not all questions can be answered;
  • The finest of Shakespeare's earlier comic characters - Bottom, Shylock, Falstaff, perhaps Beatrice - are full of surprises, secrets, silences;
  • The play is most often found interesting but deeply flawed, sometimes described as profound but more or less always called 'broken-backed'.

When Mariana's Boy initiates the second movement of Measure for Measure by singing of love betrayed to an abandoned Mariana, we have a startled sense of lost worlds. Shakespeare locates his comedy in the great urban capital of Vienna, and gives it three centres of action, one hearsay the brothel and two actual the convent, the prison - the first two, the convent and the brothel, always modulating into the third, the prison.

The novice Isabella demands "a more strict restraint"; her brother, the condemned lover Claudio, finds that his 'Scope' has turned, implacably, to 'restraint': Our Natures do pursue Like Rats that ravyn down their proper Bane, A thirsty evill, and when we drinke, we die.

Anne Barton has remarked, slightly bitterly, that "much of the action takes place in a prison": The prison is a real place, city-like, full of all brothels and convents in renaissance and measure for measure essay "great doers of our trade" in Pompey Bum's words, taking on an almost Dickensian vitality of horrible life.

The first full sentence of the comedy begins "Of Government", and the play's laws are political as well as ethical. The best production I have seen and I have seen a good many was by Declan Donellan, who set the action in a modern town hall.

Claudio's lines, spoken on his way to prison under the newly stringent sentence of death for fornication, are from a speech oddly and notoriously difficult - oddly, because Claudio is a simple man. He is obscure here because his fate forces him, perhaps for the first time, to think aloud in the street, or to struggle to do so. The whole comedy is characterised by a special density of broken wit: Claudio's disturbed and peculiar wit is the voice of an inward mind.

Measure for Measure takes a great leap into the centre of disharmony; and its chief discordance or broken music is that of inner against outer, Mind against Body. In one of the only three Platonic Dialogues known to the Middle Ages, the Phaedo, Socrates taught while himself in prison awaiting execution that the soul or spirit or mind is itself only imprisoned by the body and its lusts.

His words were given other translations and interpretations, but this is the one that seems to re-echo most in Shakespeare's culture. This wisdom, Christianised, passed through innumerable Renaissance forms and versions, such as Marvell's Dialogue between the Soul and Body: O who shall, from this Dungeon, raise A Soul inslav'd so many wayes? With bolts of Bones, that fetter'd stands In Feet; and manacled in Hands.

If Measure for Measure is compared with its principal sources Cinthio, George Whetstoneor with the beautifully unified comedies that precede it, the unavoidable difference is a deliberate, skilled and sustained art of bifurcation in the dark comedy.

Stories of the unjust judge in the sources here take on a resonance of inward trouble and suggest the rich topos of the love-hatred of Mind and Body, classical rather than Christian in its origins, and associated with debate and dialogue. Measure for Measure is in its first superlative half made up of debate and dialogue; the play is not merely dark, but abstract, intellectual, argumentative - and the arguments all turn on bodies.

Late in the play, Angelo, aghast with guilt, puts into words the fact that he has - as he thinks - first robbed a novice of her virginity in return for the life of her brother, and then cheated her by going on to take that life.

His language has the tense uncertainty this comedy invents everywhere: The phrases articulate, from an appalled, withdrawn mind, all the brutalities of the plot as Angelo planned it, turned into a self-betrayal that he has instead experienced. This is the 'eminent body' thinking. In All's Well, Diana refers to the bed trick supposedly involving herself and Bertram as the act of being 'embodied yours'.

On this occasion the metaphor is presumably a military one. In Measure for Measure 'embodiment' in some larger sense illuminates the substance of the whole comedy.

The pirate

We might call the play a 'tragicomedy of embodiment'. It is of course the pregnant condition of Claudio's faithful Julietta that, by making their love public or visible, has initiated the action of the main plot.

  1. Only the mirror of Lucio, whose very name evokes lux, i. This is first seen at the start of the play by the fact that she is training to become a nun and by the strong Christian values she appears to have.
  2. They exist in terms of a few intense, even sensational scenes; they are made to be revealed briefly and climactically. This double narrative and double purpose is effected by a doubleness brought about in the audience.
  3. Warwick 'the kingmaker' proposes to replace the head of York, savagely set on the gates of the city by Margaret, with that of Clifford. Above all, in the loss of a critical agreement, of a sense of what it is that is 'flawed', the work seems to strike readers and audiences as strange, even bewildering.
  4. At one point the Provost says of Claudio. They are also, since the Duke corrects only that action which he himself initiated, something like an inward process of responsible self-knowledge, self-discovery.
  5. How peculiar it is becomes clear immediately it is compared to comic predecessors. Picturing Space, Displacing Bodies.

Interestingly, the two bed-trick comedies each feature one of the dramatist's only three visibly pregnant women, Julietta and Helena the third is Hermione in The Winter's Tale. Even the unseen Mistress Elbow, in the hysterically funny non-account of events in the Bunch of Grapes, is said by Pompey Bum to be "with childe, and.

Pregnancy has an obvious place in a play that deals with the private act of love and the public role of childbearing. But there may be a further dimension of meaning.

Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare Essay

Paulina in The Winter's Tale struggles to get the imprisoned Queen's newborn infant out past the jailer: This Childe was prisoner to the wombe, and is By Law and processe of great Nature, thence Free'd and enfranchis'd. In very late Shakespeare, both birth and death, perhaps, teach minds and souls how to free themselves of the body. But in Measure for Measure what is sought is merely reconciliation, some end of the war between Body and Mind.

Shakespeare's major alteration of his sources, the invention of the Duke, comes in the first scene. He interprets the main action of the play, as if it were taking place in his head, whether he is the observer as agent the powerful Duke or the observer as patient or sufferer the contemplative Friar.

  • Isabella is here in the fifth act acting, and she doesn't know the whole of it yet;
  • The achievement of the scenes between Angelo and Isabella, and then between Isabella and Claudio, lies in the balance between mathematical logic and psychological truth;
  • But in Measure for Measure what is sought is merely reconciliation, some end of the war between Body and Mind;
  • What he does is first to clarify his story's original or essential ferocity, its impossibility, through the ruthless encounters of the play's first movement;
  • And she craves "no other, nor no better man" - a taking of the Deputy's measure perhaps worse for him than judicial punishment would have been;
  • Authority and goodness are essentially amateur, hypothetical, circumstantial:

It is because he thinks his way through the action, decently and learningly if clumsily, that the play is a comedy, even a peculiar comedy. Known in the text only by his public roles, he is named in the Folio cast list as 'Vincentio', which means 'conqueror'. When he becomes a substitute friar, he wears the name 'Lodowick', which Shakespeare may have thought of as 'Ludovico', meaning a game played out by shifts and changes. The first word spoken in Measure for Measure is the name of the Duke's ancient right-hand man, Escalus.

Numéros en texte intégral

Our modern verb 'escalate' was then, and for a long time to come, unknown, but had a predecessor in a noun now rare, 'escalade'; both words are derived from the Latin word for a ladder, scala. An escalade is an assault in which soldiers climb over a defensive wall with ladders. The process of escalade is possibly referred to in Psalm 18, which rejoices in God's saving strength even from 'the snares of death' in a manner rather appropriate to tragicomedy: Though an odd romance, Measure for Measure is one, and romance takes us the long way round, the surprising way through.

The business of 'government' shifts into the imprecise mere living of those involved we never, for instance, find out what was going on in the Bunch of Grapes. At one of the most genuinely funny moments of this savagely serious comedy, the Duke hopes to save Claudio by substituting for his head that of the prisoner Barnardine, but is foiled by the criminal's obstinate insistence that he needs his head; the Duke is saved by a kindly Provost's suggestion that he should miss out the justice and just supply the head, since he the Provost just happens to have one, formerly belonging to a sick pirate, now ideally to hand: He stumbles forward in the direction of the happy ending, "carrying it myself": But, if he makes mistakes and has troubles, it is precisely these mistakes and troubles that prove him a true governor, for the point of the play at which he steps forward masterfully, led now by his self-evident goodwill, is that at which catastrophe impends.

Authority and goodness are essentially amateur, hypothetical, circumstantial: They are also, since the Duke corrects only that action which he himself initiated, something like an inward process of responsible self-knowledge, self-discovery.

The pirate's head is both the low point of the drama, the moment of maximal humiliation to the Duke and to Claudio, as the bed trick is to Mariana and Isabella, and as both are to Angelo; and also the point of turn, brothels and convents in renaissance and measure for measure essay which 'tragi-' becomes 'comedy'.

Fortuitous as it is, the head is not precisely random: In the second scene, Lucio makes the point to a pair of Gentlemen that life and morality force self-deception onto the helpless human being: The 'Sanctimonius Pirat' is the Pauline Body that would be good and is not.

The backchat of Lucio and the Gentlemen generates what is probably the most extensive case in Shakespeare of the VD joke: Certainly there is relevance to the play's brothels. But it might be possible to go further, and believe that this passage of reference to sexual disease introduces early into Measure for Measure what might be called the Body's nightmares, the natural 'dolour' of sexuality extending far beyond the play's licentious underworld, and asking questions as deep, disturbing and divisive as Angelo's startling word-games at a point when Isabella's purity has excited his lust: But, as with plague and other infections transmitted beyond contemporary medical knowledge of cure, it may have seemed to logical minds equally unanswerable evidence that the wages of virtue is death.

The pragmatic Christianity of the time, as indeed of any time, could make Jobs of serious men and women. The diversification of Church politics here brings with it a safe non-political vagueness.

But however romanticised, the play's religion is nothing but Christian. But, as the brothel balances the convent in a sort of dramaturgical logic, so does its God of Love "speake feelingly" the First Gentleman's bitter quibble in a world of rotting bodies. It may be worth pointing out that Wagner's very early opera Das Liebesverbot The Ban on Love was based on Measure for Measure, but in a Romantic and Italianate style, and located in Sicily, and it was then and has been ever since a complete failure, perhaps because Wagner ignored Shakespeare's "sorry fooling", and all the moral depth and darkness he found in it.

The disease jokes socialise the disease, so that it becomes a phenomenon of a sick society, almost a fashion. But they do the opposite, too: The mind can be cleaned only by an acknowledgment of the filth of the body.