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Measure for Measure Slide Show. ENGL 640 Dr. Fike. Three Paradigms for Interpreting MFM. Christian allegory Problem comedy Historical analogy I will set up an interpretation for you and then ask you what’s problematic about it. Paradigm #1: A) Christian Allegory.

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three paradigms for interpreting mfm
Three Paradigms for Interpreting MFM
  • Christian allegory
  • Problem comedy
  • Historical analogy

I will set up an interpretation for you and then ask you what’s problematic about it.

paradigm 1 a christian allegory
Paradigm #1: A) Christian Allegory
  • Isabella appeals to Angelo for Christian forgiveness.
  • The Duke represents God, grace, divine justice, omniscience, or divine providence.
  • And the Duke tests Angelo and Isabella as God tests his servants.
  • Angelo represents an Old Testament ethic; the Duke represents a New Testament ethic. Love of law vs. law of love.
  • See Portia’s statement on mercy in MV 4.1.344ff.
b the title s biblical origin
B) The Title’s Biblical Origin
  • Mark 4:24: “And he said to them, ‘Take heed what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get….’”
  • Luke 6:37: “‘Judge not, and you will not be judged.’”
  • Exodus 21:23-27: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
echoes in mfm
Echoes in MFM
  • 2.1.8ff.: Escalus supposes that Angelo might have “Erred in this point which now you censure him, / And pulled the law upon you.”
  • 2.2.80ff.: Isabella says, “How would you be, / If He, which is the top of judgment, should / But judge you as you are?”
  • 5.1.419: The Duke says, “Like doth quit like, and measure still for measure.”
  • 3.2.237: The Duke also says, “He professes to have received no sinister measure from his judge but most willingly humbles himself to the determination of justice,” etc.
c a christian concept felix culpa
C) A Christian Concept: Felix Culpa
  • The fall of Adam and Eve was fortunate because it paved the way for Christ’s incarnation and resurrection, which defeat sin and death and thus enable human beings to achieve a higher state than Adam and Eve knew in the garden.
  • Milton: Paradise, fall, paradise regained.
  • If you want to rise, you first have to fall.
felix culpa in mfm
Felix Culpa in MFM
  • Bevington: “The play celebrates the felix culpa of human nature, the fall from grace that is an integral part of man’s rise to happiness and self-knowledge.”
  • 5.1.447-49: Mariana says, “They say best men are molded out of faults, / And, for the most, become much more the better / For being a little bad.”
  • Cf. the notion that God is happiest with those who stray (think the prodigal son) and then return.
d biblical concept of sin
D) Biblical Concept of Sin
  • Romans 7:18-20: “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me.”
analogy in mfm
Analogy in MFM
  • 1.2.125: Claudio says, “Our natures do pursue, / Like rats that ravin down their proper bane, / A thirsty evil, and when we drink we die.”
  • What do Paul’s statement, Claudio’s statements, and felix culpa suggest about Angelo’s quest to resist sexual temptation?
paradigm 2 problem comedy
Paradigm #2: Problem Comedy
  • 1604—the last of Shakespeare’s comedies.
  • This places the play squarely in his tragic period.
  • It is framed by Othello and King Lear.
  • This is a problem play. Here is Ernest Schanzer’s definition: a play in which there is “a concern with a moral problem which is central to it, presented in such a manner that we are unsure of our moral bearings, so that uncertain and divided responses to it in the minds of the audience are possible or even probable.”
problem comedy
Problem Comedy
  • MFM is naturally darker than MSND.
  • Example of problem comedy—see Bedford 80. McDonald states that plays like MFM “are recognizably comic in shape and effect,” but he calls them “dark comedies, tragicomedies, and problem plays.” In other words, a problem comedy amplifies the potential for tragedy that we observed in MSND.
my definition
My Definition
  • In a problem play, the potential for tragedy is greater than in a festive comedy, and the resolution to problems is so forced that the comic ending seems dubious.
here is the problem that i want you to solve
Here Is the Problem That I Want You To Solve:
  • What’s problematic about this play?
  • Is it true to say that Angelo is forgiven by the Duke (grace, mercy)?
  • In other words, how well does the Christian allegorical reading work?
some answers
Some Answers
  • The Duke essentially hears confessions (a sacrament in Catholic Vienna), but he is not a priest. False sense of security on the part of someone whose confession he hears.
  • Of the four marriages, only one of them (Claudio and Juliet) is by mutual consent.
  • The Duke (in disguise as a friar) forces Isabella to lie to Angelo and to set up a liaison between him and Mariana.
  • She wants to be in the convent but is forced into marriage. (See next slide.)
  • So is the Duke really a figure who represents divine grace?
  • The chart on the next slide will help us unpack the problematic nature of the play.

Convent Garden Brothel

Sisterhood Marriage Prostit.

No sexuality Fertility Bastardy

Chastity Married Abuse chastity Disease

Isabella/ Mariana Bawds


elizabethan pun
Elizabethan Pun
  • The chart has a nice symmetry—convent and brothel frame it.
  • “Get thee to a nunnery!” (Hamlet 3.1.122).
  • Elizabethan protestants thought that convents were brothels because the Catholic Church had run brothels during an earlier age.
  • Fike, Spenser’s Underworld 71-72
  • The Duke forces Isabella to join him in the middle.
  • He tricks Angelo into joining Mariana in the middle and forces him to marry her.
  • And he forces Lucio to join Kate Keepdown (a prostitute from the right column) in the middle.
and so
And So…
  • If characters are forced to marry each other, MFM is a problem comedy, and the allegorical Christian reading doesn’t fit.
  • The Duke is not a straightforward figure of God’s grace and mercy but instead an ethically complex character.
paradigm 3a history marriage contracts
Paradigm #3A: History--Marriage Contracts
  • Bedford 271: “The Church of England recognized the validity of several kinds of ‘irregular’ marriages. A couple who promised before witnesses to marry each other in the future and who then consummated the agreement sexually were considered legally wed, whether or not a church ceremony ever took place. This was called a marriage contract per verba de futuro.”
another type
Another Type
  • Bedford 271-72: “Likewise, a couple who declared to each other before witnesses a phrase such as ‘I hereby take you as my husband/wife’ were considered married; their words constituted the contract. This was a marriage contract per verba de praesenti.”
which couple has which type
Which Couple Has Which Type?
  • 1.2.142: Claudio says, “Thus stands it with me: upon a true contract / I got possession of Julietta’s bed. / You know the lady; she is fast my wife, / Save that we do the denunciation lack / Of outward order.”
  • 4.1.71: The Duke says to Mariana, “He is your husband on a precontract; / To bring you thus together, ’tis no sin,” etc.
  • 5.1.214: Mariana says, “This is the hand which, with a vowed contract, / Was fast belocked in thine,” etc.
  • Claudio and Juliet have per verba de futuro. This is the more binding of the two contracts because sexual consummation is involved.
  • Angelo and Mariana have per verba de praesenti. It becomes binding thanks to the bed trick. Note: “If the encounter acknowledge itself hereafter, it may compel him to her recompense,” says the Duke at 3.1.253-54.
paradigm 3b history analogue to machiavelli s prince
Paradigm #3B: History—Analogue to Machiavelli’s Prince

In March of 1500, Cesare Borgia, the duke of Valentino, installed Remirro de Orco as lieutenant general of the Romagna, which had been recently conquered. De Orco’s task was to bring about submission, and he did so by eliminating opposing factions. This generated lots of ill feelings. Borgia needed to do something to win their hearts. In December 1502 the townspeople of Cesena awoke to discover the following in a public square: de Orco’s body cut in half and lying next to a club and a bloody knife.

problem for you to solve
Problem for You To Solve:
  • What was the point of this display?
  • Shakespeare knew this story.
  • There was a historical precedent for the Duke’s decision to put Angelo in charge.
  • The return of Borgia, like the return of the Duke, signals a transition from the rule of the club to the rule of the knife.
  • 2.1.5-6: Escalus says, “Let us be keen, and rather cut a little [as with a knife; surgeon’s knife, healing?] / Than fall, and bruise to death [as with a club].”
  • The corpse, club, and knife are a kind of theater in which the townspeople participate. They had better choose the knife; otherwise, they would get the club. Thus they participated in their own subjugation.
  • Borgia and the Duke create the conditions from which they save their people.
in other words
In Other Words…
  • Four approaches to the problem in Venice:
    • Too much liberty (Duke)
    • The letter of the law (Angelo’s original approach)
    • Equity/the spirit of the law (Escalus)
    • Tyranny: justice run amok (Angelo’s eventual approach)
  • The first is corrected by the second so that the third can assert itself. The fourth is an extreme abuse of the second.
paradigm 3c history james i and the duke
Paradigm #3C: History—James I and the Duke
  • Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, so James I was on the throne when Shakespeare wrote MFM.
  • The play is about themes that interested James, and the Duke is an image of the king.
what james wrote
What James Wrote
  • Basilikon Doron (on justice and good rule)
  • True Law of Free Monarchies
  • POINT: James was interested in issues of governance.
what james and the duke have in common
What James and the Duke Have in Common
  • Dislike of “loud applause and Aves vehement” (1.1.71) and “How I have ever loved the life removed” (1.3.8).
  • The Duke mystifies his subjects and plays cat and mouse with them.
  • He describes himself as “a scholar, a statesman, and a soldier” (3.2.142). Emphasis on self-knowledge (3.2.227).
  • He fails to enforce the laws sufficiently: “…’twas my fault to give the people scope…” (1.3.35).
  • Extremes of free pardon and immediate execution (4.2.124-26). James hanged a cutpurse without a trial but commanded all the prisoners in the castle to be set free.
  • Sensitivity to slandersentencing Lucio to torture and death, then essentially pardoning him so that he can marry a “punk” whom “he begot with child” (5.1.522). James was sensitive to slander. (Scottish Act of Parliament in 1585 made slander of the king a capital crime.)
and finally
And finally…
  • Catharine F. Seigel argues that “Shakespeare did intend to advise the king and to advise him on an extremely topical subject: the state of the stews in the suburbs of London” (“Hands Off Hot Houses” 83).
  • James legislated against prostitution.
  • The play instructed him “to keep his hands off the hothouses” (87).
  • Brothels serve as a pressure release valve for sexuality—a socially desirable function.
issues to discuss
Issues To Discuss
  • How does the play portray human sexuality? What associations with sexuality are there in MFM? How is female sexuality depicted here? What alternatives are available to women according to this play?
  • Why does Angelo try to seduce Isabella?
  • What are the relationship among palace, prison, convent, brothel, street, and bower?
  • How do you explain Isabella’s defense of Angelo in 5.1?