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Measure for Measure (The New Cambridge Shakespeare) Paperback – 27 Jun 1991

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Product details

  • Paperback: 227 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (27 Jun 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521294010
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521294010
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.7 x 22.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 748,144 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's preeminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon". His surviving works, including some collaborations, consist of 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and several other poems. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.

Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire and was baptised on 26 April 1564. Thought to have been educated at the local grammar school, he married Anne Hathaway, with whom he went on to have three children, at the age of eighteen, before moving to London to work in the theatre. Two erotic poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece were published in 1593 and 1594 and records of his plays begin to appear in 1594 for Richard III and the three parts of Henry VI. Shakespeare's tragic period lasted from around 1600 to 1608, during which period he wrote plays including Hamlet and Othello. The first editions of the sonnets were published in 1609 but evidence suggests that Shakespeare had been writing them for years for a private readership.

Shakespeare spent the last five years of his life in Stratford, by now a wealthy man. He died on 23 April 1616 and was buried in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford. The first collected edition of his works was published in 1623.

(The portrait details: The Chandos portrait, artist and authenticity unconfirmed. NPG1, © National Portrait Gallery, London)

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Amazon Review

A dark and difficult play, Measure for Measure has been a popular play since the latter half of the 20th century for its prescient dramatisation of the issues of sexual and political hypocrisy, and the ways in which the state interferes in the private lives of its citizens. Set in Duke Vincentio's Vienna, where poverty, disease and prostitution are rife, Claudio and his fiancée Juliet are arrested for having sex before marriage, and Claudio is sentenced to death. Angelo, the Duke's deputy, who stands in for the Duke whilst he ostensibly goes off on a pilgrimage, enthusiastically endorses the sentence. In fact the Duke remains behind the scenes, watching Angelo as he falls for Claudio's sister Isabella, who comes to beg for her brother's life. Angelo is a wonderful creation, loathsome yet fascinating as he struggles with the double standards of his enforcement of draconian laws whilst lusting after the sister of the man he is prepared to execute, debating "The tempter or the tempted, who sins most?".

No one is spared Shakespeare's withering look at the mores of early 17th-century life, not even the pimps and madams who try to get by in the midst of the Duke's bizarre and coercive disguises and performances. The deeply ambiguous ending of Measure for Measure confirms it as one of Shakespeare's most ambivalent and arguably despairing plays. --Jerry Brotton

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 6 July 2004
Format: Paperback
Measure for Measure is seldom read, and not often performed in the United States. Why? Although many of Shakespeare's plays deal bluntly with sexual issues, Measure for Measure does so in an unusually ugly and disgusting way for Shakespeare. This play is probably best suited for adults, as a result.
I see Measure for Measure as closest to The Merchant of Venice in its themes. Of the two plays, I prefer Measure for Measure for its unremitting look at the arbitrariness of laws, public hypocrisy and private venality, support for virtue, and encouragement of tempering public justice with common sense and mercy.
The play opens with Duke Vincentio turning over his authority to his deputy, Angelo. But while the duke says he is leaving for Poland, he in fact remains in Vienna posing as a friar. Angelo begins meting out justice according to the letter of the law. His first act is to condemn Claudio to death for impregnating Juliet. The two are willing to marry, but Angelo is not interested in finding a solution. In despair, Claudio gets word to his sister, the beautiful Isabella, that he is to be executed and prays that she will beg for mercy. Despite knowing that Isabella is a virgin novice who is about to take her vows, Angelo cruelly offers to release Claudio of Isabella will make herself sexually available to Angelo. The Duke works his influence behind the scenes to help create justice.
Although this play is a "comedy" in Shakespearean terms, the tension throughout is much more like a tragedy. In fact, there are powerful scenes where Shakespeare draws on foolish servants of the law to make his points clear. These serve a similar role of lessening the darkness to that of the gravediggers in Hamlet.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 10 Jun 2004
Format: Paperback
The book begins with an indepth introduction on the play which is very useful for studying it at alevel or above. The introduction goes into the source material Shakespeare used for the play and also the major themes of justice, mercy, sexual restraint etc. The play is amazing and I would reccommend anyone who reads it to go and see a production .The play is one of Shakepeare's lesser known problem plays. It is about a corrupt society full of prostitution and lechery, a new Puritan deputy takes over from Duke Vincentio called Angelo. He immediately sentences Claudio to death for getting Juliet pregnant outside marriage . Claudio's soon to be nun sister Isabella goes to plead for his life to Angelo and Angelo finds himself sexually attracted to her. What Angelo does not know is that the Duke whom he thinks is away in Poland, is still in the country and is closer to the characters than they all think. It is a really great play and deals with issues such as mercy vs punishment, freedom vs restraint, appearance vs. reality. After the play the book goes on to a textual analysis which I personally found dull and pointless.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 1 review
Disturbing but Engrossing 15 Dec 2002
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
I picked up Measure for Measure knowing nothing about the play other than it was not an early work and that it was a comedy. I knew Shakespeare as an enjoyable Wit and was looking forward to a virtuoso display of the English Language. I certainly got this, but this is by no means a "light" play. In fact, the more I looked into it, the more disturbing it became.
The plot is quite involved with many twists and turns, based on many unlikely situations. Read it like any other comedy and you will be fine.
The characters are what's disturbing. There are no clear "white hats" in this story. Claudio sets his sister up which causes much of the story. The Duke handles people like puppets. Angelo is certainly not worthy of trust and there are some hints that the Duke even knows this when he leaves him in charge. Isabella? Well, there are two strong attributes to her personallity - Future Nun and also as Harold Bloom described her, the sexiest female character in Shakespeare.
There are many "lowlife" characters as well. Most important and probably most interesting would be Lucio who moves the plot around. Also quite interesting and infuriating would be Pompey.
I read it in the New Cambridge Edition. Brian Gibbons gives an interesting introduction which goes over the original context for the play, a discussion of its sources, as well as a production history. His notes to the text are also quite good. My eyes glazed over a bit on the textual analysis...not interesting to me at this point.
If you want "uplifting" or "inspirational", pick something else. If you are willing to let these interesting, ambigious characters into your mind, you will have a fine time as one of the finest artists of the English Language leads you around their stories.
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