Measure for Measure (The New Cambridge Shakespeare) Paperback – 27 Jun 1991
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About the Author
William Shakespeare was born in April 1564 in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, on England s Avon River. When he was eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway. The couple had three children an older daughter Susanna and twins, Judith and Hamnet. Hamnet, Shakespeare s only son, died in childhood. The bulk of Shakespeare s working life was spent in the theater world of London, where he established himself professionally by the early 1590s. He enjoyed success not only as a playwright and poet, but also as an actor and shareholder in an acting company. Although some think that sometime between 1610 and 1613 Shakespeare retired from the theater and returned home to Stratford, where he died in 1616, others believe that he may have continued to work in London until close to his death. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.