Places: Measure for Measure

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1623

First produced: c. 1604

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Tragicomedy

Time of work: Sixteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Vienna

*Vienna. Measure for MeasureGreat Austrian city ruled by Duke Vincentio. As the duke himself realizes, Vienna is a moral morass, and bawdry and licentiousness of all sorts are rampant. The duke accepts responsibility for having been lax in enforcing the law. Corruption seethes throughout society from the nobility down to the base characters who are engaged less in a comic subplot than in a series of vulgar exemplifications of the pervasive moral decay. Concerned by the city’s deterioration, the duke devises a scheme to revive civic authority: Pretending to go to Poland, he puts the administration of the city in the charge of his trusted, and presumably virtuous, deputy, Angelo, and remains in Vienna disguised as a friar. While staying in a friary, he spies on Angelo. The friary, which should ordinarily be a place of quiet contemplation and prayer, thus becomes a den of intrigue.

Shakespeare’s Vienna is no joyous café society or waltz-and-chandelier ballroom for the aristocracy. Rife with pimps, prostitutes, lechers, violated virgins, and murderers, it is not ready to be overrun by the wave of puritanism set in motion by Angelo. Scenes set on a street provide a microcosm of Viennese society, especially its smart men-about-town, such as Lucio; low-life figures such as Pompey the bawdy clown, and the syphilitic Mistress Overdone. Even Angelo proves to be corrupt, and in the privacy of his own abode, he reveals his hypocritical dissembling and hidden lust.

BibliographyBennett, Josephine Waters. “Measure for Measure” as Royal Entertainment. New York: Columbia University Press, 1966. A comprehensive discussion of the play, centering on the way it would have appeared to contemporary audiences. The author rejects earlier criticisms of the work as “dark comedy,” and considers instead that in its historical context, it would have been viewed as high entertainment.Lloyd Evans, Gareth. The Upstart Crow: An Introduction to Shakespeare’s Plays. London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1982. A comprehensive discussion of Shakespeare’s dramatic works, including information on the plays’ critical reviews and sources, as well as on the circumstances surrounding their gestation.Muir, Kenneth, ed. Shakespeare–The Comedies: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1965. An anthology of essays that discuss Shakespeare’s comedies from various points of view. The essay on Measure for Measure, by R. W. Chambers, emphasizes the violence in the play and its importance in furthering the plot.Shakespeare, William. Measure for Measure. Edited by J. W. Lever. London: Methuen, 1965. In addition to the text of the play, this edition contains more than ninety pages of introductory material about the sources and a critical evaluation of the work. Also includes appendices with the original texts of Shakespeare’s sources.Wheeler, Richard P. Shakespeare’s Development and the Problem Comedies. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981. Discusses two of Shakespeare’s comedies, All’s Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure. These two works are considered problem comedies because they do not fit the usual mold of Elizabethan comedy.
Categories: Places