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MEASURE FOR MEASURE.
MEASURE FOR MEASURE stands the fourth in the list of Comedies in the folio of 1623, where it was first printed. Like the four plays included in our first volume, the divisions and subdivisions of acts and scenes are carefully noted in the original edition, and at the end is a list of the persons represented, under the usual heading, “ The names of all the actors." Though the general scope and sense of the dialogue are every where clear enough, there are several obscure and doubtful words aud passages, which cause us to regret, more than in any of the preceding plays, the want of earlier impressions to illustrate, and rectify, or establish, the text. As it is, the right reading in some places can scarce be cleared of uncertainty, or placed beyond controversy.
The strongly-marked peculiarity in the language, cast of thought, and moral temper of Measure for Measure, have invested the play with great psychological interest, and bred a strange curiosity among critics to connect it in some way with the author's mental history; with some supposed crisis in his feelings and experience. Hence the probable date of its composition was for a long time argued more strenuously than the subject would otherwise seem to justify; and, as often falls out in such cases, the more the critics argued the point, the farther they were from coming to an agreement. But, what is not a little remarkable, the best thinkers have here struck widest of the truth; the dull matter-of-fact critics have borne the palm away from their more philosophical brethren ;an edifying instance how little the brightest speculation can do in questions properly falling within the domain of facts. Tieck and Ulrici, proceeding mainly upon internal evidence, fix the date somewhere between 1609 and 1612; and it is quite curious to observe how confident and positive they are in their inferences : Ulrici, after stating the reasons of Tieck for 1612, says,
- « The later origin of the piece - certainly it did not precede 1609 - is vouched still more strongly by the profound masculine earnestness which pervades it, and by the prevalence of the same tone of feel. ing which led Shakespeare to abandon the life and pursuits of London for his native town.”
Until since these conclusions were put forth, the English critics, in default of other data, grounded their reasonings upon certain probable allusions to contemporary matters ; especially those passages which express the Duke's fondness for “ the life remov'd," and his aversion to being greeted by crowds of people : and Chalmers, a very considerable instance of critical dulness, had the sagacity to discover a sort of portrait-like resemblance in the Duke to King James I. As the King was undeniably a much better theologian than statesman or governor, the circumstance of the Duke's appearing so much more at home in the cowl and hood than in his ducal robes certainly lends some credit to this discov. ery: The King's unamiable repugnance to being gazed upon by throngs of adiniring subjects is thus spoken of by a contemporary writer : “ In his public appearance, especially in his sports, the accesses of the people made him so impatient, that he often dispersed them with frowns, that we may not say with curses.” And his unhandsome bearing towards the crowds which, prompted by eager loyalty, flocked forth to hail his accession, is noted by several historians. But he was a pretty liberal, and, for the time, judicious encourager of the drama, as well as of other learned delectations; and with those who sought or had tasted his patronage it was natural that these symptoms of weakness, or of something worse, should pass for tokens of a wise superiority to the dainties of popular applause.
All which renders it quite probable that the Poet may have had an eye to the King in the passages cited by Malone in support of bis conjecture.
• I love the people,
6 And even so
The allusion here being granted, Malone's inference that the play was probably made soon after the King's accession, and before the effect of his unlooked-for austerity on this score had spent itself, was natural enough. Nor is the conjecture of Ulrici and others without weight, “ that Shakespeare was led to the composition of the play by the rigoristic sentiments and arrogant virtue of the Puritans." And in this view several points of the main action might be aptly suggested at the time in question : for the King had scarcely set foot in England but he began to be worried by the importunities of that remarkable people, who had been feeding upon the hope, that by the sole exercise of his prerogative he would cast out surplice, Liturgy, and Episcopacy, and revolutionize the Church up to the Presbyterian model; it being a prime notion of theirs, that with the truth a minority, however small, was better than a majority, however large, without it.
Whether this view be fully warranted or not, it has been much strengthened by a recent discovery. The play is now known to have been acted at court December 26, 1604. For this knowledge we are indebted to Edmund Tylney's “ Account of the Revels at Court,” preserved in the Audit Office, Somerset House, and lately edited by Mr. Peter Cunningham. Tylney was Master of the Revels from 1579 to 1610; and in his account of expenses for the year beginning in October, 1604, occurs the following entry : “ By His Majesty's players : On St. Stephen's night in the Hall a play called Measure for Measure.” In a column headed « The Poets which made the Plays,” our author is set down as “ Mr. Shaxberd;" the writer not taking pains to know the right spelling of a name, the mentioning of which was to be the sole cause that his own should be remembered in after ages and on other continents.
The date of the play being so far ascertained, all the main probabilities allegeable from the play itself readily fall into harmony therewith. And it is rather remarkable that Measure for Measure most resembles some other plays, known to have been written about the same time, in those very characteristics which led the German critics to fix upon a later date. Which shows how weak, in such cases, the internal evidence of style, temper, and spirit is by itself, and yet how strong in connection with the external evidence of facts.
No question is made, that for some particulars in the plot and story of Measure for Measure the Poet was ultimately indebted to Giraldi Cinthio, an Italian novelist of the sixteenth century. The original story forms the eighty-fifth in his Hecatommithi, or Hundred Tales. A vouth named Ludovico is there overtaken in the same fault as Claudio; Juriste, a magistrate highly reputed for wisdom and justice, passes sentence of death upon him; and Epitia, Ludovico's sister, a virgin of rare gifts and graces, goes to pleading for her brother's life. Casting herself at the govern. or's feet, her beauty and eloquence, made doubly potent by the tears of suffering affection, have the same effect upon him as Isabella's upon Angelo. His proposals are rejected with scorn and horror; but the lady, overcome by the pathetic entreaties of her brother, at last yields to them under a solemn promise of marriage. His object being gained, the wicked man commits a double vowbreach, neither marrying the lady nor sparing her brother. She carries her cause to the Emperor, by whom Juriste is convicted, forced to marry her, and then sentenced to death; but is at last pardoned at the suit of Epitia, who is now as earnest and eloquent for her husband as she had been for her brother. Her holy and heroic conduct touches him with remorse, and finally proves as effective in redeeming his character as it was in redeeming his life.
As early as 1578, this tale of Ciuthio's was dramatized after a sort by George Whetstone. The title of Whetstone's performance runs thus : “ The right excellent and famous History of Promos and Cassandra, divided into Comical Discourses.” In the conduct of the story Whetstone varies somewhat from his model; as may be seen by the following abstract of his argument :
In the city of Julio, then under the rule of Corvinus, King of Hungary, there was a law that for incontinency the man should lose his head, and the woman be marked out for infamy by her dress. Through the indulgence of magistrates this severe law. came to be little regarded. At length the government falling into the hands of Lord Promos, he revived the terrible statute, and, a youth named Andrugio being convicted of the fault in question, resolved to visit the penalties in their utmost rigour upon both him and his partner in guilt. Andrugio had a sister of great virtue and accomplishment, named Cassandra, who undertook to sue for his life. Her good behaviour, great beauty, and the sweet order of her talk wrought so far with the governor as to induce a short reprieve; but, his love soon turning into lust, he set down the spoil of her honour as the ransom; but she, abhorring both him and his suit, could by no persuasion be won to his wish. Unable, howevor, to stand out against the pathetic pleadings of her brother, she at last yielded to the wicked man's proposal, upon condition that he should pardon her brother and then marry her. This he solemnly vowed to do; but, his wish being gained, instead of keeping his vows, he ordered the jailer to present Cassandra with her brother's head. The jailer, knowing what the governor had done, and touched with the outcries of Andrugio, took the head of a felon just executed, and set the other at liberty. Cassandra, thinking the head to he her brother's, was at the point to kill herself for grief at this treachery, but spared that stroke to be avenged of the traitor. She devised to make her case known to the King, and he forthwith hastened to do justice upon Promos, ordering that to repair the lady's honor he should marry her, and then for his crime against the state lose his head. No sooner was Cassandra a wife, than all her rhetoric of eye, tongue, and action was tasked to procure the pardon of her husband; but the King, tendering the public good more than hers, denied her suit. At length Andrugio, overcome by his sister's grief, made himself known; for he had all the while been about the place in disguise ; whereupon the King, to honour the virtues of Cassandra, pardoned both him and Promos.