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THE PLOT, THE FABLE, AND CONSTRUCTION
MEASURE FOR MEASURE.
In the fifth novel of the eighth decad of Giraldi Cinthio, Maximine emperor of Rome invests Juriste, an officer renowned for his rigid justice, with full authority in the government of Inspruck.
A citizen of that town, by name Lodovico, having ravished a girl, confesses the fact, and according to a law in force was sentenced for it to lose his head.
Epitia, the sister of Lodovico, who was then only in her sixteenth year, and of a person extremely beautiful, prostrates herself at the feet of the governor to supplicate her brother's life. Juriste is fired by lust, and determines to seduce her. For this purpose he appoints another interview, and then proposes her dishonour as the price of her brother's pardon, at the same time giving her hopes that he might perhaps repair the injury by marriage.
The virtuous maid spurns at the proffered terms,
and flies to her unfortunate brother, whom she exhorts and encourages to submit to his fate with a proper fortitude; but the fear of death overpowers the resolution of Lodovico, and Epitia to save him becomes the victim of Juriste's baseness.
• The unfeeling and ungenerous governor, after his lust is satiated, falsifies his word, and instead of liberating the injured virgin's brother, he sends him home to her a lifeless corpse. Grief and wounded honour now urge her steps to the emperor, who first causes Juriste to marry her in his presence, and afterwards condemns him to suffer a like death with Lodovico. This sentence of Maximine soon finds its
to the lodgings of Epitia. Again she appears a suppliant before the emperor to beg the life of her husband. “ His death was before," says she, “ due to my wrongs, but his life is now become my care through the engagements you have made me enter into with him." Juriste is pardoned at the entreaty of his wife, and, struck with her uncommon magnanimity and kindness, he treats her with unbounded love to the end of his life.
Doctor Johnson, speaking of Measure for Measure, says, “I cannot but suspect that some other had new modelled the novel of Cynthio, or written a story which in some particulars resembled it, and that Cynthio was not the author whom Shakspeare immediately followed. The emperor in Cynthio is named Maximine; the duke, in Shakspeare's enumeration of the persons of the drama, is called Vincentio. This
appears a very slight remark; but since the duke has no name in the play, nor is ever mentioned but by his title, why should he be called Vincentio among the persons, but because the name was copied from the story, and placed superfluously at the head of the list by the mere habit of transcription? It is therefore likely that there was then a story of Vincentio, duke of Vienna, different from that of Maximine emperor of the Romans.
“ Of this play the light or comick part is very natural and pleasing ; but the grave scenes, if a few passages be excepted, have more labour than elegance. The plot is rather intricate than artful. The time of the action is indefinite; some time, we know not how much, must have elapsed between the recess of the duke and the imprisonment of Claudio; for he must have learned the story of Mariana in his disguise, or he delegated his power to a man already known to be corrupted. The unities of action and place are sufficiently preserved."