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Essay on Abstinence and Orgy in Measure for Measure

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Abstinence and Orgy in Measure for Measure

  
    Many existing views of Measure for Measure seem intriguing but incomplete. They might reinforce our perception of this play as fragmented and baffling, because they do not integrate apparently conflicting outlooks presented in the play’s Vienna, and generated by the mysterious action of Vincentio. Notice how the following different interpretations display the conflicts: the extreme view proposed by Roy Battenhouse that the Duke stands for God (Rossiter 108-28); the modified position of Elizabeth Marie Pope that the Duke is a successful magistrate with divinely-delegated powers ("Renaissance" 66-82), almost in line with Eliade’s version of a receding sky-god replaced by a local delegate (see Eliade 52); the attack upon Vincentio’s foolish "mystification" by Clifford Leech (69-71); and the concomitant understanding by Wylie Sypher that the Duke’s Vienna is merely an arbitrary, chaotic locale where passion and abstinence indifferently change place (262-80). Missing from such interpretations of Measure for Measure is isolation of controlling motifs: that of trial by temptation—or "assaying," as both the play and contemporary religious tracts name it; and of classical concepts of restrained chaos. Understanding these ideas will not resolve all the necessary ambiguities, but may provide a coherent approach to viewing or directing this perplexing drama. Analyzing Vincentio as a self-appointed "assayer" means exploring the chaotic world of Vienna, transformed by Vincentio’s incompetence into a predatory dis-order. To refer to Eliade again, the Duke has perhaps assumed the role of demiurge only to recede himself, giving way to a lesser divinity (40, 50-52) in Angelo—a character signi...


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...n UP, 1966.

Knight, G. Wilson. The Wheel of Fire: Essays in Interpretation of Shakespeare’s Sombre Tragedies. London: Oxford UP, 1930.

Leech, Clifford. "The ‘Meaning’ of Measure for Measure." Shakespeare Survey 3 (1950): 69-71.

Pope, Elizabeth Marie. Paradise Regained: The Tradition and the Poem. 1947. New York: Russell and Russell, 1962.

---. "The Renaissance Background of Measure for Measure." Shakespeare Survey 2 (1949): 66-82.

Rossiter, A. P. Angel with Horns and Other Shakespeare Lectures. Ed. Graham Storey. London: Longmans, Green, 1961.

Shakespeare, William. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Ed. Alfred Harbage. 1969. Baltimore: Penguin, 1971.

Sypher, Wylie. "Shakespeare as Casuist: Measure for Measure." The Sewanee Review 58 (1950): 262-80.

Taylor, Thomas. Christs Combate and Conquest. Cambridge, 1618.

 

 


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