EN301: Shakespeare and Selected Dramatists of his Time Festive comedy In his essay ‘The Argument of Comedy’ (1949), Northrop Frye identified “a social as well as an individual theme” in the marriage with which a comedy traditionally concludes: “In the last scene, when the dramatist usually tries to get all his characters on the stage at once, the audience witnesses the birth of a renewed sense of social integration. … The essential comic resolution, therefore, is an individual release which is also a social reconciliation.” (Palmer 1984: 75-6) You may remember this pattern from other Shakespearean comedies: “…the action of the comedy begins in a world represented as a normal world, moves into the green world, goes into a metamorphosis there in which the comic resolution is achieved, and returns to the normal world.” (Palmer 1984: 80) Festive comedy More recently, Christopher Booker elaborated upon this formula in his book The Seven Basic Plots. In comedy, says Booker, “we see a little world in which people have passed under a shadow of confusion, uncertainty and frustration, and are shut off from one another;” “the confusion gets worse until the pressure of darkness is at its most acute and everyone is in a nightmarish tangle;” “finally, with the coming to light of things not previously recognised, perceptions are dramatically changed. The shadows are dispelled, the situation is miraculously transformed and the little world is brought together in a state of joyful union.” (Booker 2004: 150) Festive comedy and carnival The earliest recorded performance of Measure for Measure was in a festive context: before the King himself at Whitehall, on 26 December (St. Stephen’s Day) 1604. Like Twelfth Night, it’s a play about the forces of hedonism and sensuality versus the forces of repression. But where is the audience positioned? Carnival and Lent (Pieter Bruegel, 1559) pre-show reminiscent of Breughel’s Fight Between Carnival and Lent transitional vignettes between scenes becoming increasingly troubling Dominic Dromgoole’s production for Shakespeare’s Globe, 2015 Carnival and Lent in Measure for Measure As Brian Gibbons points out, “In Measure for Measure there is a polarisation of social life into opposed extremes: on the one side serious and strict isolation – the court, the nunnery, the moated grange, the prison cells in which Claudio, alone, and Juliet, alone, are shut up – and on the other side promiscuous – not to say contagious – crowding: the alehouse, the house of resort, the streets.” (1991: 24) Carnival and Lent in Measure for Measure Lenten repression: DUKE. Lord Angelo … scarce confesses That his blood flows, or that his appetite Is more to bread than stone. (1.3.50-3) ANGELO. What’s this, what’s this? Is this her fault or mine? (2.2.168) There was a tendency in 2015 productions to play Isabella’s “Go to your bosom” (2.2.140) as Angelo’s sexual awakening… Carnival and Lent in Measure for Measure Isabella’s first appearance in the play shows her desiring “no farther privileges” but rather “wishing a more strict restraint / Upon the sisterhood, the votarists of Saint Clare” (1.4.1-5). Claudio seems willing to exploit his sister’s repressed sensuality: “…in her youth / There is a prone and speechless dialect / Such as move men” (1.2.170-2). ISABELLA. I’ll to my brother: Though he hath fallen by prompture of the blood, Yet hath he in him such a mind of honour. […] Then, Isabel, live chaste, and, brother, die: More than our brother is our chastity. (2.4) Juliet Stevenson: “Her line, “More than our brother is our chastity,” is the trickiest moment of the performance for any actress playing Isabella.” (Rutter 1988: 26) Carnival and Lent in Measure for Measure RSC, 1978, dir. Barry Kyle Paola Dionisotti: “My Isabella was very frightened of sexuality. My Isabella was going to be a bride of Christ… As a nun, you marry Christ. He knows everything about you and he’s always whatever you want him to be. That’s so safe. But of course, marrying Christ is one thing; getting close to another human being is something different, because human bodies touch each other.” (Rutter 1988: 33) Carnival and Lent in Measure for Measure Juliet Stevenson on the same issue: “…she should be looked at not as a frigid hysteric with a big problem about sex … we should kick off by exploring the positive reasons for entering a convent.” (Rutter 1988: 40) RSC, 1983, dir. Adrian Noble Carnival and Lent in Measure for Measure The play contrasts the Lenten repression of the law and the convent with the carnivalesque excess of the low-life characters: ESCALUS. Now, sir, come on, what was done to Elbow’s wife, once more? POMPEY. Once, sir? There was nothing done to her once. (2.1.135-6) “Pompey generally conforms to the spirit of Carnival, uninhibited, spontaneous, mocking, inverting authority’s forms and procedures, always choosing the erratic, the discrepant, not the logical or the consistent or coherent. The scene [2.1] serves more generally as comic burlesque, in anticipation, of the play’s main events.” (Gibbons 1991: 27) Is the Carnival spirit defeated when we see Pompey’s absorption (alongside numerous former clients) into the punishment system? Is Barnadine also a Carnival figure? Measure for Measure as farce Compare the structure of this play with that of other comedies of mistaken identity such as The Comedy of Errors or Twelfth Night (a key difference is that Duke has engineered this one). Stuart E. Baker gives the following outline of the “basic plot formula” of farce (NB this is describing 19th-century 3-act farce): “In the first act one or more deceptions are planned, started, or revealed. … The threat of exposure … results in a desperate series of lies, evasions, and frantic attempts to hide or escape. A bewildering profusion of quiproquos [mistaken identities] develops, producing such confusion and misunderstanding among the characters that the misunderstandings continue … until the problems are more or less settled.” (1981: 26) Playwright Ben Travers on “the general formula for farce: Act II – the sympathetic and guileless hero is landed into the thick of some grievous dilemma or adversity. Act I – he gets into it. Act III – he gets out of it” (1978: 63). Measure for Measure as farce PROVOST. Here in the prison, father, There died this morning of a cruel fever One Ragozine, a most notorious pirate, A man of Claudio’s years, his beard and head Just of his colour. […] DUKE. O, ’tis an accident that heaven provides! (4.3.66-74) Both productions to date at the reconstructed Globe theatre (John Dove, 2004 and Dominic Dromgoole, 2015) have opted for a reading of the Duke as a good-natured bumbler improvising his way through the play, rather than as a controlling Machiavellian. Measure for Measure as farce Mark Rylance: “I’ve found that he [the Duke] is prepared for many things, but also some things do go wrong and as a result he has to improvise – he has to come up with solutions on the spur of the moment.” Rylance’s stuttering delivery of the following lines indicated that even the Duke was not convinced by some of these improvisations: DUKE. [to Mariana] Nor, gentle daughter, fear you not at all. He is your husband on a pre-contract. To bring you thus together ’tis no sin… (4.1.69-71) Measure for Measure as farce The 2004 Globe actors had difficulties with audience laughter during the Isabella/Angelo and Isabella/Claudio scenes. Sophie Thompson (Isabella): “We got all varieties of laughter, which surprised me. For example, when Angelo grabs Isabella’s crotch [2.4], there was not only a reaction of shock – there was also some laughter and it was the kind you can’t really categorise. That is the sort of moment when I do expect people to laugh a bit, though, because it’s such a difficult moment to cope with.” Rob Conkie objected that at such moments, “the audience had been invited... to regard [the female characters’] various plights as little more than laughable” (2006: 45). The ending The play’s ending tends to resist playing as festive comedy for numerous reasons: Lucio and Angelo are forced to marry their wives (Kate Keepdown and Mariana) as punishments for their transgressions, not because they are willingly reconciled; The Duke’s manipulation of events in the final act (“I will keep her ignorant of her good, / To make her heavenly comforts of despair / When it is least expected”; 4.3.106-8) makes him suddenly inscrutable and in-control; The Duke’s surprise proposal to Isabella (“Give me your hand, and say you will be mine”; 5.1.491) casts doubts on the purity of his motives and remains unanswered at the play’s conclusion. The ending How does Isabella respond? Mary Lamb, Tales from Shakespeare (1807): “Isabel, not having taken the veil, was free to marry; and the friendly offices, while hid under the disguise of a humble friar, which the noble duke had done for her, made her with grateful joy accept the honour he offered her; and when she became duchess of Vienna, the excellent example of the virtuous Isabel worked such a complete reformation among the young ladies of that city, that from that time none ever fell into the transgression of Juliet, the repentant wife of the reformed Claudio.” (1918: 138-9) The ending Even until the mid-twentieth century, critics tended to assume that Isabella accepted the Duke’s proposal: E. M. W. Tillyard writes of Isabella “consenting to marry the Duke at the end of the play” (1957: 119), while William Empson refers to “her decision to marry the Duke” (1951: 284). Ralph Berry suggests that “in a sense, they were not wrong. They were faithfully reporting their recollection of the play as seen. Isabellas, it seems, used always to accept the Duke’s proposal” (2005: 41). The ending This all began to change around 1970, since when we have seen Isabellas standing in horrorstruck silence (Barton 1970, McBurney 2004), gazing sadly at her nun’s veil (Kyle 1988) or his discarded Friar’s habit (Dromgoole 2015), being manhandled into an uncomfortable tableau of fake happiness (Hill-Gibbins 2015) and even slapping him in the face (Donnellan 1994). Cheek by Jowl, 1994, dir. Declan Donnellan City comedy As we have seen, the tendency in festive comedy (e.g. A Midsummer Night’s Dream) is to leave the city for a disordered “green world” and then to return; also to contrast the oppressive order of the city with the saturnalian chaos of the “green world”. In Measure, we start with a city which is both oppressive and in chaos, and remain there for the duration (though do Mariana’s “moated grange” and Angelo’s walled garden serve as “green worlds” of sorts)? Indeed, can Carnival really flourish unless it takes place in a holiday space of license and misrule? City comedy With its farcical elements, its focus on sex and exchange rather than romantic love, and its large number of characters driven primarily by self-interest, Measure for Measure is arguably more reminiscent of “city comedy” than it is of Shakespeare’s festive comedies. Naomi Conn Liebler describes this Jacobean comic form thus: “With city comedy, the city itself is the subject and focus, and the citizens are what they are and do what they do largely because their city is a bigger animal than they are. These figures, marked in medieval morality-play fashion by names reflecting their functions or typology, are squeezed into behaviours that set them apart, isolate them from any larger sense of community.” (2005: 253) City comedy Liebler describes city comedy as being concerned with “the special brands of human frailty and error familiar in — or produced by — urban life”: cony-catching [i.e. con-artistry] prostitution cheating in the marketplace cheating in the household She notes that “city comedy depends less than other kinds of plays on any requirement for communal renewal and more on an emphasis on individual, mostly economic, survival” (2005: 254). There are, however, limits to Measure for Measure’s similarity to city comedy. In its non-English setting and its complete absence of the mercantile middle class, it does not fully conform to the genre’s norms – though one could argue that both London and its middle class are present in veiled, satirical form… A play about London? Since theatres were closed due to plague in 1603, 1604 was the first theatrical season of James I’s reign. When Pompey reports that “All houses in the suburbs of Vienna must be plucked down” (1.2.87-8), it is almost certainly a reference to James I’s 1603 decree that due to “excessive numbers of idle, indigent, dissolute and dangerous persons”, many of London’s suburban tenements must be pulled down (Howard 2007: 122-3). A play about London? According to John Michael Archer, 1603 “also saw a further strengthening of the office of Provost Marshal by London’s Court of Aldermen”: “Marshals had been assigned to direct constables in the searching out of vice in the 1590s, a measure that probably indicates a lack of faith in the lower officials. The duties of the Provost Marshal and his assistants included escorting vagabonds to prison as well as overseeing constables.” (2005: 65-6) Certainly Puritans such as Philip Stubbes would have been only too happy to see a death penalty introduced for transgressors like Claudio and Juliet: “I would wish that the man or woman who are certainlie knowne and prooved without all scruple or doubt, to have committed the horrible fact of Whoredome, Adulterie, Incest, or Fornication, should […] taste of present death, as Gods worde doeth commaund, and good pollicie allowe” (Anatomy of Abuses, 1581) A play about London? Measure for Measure was also, perhaps, one of Shakespeare’s more site-specific plays – if, as seems likely, the play was performed at the Globe, it would have been performed in an area notorious for its brothels. In 1603, as Brian Gibbons notes, Bankside was reported to the Privy Council as being full of “theeves, horse-stealers, whoremongers, cozeners, [and] coney-catchers”, and numerous key figures in early modern London’s theatre business were also brothel-owners (1991: 23). A play about London? Mistress Overdone, Elbow, Froth, Kate Keepdown etc. are English types, with names like the characters of city comedy (compare Middleton’s Sir Walter Whorehound, Master Yellowhammer, Master Beggarland, Mistress Underman). In fact, the play is included in OUP’s recent Collected Works of Thomas Middleton. John Jowett believes it is “clear that the 1623 text [of Measure] had undergone adaptation by Middleton” (2007: 1542), and argues that among other changes, Middleton “accentuated the role of Juliet”, added Lucio to 2.2, substantially augmented 1.2 (adding all of the business with Lucio and the gentlemen), and possibly added Pompey’s standup sequence in 4.3 (2007: 1543). A play about London? Note the names of Mistress Overdone’s customers: young Master Rash, Master Caper, young Dizzy, young Master Deep-vow, Master Copperspur, Master Starve-lackey, young Drop-heir, Master Forthright, brave Master Shoe-tie, and wild Half-can. Pompey observes that all of these prisoners (and “forty more”) were customers of Mistress Overdone’s brothel: many are associated with fashion (Master Caper failed to pay “for some four suits of peach-coloured satin”, while Master Copper-spur and Master Shoe-tie’s names suggest unnecessary ornamental footwear; Master Starvelackey and Master Forthright are both noted for their involvements in fashionable sports); others are associated by their names (Rash, Dizzy, Forthright) or actions (murders, duels) with hot-headedness. Is it significant that Pompey describes them all in the present tense as “here”…? Sex as commercial exchange The first woman we see in the play is a prostitute, Mistress Overdone, who thinks of sex primarily in terms of its financial value: MISTRESS OVERDONE. Thus, what with the war, what with the sweat, what with the gallows, and what with poverty, I am custom-shrunk. (1.2.80-2) She and Pompey tend to use the language of business in order to describe their “profession”. Angelo likewise presents his attempt at sexual blackmail as a form of direct exchange: ANGELO. Redeem thy brother By yielding up thy body to my will (2.4.163-4) The success of Isabella and Mariana’s ‘bed-trick’ seems to suggest that women in this society are seen as interchangeable sex objects. Marriage as commercial exchange CLAUDIO. Thus stands it with me. Upon a true contract, I got possession of Julietta’s bed. You know the lady; she is fast my wife, Save that we do the denunciation lack Of outward order. This we came not to Only for propagation of a dower Remaining in the coffer of her friends, From whom we thought it meet to hide our love Till time had made them for us. (1.2.133-41) Note the parallel here with Angelo and Mariana: both Mariana and Juliet lack dowries… Marriage as commercial exchange ANGELO. My lord, I must confess I know this woman; And five years since there was some speech of marriage Betwixt myself and her, which was broke off, Partly for that her promised proportions Came short of composition, but in chief For that her reputation was disvalued In levity… (5.1.214-20) The parallel is so striking, in fact, that it lays the Duke open to charges of hypocrisy (“’tis no sin…”?). A ‘problem play’? In Shakespeare and his Predecessors (1896), F. S. Boas defined Measure (alongside All’s Well That Ends Well, Troilus and Cressida and Hamlet) as a “problem play”: “…throughout these plays we move along dim untrodden paths, and at the close our feeling is neither of simple joy nor pain; we are excited, fascinated, perplexed, for the issues raised preclude a completely satisfactory outcome… Dramas so singular in theme and temper cannot be strictly called comedies or tragedies. We may therefore borrow a convenient phrase from the theatre of to-day and class them together as Shakespeare’s problem-plays.” (1910: 343) A ‘problem play’? In her preface to the play for The Riverside Shakespeare (1997), Anne Barton called Measure “the last comedy Shakespeare ever wrote”, a play that “appears to embody some of the problems of a Shakespeare now seemingly disillusioned with that art of comedy which, in the past, had served him so well” (1997: 583). Paul Yachnin lists Measure alongside Troilus and All’s Well as “plays in which the figure of festival is either expunged from comedy, transformed into private and illicit desire, or transplanted to the inhospitable ground of satire or tragedy” (1997: 76). A ‘problem play’? Indeed, many commentators have found it helpful to think of Measure for Measure in terms of tragicomedy. For Peter Brook, for example, Measure is emblematic of Shakespeare’s ability to switch between scenes that encourage us to “identify emotionally, subjectively” and those that ask us to “evaluate politically, objectively in relation to society” (1990: 98): “From the fanatical chastity of Isabella and the mystery of the Duke we are plunged back to Pompey and Barnadine for douches of normality. … If we follow the movement in Measure for Measure between the Rough and the Holy we will discover a play about justice, mercy, honesty, forgiveness, virtue, virginity, sex and death: kaleidoscopically one section of the play mirrors the other, it is in accepting the prism as a whole that its meanings emerge.” (1990: 99-100) A ‘problem play’? We might even read Measure for Measure as a meta-comedy, with the Duke as a playwright-like figure intent on engineering a sense of communal renewal whatever the cost. Rylance on the Duke again: “…he’s trying to create the circumstances under which people will become conscious and take responsibility for their own lives. … To encourage people to take responsibility and develop compassion, the Duke sets them on what seems like a cruel path. He makes it seem like they’ve lost something that’s precious to them.” “If a farce is to hum like a spinning top, the writer must take a delight in pushing things to extremes. This will be evident in the accelerating pace of the action, the multiplication of misunderstandings, reversals, and confusions of identity, and often also in the inventive prodigality of the playwright, a juggler’s ability to keep a great many balls in the air at once.” (Smith 1989: 207) References Archer, John Michael (2005) Citizen Shakespeare: Freemen and Aliens in the Language of the Plays, New York / Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Baker, Stuart E. (1981) Georges Feydeau and the Aesthetics of Farce, Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press. Barton, Anne (1997) Introduction to Measure for Measure in G. Blakemore Evans et al. [eds] The Riverside Shakespeare, 2nd edition, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 579-83. Berry, Ralph (2005) Changing Styles in Shakespeare, Abingdon: Routledge. Boas, F. S. (1910) Shakespeare and his Predecessors, third edition, London: John Murray. Booker, Christopher (2004), The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, London: Continuum. Brook, Peter (1990) The Empty Space, London: Penguin. References Conkie, Rob (2006) The Globe Theatre Project: Shakespeare and Authenticity, New York: The Edwin Mellen Press. Empson, William (1951) The Structure of Complex Words, London: Chatto & Windus. Gibbons, Brian (1991) ‘Introduction’ to Measure for Measure, Cambridge: CUP, 1-71. Howard, Jean E. (2007) Theater of a City: The Places of London Comedy, 15981642, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Jowett, John (2007) ‘Measure for Measure: A Genetic Text’ in Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino [eds] Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works, Oxford: OUP, 1542-6. Lamb, Charles and Mary (1918) Tales from Shakespeare, New York: Harper. References Liebler, Naomi Conn (2005) ‘English Comedy, Elizabethan and Jacobean’, in Maurice Charney [ed.] Comedy: A Geographic and Historical Guide, Volume 1, Westport, CT / London: Greenwood, 248-62. Palmer, D. J. (1984) Comedy: Developments in Criticism, London: Macmillan. Rutter, Carol (1988) Clamorous Voices: Shakespeare’s Women Today, London: The Women’s Press. Smith, Leslie (1989) Modern British Farce: A Selective Study of British Farce from Pinero to the Present Day, Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Noble. Tillyard, E. M. W. (1957) Shakespeare’s Problem Plays, London: Chatto & Windus. Travers, Ben (1978) A-Sitting on a Gate, London: W. H. Allen. Yachnin, Paul (1997) Stage-Wrights: Shakespeare, Jonson, Middleton, and the Making of Theatrical Value, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.