Shakespeare's Measure for Measure

Who here has seen or read Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure?

It’s tagline is: “Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall”.

And it is very relevant to modern times because it treats the themes of Church and state, legislating morality, civil authorities trying to infiltrate the Church, and virginity.

The main character, Isabella, is a novitiate. Her brother Claudio had an illegitimate child. The king imposes a new law to control prostitution, but the pimps fear it will ruin their business.

Here’s Bp. Williamson’s synopsis from this homily:

It’s a young prince who is so upright, so perfect, so correct that he doesn’t know himself. Then the devil sends him a young beautiful female saint to plead a cause. Isabella is completely virtuous. Then guess what will happen. At the meeting of the two persons, Isabella speaks for the life of her brother, imprisoned by the prince Angelo, and Angelo ends up giving her a very bad proposal. Because the one who was so correct, so well, so admirable, because he didn’t know himself, he was inhuman. He paid the price. At this point, Shakespeare wasn’t silly. What is the name of this young prince? “Angelo” it means the little boy tried to attain angelic perfection, certainly on behalf of uprightness, of all what is good, all what is correct. It’s the XVIIth century, it’s Jansenism, my dear friends. In England, it’s Puritanism. Under the appearance of good, … and the more we try, and the more we believe oneself without remembering we are also an animal, the more we fall into nonsense and the most stultifying and terrible things, and we go back and forth from the one to the other one, and the devil knows it well. Jansenism shifted to liberalism and the French Revolution. And Puritanism in England shifted to liberalism, spread out in all Europe.
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<In the drama, a duke intervenes> to prevent actions from going worse, and at the end, Angelo recognizes he was wrong, and seriously wrong. And he recognizes that he deserves to die. But the duke, his chief, spares him. The duke spares him, the duke forgives him, because he recognizes that he is wrong.

I’ve seen it. I liked it. It is an odd blend of comedy, farce, and serious ideas. I agree with you that a person can get some good lesson about life and Christian living from that play.

The best book that explains what Shakespeare’s plays mean is Harold C. Goddard’s The Meaning of Shakespeare. That book is now published as 2 paperback volumes, but Dr. Goddard meant it to be read as one whole work. He has individual chapters on each play, but he never meant anyone just to read certain chapters. The whole book has an arc, and must be read as a whole, in order to get the point of what all the plays means as a whole. Dr. Goddard’s religious views are not clear to me, all though some said he was close to a traditional Quaker.

I haven’t read Joseph Pierce’s Through Shakespeare’s Eyes. It explains the Catholicism of Shakespeare through three plays: Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, and King Lear. I expect it is worthwhile. I did read and do not recommend Joseph Pierce’s earlier book, The Quest for Shakespeare. It is just a bunch of circumstantial evidence pointing to Shakespeare possibly being a practicing Catholic. But it really does not prove its case.

Best wishes.

It’s one of his “problem plays,” and in that respect it is very good, even if it isn’t one of his best works.

Thanks for the reference to Goddard’s book. I hadn’t heard of it.
I do know about Pearce’s books, and from what I’ve read, his Through Shakespeare’s Eyes does seem much better than The Quest for Shakespeare. I also watched this EWTN episode featuring Pearce describing his latest book.

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