Measure for measure: original and actual place of setting

At the beginning of the seventeenth century the regions ruled by the German Habsburgs included Upper and Lower Austria, Bohemia

Measure for measure: original and actual place of setting



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Measure for measure: original and actual place of setting



The present project entails an investigation on the eventual change of setting of Shakespeares play Measure for Measure. The keys to resolve this task were found within the text itself and in some extra linguistic and historical facts surrounding the appearance of the First Folio, occurred not until 1623. Before taking into consideration every single fact witnessing for the text review lets think about what collocation Shakespeare might have adopted for this particular play. Lets remember that the plays main points are lechery, hypocrisy, hard bargain, violation of law, all what was associated with the Italy of that time. Now, here there is the list of textual discrepancies that were suggested by the two major Middletons scholars Gary Taylor and John Jowett:

Personae list made of Italian names;

Dialogue of Lucio with a soldier about king of Hungary;

The news sheets talking about troops progression1;

Mrs. Overdone remark about political situation in the country and danger to have her brothel demolished;

Structural discrepancies include:

Act division characteristic for the later tradition;

Marianas song seeming irrelevant to the plays style and plot.

The importance of this investigation consists in revelation of original plays circumstances. The time and place-bound circumstances are important if not essential markers in theatrical discourse. Gary Taylor 2 asserts that “spectators in the early seventeenth century, like their modern counterparts, could not have avoided reading the plays action in terms of its setting”. Even without stage scenery, the plays setting is a signifier. Setting is a part of what Keir Elam 3 identifies as “the semiotics of theatre”, it is a part of a moral, symbolic, ideological, and “poetic geography”. For any early audience the setting has been part of visual experience. Shakespeares contemporaries knew that inhabitants of different parts of Europe dressed differently than Englishmen; and accordingly acting companies indicated geographical and cultural identity by characteristic peculiarities of costume.

There is little information as to what the Kings Men company used as the scenery and costumes but the text itself suggests that the story is supposed to have happened in Vienna. The word “Vienna” is spoken twice in the very first scene of Measure and is repeated again in the next scenes. But the name of this city for the original audience would have said little if anything at all. If Vienna meant anything particular in England in the period up to 1604, it was rather an “exposed outpost of Europe, the eastern bastion of Latin Christendom”1 . The point is that Vienna was constantly under the Turkish threat throughout the 16th century. Things became more complicated as Hungary and Bohemia were involved in these wars. In John Spielmans book there is a detailed description of the events connected with the city of Vienna. It gives an account on the Turkish invasions:

Turks smashed the Hungarian armies that had engaged without waiting for reinforcements. The Emperor [Ferdinand I] immediately pressed his claim to the thrones of Hungary and Bohemia (1526-1564) as the husband of the dead [Hungarian] kings sister, Anna. The inheritance brought with it the obligation to defend it all against the Turkish onslaught …Ottomans stopped before the citys gates, in 1529….. 2. p.20

There are allusions to that famous siege in Marlowes Tamburlaine the Great and Jonsons Every Man in his Humour. According to the chronicles of the city of Vienna, a further Ottoman attack on Vienna was repelled in 1533. In that year Ferdinand signed a peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire, splitting the Kingdom of Hungary into a Habsburg sector in the west and John Zápolya's domain in the east, the latter practically a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire. And “hostilities between the Turks and the Holy Roman Empire have recommenced in 1591 and persisted till the very end of the seventeenth century” 3. Shakespeare could not have possibly left this subject without attention as Islamic expansion was the subject of real anxiety in Elizabethan England. Nevertheless, despite Shakespeares general interest in such matters (see the references to Turks or Moors in Othello and other plays), and despite the specific reputation of Vienna, there is not a single reference to Turks in Measure.

From the previous analysis on the semiotics of the text we know that the setting has the pragmatic significance, especially for an early reader, so we must admit also that the place of action is to be of much importance in political, social and cultural terms at least to the moment of the first performance and be extremely relevant to general message of the play. Consequently, the setting was not a random choice from all possible worlds geographical points. However, it seems unlikely that Vienna was of great importance for British Isles by the time Shakespeare first staged it.

The English public had little access to news about central and eastern Europe until the beginning of the Thirty Years War, in 1618. This led to the creation of the first printed news serials. The “Early History of the English Newspaper” reports that not until the early 17th century did news begin to be printed more regularly within periodical publications in England.

News periodicals were established in several countries in continental Europe soon after 1600, but a Star Chamber decree of 1586 forbade the publication of news in England. The first news periodicals in English, called corantos, were printed in Amsterdam. The earliest surviving coranto, The New Tydings Out of Italie Are Not yet Come, dated 2 December 1620, is a single sheet printed on both sides with news of the Thirty Years War then raging in Europe. Less than a year later, the first coranto to be printed in England appeared. The first surviving issue, Corante, or Newes from Italy, Germany, Hungarie, Spaine and France, dated 24 September 1621, contains continental news translated from a German original 1.

The economy of Vienna was in decline during the period of the wars2. The citys intellectual life experienced a similar erosion. Enea Silvio, a noble young Tuscan and later Pope Pius II came to Vienna in 1437. In a famous letter about the Viennese, he commented on their self-satisfaction, superstition, and crude manners3. Perhaps for that reason, Vienna by the 1600s had not yet developed a distinctive urban identity and therefore could not be considered the place worth setting the play in. It merely provided any implicit information to the plot of a play. It appears that no book of the period refers to the city of Vienna in other purpose than that concerning the Turks invasion4, mentioned earlier. As Marcus affirms, until the beginning of the seventeenth century Austria was associated with the war against Islam.

There is one sound reason for which Measure could have been originally set in Vienna. According to the editor of the Cambridge edition of Measure for Measure, Brian Gibbons5, Ferdinand, the Holy Roman Emperor, was trying to turn Protestant Hungary into Catholicism, but failed to do this because of successful revolt. So, Catholic extremism of Vienna was devised as an allusion to Puritan extremism in England (English Puritans advocated death penalty for fornication). The Puritan law was still in vigour when the First Folio has been prepared for publication. The editor, whoever he might be, had to think carefully about the contents of the play before its publication, because, according to the proclamation of May 1599, any open discussion of religious or political matters in the theatre was prohibited1. The play, then, would have not been allowed. Otherwise, the play had to be set somewhere else, far from London. Gibbons hypothesis, however, is definitely not enough to state that Shakespeare had actually chosen Vienna as the location, also because the capital of the Empire had been moved from Vienna to Prague in 1583, and it stayed in Prague until 1611.

To understand why scholars have had the suspicions about the original setting of the play we should examine the history of the text and theatre tradition of that time. Measure is supposed to have been written and performed in 1603-1604. On St. Stephens night, 26 December 1604, the Kings Men staged it as part of the Christmas festivities at the Whitehall Banquet Hall. Measure first appeared in the Shakespeare First Folio of 1623. And it is plausible that it was written by William Shakespeare. There are evidences that the oaths and similar expressions were cut off the text after the 1606 Act of Parliament that “restrained abuses of players and made blasphemy on stage illegal”2. Any metrical irregularity or discontinuity in sense might be result of cutting. Another curious fact is that Shakespeare wrote his plays without dividing them in acts. The act division was introduced after about 1609, when the Kings Men began to play at the Blackfriars. An attentive reader might notice the sudden change of tone of the play and its concentration on the plots general frame nearly in the middle of the play, after act III. Act IV opens with the one and only song in Measure, “Take, O take those lips away”. This song occurs in Fletchers tragedy Rollo, Duke of Normandy (1617-1620). The source text is supposed to be the Latin lyric “Ad Lydiam”. Th

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