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This is a play in which one of the main features of conventional morality is treated in a very extraordinary manner, being equally enforced and set at defiance: sometimes regarded, even to a vindictive and sanguinary degree, as the purest code of conduct; and in the next scene, either by sentiments or actions, ridiculed and utterly dismissed with characteristic impartiality. The philosophy of Shakspeare is always upon the broadest scale; and in that universality of view, each man may find his own likeness, and the world its lasting lessons. The principle and plot of the play, taken as a whole, are very fine; its parts are, however, unequal, defective, and in some scenes as trivial and offensive as they are unnecessary. To speak in general terms, the only really objectionable things in Shakspeare are those which have nothing to do with his subject. “MEASURE FOR MEASURE” is also a good illustration, in other respects, of his mode of composition. He enforces no particular theories or opinions; but, with intense dramatic truth, makes all his characters individually think and act for themselves. They give their own
justifications — good, bad, and indifferent — for their conduct; and according to the understanding, and the natural and acquired moral standard of the reader, so do they become the objects of sympathy, antipathy, of aversion, admiration, or of mixed feelings, in which the abstract intellect and imagination exercise their speculations, and thus, perhaps, add to knowledge, and extend the bounds of mental experience.
Dr. Johnson's estimate of “MEASURE FOR MEASURE” does not tend to enhance our admiration of the play, nor of his critical judgment. “Of this play," says he, “ the light or comic part is very natural and pleasing ; but the grave scenes, if a few passages be excepted, have more labor than elegance.” Giving the elegance or inelegance (a mere matter of style and externals) its due weight only in the question, most readers will be apt to consider the comic part as sometimes very heavy, and always rather idle and supererogatory, however natural; while most of the serious scenes have long been felt to be admirable in spirit and masterly in execution, both as wholes and in the many noble passages they contain.
The story of “MEASURE FOR MEASURE," and a portion of the construction of the plot for acting, were probably taken directly from a comedy by George Whetstone, entitled “The Right EXCELLENT AND Famous HISTORIE OF PROMOS AND CASSANDRA," of which a black-letter edition was printed in 1578. The same story was also published by Whetstone, in his “HEPTAMERON,” 1582. The origin of the main incidents will be found in an old Italian novel, by Cintio Giraldi, of which no translations, it is said, were extant in Shakspeare's time. The crime of Angelo, in " MEASURE FOR MEASURE,” has many historical parallels, which the curious reader may find in an anecdote of Charles the Bold, who punished a noble with death for a similar offense, as related by Lipsius (on which story a French tragedy was written); in the conduct of Olivier le Dain, described in “ THE MEMOIRS OF PHILIP DE COMINES;” in the story of Colonel Kirke, as told by Hume; and in the story of Don Garcias, related in “ Cooke's VINDICATION OF THE PROFESSORS AND PROFESSION OF THE LAW," 1646. A similar anecdote also occurs in Lupton, and in the writings of Belleforest. But the chief, if not the only source from which Shakspeare derived the raw materials of “ MEASURE FOR MEASURE,” seems really to have been the above-mentioned comedy of Whetstone. In this old play, he found enough to save himself much trouble; and to its crude management, after altering various details with the finest judgment, he communicated that spiritual force and reality by which he always so far excels and outshines his models, that it becomes difficult to distinguish their dull outlines amidst his dazzling fullness. “MEASURE FOR MEASURE” is considered by the most recondite authorities to have been written in 1603 or 1604.
R. H. H.
Measure for teasure.
SCENE I. - An Apartment in the DUKE’s Palace. Ang. Always obedient to your grace's will,
I come to know your pleasure. Enter DUKE, ESCALUS, Lords, and Attendants.
Duke. Angelo, Duke. Escalus,
There is a kind of character in thy life, Escal. My lord.
That, to the observer, doth thy history Duke. Of government the properties to unfold, Fully unfold: Thyself and thy belongings Would seem in me to affect speech and discourse; Are not thine own so proper, as to waste Since I am put to know that your own science Thyself upon thy virtues, them on thee. Exceeds, in that, the lists of all advice
Heaven doth with us as we with torches do; : My strength can give you: Then no more remains, Not light them for themselves : for if our virtues ! But your sufficiency as your worth is able; Did not go forth of us, 't were all alike | And let them work. The nature of our people, As if we had them not. Spirits are not finely Our city's institutions, and the terms
The smallest scruple of her excellence,
Both thanks and use. But I do bend my speech I say, bid come before us, Angelo.
To one that can my part in him advertise ;
[Exit an Attendant. Hold, therefore, Angelo;
Live in thy tongue and heart: old Escalus,
Take thy commission. Of our own power : What think you of it?
Ang. Now, good my lord, Escal. If any in Vienna be of worth
Let there be some more test made of thy metal, To undergo such ample grace and honor, Before so noble and so great a figure It is Lord Angelo.
Be stamped upon it.
Duke. No more evasion :
We have with a leavened and preparéd choice
| Proceeded to you : therefore take your honors.