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April, 1746, and the Cibber Company in December of the same year. Besides these performances, the play was acted in London by Mrs. Inchbald, Mrs. Siddons, Miss O'Neill, the two Kembles, and Macready. Except for Phelps's revival at Sadler's Wells between 1844 and 1862, the play seems not to have been used for nearly fifty years, till Miss Neilson revived it in London in 1876, and in New York in 1880. It reached its height of popularity, however, between the years 1888 and 1898, when Madam Modjeska revived it four different years in New York City alone, and played it frequently in other cities of the United States. Modern adaptors have contented themselves with omitting as much as possible of the grossness and retaining practically all of the beautiful and romantic passages.
Style. — In few of the other plays attributed entirely to Shakespeare is there such diversity of style as in Measure for Measure. The prose is sometimes direct, simple, effective, and yet in adjoining passages is crude and vulgar. It has no distinctive use, as in some plays, but is employed for both comic and serious passages. Although Elbow at times suggests Dogberry, the gap between them in effectiveness of phrasing is immense; and although Pompey plainly imitates the language of others of Shakespeare's clowns, his language is without real wit when compared even with Shakespeare's early work in this kind. The serious prose of the Duke and Escalus is burdened with pompous phrases partly due to their frequent homilies, but partly to their mere wordiness.
The verse is consistently used only for serious parts, but like the prose is uneven in technique. The best of it has the distinguished qualities of the middle period: firmness, music, fluidity, and a tendency to terseness almost if not quite bordering on obscurity. It is an adequate poetical style a bit too firmly grasped, and even, perhaps, a trifle self-conscious in places. The hurry or carelessness of its composition is shown by the unusual number of imperfect lines, some falling four to six syllables short of the measure, and others running two or three syllables
That these lines are due to haste or neglect is made plausible by the simplicity and obviousness of numerous emendations offered by critics. The best that can be said of the style as a whole is, that a large amount of inadequate phrasing stands side by side with some of the most beautiful lines Shakespeare ever wrote.
Interpretation. — The inequalities found in the style of this play are repeated in the characterization. Only two characters are well rounded out, finished products of the dramatist's art, Isabella and Angelo. The others are more or less unskilful combinations of not infrequently inharmonious traits, and result in ineffective impressions. The secondary characters are largely imperfect sketches of their betters in other and, curiously enough, earlier plays. For instance, Elbow is a sketch of Dogberry, who is the finished portrait; Froth bears a similar relation to Slender; and the Justice to Justice Shallow. Lucio is a debauched Mercutio combined with Gratiano. Low comedy characters from a brothel are naturally rather fixed as types, but here they are less convincing than they are in similar scenes in Pericles, or in the Middleton plays, by which they are almost certainly suggested. It is, however, in Claudio and the Duke that we find inconsistencies in most striking contrast with the plausibility of Isabella and Angelo. Claudio is reminiscent of Hamlet in some of his speeches; but within a few lines he can fall from the courage evinced in “ I will encounter darkness as a bride,” to the abjectness of “ Sweet sister, let me live," though at the cost of her honor.
Most unsatisfactory of all, however, is the Duke. Knowing the debauchery of his people, and not wishing to incur their displeasure, he appoints a deputy, whose mistreatment of Mariana must have been known to him, to enforce the old neglected laws. A coward in morals himself, he is full of moral platitudes and devoted to indirectness under the guise of his friarhood. Although not liking to stage himself in the people's eyes," he resorts to the most dramatic methods to bring the guilty to justice, and then lets them all off without punishment of any importance. Finally he takes for his own bride an unreleased novice from a nunnery!
Isabella and Angelo, on the other hand, are perfect dramatic creations, according to the almost unanimous verdict of the best critics. The beauty of Isabella's character is only equaled by the adequacy of its presentation. Always simple, natural, forceful in her unsullied purity, she is one of Shakespeare's most ideal women. Although it is impossible to sympathize with Angelo in any way, he is still a most convincing portrait of a self-deceived man. Were he mistaken in a less revolting matter, he would easily have become a sympathetically tragic character instead of a despised failure. From the mere point
of view of effective characterization, he stands side by side with Othello in his supreme self-confidence and resulting abject overthrow: but the intellectual confidence of Othello is balanced against real love, while the moral failure of Angelo removes him absolutely from our pity. Unlike, then, as Angelo and Isabella are in their power to arouse our sympathy, they are equally perfect as dramatic creations of real individuals.
Structure of the Play. — The unevenness of style and characterization, the defects of the play as a whole, are easily accounted for in an analysis of its construction. The play is not a coherent whole, but a putting together without artistic fusion of several hitherto popular and effective incidents into striking scenes of an unharmonious whole. The disguised Duke had been used by Marston in The Malcontent, the sacrifice of a sister's honor for a brother's safety in the sub-plot of Heywood's Woman Killed with Kindness, brothel scenes in Dekker and Middleton were well known then, the court scene is better done in Much Ado, and the vicarious saving of the woman's honor is less displeasing in All's Well. The simple plot of a magistrate demanding the honor of a woman to save the life of a man whom she loves and then failing to keep his promise is too much cumbered with inharmonious incidents. The use in the sub-plot of characters fro the stews, for counter emphasis and low fun, was then popular, but to-day has lost much of its humorous element. The substitution of a former sweetheart of Angelo's for Isabella, to save the latter's honor and to do the former a right, is distinctly displeasing, however popular it may have been in old romances. The self-deception of Angelo is here made intensely effective, but in its over-emphasis makes a comedy solution only the more forced. That these elements might have been made to seem harmonious is quite possible; but they are certainly not so composed here. The end of the play is endurable only on the supposition that all has been meant in fun. The old law is not enforced against Claudio after all the effort, and no excuse is offered. Angelo has become guilty of the same offense while acting as deputy of the city to enforce that very law, but is pardoned also. Lucio, a notoriously dissolute fellow who has most basely slandered the Duke in public and private, is let off with a scolding on condition he marry the girl he had wronged. Pompey is put in prison, but is promoted from a common bawd to a hangman's assistant
at least a lawful profession. Bernardine, a notorious criminal, of the lowest type, is pardoned before he repents in the general amnesty due to the happiness of the Duke, who has decided to marry the beautiful novice without asking even the permission of the Lady Superior! Thus do four weddings and a pardon for a capital crime end a play of deepest intrigue, lawlessness in high places, and civic debauchery. Certainly this is not Shakespeare's mature and careful work. At best it must be a hasty revision of an old play. Can it have been one of his own youthful efforts ? In places his genius is apparent; in others the crudeness of youth is no less so. It is a great temptation to wonder whether this can possibly have been the lost play mentioned by Meres in 1598 as Love's Labour's Won.