In this section:
- Shakespeare’s Language
- Shakespeare’s Sentences
- Shakespeare’s Words
- Shakespeare’s Wordplay
- Shakespeare’s Dramatic Verse
- Implied Stage Action
Shakespeare’s language can create a strong pang of intimidation, even fear, in a large number of modern-day readers. Fortunately, however, this need not be the case. All that is needed to master the art of reading Shakespeare is to practice the techniques of unraveling uncommonly-structured sentences and to become familiar with the poetic use of uncommon words. We must realize that during the 400-year span between Shakespeare’s time and our own, both the way we live and speak has changed. Although most of his vocabulary is in use today, some of it is obsolete, and what may be most confusing is that some of his words are used today, but with slightly different or totally different meanings. On the stage, actors readily dissolve these language stumbling blocks. They study Shakespeare’s dialogue and express it dramatically in word and in action so that its meaning is graphically enacted. If the reader studies Shakespeare’s lines as an actor does, looking up and...
(The entire section is 4646 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Vienna. Great Austrian city ruled by Duke Vincentio. As the duke himself realizes, Vienna is a moral morass, and bawdry and licentiousness of all sorts are rampant. The duke accepts responsibility for having been lax in enforcing the law. Corruption seethes throughout society from the nobility down to the base characters who are engaged less in a comic subplot than in a series of vulgar exemplifications of the pervasive moral decay. Concerned by the city’s deterioration, the duke devises a scheme to revive civic authority: Pretending to go to Poland, he puts the administration of the city in the charge of his trusted, and presumably virtuous, deputy, Angelo, and remains in Vienna disguised as a friar. While staying in a friary, he spies on Angelo. The friary, which should ordinarily be a place of quiet contemplation and prayer, thus becomes a den of intrigue.
Shakespeare’s Vienna is no joyous café society or waltz-and-chandelier ballroom for the aristocracy. Rife with pimps, prostitutes, lechers, violated virgins, and murderers, it is not ready to be overrun by the wave of puritanism set in motion by Angelo. Scenes set on a street provide a microcosm of Viennese society, especially its smart men-about-town, such as Lucio; low-life figures such as Pompey the bawdy clown, and the syphilitic Mistress Overdone. Even Angelo proves to be corrupt, and in the privacy of his own abode, he reveals his hypocritical dissembling and...
(The entire section is 239 words.)
Measure for Measure is considered one of Shakespeare's "problem plays." Problem plays introduce moral dilemmas without offering clear-cut or comforting solutions to these dilemmas. Since these plays deal with universal topics such as sex, power, and life and death, they are still appreciated and debated over by audiences today.
While the mores and living conditions of Shakespeare's time were significantly different from what they are today, several interesting parallels can still be drawn between our world and the one dramatized in Measure for Measure.
If, for example, the play were set in modern Vienna rather than the Renaissance Vienna of nearly 400 years ago, Claudio would not be facing execution for engaging in premarital sex. On the other hand, casual, unprotected sex today carries with it a potential death sentence in the form of AIDS. As he is being led to jail, Claudio tells his friend Lucio that the relationship between himself and Juliet is not casual, but that they were joined by a "true contract" which was sanctioned by common law if not by the church (I.ii.145). Today, unmarried couples often face other obstacles. Depending, for instance, on the state or country in which they live and work, they may find that they are not covered by each other's medical insurance, or that they are treated differently from legally married couples by the tax system or by the laws....
(The entire section is 744 words.)
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bache, William B. "The Ethic of Love and Duty." In "Measure for Measure" as Dialectical Art, pp. 1-12. Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Studies, 1969. Argues that Measure for Measure is a realistic play about the "brutality" of life. Bache focuses on the religious overtones in the play and the manner in which its central characters struggle to find the right way to live in the face of life's difficulties.
Barnes, Barbara J. "Assaying the Power of Chastity in Measure for Measure." Studies in English Literature 30, No. 2 (Spring 1990): 283-301. Asserts that the character Isabella is not as powerless as numerous critics believe she is. Baines observes that chastity is a unique instrument of power in a society that has become as corrupt as the Duke's Vienna has, so that the chaste novice Isabella is someone whom the other characters cannot afford to ignore.
Brown, Carolyn E. "Measure for Measure: Isabella's Beating Fantasies." American Imago 43, No. 1 (Spring 1986): 67-80. Suggests that Isabella provokes sharply conflicting reactions from scholars—some of whom regard her as a positive character while others see her as unpleasantly negative. Brown approaches Isabella's character from a psychological point of view as an ambivalent, "complex character" who subconsciously entertains masochistic and incestuous sexual fantasies even while she "aspires to a saintly life."
(The entire section is 1582 words.)