What would be the best method in writing an essay that analyzes the relationship between urban life and theatricality in early modern London using Measure for Measure and Richard II. 

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In writing an essay analyzing the relationship between the urban life during Shakespeare's day and the theatricality for which he is so renown, consideration should be given to a rapidly-transforming London where wealth and poverty co-existed and unemployment was a major problem as the population grew out of all proportion. This population and cultural upsurge in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century is revealed in the way Shakespeare uses theatricality to express everyday life. His characters are believable and make all the mistakes which any audience can relate to. This could form the essence of a thesis statement as it sets out the link to Shakespeare in what has been described as "early modern London." 

Consider the importance of both Measure for measure and King Richard II in the following paragraphs. No matter what laws are in place, how kind or rash or careless the rulers are, there will always be an element of lawlessness that is difficult to restrain. This is the case in Measure for Measure where justice must be tempered with mercy, where religion and culture must exist alongside secular considerations and where confusion, contradiction and deceit are every day occurrences as "Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall."(II.i.38) Urban life in Shakespeare's day was apparently not so different from the modern day.  Angelo adds the element of theatricality to his words as "The law hath not been dead, though it hath slept." (II.ii.90) Furthermore, Angelo appears to be the epitome of correctness and surprises himself when he is tempted by Isabella but this does not reveal anything to him and his harsh and unbending nature could serve to destroy everything if it weren't for the duke's intervention.

Shakespeare's attempts to combine reality with theatrical and dramatic effect are so real that King Richard II was censored during Elizabeth I's reign, clearly causing discomfort to an effective but criticized monarchy. The divine right to be king causes such conflict as Richard is so ineffective which causes the unthinkable, almost treasonable, forced removal or abdication of the king; "Good king, great king, and yet not greatly good."(IV.i.263).

Continue to explore both  of these plays, recognizing how Shakespeare takes real situations and manipulates them, creating his own characters but with some historical link. His originality is the theatricality he brings to these situations, not necessarily the situation itself. In Shakespeare's day, playwright's did not have a good reputation but Shakespeare was able to secure favor with the monarch, unusual due to the different reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, thus allowing him to explore the urban expansion and manipulate it to his benefit.  

In an effort to conclude Measure for Measure successfully, Shakespeare ensures that the audiences will leave satisfied. The marriages are arranged and "Haste still pays haste, and leisure answers leisure; Like doth quit like, and Measure still for Measure." (V.i.408-409) "Ceremonies and theatricality" give Richard II its authenticity as characters are able to mask their true nature and intentions, much like the growing population of London. An essay on this subject should remark on this aspect and conclude by reminding the reader that modern-day London has the same difficulties, hidden identities and ruthless people as Shakespeare's day.  

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial