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"Infinite Space": Representation and Reformation in Measure for Measure

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Huston Diehl, University of Iowa

Measure for Measure is a deeply dissatisfying comedy, so problematic that, as Jean Howard argues, it "puts critics under stress."1 They typically respond by judging, finding fault with the play's structure, the Duke's elaborate manipulations, Isabella's ethical choices, Shakespeare's use of the bed-trick, and, especially, the final trial scene, with its exaggerated theatricality, its failure to effect any real reformation, and its unsettling subversion of the conventional comic ending.2 Identifying a pattern of failed, inadequate, and problematic substitutions in Measure for Measure, Alexander Leggatt, like many other critics, concludes that the play is flawed:

I am not saying that Shakespeare, in order to make a point about the imperfection of his art, deliberately wrote an imperfect play. .. . He seems, however, to have found Measure for Measure a harder struggle than most, and as he faced the gap between conception and embodiment, his imagination generated image after image of representations that are vivid but not quite adequate, and substitutions that are revealing and fascinating but incomplete.3

Taking Leggatt's disclaimer as my starting point, I want to examine Shakespeare's representational strategies in Measure for Measure, and the dissatisfaction they arouse, in order to make precisely the opposite claim. I will argue that Shakespeare deliberately calls attention to the imperfection of his art, and I will show how the inadequacy of the multiple substitutions is a crucial factor in Shakespeare's conception of his drama, producing—not undermining—the play's meaning as well as its peculiar power. What Leggatt attributes to a breakdown in the creative process—resulting in the proliferation of incomplete and inadequate substitutions and the contrived nature of the final revelations—are, I think, better understood as products of the playwright's experimentation with a Protestant aesthetic of the stage.

Shakespearean criticism has long been alert to the play's religious themes, biblical allusions, and theological subtexts. The references to the Sermon on the Mount and to St. Paul; the dramatization of the conflict between law and mercy; the association of the Duke with divine providence; the parodies of the Annunciation and the Last Judgment; the language of grace, ransom, and remedy; the appropriation of such religious genres as hagiography, parable, and contemplatio mortis: scholars have discussed these and many other theological aspects of Measure for Measure, though without arriving at any consensus about how Shakespeare employs this theological material or to what end.4 But to a surprising degree, scholars who focus on the play's religious dimension ignore the contested nature of religion in early modern England, preferring to speak of a universal Christianity in ways that obscure the controversies fracturing the Christian church during the Reformation.5 And critics who take issue with these attempts to read Measure for Measure in terms of Christian themes are much more likely to insist on the play's having a secular or even antireligious nature than to evaluate the historical assumptions about religion that inform such studies.6 Even those new historicists who use Measure for Measure as a key text in their studies of early modern English culture tend to treat religion as a conservative and stable orthodoxy in the service of the state and monarchy.7

But, of course, in post-Reformation England Christianity was in crisis, religious ideology unstable, and theological doctrines vigorously disputed. Even among English Protestants religious beliefs and practices were so much the subject of contentious debate that one of James's first acts as the king of England was to convene in January 1604 a conference of bishops and puritans at Hampton Court to try to resolve some of their long-standing differences and perhaps "to begin a further reformation of the Church."8 Yet to illustrate my point, that historical event goes unmentioned in virtually all treatments of Measure for Measure as a play written for or about James even though Shakespeare's 1604 comedy, in staging a conflict between a rigid reformer and a woman intent on entering a strict Roman Catholic religious order, rehearses the extremist views—radical puritan and Catholic—that James sought to suppress at the Hampton Court conference.9 According to Kenneth Fincham and Peter Lake, James used the conference, on the one hand, "to construct and support a common Protestant front against Rome" and, on the other, to contain radical puritanism by "driving a wedge between the moderate and radical wings of Puritan opinion."10

I mention King James's ecclesiastical policy not to argue that Shakespeare advocates or allegorizes it but rather to suggest how fully Measure for Measure engages many of the religious controversies of Jacobean England, exploring theological issues—about monasticism, celibacy, idolatry, auricular confession, merit, righteousness, hypocrisy, reformist zeal, and moral discipline—that trouble and divide James's subjects in the early years of the seventeenth century. Set in the Roman Catholic city of Vienna and featuring a number of characters who are, desire to be, or pretend to be members of the Roman Catholic clergy, the play questions the possibility of achieving either celibacy or a disciplined withdrawal from the world. By using the clerical habit of the friar as a disguise that the Duke puts on and off and eventually discards, the play also demystifies monasticism, perhaps even reinforcing Protestant associations of friars with a fraudulent theatricality, their "humblest habits" with "a false disguise."11 At the same time, the play depicts the very pressing urban problems that preoccupied the Protestant authorities of Jacobean London and critiques the draconian measures proposed by radical puritans to reform human behavior, revealing these measures to be both inhumane and ineffective. It also exposes the moral depravity and hypocrisy of a character associated with these extreme reformist policies—the precise and legalistic Angelo. Thus marking Vienna for its early modern London audiences as a setting simultaneously alien and familiar, papist and puritan, Measure for Measure identifies Isabella's monastic vocation and Angelo's reformist zeal with a false—or counterfeit—righteousness. Angelo's hypocritical and tyrannical behavior, to be sure, is depicted as far more abhorrent than Isabella's idealistic, if excessive, commitment to the rigid rules observed by "the votarists of Saint Clare" (1.4.5). But efforts to read the play as either pro-Catholic or nostalgic for a Catholic past fail to address the ways in which Shakespeare appropriates the representational strategies of English Calvinism, distancing his theater from a fraudulent theatricality widely associated in Protestant England with the Roman Catholic Church while also challenging the vehement antitheatricality of radical Protestants.12

There was, most historians agree, a Calvinist consensus within the national church under King James, who sought at the beginning of his reign to win over moderate puritans "through the incorporation of evangelical Calvinism into the Jacobean establishment."13 Indeed, Patrick Collinson asserts that "Calvinism can be regarded as the theological cement of the Jacobean church . .. 'a common and ameliorating bond' uniting conformists and moderate puritans."14 But although Calvinism is the cement that binds together different factions of the Jacobean church, various segments of the population appropriated and adapted it to their own needs and interests—"consumed" it in Michel de Certeau's sense of this word.15 Calvinism was employed in the service of competing authorities and rival political factions and invoked to achieve a range of multiple and even conflicting goals, not all of them religious in nature.

A case in point is the battle over the legitimacy of the stage. As literary scholars have frequently noted, anti-theatricalists often draw upon Calvinist distrust of theatricality in their attacks on the stage, tapping into their Protestant readers' deepest anti-Catholic sentiments by aligning the London theaters with the "false" ceremonies, "idolatrous" spectacles, and "cunning" theatricality of the Roman Church.16 But apologists for the stage also appropriate basic tenets of Calvinist theology to wield against their opponents, a phenomenon that has for the most part been ignored in the critical literature. In his refutation of Stephen Gosson's Schoole of Abuse, Thomas Lodge, for example, counters Gosson's point that Plato banished the poets from his republic by accusing Plato of idolatry, thus attempting to undermine Plato's authority by associating him with the "idolatrous" Roman church; he also insists that poetry is a gift from God, an argument that Calvin and his followers repeatedly use to justify certain kinds of art.17 Lodge is just one of many writers who appropriate Calvinist arguments and tropes to defend the stage. They charge the anti-theatricalists with employing Roman Catholic modes of interpretation, argue that the stage exposes rather than produces the fraudulent kind of theatricality Calvinism distrusts, and apply Calvinist notions of the conscience to their theories of dramatic art.18

Shakespeare, I suggest, participates in these efforts to legitimate the theater by aligning it with the moderate Calvinism of the established English church. At the same time, he raises provocative questions about the challenge of knowing, judging, and reforming in a Calvinist universe. In a sustained exploration of the power and limits of representation, including his own theatrical representations, Shakespeare formulates an aesthetic of the stage that marks and preserves the gap between the sign and the thing signified, arouses and frustrates the desire to know directly and fully, and compels his audiences to confront both the inadequacy of all human knowledge and their own imperfect judgment. By eliciting an enabling kind of dissatisfaction in Measure for Measure, he claims for the theater the project of reforming human behavior even as he acknowledges the limits of that project and distances his theater from the extremist views of radical puritanism.


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Rather than assume that Shakespeare's play is flawed because the substitutions staged in the course of Measure for Measure are inadequate or incomplete, I propose to examine its pattern of substitutions in terms of Calvin's insistence that the physical world is itself a representation. English Calvinists encourage the faithful to discern in the visible world signs of another truer and more real world, to find in the transient present images of a permanent future, and thus to see how the world they inhabit mirrors (however imperfectly) the divine. Calling the created world "painted tables, by which al mankinde is provoked and allured to the knowledg" of God, Calvin argues that "God doth in the mirror of his workes shew by representation both himself and his immortali kingdome," and he urges his readers to discern "certame markes" and "ensignes" of God's glory that God has "graven" and "displaid" in the "whole workmanship of the world."19 Indeed, Calvin imagines the world as a magnificent theater and its inhabitants as spectators capable of knowing God indirectly by beholding the beauty of his creation. "For what else is the world," he asks in a sermon on Ephesians, "but an open stage wheron God will haue his majestie seene?"20 Man, he asserts in the Institutes, "is set as it were in this gorgeous stage to be a beholder" of God's works.21

To take an example that might shed light on Shakespeare's duke and deputy, in such a construction of the world a magistrate is in a sense always a representation of the divine judge—God's substitute, if you will—and always to be viewed in terms of both his likeness to the divine (his authority, power, and capacity to judge and punish) and the limitations of that comparison. Calvin defines civil magistrates as "deputies of God" who "altogether beare the person of god, whose stede they do after a certame maner supply." Ideally, they "are true examplars and paternes of hys bountifulnesse" in whom "the lord himself hath emprinted and engraved an inuiolable maiesty."22 The practice of hanging paintings of the Last Judgment directly above the magistrate's seat in the law courts of Northern Europe visually reinforced the notion that the magistrate was an earthly proxy for the divine judge.23 But to see the magistrate as an image of the all-judging God was to understand not only how he derives his authority from God but also how inadequate he is in relation to God. Even as he urges magistrates to "represent in themselues unto men a certaine image of the providence, preservation, goodnesse, good wil, & righteousnesse of God," Calvin addresses the problem of tyrannical, severe, deceitful, vengeful, and violent rulers, noting how far they have strayed from the God they should figure.24 The comparison between the earthly magistrate and the divine Judge thus inevitably produces dissatisfaction, a longing for that which is represented but absent, the God who cannot be seen in this world face to face.

The peculiar way in which the characters of Measure for Measure seem to point beyond themselves to divine things, even as their flaws firmly locate them in the human world of Vienna, may well reflect Shakespeare's attempt to represent the physical world as it was understood in the age of Reformation, to write not an allegory but a play about living in an allegorized world. For if, as Calvin teaches, the world that humans inhabit is understood to be a theater in which God manifests himself indirectly through images and signs, then Shakespeare's theatrical practice—in the Globe, no less—is a representation of a representation, one that engages its spectators in the challenge of knowing indirectly, partially, by means of signs. In Measure for Measure characters repeatedly define the human condition in representational terms, describing themselves as figures, mirrors, coins, stamps, prints, and forms that image something else. Even Angelo's name, which calls to mind both the spiritual creature and the English coin stamped with the image of the archangel Gabriel, reminds Shakespeare's audiences that a deputy bears the image of the divine and gains his value from that image. The spectators in the Globe of 1604, I am suggesting, were encouraged to engage in acts of interpretation that replicated the way the established English Church—in sermons and catechisms—had taught them to interpret the world. "Because he [God] hath made hym self knowen unto us by his woorkes," the child in an English catechism is taught to respond, "it is necessarie for vs to seeke hym out in them. For our capacitie is not able to comprehende his Diuine substaunce, therefore he hath made the worlde as a Glasse, wherein wee maie beholde hym in such sorte, as it is expedient for us to knowe hym."25 Central to this mode of experience is a profound sense of the gap between the fallen world and the celestial one it can only shadow.

For early Protestants the challenge of living in a world where human knowledge is partial, indirect, and limited centered on the need to curb the all-too-human tendency to mistake the sign for the thing it signifies. According to Calvin and his English followers, people are always prone to confusing the substitute with the original because they long for direct knowledge and they overvalue the things of this world. "Even the children of God," a 1581 English catechism warns, "feele themselves so intangled in the delight of earthly things which of themselves are good" that they commit idolatry, attributing "that to the creature which ys due to the creator."26 The Protestant reformers identify this as one of the chief errors of papistry, evidenced in the doctrine of transubstantiation, the cult of the saints, and the worship of images. In their attack on "idolatrous" theater, the antitheatricalists accuse playwrights of perpetuating this error, claiming that stage plays tempt spectators "to giue that which is proper to God, unto them [the players and their theatrical illusions] that are no gods."27

In Measure for Measure Shakespeare seems intent on guarding against this danger, both by thematizing it and by marking his own representations as representations. From the opening scene when the Duke deputizes Angelo, to the bed-trick when Mariana is substituted for Isabella, to the complicated substitution of Ragozine's head for the unrepentant Barnardine's so that it in turn can be substituted for Claudio's head, to Elbow's comic malapropisms (substitutions that force the audiences to listen for the gap between the literal word and the intended meaning), to the dizzying proliferation of substitutions in the last act: Shakespeare not only explores the capacity of the substitute to stand in for the original but also nurtures a highly self-reflexive awareness of the nature of representation and the problem of indirect knowledge. To illustrate, let me briefly discuss three key episodes: Angelo's sudden and inexplicable lust for Isabella, which I interpret as a classic example of idolatry; the bed-trick and the subsequent playing with the notion of carnal knowledge, which 1 read as an inquiry into the nature of embodiment; and the often-overlooked but highly significant substitution of the Duke's seal for the deputy's death-warrant, which I see as a test of faith.

In the fascinating and disturbing scene in which Isabella, goaded by Lucio, pleads with Angelo for her brother's life, the righteous deputy who has never before experienced sexual passion finds himself overwhelmed by desire for a woman who wishes to enter a convent. Many scholars interpret this sudden and unexpected eruption of sexual desire in Angelo in psychoanalytical terms. Focusing on the relation between repression and desire, they argue that for Angelo "prohibition is aphrodisiac"; but the widely held assumption that "Angelo desires a woman because she is forbidden" obscures, I think, the way this scene locates the origin of Angelo's sexual desire for Isabella in his sense of his own righteousness, identifying his lust for the virtuous woman with his love of virtue.28 "Dost thou desire her foully," Angelo asks himself incredulously after Isabella departs, "for those things / That make her good?" (2.2.178-79).29 Imagining that the devil uses a saint to ensnare him in his own saintliness, he concludes:

O cunning enemy, that, to catch a saint,
With saints dost bait thy hook! Most dangerous
Is that temptation that doth goad us on
To sin in loving virtue. Never could the strumpet,
With all her double vigour—art and nature—
Once stir my temper; but this virtuous maid
Subdues me quite.

(11. 184-90)

How can loving virtue be the source of sin?

Shakespeare, I submit, depicts Angelo's lust for Isabella as idolatry, for when the deputy is aroused by the novice's saintliness—that is, for the way she images the divine—he immediately seeks to know that saintliness directly and carnally. In other words, he substitutes the woman who reflects divinity for God himself, a substitution that simultaneously "foul[s]" Isabella and alienates him from God. Once he is aroused by Isabella's virtue, he can think of her only with a lust he himself identifies with misplaced devotion:

When I would pray and think, I think and pray
To several subjects: heaven hath my empty words,
Whilst my invention, hearing not my tongue,
Anchors on Isabella. . . .


Enacting the error of idolatry as it was understood by early Protestants, Angelo is, in effect, "so snared with . . . affection" for one of the "creatures that God hath made for our use" that "the Lord is . . . altogether . . . thrust out of place."30 His imagination "[a]nchors on Isabella" and not the God who created her. Angelo's attempt to "know" Isabella's virtue by "knowing" her body, however farfetched it may sound to us today, conforms to a pervasive early Protestant belief that idolatry—perceived as misplaced devotion, a substitution of the creature for the Creator—leads directly to physical lust and "abominable concupiscences" because it privileges the carnal over the spiritual.31 To interpret Angelo's lust as a misplaced desire to know God directly and carnally—that is, to understand it in theological rather than psychoanalytic terms—is not therefore to deny the utter perversity of it; rather, it is to recognize how dangerous, how fundamentally depraved, the idolater in the Calvinist schema was believed to be. English reformers equate idolatry with "spirituali fornication," and they warn that the idolater—alienated from God, paradoxically, by trying to physically possess the divine—inevitably falls into "carnali fornication, and all uncleannesse," indulging in "Sodomie," "the stewes," "whoredoms and fornications."32 The idolater, in other words, was understood to be someone who, like Angelo, gives his "sensual race the rein" (2.4.160).

If we understand Angelo's fundamental error as epistemological—a confusion of the sign for what it signifies, a misidentification of the substitute as the original—we can see how provocatively Shakespeare explores the problem of knowing in the bed-trick, where he literalizes Angelo's error in order to expose its absurdity. When the Duke substitutes Mariana for Isabella, tricking Angelo into sleeping with the woman he has wronged and rejected, he exploits Angelo's tendency to apprehend—as the Duke says of Barnardine—"no further than this world" (5.1.475) and forces a recognition of the danger of equating the image with the truth. The bed-trick thus does not simply trap Angelo in his own perverse lust, hypocrisy, and betrayal; it also reveals his central epistemological error, an error that he is in danger of repeating endlessly: mistaking his limited power for absolute power and confusing his asceticism with perfection, as well as desiring Isabella in place of God.

Before she reveals her identity in the trial scene, the veiled Mariana speaks enigmatically, first declaring "I have known my husband, yet my husband / Knows not that ever he knew me" and then claiming to the startled onlookers that Angelo is her husband and the man "Who thinks he knows that he ne'er knew my body, / But knows he thinks that he knows Isabel's" (11. 184-85, 198-99). Her riddles, like Lucio's comic assertion "I know what I know" (3.1.390) earlier in the play, call to mind an enigmatic passage from First Corinthians in which Paul, preaching against idolatrous practices, questions the validity of all human knowledge and insists that "loue" rather than knowledge "edifieth": "If any man thinke that he knoweth any thing," Paul declares, "he knoweth nothing yet as he oght to knowe."33 In appropriating this Pauline text, which identifies any belief in one's own capacity to know with vanity, pride, and idolatry, Mariana unsettles Angelo, for she not only denies his version of the truth but also challenges the very ground upon which he has passed judgment on others. She plays, too, of course, with the double meaning of the word know, a joke that underscores Angelo's epistemological error, highlighting his presumption that what he knows carnally is valid and emphasizing that the very nature of embodiment impedes direct and full apprehension. Through the bed-trick Angelo thus quite literally experiences the partiality and inadequacy of corporeal knowledge, in the "shadow and silence" (3.1.239) mistaking the substitute for the woman he illicitly desires.

The play, I suggest, produces a similar experience for theater audiences, who are simultaneously invited to believe that what they see embodied on the stage is true and reminded that the theater, after all, is nothing but a "fantastical trick" (1. 340) involving masks and disguises, lies and indirections, shadows and substitutions. But while the artifice of the bed-trick calls attention to the gap between representation and reality, eliciting dissatisfaction in audience members who prefer drama to achieve greater verisimilitude, Shakespeare never entirely demystifies his representations but rather promotes a faith in signs as well as a skepticism about theatrical illusions. Indeed, in one particularly significant scene, he casts as heroic the character who acts solely on the basis of faith in a sign.

I refer to the scene in which the Provost receives Claudio's death warrant from Angelo. Having arranged the bed-trick in order to save Claudio, the disguised Duke is unprepared for this turn of events. Rather than reveal his true identity, he asks the Provost to disobey his superior and delay the execution, thereby risking his own death. Refusing, at first, to violate his oath, the Provost changes his mind when, told that the Duke approves the delay, he is shown "the hand and seal of the Duke" and encouraged to recognize "the character .. . and the signet" (4.2.177-78). Replying simply, "I know them both" (1. 179), the Provost chooses to honor the signet of the absent Duke and to ignore the deputy's death warrant. Except for the Duke's seal and handwriting, the "amazed" Provost has only the assurance of an obscure friar that the Duke's approval of this dangerous course of action is "a certainty" (1. 173). Although the friar promises that the truth will eventually be revealed and the Provost's actions vindicated, he speaks in cryptic and mysterious riddles, offering only more signs to interpret. "Look," he tells the Provost, "th'unfolding star calls up the shepherd" (11. 185-86). In this scene Shakespeare explores the challenge of exercising faith in the absence of direct proof. This was a central concern of early Protestantism and one that English reformers, articulating the tenets of a Calvinist covenant theology, frequently addressed by using the analogy of the king's seal or signet.34 Shakespeare champions the character who has the capacity to recognize, interpret, and trust the sign of an absent authority, and he constructs as heroic the ability to act on the basis of faith in such a sign even though one's own knowledge is indirect and incomplete. In the end Claudio's life is spared not (as in Shakespeare's source) because the lustful deputy was provided with a sexual partner but because a seal and signet were honored by the faithful and courageous Provost.

The last act promises to resolve the problem of indirect, partial, and imperfect knowing through the anticipated comic resolution, but, significantly, that promise is not fully realized.35 Shakespeare stages a fictional moment in which the gap between sign and thing signified is eradicated and substitution gives way to identity: the hooded friar is the Duke; the veiled Mariana, the woman who slept with Angelo; the muffled man, Claudio. But the desire for direct knowledge that the play has aroused in the audiences is thwarted, the promise deferred, by Shakespeare's stagecraft. Although the multiple unveilings invoke the Pauline promise of direct knowledge and clear vision, the scene insists on its own dark and fantastical artifice. The Duke's plan resembles a comic script too complex and contrived to be credible; the return of the Duke requires the disappearance of the friar he has been playing, highlighting the theatrical convention of doubling and its attendant problems; the Duke and Friar Peter rehearse the ending with Mariana and Isabella, coaching them on how to relate their story, perform their roles, and "veil full purpose" (4.6.4); and Lucio serves as a skeptical audience member, stripping away the theatrical disguise of the friar, refusing the fiction. Even the stunning revelation that Claudio lives is made ambiguous by the Duke's odd insistence that the muffled man resembles and stands in as a substitute for Claudio rather than actually being Claudio. Presenting the mysterious prisoner "As like almost to Claudio as himself," the Duke withholds any assurance of certainty, telling Isabella that "If he be like your brother, for his sake / Is he pardoned" (5.1.483, 484-86), thereby reintroducing a gap between the substitute and the longed-for original.

By calling attention to the artifice, the staginess, of his comic resolution, Shakespeare denies his audiences the pleasure of believing, even for a moment, that the image and the thing imaged are one. The promised revelations are, after all, only theatrical illusions, reminding the audiences that the players cannot escape their own bodies or the play its own representations. But the resulting dissatisfaction, I suggest, is energizing and productive. The trial scene arouses the audience members' deepest desire for completion and revelation, direct knowledge and certainty. By eliciting a longing for certainty that is promised but perpetually deferred, the play does not merely frustrate; it encourages its audiences to view both the world they inhabit and the fictional world of the play as representations, which are inadequate, to be sure, but also potentially significant, even powerful.


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Scholars interested in Shakespeare's treatment of the law in Measure for Measure have examined English ecclesiastical and civil laws pertaining to marriage, adultery, and fornication in some depth, but they generally ignore Reformation theories of the law and, in particular, Calvin's emphasis on the epistemological function of the law. And yet Shakespeare seems far less interested in details of the English legal system—one critic calls the law of Vienna "story-book law"36—than in exploring the relation between law, broadly defined, and the problem of knowing and judging. Central to his play's inquiry into the law, I suggest, is a Calvinist insistence that self-knowledge can be achieved only by recognizing one's utter inability to fulfill the law, a recognition that necessarily precludes passing judgment on others.

Emphasizing the immeasurable gulf between any individual and perfection, Calvin teaches that no one is capable of obeying the law. His discussions of the law focus not on ethical behavior, discipline, and punishment but on knowledge. "By the law," he writes, "is the knowlege of sinne."37 For him, the law does not correct or control sin but rather represents it, showing people the multiple ways they have transgressed. The law, he writes, is a "loking glasse" that "representeth unto us the spottes of our face," a mirror that reveals to people how utterly they have defaced the divine image in which they were made.38 English Protestant catechisms of this period invariably advance Calvin's interpretation of the law, rehearsing the notion that the law is a "glasse" that teaches "that we be imperfect in all our workes," thereby making us aware of "our naughtiness sinne and defectes."39 That awareness, moreover, is productive, for it creates the conditions for repentance and redemption. "And so by our own euells we are stirred to consider the good thinges of God," Calvin writes, "and we can not earnestly aspire towarde him, untili we begin to mislike our selues."40 For Calvin, the law thus serves a vital function: by revealing our inherent sinfulness, it produces dissatisfaction with the self, a dissatisfaction that, because it initiates the process of repentance, is essential for salvation.41

When Calvin defines the law as a mirror that works to "admonish, certifie, proue gilty, yea and condemne euery man of his owne unrighteousenesse," he declares any belief in one's own righteousness a fantasy; insisting that none "shall come to the mark of true perfection, unlesse he be loosed from the burden of his body," he warns that to presume that one has "any woorthinesse" or "any meane or abilitie to doo good (of himself:)" is "too step intoo Gods place," that is, to confuse one's own powers with God's, usurping the place of the Creator.42 The law thus serves as a continual reminder that "there is none righteous, no not one" (Romans 3:10) by enabling people to see their transgressions, imperfections, and failings. Calvin insists that the person who believes himself to be righteous is deluded by self-love,

so long as he measureth it [his strength] by the proportion of his own will. But so sone as he is compelled to trie his life by the balance of the law, then leaving the presumption of that counterfait righteousnesse, he seeth himself to be an infinite space distant from holinesse: againe, that he floweth full of infinite vices, wherof before he semed cleane. For the evels of lust are hidde in so depe and croked privuie corners, that they easily deceiue the sight of man.43

Setting aside the tantalizing linguistic echoes of this passage in Measure for Measure, I want to suggest how Calvin's theory of law informs Shakespeare's play and, in particular, its theatrical insistence on the gap, the "infinite space," between "counterfait righteousnesse" and "holinesse."

Measure for Measure dramatizes a conflict between two characters who trust in their own capacity to obey the law and to lead virtuous lives: a reformist magistrate smugly confident of his own righteousness and a Roman Catholic novice earnestly preparing to join a strict religious order. Through their confrontation both discover the "infinite space" between their behavior and perfection. Angelo commits a crime far more repugnant than the one for which he has condemned Claudio, and in the trial scene he is forced to acknowledge the distance between the laws he administers and his own rapacious and unruly appetites. Isabella experiences a range of conflicting emotions when she is confronted with Angelo's terrible proposition that requires her to choose between her chastity and her brother's life. Passionately pleading for her brother's life, actively participating in the duplicitous bed-trick, and deliberately giving false testimony against Angelo in order to take her revenge on him, she, too, fails to live up to her ideals of purity and holiness.

The play's insistence that neither the rigorous discipline of the religious novice nor the severe laws of the precise puritan can produce a state of righteousness surely must have resonated in a powerful way with the audiences of post-Reformation England, where questions of human merit, good works, and righteousness were vigorously debated. Protestant reformers vehemently denounce the clerics and saints of the Roman Church because they "most shamelessly call" their lives "Angelike, doing herein verily so great injurie to the Angells of God" when in reality they are nothing more than "whoremongers, adulterers, and somwhat ells muche worse and filthier."44 And satiric attacks on radical Protestantism skewer puritans for assuming they could attain a state of righteousness, exposing that belief to be a grand delusion and exposing them as contemptible hypocrites.45 Many recent critical readings of the play, however, ignore these contemporary religious controversies and especially the intense anti-Catholic and anticlerical sentiments they generated in Jacobean London. Feminist criticism in particular tends to valorize Isabella's commitment to a monastic life of celibacy and saintliness, viewing the cloistered life of a nun as an admirable assertion of "female autonomy" that is inherently subversive of patriarchal society. From this perspective, Isabella's public humiliation in the final act is an inexcusable violation of both Isabella's independence and her religious vocation, a shameless "shaming of a nun."46

For these critics the play's ending, which turns on Isabella's capacity to forgive the man who tried to coerce her into having sex with him, is profoundly disturbing, for that forgiveness represents to them not an admirable willingness to relinquish a "counterfait righteousnesse" but a regrettable surrender to patriarchal authority; and the Duke's subsequent pardon of Angelo constitutes a nullification of the grievous wrongs committed against Isabella. Declaring the final trial scene "aesthetically and intellectually unsatisfying . . . [and] personally infuriating," Harriett Hawkins, for one, complains that "the Duke's decision to grant mercy to everybody revokes the rule of law, and to revoke the rule of human law is to revoke the idea of consequence, of necessity."47 Such an intense resistance to the play's resolution provides insights into late-twentieth-century democratic notions of law and justice, criminals and victims, power and submission. But it may also illustrate the way Measure for Measure challenges traditional notions of merit that were being contested in Shakespeare's own day. The play arouses but thwarts a deeply felt desire for "justice, justice, justice, justice!" (5.1.25), eliciting a profound dissatisfaction, a dissatisfaction inherent in Calvin's premise that the law exists not to control the dangerous behavior of a few but to reveal everyone's imperfections.

In deliberately violating the conventions of poetic justice, Shakespeare not only challenges traditional belief in human merit but also interrogates his own theatrical practices. Many critics have noted that the final trial scene resembles a play that the Duke carefully scripts, rehearses, and stages. The insistent metadrama of this final scene, I suggest, underscores how theatrical representation can thwart self-righteous judgment and compel self-knowledge.

In compliance with the Duke's script, the chaste (and chastened) Isabella plays the role of the defiled woman in the trial scene and publicly proclaims that she has slept with Angelo. Although Shakespeare depicts her as self-conscious about the role she reluctantly agrees to play, heightening his audience's awareness of the pretense, he insists on the value of her role-playing. Isabella experiences her theatrical performance as profoundly humiliating, but her public humiliation enables her to identify and empathize with Mariana. Required to step into Mariana's place, Isabella, "with grief and shame" (1. 96), declares herself a "fallen" woman and is treated as an object of scorn and approbation. Imaginatively reversing the earlier physical substitution of Mariana for Isabella, a substitution that put Mariana at risk in order to save both Isabella's brother and her chastity, the Duke's casting thus forces Isabella to recognize that she, like the woman she plays, is vulnerable, conflicted, passionate, imperfect, and at risk. It is this recognition, the product of a theatrical fiction, that enables Isabella to join Mariana in pleading for Angelo's life.

The Duke's theatrics force Angelo, too, to acknowledge his imperfection. When Isabella and Mariana accuse Angelo of terrible crimes and demand justice, the Duke, in a shocking move, turns the legal proceedings over to the accused, placing him in the seat of judgment and telling him, "be you judge / Of your own cause" (11. 165-66). Rather than reasserting his authority, the Duke delegates his power of judgement to his deputy, the very man whom he knows to have flagrantly abused that power and who is the subject of judicial inquiry. The Duke then stages an elaborate theatrical performance, one in which Angelo is positioned as both dramatic protagonist and judging spectator. Shaken and exposed by this performance, Angelo confesses his crimes and repents. If Shakespeare calls attention to the contrived and scripted nature of Angelo's trial, he nevertheless attributes its efficacy—its capacity to make Angelo's transgressions visible to himself and others and to elicit self-examination and confession—largely to the Duke's representational strategies: his use of indirection; his substitution of Isabella for Mariana; his deployment of a paradoxical riddle; his teasing theatrical presentation of a mysterious, veiled woman; his own complicated doubling as friar and Duke; and the way he forces Angelo to pay attention to the discrepancies between what Angelo thinks he knows and what is. By foregrounding the confusing gaps between language and meaning, knowledge and truth, the substitute and the person she stands in for, the disguise and the person in disguise, the Duke's theater disrupts and confounds its spectators, ultimately revealing to them what has been hidden, denied, or misunderstood.

In Measure for Measure, as in Hamlet, Shakespeare insists on the capacity of theater to activate the conscience, arouse guilt, and elicit confessions of wrong-doing. In both plays he draws on Calvinist theories of the conscience to explain the powerful affect of theater, and in both he nurtures as well as thematizes the interiorized, reflexive, and self-disciplinary gaze that those theories seek to inculcate. According to the many English Protestant tracts on the conscience which proliferated in the wake of the Reformation, the conscience enables a person to see his or her actions from God's perspective and therefore to render " 'a man's judgment of himself, according to the judgment of God of him.'48 "Angelo confesses his crimes and declares his heart "penitent" as soon as he realizes that the Duke, "like power divine," has been privy to his most secret acts and private transgressions—that is, as soon as he imagines his actions from the viewpoint of a judging authority:

O my dread lord,
I should be guiltier than my guiltiness
To think I can be undiscernible,
When I perceive your grace, like power divine,
Hath looked upon my passes.


It is, significantly, the Duke's theater that provides Angelo with this perspective by positioning him as a spectator and judge at his own trial. In this scene, as in the performance of "The Murder of Gonzago," Shakespeare claims for the stage the power to activate the conscience—that internalized and self-regulating spectator, "God's spy," "man's . . . overseer," and a keeper "ioyned to man, to marke and watch all hys secretes"—that Protestant reformers taught has the power "to prescribe, prohibit, absolue and condemne de iure."49 In a play that questions the capacity of any individual to achieve righteousness, he imagines a theater that nurtures reflexivity, produces guilt, and thwarts the impulse to judge others.


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Inasmuch as the Duke's theater seeks to initiate an internal reformation in its spectators by arousing dissatisfaction with the self, it conforms to the kind of art approved by Protestant theologians. Although they condemn as idolatrous images and plays that seduce, dazzle, and trick the beholder, the English reformers routinely defend art that "provoke[s]" us "to consider ourselves . . . and to condemn and abhor our sin," that serves as "stirrers of men's minds," and that enables its viewers "to remember themselves, and to lament their sins"; and they approve of art that awakens the conscience and nurtures moral self-examination.50 In his defense of the stage, written a few years after Shakespeare's comedy, Thomas Heywood fully articulates a theory of dramatic representation based on these Protestant defenses, arguing that theater has the capacity to "new mold the harts of the spectators" by enabling them to "see and shame at their faults."51 Louis Adrian Montrose asserts that the arguments advanced by Heywood and other apologists for the stage "remain constrained within the terms of the dominant antitheatrical discourse" and thus "do not fully comprehend the cultural practice" they seek to defend.52 He looks instead to the antitheatrical tracts, and especially their pervasive fear of the seductive pleasures of the stage, for a more accurate sense of theater's power over its spectators. But I would like to suggest that, by the beginning of the seventeenth century, Shakespeare and his fellow playwrights were actively appropriating Calvinist theories of representation and creatively exploring the disciplinary potential of their medium in an effort to legitimate the stage in the face of virulent antitheatrical attacks.

Steven Mullaney also takes Heywood's claims seriously, using them to illustrate how the early modern stage was understood to be "a potent forum for the reformation as well as the recreation of its audiences." However, he associates the dramatic practice of inducing apprehension and shame with the suppressed Roman Catholic practice of auricular confession, arguing that early modern playwrights appropriate the "internal drama" of the forbidden sacrament, which was "performed before a judgmental authority, at times harrowingly silent, at times sharply inquisitorial."53 Certainly auricular confession is, as he suggests, a "specter" that haunts Measure for Measure,54 but Shakespeare's play questions its efficacy and, in the final scene, stages another kind of confession, a public and communal rehearsal of mutual guilt that conforms much more closely to Calvinist than to Roman Catholic rituals of confession.

In eliminating the sacrament of auricular confession and instituting a reformed confession, the English Protestant Church substituted one form of apprehension for another. In fact, what the Calvinist reformers most strenuously objected to in the Roman Catholic sacrament of auricular confession was not so much that it aroused apprehension and shame, as Mullaney argues, as that it relieved it in a particularly offensive way. Calvin complains that

men hauing made confession to a Priest, think that they may wype their mouth and say, I did it not. And not onely they are made all the yeare longe the bolder to sinne: but al the rest of the yeare bearing themselves bolde upon confession, they neuer sighe vnto God, they neuer return to themselues, but heape sinnes vpon sinnes, til they vomit vp all at once as they thinke. And when they haue once vomited them vp, they thynke themselues discharged of their burden, and that they haue taken away from God the iudgemente that they haue geven to the Priest, and that they haue brought God in forgetfulnesse, when they haue made the Priest priuie.55

For him the Catholic sacrament is "pestilente" because it confers on the priest the power to absolve sin, a power he insists resides only in God.56 He seeks instead to devise religious practices that provoke men to "sighe unto God" and "return to themselves," to feel their guilt continuously and reflect on divine judgment.

Calvin privileges the individual's private and internal confession of sins before God, but he also imagines that such a confession will naturally be followed by a voluntary and public confession before men "not only to whisper the secret of his heart to one man, and once and in hys eare: but oft and openly, and in the bearing of al the world simplye to rehearse . . . his own shame."57 Indeed, he imagines an ideal Protestant community as one in which all members share publicly the knowledge of their own failings, rehearsing their shame. "We shoulde lay our weaknesse one in an others bosome," he writes, "to receiue mutuali counsel, mutual compassion & mutual comfort one of an other: then that we be naturally priuie to the weaknesses of our brethren; shoulde praye for them to the Lorde."58 Far from being eliminated from Protestant confessions, then, shame is understood to be shared, and its rehearsal in public is believed to be salutary, arousing the desire for an absolution that no human can confer, nurturing a continual process of self-reflection and repentance, and fostering a sense of community.

In the final scene of Measure for Measure, Shakespeare stages just such a public rehearsal of shame, one in which the comic ending is governed by mutual confessions of weaknesses and transgressions and repeated requests for forgiveness rather than the conventional triumph of love and mirth. Even Escalus and the Provost, who appear relatively blameless, and Isabella, who was clearly wronged, confess their faults and ask—publicly—to be pardoned for their behavior; and Angelo, the most obviously guilty character, not only requests forgiveness but is also asked to forgive the Provost for sending him the head of Ragozine instead of Claudio. Indeed, the Duke himself, having discarded his clerical disguise along with all pretense that he has the power to absolve sins, asks to be pardoned, confessing to Isabella that he is responsible for the supposed death of her brother and even declaring his kinship with the condemned man (5.1.487). All of these confessions are offered spontaneously and openly to the entire community after Lucio inadvertently reveals that the friar is, in truth, the Duke. To the extent that these confessions nurture a sense of community based on shared guilt—that is, a Calvinist community of sinners—they may be understood to liberate Isabella, Angelo, and the other characters from the isolation of their counterfeit righteousness.59

But that community, forged out of the painful awareness of a common guilt, is necessarily imperfect. As many critics have pointed out, the Duke does not achieve the complete reformation he desires. Isabella struggles to forgive Angelo, making a reluctant and qualified plea for his life; Angelo marries Mariana under duress, never speaking a word of affection to her; Lucio resists the Duke's order to marry Kate Keepdown, his wit still directed toward the bawdy and subversive; Barnardine stubbornly refuses all efforts to reform him; and Isabella does not answer the Duke's marriage proposal, her silence unsettling the comic ending. Although he asserts the power of theatrical representation to arouse guilt and produce the conditions for repentance, Shakespeare questions the capacity of the stage to reform its spectators.60 When, in the final act, he makes his own activity as dramatist visible through a Duke who constructs fictional narratives, traffics in substitutions, manipulates desire, cleverly scripts comic endings, and seeks to reform his audiences, he depicts his central character as an imperfect, even a bungling playwright.61

Why might Shakespeare create a figure of a playwright who cannot be trusted, who devises tricks that raise troubling ethical questions, who employs an improbable and highly contrived script, and who cannot even produce the conventional comic ending, unable as he is to reform the transgressors or persuade his romantic heroine to assent to the traditional marriage proposal? One answer may be that, by calling attention to the imperfection of his own art, Shakespeare deliberately cedes the reforming powers of the artist to a higher, divine authority and sacrifices the satisfactions of a comic ending in order to create a felt need for grace. It is surely significant that grace in Shakespeare's play is on everyone's tongue (in the repeated utterance of the words grace and gracious) yet is so noticeably absent.62 The persistent references to grace, like the pattern of inadequate substitutions, function to arouse desire for what the play cannot, on its own, achieve; for in Measure for Measure authority remains stubbornly outside both the world of the play and the realm of the author. Like the law as Calvin conceives it, the play can only reveal, not correct, imperfection, and it thus arouses a longing for what it acknowledges it cannot deliver: divine forgiveness. But even as he exposes the inadequacies of his representational theater, Shakespeare brilliantly exploits them. By portraying an imperfect playwright-Duke, by marring his own comic ending, and by depicting a series of inadequate but evocative substitutions, Shakespeare cultivates a knowledge of lack that is not only dissatisfying but also productive. He creates in his audiences a profound sense of the infinite space that separates them from the divine.


1 Jean E. Howard, "Measure for Measure and the Restraints of Convention," Essays in Literature 10 (1983): 149-58, esp. 149.

2 See, for example, Rosalind Miles, who argues that "there remains an unshakeable sense that it [the trial scene] fails to conclude the play in a way that leaves us entirely content; it does not fully resolve the issues and release the dramatic tensions which the course of the play has created" (The Problem of Measure for Measure: A Historical Investigation [New York; Barnes and Noble, 1976], 250); Anthony Dawson, who argues that "the elaborate restitution at the end of Measure for Measure is more hoax than reaffirmation" ("Measure for Measure, New Historicism, and Theatrical Power," Shakespeare Quarterly 39 [1988]: 328-41, esp. 341); Robert N. Watson, who sees the final revelation as "an illusion manipulated by a fake holy man for his own aggrandizement" and argues that "all the strategies of secular immortality, all the fantasies (religious, artistic, familial) of resurrection . . . lie mortally wounded amid the formulaic resurrections of the final scene" ("False Immortality in Measure for Measure: Comic Means, Tragic Ends," SQ 41 [1990]: 411-32, esp. 423); and Richard Wheeler, who comments on "Shakespeare's inability to find an ending that responds fully to the whole action" (Shakespeare's Development and the Problem Comedies: Turn and Counter-Turn [Berkeley: U of California P, 1981], 12).

3 Alexander Leggati, "Substitution in Measure for Measure," SQ 39 (1988): 342-59, esp. 359.

4 See, for example, Katharine Eisaman Maus, Inwardness and Theater in the English Renaissance (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995), 172-77; Louise Schleiner, "Providential Improvisation in Measure for Measure," PMLA 97 (1982): 227-36, esp. 227; Julia Reinhard Lupton, Afterlives of the Saints: Hagiography, Typology, and Renaissance Literature (Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1996), 110-40; and Michael Flachmann, "Fitted for Death: Measure for Measure and the Contemplatio Mortis," English Literary Renaissance 22 (1992): 222-41. For earlier treatments of the play's religious content, see also Roy W. Battenhouse, "Measure for Measure and Christian Doctrine of the Atonement," PMLA 61 (1946): 1029-59; Darryl J. Gless, Measure for Measure, The Law, and the Covenant (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1979); and George Wilson Knight, The Wheel of Fire: Interpretations of Shakespearian Tragedy, with three new essays (London: Methuen, 1949).

5 Elizabeth Pope, for example, explicitly argues that in Measure for Measure Shakespeare "touches . . . only on such elements of traditional theology as were shared by Anglican, Puritan, and Roman Catholic alike" ("The Renaissance Background of Measure for Measure" in Aspects of Shakespeare's 'Problem Plays', Kenneth Muir and Stanley Wells, eds. [Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1982], 57-73, esp. 71). Making no distinctions between Roman Catholic and Protestant views of chastity, Jonathan Dollimore assumes that "the Church" approves of Isabella's renunciation of her sexuality; see "Transgression and surveillance in Measure for Measure" in Political Shakespeare: Essays in Cultural Materialism, Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield, eds. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1985), 72-87, esp. 82. Leggatt remarks that were a duke to disguise himself as a friar and go "around hearing confessions," he would create "a major scandal in an actual Catholic community" (344), but he never considers how a dramatic representation of such an action might play to a Protestant audience in early modern England. Carolyn Brown does not address the radically different views of Roman Catholics and Protestants on religious flagellation, asserting instead that the practice of flagellation "did not die in the Middle Ages but, to the contrary, survived and flourished through the sixteenth century in most of Europe" ("Erotic Religious Flagellation and Shakespeare's Measure for Measure," ELR 16 [1986]: 139-65, esp. 141).

6 Watson, for example, ignores Protestant condemnation of vows of chastity when he argues that because the play makes "a mockery of the pious notion that virginity is a plausible or even permissible way to pursue immortality," it is subversive of all religion, and he suggests that the play is "potentially heretical, even blasphemous" (426 and 415). Harriett Hawkins suggests that the play reveals how "organized religion itself. . . provide[s] solutions that are false, ways out that are too easy" (" 'The Devil's Party': Virtues and Vices in 'Measure for Measure' " in Muir and Wells, eds., 87-95, esp. 95).

7 See, for example, Dollimore, 72-87; Jonathan Goldberg, James I and the Politics of Literature (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1983); Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (Berkeley: U of California P, 1988); and Leonard Tennenhouse, "Representing Power: Measure for Measure in Its Time," Genre 15 (1982): 139-56.

8 I quote from Frederick Shriver, "Hampton Court ReVisited: James I and the Puritans," Journal of Ecclesiastical History 33 (1982): 48-71, esp. 48; see also, William Barlow, The Summe and Substance of the Conference . . . at Hampton Court (London, 1604).

9 "James's ecclesiastical policy was often conceived and presented as a via media between these two extremes" of puritanism and papistry, write Kenneth Fincham and Peter Lake, who note that "the king himself never tired of pointing out the equivalence of these two menaces" ("The Ecclesiastical Policy of King James I," Journal of British Studies 24 [1985]: 169-207, esp. 170). They argue that "James I not merely identified and opposed the threats of popery and Puritanism but also endeavored to emasculate the political dangers that both contained" (171).

10 Fincham and Lake, 175 and 172.

11 See, for example, in Henry Peacham's Minerva Britanna (London, 1612), the emblem of a hypocrite, who wears a friar's habit and carries a rosary and staff (198); Peacham identifies the friar's "humblest habits" with "a false disguise" that cloaks his "hidden villainies."

12 In her fascinating analysis of what she calls "the relics of hagiography in Shakespearean drama," Julia Reinhard Lupton finds in this play "a residually Catholic discourse not fully subject to its Reformation into secular literature" (140). She argues provocatively that Measure for Measure stages "the founding of secular literature on the supersedure of Christian forms" (135), but in identifying the Protestant Reformation with the "classicizing . . . humanist, rationalist, and empiricist initiatives of the Renaissance" (xxxii), she is, I think, too quick to equate early English Protestantism with the secularizing impulses of modernity.

13 Fincham and Lake, 207.

14 Patrick Collinson, The Religion of Protestants: The Church in English Society 1559-1625 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), 82.

15 Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendali (Berkeley: U of California P, 1988).

16 See, for example, Louis Adrian Montrose, "The Purpose of Playing: Reflections on a Shakespearean Anthropology," Helios 7 (1980): 51-74; and Michael O'Connell, "The Idolatrous Eye: Iconoclasm, Anti-Theatricalism, and the Image of the Elizabethan Theater," ELH 52 (1985): 279-310. Both argue that the early modern London theater develops in reaction against Protestantism, a religion they assume is hostile to all theater. Montrose has recently distanced his position from O'Connell's; see Louis Adrian Montrose, The Purpose of Playing: Shakespeare and the Cultural Politics of the Elizabethan Theatre (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1996), 32n.

17 Thomas Lodge, "A Reply to Stephen Gosson's Schoole of Abuse: In Defence of Poetry Musick and Stage Plays" (1580?) in The Complete Works of Thomas Lodge, 4 vols. (Glasgow: Robert Anderson for the Hunterian Club, 1883), 1:A4r, A7r, and B2r. I would even suggest that it is Lodge, in his reply to Gosson, who first formulates a position on the stage that draws on Calvinist theology. It is only when Gosson answers Lodge's critique of his first tract that he fully develops the relation between antitheatricality and Protestant theology.

18 For a detailed discussion of these Calvinist defenses, see my book, Staging Reform, Reforming the Stage: Protestantism and Popular Theater in Early Modern England (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1997), 71-72 and 205-7.

19 John Calvin, The Institution of Christian Religion, written in Latine, trans. Thomas Norton (London, 1562), Biv and Avir. Subsequent references to the Institutes follow this sixteenth-century edition.

20 John Calvin, The Sermons of M. John Calvin, upon the Epistle of S. Paule too the Ephesians, trans. Arthur Golding (London, 1577), fol. 87.

21 Calvin, Institutes, Biiii Gi , and Niiiv-Niiiir. Calvin elsewhere laments that most men are blind to these signs, preferring to "rest in beholding the workes without hauing regard of the workeman" (Biv).

22 Calvin, Institutes, QQQviir, RRRvv, RRRviiv, and SSSir.

23 For a discussion of these pictures, see Craig Harbison, The Last Judgment in Sixteenth-Century Northern Europe (New York: Garland Press, 1976), 52-61.

24 Calvin, Institutes, RRRir. In an extended discussion of civil government, Calvin raises many of the central issues that Shakespeare explores in Measure for Measure, including the problems caused by too severe and too lenient administration of the law.

25 John Calvin, The Catechisme, or maner to teache Children the Christian Religion (London, 1580), A4v.

26 William Wood, A Fourme of Catechising in true religion (London, 1581), C1r. For Calvin, G. R. Evans writes, "The signs are present in this world, seen by our eyes and touched by our hands. Calvin's fear is that if this spatial separation of sign and thing signified is not emphasized there will be idolatry" ("Calvin on signs: an Augustinian dilemma," Renaissance Studies 3 [1989]: 35-45, esp. 40). Early Protestants repeatedly define idolatry in terms of substitution: see, for instance, Calvin, Institutes, Biiir; "An Homilie Against perill of Idolatrie, and superfluous decking of Churches" in Certaine Sermons or Homilies Appointed to be Read in Churches in the Time of Queen Elizabeth I... A Facsimile Reproduction of the Edition of 1623, ed. Mary Ellen Rickey and Thomas B. Stroup (Gainesville, FL: Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints, 1968), 11-76, esp. 49; and William Perkins, A Treatise of Mans Imaginations (Cambridge, 1607), B12v-Clr.

27 Stephen Gosson, Playes Confuted in fiue Actions (London, 1582), D7v.

28 Maus, 164 and 163. See also Janet Adelman's discussion of "the battle within [Angelo] between fierce repression of sexual desire and equally fierce outbursts of degrading and degraded desire"; Adelman concludes that for Angelo "desire is necessarily the ravishing of a saint" ("Bed Tricks: On Marriage as the End of Comedy in All's Well that Ends Well and Measure for Measure" in Shakespeare's Personality, Norman N. Holland, Sidney Homan, and Bernard J. Paris, eds. [Berkeley: U of California P, 1989], 151-74, esp. 164).

29 Quotations of Measure for Measure follow The Norton Shakespeare, Based on the Oxford edition, ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997).

30 Wood, B8v-Clr.

31 "An Homilie Against perill of Idolatrie," 49.

32 "An Homilie Against perill of Idolatrie," 49; and William Perkins, A Warning against the Idolatrie of the last times. And an Instruction touching Religious, or Diuine worship (Cambridge, 1601), F6r.

33 1 Corinthians 8:1-2. Biblical quotations in this essay follow the 1560 Geneva Bible and will hereafter be cited parenthetically in the text.

34 See, for instance, Calvin, Sermons upon Ephesians, fol. 85.

35 Although he does not discuss this play in terms of Calvinist theology or the Reformation, R.L.P. Jackson makes a similar observation in "Necessary Ambiguity: The Last Act of Measure for Measure" The Critical Review 26 (1984): 114-29, esp. 117.

36 Margaret Scott, " Our City's Institutions': Some Further Reflections on the Marriage Contract in Measure for Measure," ELH 49 (1982): 790-804, esp. 794. For interesting discussions of civil and ecclesiastical law and Measure for Measure, see Victoria Hayne, "Performing Social Practice: The Example of Measure for Measure" SQ 44 (1993): 1-29; and Maus, 157-81.

37 Calvin, Institutes, Diiiv.

38 Calvin, Institutes, Diiiv. According to John T. McNeill, "the term 'law' for Calvin may mean (1) the whole religion of Moses .. . ; (2) the special revelation of the moral law to the chosen people .. . ; or (3) various bodies of civil, judicial, and ceremonial statutes." He notes that "Of these, the moral law, the 'true and eternal rule of righteousness' .. . is most important" (John T. McNeill, ed., Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, 2 vols. [Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960], l:348n).

39 Edmond Allen, A shorte Cathechisme: A briefe and godly bringinge up of youth in the knowledge and commandements of God. ([Zurich] 1550), C5v and D3v. See also A Short Catechisme, or Playne Instruction (London, 1553), B5v, John Dod and Richard Cleaver, A Plaine and familiar Exposition of Ten Commaundments, with a methodicall short Catechisme (London, 1605), Ff4v; and Stephen Egerton, A Briefe Method of Catechizing (London, 1631), A5r-A7r and C6r.

40 Calvin, Institutes, Air.

41 Alexander Nowell writes that the law "striketh their heart with a wholesome sorrow, and driveth them to . . . repentance" (A Cathechisme written in Latin [1570], trans. Thomas Norton, ed. G. E. Corrie [Cambridge: Parker Society, 1854], 141).

42 Calvin, Institutes, Diiir and Diiv, Calvin, Sermons upon Ephesians, fols. 77v-78r.

43 Calvin, Institutes, Diiiv.

44 Calvin, Institutes, GGGiiiir.

45 See, for instance, Ben Jonson's portrayal of the Anabaptists in The Alchemist (1610) and of the puritan Zeal-of-the-Land Busy in Bartholomew Fair (1614).

46 Mario DiGangi, "Pleasure and Danger: Measuring Female Sexuality in Measure for Measure," ELH 60 (1993): 589-609, esp. 596; Laura Lunger Knoppers, "(En)gendering Shame: Measure for Measure and the Spectacles of Power," ELR 23 (1993): 450-71, esp. 462. Knoppers believes that Isabella's desire to enter a convent is "threatening" to patriarchal society (464). See also Brown, who laments that the Duke's shaming of Isabella "prevents her from ever returning to the protection of the convent" (216).

47 Harriett Hawkins, Likenesses of Truth in Elizabethan and Restoration Drama (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1972), 70 and 68. See also Richard Ide, who writes: "For Barnardine to be forgiven along with Claudio also seems an abuse of justice on the part of the lenient Duke" ("Shakespeare's Revisionism: Homiletic Tragicomedy and the Ending of Measure for Measure," Shakespeare Studies 20 [1987]: 105-27, esp. 119).

48 William Ames, Conscience with the Power and Cases Thereof (London, 1639), B1r. For a discussion of early Protestant notions of the conscience, see John S. Wilks, The Idea of Conscience in Renaissance Tragedy (New York: Routledge, 1990).

49 Jeremiah Dyke, Good Conscience or A Treatise Shewing the Nature, Meanes, Marks, Benefit, and Necesity thereof (London, 1624), B7r, Calvin, Institutes, DDDi ; Richard Carpenter, The Conscionable vChristian (London, 1620), Hir.

50 Thomas Cranmer, The Bishop's Book(1537), quoted here from John Phillips, The Reformation of Images: Destruction of Art in England, 1535-1660 (Berkeley: U of California P, 1973), 57; "The Contents of a Book of Articles devised by the King," quoted here from The Actes and Monuments of John Foxe (1570), ed. Stephen Reed Cattley, 8 vols. (London: R. B. Seeley and W. Burnside, 1937-41), 5:163.

51 Thomas Heywood, An Apology For Actors (London, 1612), B4r and F4r, see also G1v-G2r. For a detailed discussion of Heywood's defense of the stage and Protestant theories of conscience, see my book, Staging Reform.

52 Montrose, The Purpose of Playing, 44-45.

53 Steven Mullaney, The Place of the Stage: License, Play, and Power in Renaissance England (Chicago: U of Chicago P. 1988), 95, 98, 101, and 100.

54 Mullaney, 99.

55 Calvin, Institutes, CCviir-CCviiir.

56 Calvin, Institutes, CCviiv.

57 Calvin, Institutes, CCiiiir.

58 Calvin, Institutes, CCiiv.

59 In "The Politics of Theatrical Mirth: A Midsummer Night's Dream, A Mad World, My Masters, and Measure for Measure" (SQ 43 [1992]: 51-66) Paul Yachnin argues that Measure for Measure represents "theater as the place of private conversional work rather than as the gathering-place of politically reconciliatory mirth," and he contends that Jacobean comedy, in sharp contrast to Elizabethan comedy, seeks "to exert itself with respect to the individual as individual rather than as a member of the community" (62). But he ignores the way the final scene's public rehearsal of mutual guilt creates a community of sinners. Victoria Hayne, in "Performing Social Practice," argues that "the audience is repeatedly invoked as witness, compurgator, congregation, jury" (21); and it might be possible to argue along these lines that the final act positions Shakespeare's audience as a congregation, witnessing these public confessions. But while she examines puritan emphasis on the congregation's judgmental role, I focus on Calvin's emphasis on the importance of the congregation's identification and compassion.

60 Noting that Viennese "society seems singularly unaffected" by the Duke's efforts to inflict "anxiety for ideological purposes," Stephen Greenblatt argues that "salutary anxiety is emptied out in the service of theatrical pleasure," thereby calling into question the Duke's goals (141 and 138). Greenblatt argues that the pleasure the audience experiences is "bound up with the marking out of theatrical anxiety as represented anxiety—not wholly real, either in the characters onstage or in the audience" (135). But I want to suggest that salutary anxiety, rather than simply being emptied out, has both an aesthetic and a disciplinary function.

61 Anne Righter Barton makes a similar observation in Shakespeare and the Idea of the Play (London: Chatto and Windus, 1962) when she notes that "the Duke's managerial rôle flatters neither himself nor the theater" (178).

62 The word grace or graces occurs twenty-five times in Measure for Measure, the words gracious and graciously eight times; see T. H. Howard-Hill, ed., Oxford Shakespeare Concordance: Measure for Measure (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969).

Source: " 'Infinite Space': Representation and Reformation in Measure for Measure," in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 49, No. 4, Winter, 1998, pp. 393-410.

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Critical Evaluation


Measure for Measure (Vol. 33)