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MEASURE FOR MEASURE.
The First Edition. Measure for Measure was first printed in the First Folio, where it occupies pp. 61-84, and holds the fourth place among the ‘Comedies.' No direct reference to the play has been found anterior to its publication in 1623, nor is there any record of its performance before the Restoration, when Davenant produced his Law against Lovers, a wretched attempt to fuse Measure for Measure and Much Ado About Nothing into one play.
The Date of Composition. Allarguments for the date of composition of Measure for Measure must be drawn from general considerations of style, and from alleged allusions. As regards the latter, it has been maintained that two passages (Act I. i. 68-71 and Act II. iv. 27-30) offer "a courtly apology for King James I.'s stately and ungracious demeanour on his entry into England," and various points of likeness in the character of the Duke and James have been detected.* This evidence by itself would be of little value, but it certainly corroborates the æsthetic and metrical tests, which fix the date of composition about the year 1603-4. Further, in 1607, William Barksted, an admirer of our poet, published a poem, entitled Myrrha, the Mother of Adonis, wherein occurs an obvious reminiscence of a passage in Measure for Measure :
* The entry usually cited from the accounts of the Revels at Court from Oct. 1604 to Oct. 1605 is now known to be a forgery. “By his Matis Plaiers on Stivens night in the Hall, a Play called ‘Mesur for Mesur'”: probably, however, the forgery was based on authentic information.
“ And like as when some sudden extasie
Seizeth the nature of a sicklie man;
Folke to his helpe confusedly have ran;
So many throng, that he the ayre doth lacke.” (cp. Measure for Measure, II. iv. 24-27).
Mr. Stokes has advanced the ingenious conjecture that Barksted, as one of the children of the Revels, may have been the original actor of the part of Isabella.*
The strongest argument for the date 1603, generally adopted by critics, is derived from the many links between this play and Hamlet; they both contain similar reflections on Life and Death, though Measure for Measure" deals, not like Hamlet with the problems which beset one of exceptional temperament, but with mere human nature" (W. Pater, Appreciations, p. 179). There are, moreover, striking parallelisms of expression in the two plays. Similarly, incidents in Measure for Measure recall All's Well that Ends Well; Isabella and Helena seem almost twin-sisters; but the questions at issue concerning the latter play are too intricate to warrant us in drawing conclusions as regards the date of the former play.
Source of the Play. The plot of Measure for Measure was ultimately derived from the Hecatommithi of Giraldi Cinthiot (Decad. 8, Nov. 5): the direct source,
*Cp. The Chronological Order of Shakespeare's Plays; H. P. Stokes; 106-109.
† Concerning the historical basis of the story, cp. Notes and Queries, July 29th 1893; in 1547 a Hungarian student in Vienna narr the occurrence in a etter to a friend in Sárvár: (cp. also Goulast's Histoires admirables et mémorables advenues de Nostre Temps, 1607). It would seem that the subject had already been dramatized by Claude Rouillet in his Philamire, published in 1563, two years before Cinthio's Hecatommithi.
however, was a dramatisation of the story by George Whetstone, whose Promos and Cassandra, never acted, was printed in 1578. The title of this tedious production is noteworthy as indicating the rough outline of Shakespeare's original :
The Right Excellent and FamousHistory of Promos and Cassandra; divided into two Comical Discourses. In the first part is shown, the unsufferable abuse of a lewd Magistrate, the virtuous behaviour of a chaste Lady: the uncontrolled lewdness of a favoured Courtesan, and the undeserved estimation of a pernicious Parasite. In the second part is discoursed, the perfect magnanimity of a noble King| in checking Vice and favouring Virtue :/ Wherein is shown| the Ruin and Overthrow of dishonest practices, with the advancement of upright dealing.| (Cp. Hazlitt's Shakespeare Library; Part II. Vol. i.)
In 1582 Whetstone included a prose version of the same story in his Heptameron of Civil Discourses,-a version probably known to Shakespeare; it has even been inferred that “in this narrative he may well have caught the first glimpse of a composition with nobler proportions."
The old play of Promos and Cassandra may claim the distinction of having provided the rough material for Measure for Measure; the earlier production should be read in order to understand, somewhat at least, how Shakespeare has transformed his crude original; how he has infused into it a loftier motive; how he has ennobled its heroine, and created new episodes and new characters. The picture of the wronged, dejected mistress of the moated grange is wholly Shakespeare's.
Duration of Action. The time of action consists of four days :
Day 1. Act I. Scene i. may be taken as a kind of prelude, after which some little interval must be supposed in order to permit the new governors of the city to settle
to their work. The rest of the play is comprised in three consecutive days.
Day 2 commences with Act I. Scene ii. and ends with Act IV. Scene ii.
Day 3 commences with Act IV. Scene ii. and ends with Act IV. Scene iv.
Day 4 includes Act IV. Scenes v. and vi., and the whole of Act V. which is one scene only (P. A. Daniel; On the Times in Shakespeare's Plays; New Shakespeare Soc., 1877-79).