Measure for measure: original and actual place of setting
The present project entails an investigation on the eventual change of setting of Shakespeare’s play Measure for Measure. The keys to resolve this task were found within the text itself and in some extra linguistic and historical facts surrounding the appearance of the First Folio, occurred not until 1623. Before taking into consideration every single fact witnessing for the text review let’s think about what collocation Shakespeare might have adopted for this particular play. Let’s remember that the play’s main points are lechery, hypocrisy, hard bargain, violation of law, all what was associated with the Italy of that time. Now, here there is the list of textual discrepancies that were suggested by the two major Middleton’s scholars Gary Taylor and John Jowett:
Personae list made of Italian names;
Dialogue of Lucio with a soldier about king of Hungary;
The news sheets talking about troops progression1;
Mrs. Overdone remark about political situation in the country and danger to have her brothel demolished;
Structural discrepancies include:
Act division characteristic for the later tradition;
Mariana’s song seeming irrelevant to the play’s style and plot.
The importance of this investigation consists in revelation of original play’s circumstances. The time and place-bound circumstances are important if not essential markers in theatrical discourse. Gary Taylor 2 asserts that “spectators in the early seventeenth century, like their modern counterparts, could not have avoided reading the play’s action in terms of its setting”. Even without stage scenery, the play’s setting is a signifier. Setting is a part of what Keir Elam 3 identifies as “the semiotics of theatre”, it is a part of a moral, symbolic, ideological, and “poetic geography”. For any early audience the setting has been part of visual experience. Shakespeare’s contemporaries knew that inhabitants of different parts of Europe dressed differently than Englishmen; and accordingly acting companies indicated geographical and cultural identity by characteristic peculiarities of costume.
There is little information as to what the King’s Men company used as the scenery and costumes but the text itself suggests that the story is supposed to have happened in Vienna. The word “Vienna” is spoken twice in the very first scene of Measure and is repeated again in the next scenes. But the name of this city for the original audience would have said little if anything at all. If Vienna meant anything particular in England in the period up to 1604, it was rather an “exposed outpost of Europe, the eastern bastion of Latin Christendom”1 . The point is that Vienna was constantly under the Turkish threat throughout the 16th century. Things became more complicated as Hungary and Bohemia were involved in these wars. In John Spielman’s book there is a detailed description of the events connected with the city of Vienna. It gives an account on the Turkish invasions:
Turks smashed the Hungarian armies that had engaged without waiting for reinforcements. The Emperor [Ferdinand I] immediately pressed his claim to the thrones of Hungary and Bohemia (1526-1564) as the husband of the dead [Hungarian] king’s sister, Anna. The inheritance brought with it the obligation to defend it all against the Turkish onslaught …Ottomans stopped before the city’s gates, in 1529….. 2. p.20
There are allusions to that famous siege in Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great and Jonson’s Every Man in his Humour. According to the chronicles of the city of Vienna, a further Ottoman attack on Vienna was repelled in 1533. In that year Ferdinand signed a peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire, splitting the Kingdom of Hungary into a Habsburg sector in the west and John Zápolya's domain in the east, the latter practically a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire. And “hostilities between the Turks and the Holy Roman Empire have recommenced in 1591 and persisted till the very end of the seventeenth century” 3. Shakespeare could not have possibly left this subject without attention as Islamic expansion was the subject of real anxiety in Elizabethan England. Nevertheless, despite Shakespeare’s general interest in such matters (see the references to Turks or Moors in Othello and other plays), and despite the specific reputation of Vienna, there is not a single reference to Turks in Measure.
From the previous analysis on the semiotics of the text we know that the setting has the pragmatic significance, especially for an early reader, so we must admit also that the place of action is to be of much importance in political, social and cultural terms at least to the moment of the first performance and be extremely relevant to general message of the play. Consequently, the setting was not a random choice from all possible world’s geographical points. However, it seems unlikely that Vienna was of great importance for British Isles by the time Shakespeare first staged it.
The English public had little access to news about central and eastern Europe until the beginning of the Thirty Years War, in 1618. This led to the creation of the first printed news serials. The “Early History of the English Newspaper” reports that not until the early 17th century did news begin to be printed more regularly within periodical publications in England.
News periodicals were established in several countries in continental Europe soon after 1600, but a Star Chamber decree of 1586 forbade the publication of news in England. The first news periodicals in English, called corantos, were printed in Amsterdam. The earliest surviving coranto, The New Tydings Out of Italie Are Not yet Come, dated 2 December 1620, is a single sheet printed on both sides with news of the Thirty Years War then raging in Europe. Less than a year later, the first coranto to be printed in England appeared. The first surviving issue, Corante, or Newes from Italy, Germany, Hungarie, Spaine and France, dated 24 September 1621, contains continental news translated from a German original 1.
The economy of Vienna was in decline during the period of the wars2. The city’s intellectual life experienced a similar erosion. Enea Silvio, a noble young Tuscan and later Pope Pius II came to Vienna in 1437. In a famous letter about the Viennese, he commented on their self-satisfaction, superstition, and crude manners3. Perhaps for that reason, Vienna by the 1600s had not yet developed a distinctive urban identity and therefore could not be considered the place worth setting the play in. It merely provided any implicit information to the plot of a play. It appears that no book of the period refers to the city of Vienna in other purpose than that concerning the Turks’ invasion4, mentioned earlier. As Marcus affirms, until the beginning of the seventeenth century Austria was associated with the war against Islam.
There is one sound reason for which Measure could have been originally set in Vienna. According to the editor of the Cambridge edition of Measure for Measure, Brian Gibbons5, Ferdinand, the Holy Roman Emperor, was trying to turn Protestant Hungary into Catholicism, but failed to do this because of successful revolt. So, Catholic extremism of Vienna was devised as an allusion to Puritan extremism in England (English Puritans advocated death penalty for fornication). The Puritan law was still in vigour when the First Folio has been prepared for publication. The editor, whoever he might be, had to think carefully about the contents of the play before its publication, because, according to the proclamation of May 1599, any open discussion of religious or political matters in the theatre was prohibited1. The play, then, would have not been allowed. Otherwise, the play had to be set somewhere else, far from London. Gibbons’ hypothesis, however, is definitely not enough to state that Shakespeare had actually chosen Vienna as the location, also because the capital of the Empire had been moved from Vienna to Prague in 1583, and it stayed in Prague until 1611.
To understand why scholars have had the suspicions about the original setting of the play we should examine the history of the text and theatre tradition of that time. Measure is supposed to have been written and performed in 1603-1604. On St. Stephen’s night, 26 December 1604, the King’s Men staged it as part of the Christmas festivities at the Whitehall Banquet Hall. Measure first appeared in the Shakespeare First Folio of 1623. And it is plausible that it was written by William Shakespeare. There are evidences that the oaths and similar expressions were cut off the text after the 1606 Act of Parliament that “restrained abuses of players and made blasphemy on stage illegal”2. Any metrical irregularity or discontinuity in sense might be result of cutting. Another curious fact is that Shakespeare wrote his plays without dividing them in acts. The act division was introduced after about 1609, when the King’s Men began to play at the Blackfriars. An attentive reader might notice the sudden change of tone of the play and its concentration on the plot’s general frame nearly in the middle of the play, after act III. Act IV opens with the one and only song in Measure, “Take, O take those lips away”. This song occurs in Fletcher’s tragedy Rollo, Duke of Normandy (1617-1620). The source text is supposed to be the Latin lyric “Ad Lydiam”. The song conforms thematically to this play. The Fletcher play’s issue dates are significant as the play was written more than a decade later than the Measure is supposed to have been written and coincide with the date of Measure’s probable revival. Supposedly, the editor of Measure has not used the primary source but read the contemporary Rollo, Duke of Normandy and loaned the song there.
The song in Measure is a formal marker and affirms the new turning point. Scholars also believe that some passages were dislocated, some repartees of Lucio were attributed to Angelo and similar changes occurred in the text3 . For example, the short dialogue of Mariana and Isabella just after the song seems quite irrelevant to its immediate context. The song highlights the romantic spirit and can not be inserted so easily into the context of vice or corruption, justice or mercy, sexual crime and its punishment. So, the song occurs in other texts, attributed to other playwrights. It was not Shakespeare’s habitude to employ entire passages belonging to other works, but his colleagues had actually used such techniques.
All together this incoherence is due to the fact that seems obvious: the play was edited (according to modern critics and scholars) by Thomas Middleton 1 and issued in 1623 “to make the play topical and appropriate to the style of the theatre in the early 1620’s” 2. The adaptation concerned the structure of the play and introduced act intervals. Moreover, the revival also concerned the play’s setting and adaptations of the text itself, provoked by such a significant change.
Let’s refer to the text. Lucio’s first speech occurs in a passage that might be written by Middleton, and not Shakespeare. Different independent surveys recognize that the first part of I.2 must be a later addition to the text. But how much later? Our only text of Measure was published in 1623. It had been set into type and run through the press sometime in 1622. The manuscript from which it was printed was prepared by the scribe Ralph Crane, who began working for the King’s Men in 1619 3. It means it was published posthumously. Thus, Lucio’s remark about Hungary occurs in a text not printed until 1622, from a manuscript not in existence earlier than 1619.
Lucio and other gentleman say:
Lucio. If the Duke, with the other Dukes4, come not to composition with the King of Hungary, why then all the dukes fall upon the King.
1 Gent. Heaven grant us its peace, but not the King of Hungary’s! I.2.1-5
On this speech Lucio assumes that the Duke is absent on a political mission which may decide the question of peace and war. There were no peace negotiations under way to “come to composition”5 with the “King of Hungary” in 1603-4. The passage seems to make sense only as a
reference to something outside the play’s world. Some scholars tried to explain that the passage alludes to Corvinus King of Hungary in one of Shakespeare’s probable sources, but the King of Hungary in that source is not engaged in negotiations with “the duke, and other dukes”, nor is there any threat of war.
In 1986 the Oxford Shakespeare identified Middleton as the probable author of the added material. And the Oxford edition of The Collected Works of Thomas Middleton1 provides Middleton’s authorship of that passage and three other passages.
1 Thomas Middleton (1580-1627) - "our other Shakespeare" - is the only other Renaissance playwright who created lasting masterpieces of both comedy and tragedy; he also wrote the greatest box-office hit of early modern London (the unique history play A Game at Chess). His range extends beyond these traditional genres to tragicomedies, masques, pageants, pamphlets, epigrams, and Biblical and political commentaries, written alone or in collaboration with Shakespeare, Webster, Dekker, Ford, Heywood, Rowley, and others. Compared by critics to Aristophanes and Ibsen, Racine and Joe Orton, he has influenced writers as diverse as Aphra Behn and T. S. Eliot. Though repeatedly censored in his own time, he has since come to be particularly admired for his representations of the intertwined pursuits of sex, money, power, and God.
At the opening of I.2 of Measure Middleton emphasizes the significance of Vienna to the moment of the revival, as the seat of the Catholic Emperor Ferdinand II, and as a city in war. By 1621 Vienna was again the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. Ferdinand II was known to London audience as the leader of the Catholic campaign against Protestant countries of central Europe. The Emperor deposed the Protestant daughter and son-in-law of King James. The King sent three diplomatic missions to Vienna in 1619, in 1620 and in 1623. John Jowett has recently discovered an exact source for Lucio’s remarks about dukes and the King of Hungary in a printed English newsletter published on 6 October 1621. The printed news sheets reported that the King of Hungary was near Vienna. This news and the possibility of war were debated in the English Parliament. The war that took place – the Thirty Years War, involved a greater part of Europe and threatened England. It is commonly divided in periods: The Bohemian Phase, The Palatinate Phase, The Danish Phase, The Swedish Phase and The French Phase of the Thirty Years War and it officially ends on 24 October, 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia. Though pre-eminently a German war, it was also of great importance for the history of the whole of Europe, not only because nearly all the countries of Western Europe took part in it, but also on account of its connection with the other great European wars of the same period and on account of its final results. The series of conflicts, military and political, which make up the Thirty Years War are highly complex.
The Collected Works of Thomas Middleton and its companion volume Thomas Middleton and Early Modern Textual Culture provide an essential guide to matters at the heart of the English literary world in the early seventeenth century, from authorship and collaboration to censorship, civic pageantry, and the London book trade.-James Shapiro.
Background to the Thirty Years War
After the Peace of Augsburg in 1555 Lutheranism had been given official recognition in the Holy Roman Empire. Lands of the Roman Church which had previously been taken by secular powers belonged again to the Church. German rulers could also impose their religion on their subjects. However, the Peace agreement did not help to settle the conflict in Germany. A number of rulers became Calvinists and were, thus, outside the treaty. Protestants continued to take over Catholic properties, particularly in North Germany. The Catholics commanded a majority in most of the organs of government; the Protestants came to distrust these bodies and the machinery of government began to break down. The Catholics and Protestants formed armed alliances to preserve their rights: the Catholic League under Maximilian I of Bavaria and the Protestant Union under Elector Frederick V of the Palatinate (James’s son-in- law).
At the beginning of the seventeenth century the regions ruled by the German Habsburgs included Upper and Lower Austria, Bohemia together with Moravia and Silesia, the lesser part of Hungary which had not been conquered by the Turks, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, the Tyrol, and the provinces bordering on Germany. This territory, however, was divided among three branches of the family, the main line, the Styrian, and that of Tyrol-Vorarlberg. Although the main line of the German Habsburgs held the larger part of these landed possessions yet its territories did not form a compact whole, but were only a number of loosely connected countries, each having its own provincial estates, which were largely composed of nobles. Having been constantly in opposition to the dynasty, the nobles desired religious freedom, that is the right to become Protestant and to introduce Protestantism into their domains. The struggle of the nobility against the dynasty reached its height during the last decade of the reign of Rudolph II (1576-1612). Even at that time the nobility maintained relations with the active Protestant party in the empire. In 1604 the Hungarian nobles revolted with the aid of the ruler of Transylvania, and in 1607 they rebelled again and became the allies of the Turks. On 25 June, 1608, Rudolph was obliged to transfer the government of Hungary, Austria, and Moravia to his more compliant brother Matthias; he did not, however, give up his rights as King of Bohemia, and in 1609 was able to pacify an outbreak of the Bohemian nobility only by granting the Imperial Charter (Majestätsbrief) which gave religious liberty not only to the nobles and their dependents in Bohemia but also to those living on the crown lands. This concession greatly strengthened the power of the nobles.
The Bohemian Phase
The Bohemian Phase of the war is obviously more relevant to the present research as it involves the historical figures implicitly mentioned in the play. This phase encompassed the years 1618 through 1621. Official cause of this conflict was the Defenestration act.
The religious situation in Bohemia was complex: the Habsburg rulers were staunch defenders of the Roman Church. The Bohemian population was divided among a Catholic minority (many of them associated with the Habsburg court) and various types of Protestants. The most radical leaders of the Protestant nobility and representatives of their overlord Matthias II, Holy Roman Emperor, leader of the Habsburg House of Austria, met on 22 May 1618. They determined to confront the regents on the following day. It was at that meeting that the regents (and a clerk in their employ) were flung from the window in the “Defenestration of Prague.”
Matthias, like Rudolph, had no son and the Royal Family chose as his successor Ferdinand, the head of the Styrian branch of the Habsburgs, who had restored Catholicism in Styria. In 1617 the dynasty persuaded the Bohemians to accept Ferdinand as their future king, and in 1618 they prevailed upon the Hungarians to elect him king. Before this (May, 1618) the Bohemian nobles had revolted anew under the leadership of Count von Thurn on account of the alleged infringement of the charter granted by Rudolph. The dynasty was not yet ready for war. When Matthias died (March, 1619) the Hungarians and the inhabitants of Moravia joined the revolt, and in June Thurn advanced on Vienna with an army to persuade also the Austrians to join. However, Ferdinand prevented the insurrection and Thurn withdrew. Ferdinand was now able to go to Frankfurt, where his election as Emperor (28 August) secured the imperial dignity for his family. Two days before this the Bohemians had elected the leader of the Protestants, Frederick of the Palatinate, as rival King of Bohemia.
The inhabitants of Lower Austria now joined the revolt. Bethlen Gabor, Prince of Transylvania (an administrative district of Hungary), made an alliance with its leaders, and in “composition” with them once more threatened Vienna at the close of 1619. Since this moment, however, discipline steadily declined in the Bohemian army, and the leaders disagreed. The expected aid was never received from the Protestant party, excepting that a few of the less important nobles of the empire joined the revolting forces. On the other hand, in October 1619, Ferdinand obtained the help of Maximilian of Bavaria, who had the largest army in the Empire, and of the Protestant Elector of Saxony. Spain and Poland also sent troops. Maximilian so greatly terrified the Protestant party, which since 1608 had formed the Union, that it was broken up. He then advanced into Bohemia supported by Austrian troops and decisively defeated the Bohemians in the battle of the White Mountain, near Prague. The Elector Frederick, called the "Winter King" on account of the brief duration of his rule, fled. Ferdinand took possession of his provinces and restored order there.
The News from the Eastern Europe
The war with Transylvania, however, was carried on with interruptions until 1626. As a gesture of defiance towards the Emperor’s title of King of Hungary, Bethlen was elected King in 1620. His troops made incursions against Austrian strongholds in Bohemia, and into Austria itself, and by mid-September 1621 they lay within sight of the walls of Vienna.
The circulation of news-sheets of 1621 in London announcing the troops’ progress had been obviously the real source for the Middleton’s adaptation. Anyhow, on 6 October Bethlen started the negotiation for a separate peace with the Emperor and by 13 December the Treaty of Nikolsbourg was signed. So, if the news sheet was issued on October 6, Middleton was writing at a time when the outcome was uncertain. King James and others in England were unquiet for the alliance between James’s son-in-law Frederick and Bethlen, as the prince was supported by the Turks, and they were generally anxious for peace.
Some other testimony for adaptation
The testimony that Measure had been creatively remade is reinforced by the references to piracy. The actual Vienna, unlike London, was not a maritime city. Accordingly, the possibility of pirates was excluded. Meanwhile trade routs to England passed through the Low Countries, washed by the sea. The opening lines refer to pirates:
Lucio Thou concludes’t like the sanctimonious pirate,
That went to sea with the Ten Commandments, but
Scrap’d one out of the table
Only in 1609 did pirates become a regular menace to English shipping. In 1620, Sir Robert Mansell was appointed General of the Fleet destined to chastise the Algerine pirates, who still continued their depredations on the shipping in the Channel1. Between 22 September and 21 October of 1621 Sir Robert Mansell was at sea leading an expedition against pirates in the Mediterranean. In October 57 British merchant ships were captured by pirates. This ambiguity of messages proves that the author was trying to create a city that would refer a reader/spectator to both Vienna and London. The news from the war (associated with Vienna) and the allusion to piracy (associated with London) introduce the two cities simultaneously. One more evidence in favor of the text modification is found in the passage of Mistress Overdone who mentions the “poverty” in I.ii.78 which may refer to the economic depression of 1619-1624, the severest England had experienced by that time.
Mistress. Overdone Thus, what with the war, what with the sweat,
What with the gallows, and what with poverty, I am
Where then did Shakespeare set in?
Shakespeare, writing Measure, was thinking of Italy, not Germany. Although throughout the play the duke is not attributed a proper name, the personae list calls the Duke ”Vincentio”, a common Italian name Shakespeare used for an Italian character in his Taming of the Shrew. “Lucio” is also an Italian name, used in Romeo and Juliet, and of course Juliet too. “Claudio”, “Isabella”, “Angelo”, “Marianna” and “Bernardine” are also names given elsewhere to specifically Italian characters. The prisoner with the unique non Italian name Ragozine is a pirate. Although Escalus is not typically Italian, it is a Latin name. Middleton presumably left all other Italian names because changing them would have required profound correction of the play.
Furthermore, vineyards are mentioned three times. Like other Renaissance Englishmen, Shakespeare associated wine with Italy, not Austria. Italy was also notorious for lechery and prostitution. Prostitution and sexuality are the main vices associated with the city portrayed in Measure. On the contrary, according to the stereotype that was current at the time, the Germans and northern Europeans were less lecherous.
We know for sure that Shakespeare read Giambattista Giraldi Cinthio’s popular book Ecatommiti1 and used Tale 85 for Measure. Some scholars are convinced he used some material from Tale 56 and was particularly influenced by the role in that story of a “Duke of Ferrara”. The book was written while Cinthio was living in Ferrara. In the sixteenth century, under the patronage of the Este family, the independent city of Ferrara rivaled and in many ways surpassed Florence as the centre of Italian literary culture. The Duke of Ferrara was a patron of both Tasso and Guarini, who together created a model of tragicomedy that began to influence English drama, including, in particular, Measure, at the very beginning of the seventeenth century. Obviously the city might be appreciated for such achievements in literature and art. Not only Shakespeare but Middleton himself set his Phoenix, performed at Court in February 1604, in Ferrara. This play includes a Duke of Ferrara as well. Marston’s character the Duke of Ferrara has much in common with Vincentio. Ferrara is mentioned as well in Shakespeare and John Fletcher All is True III.2. 324 (in the passage usually attributed to Shakespeare).
So, the evidence for Italian Ferrara is particularly strong. It grows even stronger in view of the fact that the word Ferrara is metrically similar to Vienna and that it could have been substituted easily without changing the verse.
There are reasons to suppose that Shakespeare set the play in Italian Ferrara and that Middleton changed the setting in order to establish the Thirty Years War as a backdrop. So, the first part of the present research makes an attempt to reject the adopted (in the First Folio) setting in the German city of Vienna, while the second part aims to ascertain the original setting. Some direct or indirect evidences for the eventual adaptation include:
1. Shakespeare's 1603-04 audience would not have had any particular association with Vienna; indeed, Measure for Measure is the only English play written before 1660 that is set in Vienna. Vienna was known primarily as “the principall Bulwarke of all Christendome against the Turke,” yet Shakespeare makes no reference to Turks, Moors, or Ottomans in the play.
2. The play contains several obvious signs of revision including:
- systematic expurgation consistent with 1608 Act to Restrain Abuses by Players;
- act divisions;
- a stanza of a Fletcher’s song that was written between 1617 and 1620.
3. An October 1621 English newsletter describing the King of Hungary's advance on Vienna provides a basis for Lucio’s remark about the Dukes coming “not to composition with the King of Hungary...”, and the first gentleman’s rejoinder “Heaven grant us its peace, but not the King of Hungaries”.
4. The Italian names of the characters suggest that the play’s original setting was in Italy, and Shakespeare’s audience would have associated the city’s sexual licentiousness with Italy, not Germany.
The use of Ferrara was a common setting for other plays of the same period.
“Ferrara” has the same metrical structure as “Vienna”.
Universita’ degli studi di roma “tor vergata” facolta’ di lettere e filosofia
Corso di Laurea Magistrale in
Lingue e Letterature Europee ed Americane
Per il corso di Letteratura Inglese
MEASURE FOR MEASURE: ORIGINAL AND ACTUAL PLACE OF SETTING
Curatore: Prof.ssa Daniela Guardamagna Studente: Usova Anna, LLEA LS 1 a. a 2008/2009