refutation of the predominant criminological theory of the time, Italian positivism, whose mostfamous proponent, Cesare Lombroso, argued that criminality was a biological trait recognizableby physical signs such as a sloping forehead or narrowness between the eyes. Dr. Goringmeasured hundreds of English prisoners from head to toe and administered batteries of tests tothem, correlating each measure with every other, and concluding that,
Measure for Measure
,there was no such thing as the biological criminal type.At the time, this argument decisively swept the field: criminals are made, not born. But norefutation of so broad a theory as Italian positivism is ever quite decisive, and since thenbiological theories of crime have made a spirited, if still wrongheaded, comeback. The heredity of criminality and the neurobiology of illicit acquisition and aggression are once again respectablesubjects of research, though they can never explain the important question of why some eras or populations are more crime-ridden than others.
he relation between the biological and the social, between the animal and the human, is theprincipal theme of
Measure for Measure
, as it was of Dr. Goring’s less inspired, but still important,work. And Shakespeare certainly gives biology its due. Not only is his play anti-puritanical, but itrecognizes without censoriousness the strength of the sexual urge and the intense pleasure itoffers. The comic characters of the play (and
Measure for Measure
is counted amongShakespeare’s comedies, though its theme could hardly be more serious, and a tragic outcome isonly just averted) are almost innocent in their cheerful acceptance of fornication as a permanentand welcome feature of human existence. Certainly Mistress Overdone, the innkeeper whosehostelry is also a brothel of which she is the madam, Pompey her tapster, and Lucio, “aFantastic,” never sink anywhere near the depths of evil to which Angelo sinks, on account of theinevitable conflict between his unbending principles and his own human nature. Better a certainmoral elasticity than complete moral rigidity. Moreover, an evening in their company would bevery much more fun than an evening with Isabella, however morally perfect she might be. And if Ihad to guess what Shakespeare’s personal attitude was to Mistress Overdone and her cronies, itwould be affection, not outrage.These comic characters are not without insight into human nature. When Mistress Overdonelearns that Angelo has ordered that “All houses [brothels] in the suburbs of Vienna must beplucked down,” Pompey consoles her:Come, fear not you; good counsellors lack no clients.Though you change your place, you need not change your trade.The oldest profession will survive whatever the laws against it might be, for human nature willnever change. Similarly, when Lucio, a libertine somewhat higher up the social ladder thanMistress Overdone and Pompey, speaks to the Duke (at the time still disguised as a friar) aboutLord Angelo, he suggests that “a little more lenity to lechery would do no harm in him.” The Dukereplies, “It is too general a vice, and severity must cure it.” With a shrewd realism, Lucio sayssomething whose truth only a man deluded by his moral enthusiasm, such as Angelo is, wouldnot recognize at once: “it is impossible to extirp it quite . . . till eating and drinking be put down.”Lust really does spring eternal.
ut Shakespeare most decidedly does not leave it at that. He does not say, or in any way imply,that because lust is eternal, because it can never be extirpated quite, any and all sexual relationsare perfectly in order and morally equal. I do not think, for example, that Shakespeare would viewthe sexual free-for-all of contemporary Britain—with its harvest of child neglect and abuse, morbid jealousy, sexual violence, and egocentric savagery—with the complacent impassivity of today’sBritish intelligentsia. On the contrary: he would loathe it, for its consequences are precisely whathe sees lurking in human nature if civilizing restraint be removed. Shakespeare is not a partisanof the noble savage who lives by instinct alone: rather, it is the savage in man that he fears and