Generic Context in Measure For Measure

Problem Play, Comedy, and Tragedy Measure For Measure The following presentation aims to explore and analyse the extent to which Measure For Measure could be said to draw generic conventions from the following genres: •Problem Play; •Comedy; •Tragedy. There has been a significant amount of debate as to which of these genres, if any, that Shakespeare utilises the most conventions from in his creation of the play.

Chris Mawson, Paul Roberts and Paul Stringer

Generic Context in Measure For Measure
Problem Play, Comedy, and Tragedy

Problem Play
The source texts that Shakespeare used illustrate the problems in Measure For Measure. Shakespeare picked up the idea that the punishment is ‘extreme’ and has used it in the play. Isabella’s chastity is considered as ‘irrecoverable’, and this is her main motive for trying to convince her brother that his death is better in the long run than her loss of virginity.

In the Hecatommithi talks about Maximian handing power to Iuriste: ‘I have conceived of you… to send you as Governor’. ‘At this point Vico fell to weeping and begging her sister not to consent to his death’ – This desperation is reflected in M4M. Also in Cinthio, ‘there was a law, that what man soever committed Adultery, should lose his head’ ‘This severe lawe…became little regarded’ ‘by no persuasion would yeald to this raunsome’

Chris Mawson, Paul Roberts and Paul Stringer

Generic Context in Measure For Measure
Problem Play, Comedy, and Tragedy

Problem Play
Promos and Cassandra “For loving too kindlie, must lose his heade” “Unles Lord Promos graunt me grace” Source Text 4 “it hardly lies in me to save whom the law doth condemne” “merciful judge, new shew that in effect…save an Innocents life that lieth in your hands to destroy The Bible is in fact another source text that Shakespeare has drawn from. The title [Measure For Measure], which appears as a line of dialogue in the play, may be related to the Bible, Matthew 7:2: For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, And with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Chris Mawson, Paul Roberts and Paul Stringer

Generic Context in Measure For Measure
Problem Play, Comedy, and Tragedy

Problem Play
Puritans believed acting plays to be an offence against religion Anthony Miller comments that “Venetian law functions in an opposite way to law in Measure for Measure”, highlighting the abnormality of the judgement system in place during Angelo’s rule. Miller also notices that “When he is publicly shamed, Angelo begs for death rather than forgiveness: to the last, his role threatens to disrupt comic convention.” In conclusion, Measure For Measure could be considered to incorporate many generic conventions of the problem play genre, but one cannot suggest that it solely conforms to this genre – conventions of comedy and tragedy are also employed by Shakespeare, and should not be ignored.

Chris Mawson, Paul Roberts and Paul Stringer

Generic Context in Measure For Measure
Problem Play, Comedy, and Tragedy

Comedy
In addition to being considered a problem play, many critics consider Measure For Measure to be a “dark” comedy, through its use of bitterness and cynicism. Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences often liked to laugh at the misfortunes of others. There are numerous sources for this in Measure For Measure, such as the Duke unveiling his disguise at the end of the play, and subsequently punishing his disloyal subjects – causing them to suffer public humiliation. This idea of humiliation links to the carnival-style humour of “bathos” (bringing down to a mundane level – to the bodily and materialistic). The concept of disguise/mistaken identity and manipulation was also seen as being highly comedic by Elizabethan audiences. The structure of the play’s narrative is mainly based around secret identities and manipulation (e.g. that of Angelo on Isabella). Firstly, the Duke disguises himself as a friar, and many problems are resolved when he discloses his identity. Secondly, Vincentio advises other character to carry out two other plans involving mistaken identity. Mariana takes Isabella’s place in the bed of Angelo, and the head of Ragozine is sent to Angelo in the place of Claudio’s.

Chris Mawson, Paul Roberts and Paul Stringer

Generic Context in Measure For Measure
Problem Play, Comedy, and Tragedy

Tragedy – An Introduction
A Protagonist of High estate must fall from prosperity to misery This fall comes as a result of the protagonists ‘fatal flaw’ The audience must feel a sense of sympathy and pity when viewing the play and characters downfall Four basic stages of Tragedy according to Aristotle: Peripeteia – The fall of the hero suffers, from greatness to nothing Hamartia – The actual tragic flaw or hubris Anagnorisis – The stage of recognition by the protagnoist Catharsis – purging or cleansing of pity and fear from the spectators as they observe the action on stage

Chris Mawson, Paul Roberts and Paul Stringer

Generic Context in Measure For Measure
Problem Play, Comedy, and Tragedy Tragedy – How does it relate to Measure for Measure?
To describe Measure for Measure as a complete tragedy would be completely unjust. Looking at the previous conventions listed it is fair to say Measure for Measure does not entirely conform to them. Angelo seems the only character who presents a ‘fall’, his fatal flaw seems to be his greed for power but also his uncontrollable sexual desire for Isabella. Already there isn’t an obvious ‘fatal flaw’ emerging but instead a list of flaws Angelo possesses. Angelo also never reaches a stage of recognition but ultimately suffers in the end by being forced to marry Mariana. The lack of recognition by Angelo ultimately detracts Measure for Measure from tragic status. Finally the audience never feel a sense of pity for Angelo or for that fact any of the characters, this is another way in which Measure for Measure doesn’t conform entirely to conventions of a tragedy.

Chris Mawson, Paul Roberts and Paul Stringer

Generic Context in Measure For Measure
Problem Play, Comedy, and Tragedy

Conclusions
In conclusion, one can determine that Measure For Measure draws many generic conventions from the genres explored in this presentation. However, due to the amount of evidence present with regards to all three, it would be unfair to argue that the play conforms solely to one of these – and instead can be considered a hybridisation of the problem play, comedy, and tragedy genres.

Chris Mawson, Paul Roberts and Paul Stringer