Contextual References in 'Measure for Measure'

Topics: Seven deadly sins, Sexually transmitted disease, James I of England Pages: 2 (770 words) Published: February 17, 2013
HOW DOES SHAKESPEARE INFUSE ACT ONE OF ‘MEASURE FOR MEASURE’ WITH CONTEXTUAL REFERENCES?

‘Measure for Measure’ is set in Vienna, in 1603. It was written just after James the first, a protestant ruler came to the throne in England after the death of Queen Elizabeth, who was catholic. Religion is a big part of the play, especially in Act one, when the new proclamation is first introduced. Both Catholics and Puritans believe that sex before marriage is wrong, and during James the 1sts reign, the puritans tried to make adultery a criminal offence. This belief is portrayed in the play through Claudio, who is being arrested for getting his fiancé, Julietta pregnant. In Act one scene two, Pompey describes Claudio’s offence as “Groping for trouts in a peculiar river.” The word “peculiar” is used because Claudio and Julietta were nearly married, however hadn’t sorted out the dowry, a payment to the groom and his family from the bride’s family. (This was common practice in Jacobean/Elizabethan society.) The view that sex outside of marriage is wrong, is further emphasised by the belief in the seven deadly sins, the foundation of morality in Jacobean society. One of the deadly sins is Lechery (lust) which is what most of the population of Vienna is guilty of. This is why all the brothels in Vienna are going to be closed down and Claudio is being arrested, and used as an example to the rest of the people in Vienna. Angelo is the person who implements the law, and wants to kill Claudio as a punishment for his offence. He appears to be a strict puritan, and is described as “snow-broth” which means he is someone who doesn’t experience any immoral or sinful, sexual feelings, however, the audience soon change their views and start to view him as a hypocrite when he later on asks Isabelle to have sex with him in order to save her brother, Claudio. In London, and Vienna, common practice was the opposite to ideals of religion and state. For example, in Elizabethan and...


References: ‘Measure for Measure’ is set in Vienna, in 1603. It was written just after James the first, a protestant ruler came to the throne in England after the death of Queen Elizabeth, who was catholic.
Religion is a big part of the play, especially in Act one, when the new proclamation is first introduced. Both Catholics and Puritans believe that sex before marriage is wrong, and during James the 1sts reign, the puritans tried to make adultery a criminal offence. This belief is portrayed in the play through Claudio, who is being arrested for getting his fiancé, Julietta pregnant. In Act one scene two, Pompey describes Claudio’s offence as “Groping for trouts in a peculiar river.” The word “peculiar” is used because Claudio and Julietta were nearly married, however hadn’t sorted out the dowry, a payment to the groom and his family from the bride’s family. (This was common practice in Jacobean/Elizabethan society.)
The view that sex outside of marriage is wrong, is further emphasised by the belief in the seven deadly sins, the foundation of morality in Jacobean society. One of the deadly sins is Lechery (lust) which is what most of the population of Vienna is guilty of. This is why all the brothels in Vienna are going to be closed down and Claudio is being arrested, and used as an example to the rest of the people in Vienna. Angelo is the person who implements the law, and wants to kill Claudio as a punishment for his offence. He appears to be a strict puritan, and is described as “snow-broth” which means he is someone who doesn’t experience any immoral or sinful, sexual feelings, however, the audience soon change their views and start to view him as a hypocrite when he later on asks Isabelle to have sex with him in order to save her brother, Claudio.
In London, and Vienna, common practice was the opposite to ideals of religion and state. For example, in Elizabethan and Jacobean England, a religious person was thought to be noble and had a high status in society, and inheritance depended upon bloodlines in a family. However, pre marital or extra marital sex was very common, especially in royalty, and because of this, sexually transmitted diseases were also very common. Shakespeare illustrates this in scene two, where Lucio, Gent One and Gent Two are joking about sexually transmitted diseases outside the brothel. “I had as leif be a list of an English kersey as be piled, as thou art piled, for a French velvet” The characters are joking with each other about getting sexually transmitted diseases from prostitutes, as brothels were very common in Vienna. “French velvet” is a pun on sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis and also means prostitute. Another pun is used, on the word “piled” which refers to haemorrhoids or losing hair, both caused by syphilis.
People in Shakespeare’s time believed in physiognomy, and this is demonstrated during act one, scene on of the play when the duke is speaking to Angelo. “There is a kind of character in thy life That to th’observer doth thy history Fully unfold.” Physiognomy is the belief that external appearance is an indicator of a person’s personality, and here, the duke is saying that Angelo’s appearance shows that he is a religious and noble person. This is foreshadowing what happens later on in the play when we realise Angelo’s true character.
Shakespeare shows some similarities between the duke and King James who was ruling at the time when the play was written. This is shown in the Duke’s soliloquy, for example, “I do not relish well Their loud applause” suggests that the Duke is modest and doesn’t like being in the spotlight, which was similar to James the 1st’s personality. Shakespeare is trying to present two rulers who are both fair rulers, but have been too lenient in their ruling which has lead to London and Vienna to become ‘diseased’ actually, and metaphorically, as James was a lot more tolerant of people than Elizabeth was.
James’s belief in ‘The Divine Right Of Kings’ is also reflected in the play, through Angelo’s character, when he arrests Claudio and then sentences him to death for his crimes. This belief states that rulers were sent down from God and were God’s deputies on earth, so therefore, were a higher status than ordinary people. Angelo takes his role as ruler very seriously, and starts to act as if he is God, by interfering with matters of life and death.
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