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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: September ::
Question on Measure for Measure
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1644  Friday, 3 September 2004

[1]     From:   Thomas Larque <
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        Date:   Thursday, 2 Sep 2004 13:54:59 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1632 Question on Measure for Measure

[2]     From:   Peter Bridgman <
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        Date:   Thursday, 2 Sep 2004 21:36:23 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1632 Question on Measure for Measure


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Larque <
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Date:           Thursday, 2 Sep 2004 13:54:59 +0100
Subject: 15.1632 Question on Measure for Measure
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1632 Question on Measure for Measure

 >>"Why look for a highly unlikely - if not ridiculous - esoteric
 >>explanation for the play?  Mariana published his book on currency at
 >>least a year after Measure for Measure appeared. End of story."
 >
 >This is unfair and really chop logic, Peter. First, currency issues and
 >Mariana's link to them were well known long before he published his
 >book.

I have to say that I agree with Peter Bridgman far more than with Ed
Taft or Tom Krause.  Having read the essay, it looks suspiciously like
the trivial pieces of information on which Krause's claims are formed
are the sort that might be easily assembled and referenced by a person
with modern research tools (in particular the internet) who can feed in
search terms until he forcibly finds a minor connection between the name
"Claudius" and "debasement" for example, but they do not look anything
like the sort of information that would normally be known to your
ordinary Jacobean Englishman, and this hypothetical Englishman (who just
happens to know everything that we do - and a little bit more) certainly
couldn't have put it into literature and expected anybody in his
audience to recognise the significance of his supposed "allegory" unless
the person watching the play had happened to read Tom Krause's essay (or
something very like it) beforehand, and therefore had immediate contact
with all the same pieces of obscure trivia and the ability to decipher
them from the play in just the right way.

Krause's "coincidences" are characterised by triviality, tenuous
connections that require long explanations to make clear, and special
pleading - for example, Mariana didn't publish his book on the
debasement of coinage until after "Measure for Measure" was written and
performed, but somehow the play was massively rewritten (despite the
fact that Krause's argument depends on major elements of the story
having been created around the theme that he creates, so that the major
elements of this theme being first introduced in rewrites would seem
virtually impossible), or Shakespeare not only heard masses about this
foreign historian and philosopher (despite the fact that virtually
nobody in England is likely to have known his views in any great detail,
given that the Jacobean world was not a global village with a global
media) but this included a lot of information that happens to have been
entirely lost to us, and which makes up for the fact that a lot of the
things that Krause built his theory on hadn't happened at the time that
Shakespeare wrote his play.

Taft says "currency issues and Mariana's link to them were well known
long before he published his book".  This would be a lot more relevant
if Taft told us what evidence he has for this claim.  What makes us
think that a middle-class Englishman in Jacobean London would have had
any idea of the non-printed views of an academic who spoke in a
different language and for an audience in a completely different
country?  Is Ed Taft - even in this modern world with international
media and international scholarship - able to tell me what any major
Spanish economic theorist thinks of the state of the Euro (without any
printed source for this knowledge - so he must know what they are
saying, not what they are writing)?  How likely is Ed Taft to write a
play in which he uses an "allegory" based on that Spanish economist's
name and opinions?  Unless Taft and Krause can produce English sources
discussing Mariana and his views on currency debasement before "Measure
for Measure" was written and performed, then they cannot claim that this
is information that Shakespeare is even remotely likely to have known.
Of course even if they did find this evidence it would not prove their
case, since there are almost certainly English-language journals talking
about the views of modern Spanish economists on the Euro, but that
doesn't mean that a particular individual (Ed Taft, say, or myself) has
read these documents.

I am afraid that Taft and Krause are both suffering from extreme
gullibility in relation to "coincidences", and the theories that can be
built up from these coincidences.  If they want to show themselves how
many corrupt and ridiculous theories can be built on the basis of the
sort of logic used in Krause's essay, they need only read their way
through the mountain of ridiculous anti-Stratfordian scholarship, which
daily uses similar techniques to prove all sorts of entirely
contradictory things about Shakespeare's plays and their author.  It is
true that, like Krause's essay, these works sometimes have you saying to
yourself "What a coincidence!" and "What a clever rhetorical argument!",
but since they routinely prove the opposite of what other logically and
evidentially identical arguments prove (some say that "Hamlet" is about
King James, some that it is about Queen Elizabeth, some that it is about
the Earl of Oxford, and it can't be about all of them with each
individual line meaning six hundred different things) it is fairly
obvious that all - or virtually all - of these arguments are wrong.
Just as Krause is almost certainly wrong.

Besides, Taft claims that Shakespeare did use allegory of this kind in
his plays.  I would be interested to see a single instance of similar
allegory being openly discussed in Renaissance documents about any play.
  A real allegorical Renaissance play is likely to look more like "A
Game at Chess" (which took digs at particular real figures) than like
the fantasy concoction based on tenuous trivia and wordgames that Krause
constructs, and of course the allegorical nature of "A Game at Chess"
was well recorded at the time that it was produced.

Thomas Larque.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Bridgman <
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Date:           Thursday, 2 Sep 2004 21:36:23 +0100
Subject: 15.1632 Question on Measure for Measure
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1632 Question on Measure for Measure

For Ed Taft and Tom Krause ...

 >... you seem to think that Shakespeare does not put little
 >allegories in his plays. You are dead wrong.

Of course he puts allegories in his plays.  King Lear is one big allegory.

Measure for Measure was written in 1603 as Elizabeth died and James came
to the throne.  To English Catholics this was a time of great hope.  The
new queen, Anne of Denmark, was a Catholic convert and had promised Rome
she would bring up her children as Catholics.  The powerful Earl of
Northumberland had sent Thomas Percy up to Edinburgh and had secured a
promise of religious toleration from James.  Henry Garnet, head of the
Jesuit mission in England, wrote in 1603:  "a golden time we have of
unexpected freedom ... great hope is of toleration".  Garnet's great
hope was that English Catholics would soon have the religious toleration
that Protestants enjoyed in France.

This is the atmosphere in which Measure for Measure was written.  At a
time when members of Catholic religious orders were banned from England,
on pain of death, Shakespeare wrote a play peopled with Franciscan monks
and nuns of St Clare.  Not only is the Duke disguised as a friar, he
hears confession from prisoners and absolves them of their sins.  In
1603 the real friars (disguised as noblemen) in London were risking
execution for practicing the sacraments.

Whether Shakespeare was a Catholic recusant like his dad, or a
church-papist like so many of his friends, or just a bleeding-heart
liberal like me who opposes the death penalty, we do not know.  What we
do know is that he wrote a play in 1603 that is very clearly a plea for
toleration.

Peter Bridgman

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