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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: March ::
Measure for Measure and a Puzzle
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0127  Tuesday, 7 March 2006

[1] 	From: 	C. David Frankel <
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	Date: 	Monday, 6 Mar 2006 10:44:50 -0500
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0112 Measure for Measure and a Puzzle

[2] 	From: 	David Richman <
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	Date: 	Monday, 6 Mar 2006 10:46:49 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0112 Measure for Measure and a Puzzle

[3] 	From: 	Arnie Perlstein <
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	Date: 	Mon, 6 Mar 2006 10:54:58 -0500
	Subj: 	Measure for Measure

[4] 	From: 	Donald Bloom <
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	Date: 	Monday, 6 Mar 2006 09:55:39 -0600
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0112 Measure for Measure and a Puzzle

[5] 	From: 	Edmund Taft <
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	Date: 	Monday, 06 Mar 2006 10:56:32 -0500
	Subj: 	Measure for Measure and a Puzzle

[6] 	From: 	Peter Hyland <
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	Date: 	Monday, 06 Mar 2006 10:58:44 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0112 Measure for Measure and a Puzzle

[7] 	From: 	Marilyn A. Bonomi <
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	Date: 	Monday, 6 Mar 2006 11:30:12 -0500
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0112 Measure for Measure and a Puzzle

[8] 	From: 	Jim Blackie <
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	Date: 	Monday, 6 Mar 2006 11:42:52 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0112 Measure for Measure and a Puzzle

[9] 	From: 	V. K. Inman <
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	Date: 	Monday, 06 Mar 2006 17:00:50 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0112 Measure for Measure and a Puzzle

[10]	From: 	Kristen McDermott <
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	Date: 	Monday, 6 Mar 2006 22:45:14 -0500
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0112 Measure for Measure and a Puzzle



[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		C. David Frankel <
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Date: 		Monday, 6 Mar 2006 10:44:50 -0500
Subject: 17.0112 Measure for Measure and a Puzzle
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0112 Measure for Measure and a Puzzle

I don't believe that the assignment is impossible, depending on the 
context of the class and the criteria that have been set up.  For 
instance, if the class has covered basic ideas about the genres of 
comedy and tragedy (admittedly partial, as virtually all such ideas will 
be-is this a graduate or undergraduate class, by the way), then the 
student should be able to articulate the ways in which MM matches or 
doesn't match the provisional definitions/descriptions of those genres 
discussed in class.

I doubt that the professor expects a comprehensive review of all 
possible notions of tragedy and comedy and all the contentions for or 
against Measure fitting into either or neither genre.  Rather, I suspect 
the assignment encourages students to think critically about the play 
and to marshal an argument that demonstrates that thinking.

C. David Frankel

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		David Richman <
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Date: 		Monday, 6 Mar 2006 10:46:49 -0500
Subject: 17.0112 Measure for Measure and a Puzzle
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0112 Measure for Measure and a Puzzle

I think the definitive pronouncement on this question is Samuel 
Johnson's. Johnson argues that all Shakespeare's plays are tragicomedies 
because the dramatist is preeminently the poet of nature, and nature is 
tragicomic. Johnson's pronouncement is that Shakespeare writes neither 
tragedies nor comedies, . . . .but compositions of a distinct kind 
exhibiting the real state of sublunary nature, which partakes of good 
and evil, Joy and sorrow, in which at the same time, the reveler is 
hasting to his wine and the mourner burying his friend; in which the 
malignity of one is sometimes defeated by the frolic of another, and 
many mischiefs and many benefits are done and hindered without design.'

I deal at length with this issue, taking on the similarities between the 
duke (perhaps of dark corners) and Prospero in my **Laughter, Pain, and 
Wonder.**  David Richman

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Arnie Perlstein <
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Date: 		Mon, 6 Mar 2006 10:54:58 -0500
Subject: 	Measure for Measure

Stuart Manger wrote:

"A university student of my acquaintance has been set an assignment to 
comment as follows: 'Measure for Measure - a tragedy, a comedy, or 
something in between? My first reaction when I had heard her cry of 
panic was that this is an almost impossible assignment, that scholars 
for decades had wrestled with precisely this issue, that there was far, 
far too much to say....I tried to map out a few answers, and I was way 
up into 4k words before I realised that I had not ever not to the Duke 
as a thoroughly Machiavellian and toad like deus ex machina who had for 
his own purposes screwed up a lot of lives. Is there a parallel in 
Prospero - then I stopped, realising that the assignment was simply 
undoable."

Measure for Measure (alongside its more or less contemporaneous sibling, 
Hamlet, and its fraternal twin, All's Well That Ends Well) is the 
quintessential "problem play" precisely because in it, Shakespeare and 
his "Mini-Me" Duke Vincentio both exploit their positions of total power 
(the Duke in Vienna, SS in the theater) to deliberate create a fog of 
ambiguity, manipulation and confusion that settles on all the other 
characters, and on the audience, to leave us all guessing as to what the 
hell they each are actually doing, and why. I.e., Shakespeare, among 
other things, is holding up a mirror to his own play-writing actions and 
inviting the metadramatically sensitive reader/audience member to 
reflect on the relationship between playwright and audience/reader.

And I do believe that the same point was being made, in a different way, 
in The Tempest. Prospero is, I believe, the closest thing to the Duke in 
the rest of Shakespeare's plays, in that role as puppetmaster. Although 
Portia gives them a run for their money.   ;)

Arnie

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Donald Bloom <
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Date: 		Monday, 6 Mar 2006 09:55:39 -0600
Subject: 17.0112 Measure for Measure and a Puzzle
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0112 Measure for Measure and a Puzzle

Stuart Manger writes: "A university student of my acquaintance has been 
set an assignment to comment as follows: 'Measure for Measure - a 
tragedy, a comedy, or something in between?' ...........oh yes, and by 
the way, complete this in 2500 words!!!"

Two comments:

Some questions are undoable only at a level of sophistication and 
knowledge well beyond that of most undergraduates. At the lower level 
they are eminently doable, seeking only a modicum of competence and 
insight, and not a publishable comprehensive theory of the play.

In this case, however, I am myself perplexed since I am not sure under 
what definition of tragedy this play would qualify. I do not want to be 
excessively rigorous in the defining of terms, but if we become too lax, 
the words have no meaning at all.

Does the professor mean by "tragedy" anything that is not-comedy?

Cheers,
don

P.S. I think we need to cut the duke a little slack. In a play full of 
characters who are spiritually / psychologically lost, he is among the 
lostest.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Edmund Taft <
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Date: 		Monday, 06 Mar 2006 10:56:32 -0500
Subject: 	Measure for Measure and a Puzzle

Stuart Manger rightly points out that sometimes we give assignments that 
are inappropriate to our students. I don't have a clue as to what 
classical genre _MfM_ fits into - except that I'm pretty well convinced 
that it is an ironic tragicomedy. The worst MA exam question I ever had 
to answer was "What is _King Lear_ about?"  The worst Ph.D. question was 
a half-hour mandatory question on the sonnets: "List and describe the 
major themes and concerns of Shakespeare's sonnets. Be sure to provide 
precise references in your answer." (This was not an 'open-book' 
examination!)

But my impression is that such "monster" questions are largely a thing 
of the past. Am I right? Or are there still hoards of professors out 
there eagerly making up impossible questions for their panic-stricken 
students?

Ed Taft

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Peter Hyland <
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Date: 		Monday, 06 Mar 2006 10:58:44 -0500
Subject: 17.0112 Measure for Measure and a Puzzle
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0112 Measure for Measure and a Puzzle

What sorts of question does Stuart Manger think teachers should assign 
(I'm always open to ideas)? Surely any question about a complex text 
that is worth considering can be wrestled with on many levels. The 
teacher who assigned this question would hardly be expecting a 
definitive answer from the student. Rather, the student would be 
expected to show that she has understood the implications of the 
question, and has thought about the kinds of evidence that could be used 
in formulating an answer. If she manages this well and gets a decent 
grade she might want to address the question again some years up the 
line, and write the answer that Stuart Manger seems to think her teacher 
wants, as a PhD dissertation.

Peter Hyland

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Marilyn A. Bonomi <
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Date: 		Monday, 6 Mar 2006 11:30:12 -0500
Subject: 17.0112 Measure for Measure and a Puzzle
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0112 Measure for Measure and a Puzzle

Perhaps, in an assignment like this, there are degrees of expectation?

The same question can be set at different levels of student 
accomplishment *if* the expectations are also adjusted.

After all, with fewer resources to draw on, the responder will no doubt 
be brief.  Perhaps not profound, but certainly to the point.

I'm not defending the task nor the task-setter, as I do not know the 
expectations surrounding the task.

However, I'd expect (from my perspective) a response that demonstrates 
knowledge of the essential definitions: tragedy and comedy.  Then an 
application of each to the text.  Then a decision based on the evidence 
accumulated from the text: tragedy, comedy, or... Wow! Some new 
definition (new, at least, to the student) placing it somewhere other 
than the two polar extremes.

I think I (with my very limited background as a high school English 
teacher, who had perhaps 6-7 courses total that would play into this 
topic, and many of those 40+ years ago)could provide an answer on the 
level I'm describing; I am certain I could not, in a year, begin to 
approach the sophistication and profoundness of depth and understanding 
that the scholars on this list could achieve.  Still, I think I could 
give a satisfactory answer in this context (were I to go back and reread 
the text with the intention of finding one), especially had I the 
definitions of "tragedy" and "comedy" presented by the professor who set 
the task.  Of course I probably would create my own definitions based on 
a range of sources <g>... But still I think I could do the task in 2500 
words.

Mari Bonomi

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Jim Blackie <
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Date: 		Monday, 6 Mar 2006 11:42:52 -0500
Subject: 17.0112 Measure for Measure and a Puzzle
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0112 Measure for Measure and a Puzzle

 >From: Stuart Manger
 >A university student of my acquaintance has been set an assignment to
 >comment as follows:
 >'Measure for Measure - a tragedy, a comedy, or something in between?'
 >...........oh yes, and by the way, complete this in 2500 words!!!
 >
 >If only!

Perhaps it was meant as an exercise for the mind wherein the PROCESS is 
the actual benefits, rather than the written product? It certainly 
challenged you, as it would us all.

BTW, I was fortunate enough to catch Posner's production of that very 
play at the Folger last month. Twice. Through the use of exaggerated 
comic lines (that are repeated) and the use of large puppets to 
represent both the comical characters and an alternative puppet-duke 
(the duke uses the wooden form instead of a hooded frock to achieve his 
deception). It was the best thing I'd seen in years. It made it clear 
where was the comedy, which I'd never noticed in my readings, or the BBC 
TV production.

Jim Blackie

[9]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		V. K. Inman <
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Date: 		Monday, 06 Mar 2006 17:00:50 -0500
Subject: 17.0112 Measure for Measure and a Puzzle
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0112 Measure for Measure and a Puzzle

Having taught Shakespeare on both high school and college levels, I 
would not be so quick to regard this as an impossible assignment.  An 
average student could at least point out one of the reasons for 
regarding it as a tragedy and one of the reasons for regarding it a 
comedy, then give a personal opinion.  A response of this sort would be 
given a grade of C-.  The beauty of the question is that it allows the 
brilliant student to be brilliant and weigh in on some of the arguments. 
If some one could concisely summarize the arguments and then show keen 
insight as to what they believe the correct answer is, they would get 
and A.  I do not believe this to be an impossible assignment, even 
though it is one without a definitive answer.

V. K. Inman

[10]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Kristen McDermott <
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Date: 		Monday, 6 Mar 2006 22:45:14 -0500
Subject: 17.0112 Measure for Measure and a Puzzle
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0112 Measure for Measure and a Puzzle

'Measure for Measure - a tragedy, a comedy, or something in between?' 
...........oh yes, and by the way, complete this in 2500 words!!!

I agree completely with Stuart Manger that such glib "assignments" help 
our students not at all. Not to mention the fact that such general 
topics are open invitations to plagiarize. When I set essay topics for 
undergraduates nowadays, I always give them a specific text to respond 
to -- an excerpt from a critical essay, for example, or from a related 
primary source -- and require that they make specific connections 
between the play text(s) and the additional text. I save general genre, 
character, or "theme" questions for in-class exams. One of my favorite 
exam essay questions is to ask them to write a proposal to the Chair of 
the Drama Department arguing which of the plays from our syllabus would 
make the best choice for the upcoming production season, and why.

Kris McDermott
Central Michigan University

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