The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1909  Tuesday, 19 October 2004

From:           Tom Krause <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 18 Oct 2004 22:10:21 -0400
Subject: Question on Measure for Measure
Comment:        SHK 15.1900 Question on Measure for Measure

M. Yawney writes:

 >"One thing that is not clear to me about your theory is how it relates
 >elements from the source play to the allegory. Surely those plot and
 >character elements would demonstrate some friction against the allegory?"

Actually, I've always thought that comparison with Shakespeare's sources
only supports the theory, because the elements of MFM that make up the
debasement allegory - Mariana, Isabella's name, the expanded role of the
Duke, etc. - are all additions to the underlying story.  Where is the

M. Yawney also writes:

 >Also, why would Shakespeare have chosen Promos and Cassandra to build
 >such a complex structure on when surely it would have been easier to
 >create his own plot structure if he was interested in commenting on
 >these monetary issues?"

For starters, bear in mind that Shakespeare rarely created his plot
structures out of whole cloth (last I heard, he did so only 2 out of 37
times).  P&C gave him a basic plot structure and saved him the time and
trouble of having to come up with one on his own.  As to why he would
choose P&C (or Epitia, for that matter, or the stock story underlying
them both), remember that the theory is that he wanted to use a reverse
debasement metaphor - i.e. instead of the usual use of debased coins to
represent debased human beings, he wanted a story that would allow him
to use human debasement as a metaphor for debasement of the coinage.
P&C was an excellent vehicle for this, as it has much to do with human

On the other hand, the debasement allegory is not a particularly
"complex" structure on top of P&C, and despite what I've said above, I
think one could argue that the additions needed were so simple that it's
entirely possible that the idea for adding a debasement allegory only
occurred to Shakespeare after he had chosen to write a play based on the
P&C story.  As everyone in this thread agrees, MFM is not just about
debasement of the coinage, and the debasement allegory might not have
been the most important point of the play to Shakespeare, who had a lot
to say about a wide variety of issues.

But maybe I'm not getting your point - are you saying that the
presentation of the theory suffers because it doesn't expressly address
Shakespeare's sources, or are you saying there is something in the
sources that somehow undermines the theory?  If it's the former, I can
simply add something along the above lines (i.e. to the effect that the
allegory from MFM is based on changes that WS made, a point that the
paper already makes in its discussion of Mariana); if it's the latter,
then I'd be very interested to hear how.

M. Yawney concludes:

 >"I find it hard to believe your ideas anyway since they make assumptions
 >that seem unlikely about how writers create their work, but to not
 >account for Promos and Cassandra's relationship to Measure to Measure
 >marginalizes the whole argument. It implies that your allegory was just
 >something tacked on by either Shakespeare or you to the body of a play
 >whose real concerns are elsewhere."

I can't tell if your statement that my ideas "make assumptions that seem
unlikely about how writers create their work" is an independent thought.
  If it is, all I can say is that if a writer wanted to insert a
debasement allegory into a dramatic work, nothing in my paper limits the
writer to any particular method of doing so.  If your argument is that
no writer would ever think to insert an allegory into a dramatic work,
then that's a different argument which you'll have to flesh out.

I think the remainder of your paragraph circles back to your original
point.  Although you say it dismissively, the implication you see is
correct - WS started with his source, and "tacked on" a debasement
allegory, just as he "tacked on" a lot of beautiful language and deep
thoughts about justice, mercy, and, if Peter Bridgman and others who
have proposed the same thing are correct, religious toleration.  What
does the fact that all this has been "tacked on" have to do with the
merits of the argument?

Looking at it another way, if we could get at the "real concerns" of MFM
simply by studying P&C, we've been barking up the wrong tree for a long
time now.  Of course, it's Shakespeare's additions to the sources that
many find make the play "problematic," and the debasement theory
proposes solutions to those problems, not problems in P&C.

Larry Weiss writes:

 >"There are only about 400 extant English plays for the period antedating
 >M/M.  It would be the work of an hour or two online to answer this
 >question, and Mr. Krause can do it as well as Mr. Larque.  My guess is
 >that precisely two plays have Marianas involved in bed tricks.  But if
 >there were more, if it were as common as mistaken identity in modern
 >crime drama, that would cut against Krause's theory, as the use of
 >Mariana in a bed trick would merely be a common device not likely to
 >allude to Juan de Mariana."

My guess matches yours - Mr. Larque identified one, and Sarah Cohen
identified another; I'm sure one or both of them would have told us if
there were more.

But I had the same trouble you did understanding Mr. Larque's argument:
it's true that if there were a strong positive correlation between
Marianas and bed tricks that would weigh (ever so slightly, see below)
against my theory, but Mr. Larque seems to be arguing that because
Shakespeare might have been familiar with another play where Mariana was
involved in a bed-trick (although not as the substituted bedmate), that
*must* mean that Shakespeare named his Mariana after that Mariana.
That's a terrible argument.  As I've said, putting the debasement
allegory aside, the chance that Shakespeare named his Mariana after Fair
Em's Mariana is considerably slimmer than the chance that he chose the
name at random, given that the Marianas played different roles in the
bed-trick and given that there doesn't seem to be any evidence that
Shakespeare was in the habit of borrowing names for his characters from
other dramatists.

Your aside that I could do the grunt work as well as Mr. Larque deserves
a brief comment: the "Fair-Em-Mariana" theory is his, not mine, and I am
content to rest on the fact that no scholar in the past 400 years has
pointed to a prevalence of Marianas in bed-tricks as an explanation for
the name of MFM's Mariana (despite considerable literature on bed-tricks
as well as curiosity about Mariana's name), and I can also take comfort
from the fact that Mr. Larque would have told us if there were more than
two.  If I had to spend 1-2 hours refuting every possible weak and
unsupported argument that could be raised against the debasement theory,
I'd never finish (for starters, wouldn't I have to do a similar analysis
seeking and then refuting "borrowing" explanations for "Isabella" and
"Claudio" as well?).

To take it one step further, even if we were to find some sort of
correlation between Marianas and bed tricks, that doesn't prove much.
For example, I see significance in the fact that Mariana's brother the
great soldier Frederick who died at sea had the same name as a great
soldier who had recently died at sea, just as others see significance in
references to the gallows, the sweat, the war and an order about
plucking down houses.  If Shakespeare didn't mean Spinola, why would he
confuse his audience by using his name?  Wouldn't he have just picked a
name and occupation that didn't match those of someone who had recently
died at sea?  And if he did mean Spinola, doesn't that mean that Mariana
probably stands for something or someone as well?  So even if you could
correlate Marianas to bed tricks, the "Frederick" reference (among other
things) militates against that being the final answer.

Tom Krause

S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the
opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the
editor assumes no responsibility for them.

Subscribe to Our Feeds


Make a Gift to SHAKSPER

Consider making a gift to support SHAKSPER.