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MonkeyNotes-Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare
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SOURCES OF THE PLAY

Measure for Measure is based on the tale of Epitia and Juriste from a collection of stories by Giraldi Cinthio, published in Venice in 1566. Juriste, appointed governor of Innsbruck, passes the sentence of death on Vico for his crime against a woman. Vico's sister, Epitia begs for her brother's life. Deeply stirred by her beauty, Juriste is prepared to commute Vico's sentence if Epitia will satisfy his desire for her. Though she considers her honor far dearer, when her brother appeals to her to save his life, she surrenders herself to the corrupt Governor. She realizes her folly when her brother's coffin is carried into the house. She appeals to the Emperor. The Emperor arranges the marriage of Juriste and Epitia. He then sentences Juriste to death. However, Epitia begs the Emperor to pardon him. Astonished by her goodness, the emperor grants her request.


The other sources include the two versions of a similar story by George Whetstone. The earlier version is a play in two parts called Promos and Cassandra published in 1578, and the latter, a short narrative called the Rare History of Promos and Cassandra. In Whetstone's play, Cassandra debates whether she will let her brother Andrugio die or whether she will yield her honor to Promos. Like Isabella, she would gladly die in place of her brother, and she thinks death in itself is a lesser evil than loss of honor. The play presents certain simple and basic human passions and conflicts: Promos' dilemma between justice and lust, Andrugio's instinct to save himself at almost any cost, Cassandra's dilemma between the desire to save her brother's life and to save her honor. The human interest and the dramatic possibilities of the Cassandra plays kindled Shakespeare's imagination, and he proceeded in Measure for Measure to give his version of them. But Shakespeare makes his heroine resist the appeal of her brother to save his life. Whetstone's heroine has a divided mind and struggles with herself. But Isabella struggles with her brother and her would-be seducer. Cassandra, after having been violated, contemplates suicide. But in Measure for Measure, Isabella has no reason to meditate suicide.

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