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City Anamorphoses in Measure for Measure

Sophie CHIARI

Résumés

Mesure pour Mesure est une tragicomédie sombre dont l’intrigue se déroule dans une ville d’Europe centrale, lieu assez inhabituel chez Shakespeare, mais elle est aussi une pièce-palimpseste caractéristique des ambiguïtés géographiques dont le dramaturge est coutumier. L’auteur recourt en effet ici à des sources italiennes, utilise des procédés propres à la commedia dell’arte, donne à ses personnages des noms à consonance italienne et, comme c’est souvent le cas avec ses autres œuvres à consonance « italienne », il dote l’Italie d’un esprit libertaire aux antipodes de Vienne, où les mœurs sexuelles sont sur le point d’être soumises à des lois très strictes. Mais plutôt que de voir dans les références à l’Italie des preuves de la révision ultérieure de Mesure pour Mesure, le présent article s’efforce de montrer que Vienne fait sens dans la pièce et que Shakespeare, en proposant diverses perspectives curieuses de cette ville, a pu être influencé par les arts visuels de son temps. Par le biais d’effets esthétiques inattendus, il livre ainsi au spectateur une géographie expérimentale et anamorphique qui reproduit les contours d’une carte du tendre ambivalente où sexualité et désirs refoulés sont confrontés l’un à l’autre. À l’instar des Ambassadeurs d’Holbein qui nous fait passer d’une vision majestueuse du pouvoir et du savoir à une inquiétante tête de mort, Mesure pour Mesure nous emmène du palais du Duc Vincentio aux marges de la cité où l’on trouve au premier plan des putains et des bourreaux, des squelettes et des corps rongés par la syphilis.

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  • 1 By “pre-Gothic”, I refer to a play which mutatis mutandis foreshadows Horace Walpole’s The Castle o (...)
  • 2 See Coveney 2012, 27-42: “Ironically, given that it’s arguably the most city conscious of Shakespea (...)
  • 3 Draudt 2005, 95-115.
  • 4 As far as Measure for Measure is concerned, all references are to Lever’s edition (The Arden Shakes (...)

1Shakespeare always lends particular importance to the exotic locations of his plays, so that his personal geography must generally be associated with some sort of aesthetic or dramatic perspective. Measure for Measure may thus be regarded as what could be called a “pre-Gothic” tragicomedy unusually set in Vienna1. However, this disturbing tragicomedy dealing with the awkward theme of sex in the city2 can also be perceived as a palimpsest which exploits Shakespeare’s geographical ambiguities. Indeed, the playwright resorts to what looks like an Italian background endowed with a certain sense of freedom embodied by Lucio, the “Fantastic” of the play. Yet here, Shakespeare locates his plot in Central Europe, in a city where sexual mores are suddenly subjected to strict regulations. Indeed, as noted by Manfred Draudt, “the Viennese setting is inconsistent with the Italian local colour and names”3. However, rather than consider the barely concealed Italian background of Measure for Measure4 as evidence of authorial revision, this paper will argue that, in his satirical, Mannerist play, Shakespeare depicts a carnivalesque world where social hierarchies are put upside down. He does so in a fairly tortuous and complex way, i.e. by fashioning an experimental, anamorphic geography with a double-sided map which he uses as an objective correlative mirroring the ongoing battle between sexual licence and moral absolutes grounded on the suppression of desire.

1. Vienna, Italy

2While Austria is never mentioned in the text, everything in the plot, atmosphere and characters’ names is clearly Italian. As a consequence, the Italian flavour of Measure for Measure — a play supposed to take place in Central Europe, but whose characters are endowed with Italian habits, Italian vices (sodomy, jealousy, vanity and greed) and Italian names — must have come as no real surprise to early modern audiences.

  • 5 Redmond 2007, 214.
  • 6 Redmond 2000, 212.
  • 7 Quarmby 2012, 19.

3Shakespeare’s source is Italian, as the playwright adapted one of Giraldi Cinthio’s novellas, One Hundred Tales (Gli Hecatommithi), printed in 1565 and based on an ancient narrative theme usually referred to as the “monstrous ransom.” In fact, Cinthio had treated the subject in his collection of tales as well as in a play which Shakespeare may have read, Epitia, which was posthumously published in 1583. As to disguise, a theme which lies at the core of the plot structure of Measure for Measure, it keeps recurring in a number of so-called “Italian” plays written around 1605 by Middleton and Marston. The Malcontent, for instance, “with its compelling depiction of Genoese court intrigue,”5 was one of the most popular plays dealing with the subject. Curiously, Michael J. Redmond argues that Shakespeare actually displays his “dramatic superiority” over Marston by locating Measure for Measure in Vienna,6 “while still engaging with contemporary debates over perceived political disorder and misrule in the Italian ducal states of the early 1600s.”7 Such ambivalent critical attitude reveals that Catholic and carnivalesque Italy is actually part and parcel of Measure for Measure. Today, many critics insist on the fact that, though the playwright places Vienna centre stage, he indirectly addresses Italian issues.

4As early as 1582, a few years before the young William Shakespeare started his career, his contemporary Stephen Gosson blamed the Italians for invading the English stage and corrupting its spectators:

  • 8 Gosson 1923, 213-19.

Therefore the Devill, not contented with the number he hath corrupted with reading Italian baudery, because all cannot reade, presenteth us Comedies cut by the same patterne, which drag such a monstrous taile after them as is able to sweep whole cities into his lap.8

5Gosson’s anti-theatrical tract indicates that Italian comedies, full of immoral speeches, were popular with Elizabethan audiences. As a consequence, such comedies “cut by the same patterne” offered a number of challenging models to Elizabethan playwrights.

  • 9 Critics have long thought that the comedy dated back to 1604. However, in their revised edition of (...)
  • 10 Unfortunately, nothing can be asserted for sure, because it all depends on the date when All’s Well (...)

6If Shakespeare probably never visited Italy, he must have been familiar with many elements of commedia dell’arte. Throughout the play, the commedia’s elements and tropes remain, even if their translocation into tragicomedy makes them barely visible. Indeed, they shape the characterization of Lucio as well as the comic accusation in Elbow’s trial against Pompey. It thus comes as no surprise that, throughout the play, Shakespeare keeps referring to his former “Italian” works. Up to a certain point, Measure for Measure may be regarded as a transposition of two earlier comedies which are set in an Italian background, namely Much Ado About Nothing (1600) and All’s Well That Ends Well.9 From the first, set in Messina, the playwright retained his own translation of the Arlecchino figure, the foolish constable Dogberry, here rewritten as Elbow, another constable who launches inept and confused accusations against Pompey and Master Froth. As to the second, a problem play partly set in France, and partly in Florence, it provided Shakespeare with the bed trick scene initiated by Helena to gain mastery over Bertram, now reworked in the substitution of Mariana for Isabella in this darker city-comedy.10

  • 11 Cox 2007, 287 (note 63).

7Lastly, many parallels can be found between Measure for Measure and Machiavelli’s The Prince, when Machiavelli “commends Cesare Borgia for putting a cruel substitute in charge of cleaning up Romagna and then executing the man”11 (chapter seven). In Shakespeare’s play, the cruel regent is not executed, but his Machiavellian features certainly recall those of Machiavelli’s substitute. Paradoxically, with such a substitute as Angelo, the disguised duke has to act as another kind of “make-evil,” i.e. a form of good Machiavelli who does not simply observe his people but directly intervenes to trap and punish some of them. As a consequence, even though their objectives differ, both ruler and substitute lie, deceive, equivocate, and practice entrapment.

2. Vienna after all

  • 12 Shell 1988, 35.
  • 13 Shell 1988, 101.
  • 14 Draudt 2005.

8In spite of its Machiavellian rulers and its picturesque characters, Measure for Measure is unusually situated in Vienna, a city governed by a Duke, which looks like, but is not quite, an Italian city state. It is a place “where all acts of fornication result in bastards,”12 and where “Barnardine the murderer and Claudio the fornicator await the same capital punishment.”13 Signalled twice in act 1, scene 1, Vienna also appears in scenes 2 and 3, and it is spoken of no less than nine times throughout the play. Interestingly enough, “[m]ost of the references are made in the low-life scenes, so that Vienna becomes synonymous with prostitution and vice.”14 Up to a certain point, Vienna does not only call to mind an Italian city state, it also reminds the spectators of Shakespeare’s London. As Leah Marcus puts it:

  • 15 Marcus 1988, 186.

In Measure for Measure, the first mention of Vienna does not come until Escalus’s response to the duke’s long expository speech at the beginning of the play […] [1.1.22]. For contemporary London audiences, that sudden naming of the city may have caused a jolt — all the duke’s previous disquisition on government, with its talk of the ‘city’s institutions,’ ‘the terms / For common justice,’ and the formation of the commission of deputies, could easily have been imagined as referring to London, or at least to a less alien theatrical locale than Vienna. In the folio text, for readers of 1623 and after, the name Vienna is also withheld before Escalus’s seemingly offhanded reference.15

9So why Vienna? Gary Taylor asserts that Shakespeare was then the only English playwright before 1660 who chose this city as a background for a theatrical plot:

  • 16 Taylor 2004, 250.

[i]n 1604, for Shakespeare and Shakespeare’s audiences, Vienna would have meant nothing — or the wrong thing. Moreover, Shakespeare in 1604 would have had to deliberately and self-consciously intrude that meaningless setting into his play. None of the many known sources and analogues for Measure [for Measure] sets it in Vienna. Not one.16

  • 17 Hadfield and Hammond 2004, 214.

10According to Taylor, the hand responsible for making substantial changes to Measure for Measure in 1621 was no other than Thomas Middleton’s. Andrew Hadfield and Paul Hammond also make the point by asserting that “[to] a Calvinist like Middleton, Vienna indeed represented a religious and political threat because of the devious despotism associated with Habsburg rule.”17 Middleton is thus presumed to have substituted Vienna for Ferrara—the two names being endowed with the same number of syllables. Why Ferrara then? Because Middleton’s The Phoenix, a play performed at court in February 1604, seems to have anticipated the disguised duke motif; it took place in Ferrara and included a Duke of Ferrara among its characters.

  • 18 Maguire and Smith, “Many hands. A new Shakespeare collaboration?”, Times Literary Supplement, 20 Ap (...)

11In a recent issue of the TLS (April 20, 2012), Laurie Maguire and Emma Smith both argue that Thomas Middleton may also have had a hand in All’s Well That Ends Well, a comedy which had clear repercussions on Measure for Measure, in particular with the bed trick imagined by Vincentio. What if Middleton had invented or, at least, revised this original bed trick, a scheme he would have first devised in All’s Well? This would confirm Taylor’s hypothesis, for Middleton would then have rewritten Measure for Measure in the same manner as he had All’s Well. However, Maguire and Smith’s “preliminary survey of Middleton markers in All’s Well suggests that Middleton’s putative presence is most prominent in the Paroles scenes and gives responsibility for the bedtrick to Shakespeare.”18 More importantly, Brian Vickers and Marcus Dahl have refuted this attribution, preferring instead to insist on the links between the Italian All’s Well and the Austrian Measure for Measure. All’s Well, they write, is Shakespeare’s, not Middleton’s play:

  • 19 Vickers and Dahl, “What is infirm…,” Times Literary Supplement, 11 May 2012.

Although Maguire and Smith do their best to detach All’s Well from its place within Shakespeare’s canon by treating it as an isolated and suspect oddity, it has many links with Measure for Measure. Both have the basic plot-structure of tricking a man who has reneged on a marriage contract (Angelo, Bertram) into consummating it by sleeping with the woman he has forsaken, the so-called “bed trick”; both have a lesser character (Lucio, Parolles) whose parallel deceit and corruption are exposed; both feature women of exceptional virtue and strength of character (Helena, Isabella and Mariana in Measure).19

  • 20 Draudt 2005.

12So, little doubt remains that Shakespeare himself devised the bed trick. Generally speaking, no convincing argument has yet been adduced to prove that Shakespeare did not want the bed trick, and the play as a whole, to take place in Vienna. After all, “occasional references to Austria actually occur in several plays of the period”20 and, besides, a small number of Shakespeare’s plays already use continental settings: Love’s Labour’s Lost is situated somewhere between France and Navarre, Hamlet in Denmark, All’s Well That Ends Well is not just concerned with Padua and Florence, but also with Roussillon and Paris, while the characters of Twelfth Night wander in imaginary Illyria, and the plot of The Winter’s Tale partly occurs in a relocated Bohemia. I do not want, here, to develop well-known arguments about censorship and the need to delocalize plays. Instead, I would like to emphasize the idea that Shakespeare needed to imagine settings likely to arouse the audience’s imagination. In other words, if the playwright had always stuck to Italy, Italian cities would have become so familiar to contemporary audiences that they might have grown weary.

  • 21 Lyall, 2008, 79. See, too, Draudt 2005, note 15: “Iulio” may well be identical with Vienna. Accordi (...)

13Thus, from time to time, Shakespeare used distant, exotic settings to keep his spectators interested. Moreover, Cinthio did not locate the story in Italy but in Austria. Shakespeare simply shifts the scene from Innsbruck, a provincial town in Western Austria, to Vienna, the capital. According to Manfred Draudt, the key would lie “in George Whetstone setting of his Promos and Cassandra in a city called ‘Iulio,’ which might plausibly be taken to be the Roman Juliobona, that is, Vienna.”21

  • 22 Cooper 2011, 21. Here, I would like to express my gratitude to Helen Cooper for her stimulating sug (...)

14At this point, another hypothesis crops up in the debate. In Shakespeare’s time, the Austrian city of Vienna was often confused with Vienne, the provincial French town. Vienne was relatively well known among the literati because a work of prose fiction called Paris and Vienne, written in French in 1432, was translated into English and printed by Caxton in 1485 and, as observed by Helen Cooper, “three further known editions […] followed down to 1505.”22 The book was apparently successful, as Helen Cooper specifies that

  • 23 Cooper 2011, 21.

[i]t was still of sufficient interest for a dramatization to be acted by the boys of Westminster School in 1572, and for its licence to be transferred in 1586, when it was described as an ‘olde book.’ In 1628 an entirely rewritten version, entitled Vienna, was published. No author’s name is given, but he is identifiable by a series of the clearest of family references, anagrams, and riddles as Matthew Mainwaring (1561–1652), a gentleman of Nantwich, Cheshire.23

15Thus, in 1628, “Vienne” had been identified with the Austrian “Vienna,” which hints at a generalized confusion over the name of the city dating back to the beginning of the 17th century, if not before. Shakespeare may have come across an edition of Paris and Vienne, decided to give once again a French background to his new play, as in All’s Well That Ends Well a few years before, but eventually stuck to the familiar name of Vienna in place of the more obscure French city of Vienne.

  • 24 Olson 2008, 213. In the Arden edition (Third Series) of The Tempest, Virginia Mason Vaughan and Ald (...)
  • 25 Little 1998, 126.
  • 26 Rudolph’s bouts of insanity gradually undermined the structure of his government. The Habsburg fami (...)
  • 27 Given the date of publication, Cinthio may have meant to refer to Maximilian II, who had inherited (...)

16Such a hypothesis brings grist to the mill of those who disagree with Taylor’s explanations concerning the use of Vienna in the play. There are in fact many reasons why Shakespeare could have chosen Vienna as a background for his tragicomedy, since Vienna was far from being devoid of meaning for the early modern spectators. Even if “the disappearance of Duke Vincentio from Vienna probably has to do with the religious and political symbolism of the play and with James I himself as a master spy rather than with any reference to Austria,” Vincentio’s desertion from government in Vienna would also have been familiar to learned Jacobean audiences “who knew of the Emperor Rudolph’s disappearances from the life of his chancery to do astrology in Prague.”24 Indeed, the Holy Roman Emperor preferred study to government and, to make things worse, he probably suffered from melancholy — a feature which might also explain why Shakespeare’s Duke is dubbed “the duke of dark corners” (4.3.156). Besides, if Rudolph was a Catholic, he nonetheless tolerated Protestantism. Similarly, in Shakespeare’s tragicomedy, Vincentio is a Catholic duke who takes an obvious pleasure in appearing as “a brother / Of gracious order, later come from the See / In special business from his Holiness” 3.2.212-214), but who does not hesitate either to put a Protestant regent in his place, a substitute he himself describes as “[a] man of stricture and firm abstinence” (1.3.12). In Measure for Measure, it is Duke Vincentio, more than Angelo, who is implicitly blamed for his absolutism, for he remains in control even when he relinquishes power (or, at least, pretends to do so). Leaving aside the interpretation according to which Vincentio is a stand-in for the playwright himself, Shakespeare’s spectral duke might thus stand either for James I — who “fantasize[d] himself as the absolute body of the state” when, in 1603, he proclaimed to Parliament that he was the “Head” of the “whole Isle”, which he explicitly compared to his “Body”25 — or for the Austrian Habsburg Emperor, whose absolute power was beginning to crumble.26 In Cinthio’s story, the Emperor in question is referred to as Maximilian of Innsbruck, since that city had long been the capital of the Austrian Empire.27

17Now, it may well be that Shakespeare’s views about the Habsburg monarchy were deeply negative. In Hamlet, for instance, Vienna is the setting of “The Murder of Gonzago.” Indeed, the prince explains the “argument” of the play-within-the-play: “This play is the image of a murder done in Vienna. Gonzago is the duke’s name, his wife Baptista” (3.2.231-33). Therefore, the playwright may have chosen to set the immoral characters of Measure for Measure in the city of Vienna because, like many of his contemporaries infuriated by Habsburg hegemony, he believed that laws there could only be ridiculous, people grotesque, and religion perverted. That he deliberately chose the Austrian city can also be seen in five references which, in the play, consistently point to a Central European context.

  • 28 See Lever’s edition, xxxi. Lever prefers to consider the speech between Lucio and the first gentlem (...)
  • 29 Ironically, in 1605, a weakened Rudolph was forced to surrender effective power to his younger brot (...)
  • 30 Lyall 2008, 78.

18The first reference may be seen in a dialogue between Lucio and a gentleman (1.2.1-5), where the King of Hungary is referred to in relation to an apparently disgraceful peace.28 A little later on in the play, when Mistress Overdone declares that “what with the war, what with the sweat, what with the gallows, and what with poverty,” she is “custom shrunk” (1.2.75-77), she may refer to the same Hungarian war against the Turks, a war which literally exhausted the Hungarian subjects during Shakespeare’s time.29 The third reference making Vienna a plausible first choice can be found in act 1, scene 3, as the Duke explains that Angelo “supposes vérifier [him] travell’d to Poland” (1.3.14). Next, spectators learn in the second half of the play that Barnardine, the prisoner who obstinately refuses to die (and who, as such, can be seen as Claudio’s grotesque mirror-image), is a “bohemian-born” (4.2.113). The last indication can be found in Lucio’s speculations about “the Duke’s whereabouts”: “Some say he is with the Emperor of Russia; others he is in Rome” (3.2.85-86). Of course, if one accepts that the original setting of Shakespeare’s play is Vienna, then, as Roderick J. Lyall observes, “these two equally remote locations make perfect sense.”30

3. Measure for Measure’s anamorphic geography

19At this point, one may wonder whether it is absolutely necessary to make “perfect sense” of the locations mentioned in the play, as the playwright rarely cared to respect precise geographical norms. His somewhat incoherent topography conveyed both his taste for uncertainty and a personal vision which, far from being geographical, was religious, political as well as poetic and aesthetic.

20In fact, with its recurring allusions to death, rottenness and the passing of time, Shakespeare’s dark comedy can be regarded as some gloomy, grotesque Vanitas. It mirrors a blurred religious territory where powerful Puritanical figures lust for Catholic novices, and where false monks organize bed tricks. It also conveys a distorted vision of love, for Lucio’s cynical view of sex seems to contradict Claudio’s romantic approach to love and sexuality. With his fiancée Juliet, the young man behaves like Romeo, so that Measure for Measure, together with Romeo and Juliet, forms a diptych that encodes the Eros/Thanatos fusion of contraries. Shakespeare thus invites his audience to approach Measure for Measure through the prism of his earlier love tragedy, but what the spectator perceives in the ailing city of Vienna is nothing but a shrunk, amputated version of romantic, though deeply divided, Verona. If the Italian city is mostly remembered as the seat of passion and lyricism, Shakespeare’s stifling Austrian town remains the secluded realm of cynicism, pathos and rather gruesome farce.

  • 31 Marrapodi 1998, 196.

21Such cynicism is the consequence of the Duke’s admitted failure to have curbed Vienna’s appetites for fourteen years in an atmosphere of permissiveness and general lechery which reflects the stereotyped English way of seeing the Italians. It also applies to the Machiavellian devices used by Angelo to force a would-be nun to surrender her virginity to his sudden sexual appetite. Such an association of “political plotting and excessive sexuality” characterized “the Elizabethan exploitation of Italy’s Renaissance courts.”31 As an anamorphic image revealing the chaos of early modern Italian cities, the representation of Vienna is for the playwright an oblique means to criticize London and England in general. Moreover, if, as suggested above, Shakespeare more or less confused Austrian Vienna with the French city of Vienne, Vienne/Vienna could then be deciphered as a quasi-anagrammatic reading of the ancient Biblical Nineve[h] whose fall was familiar to Shakespeare’s contemporaries.

  • 32 Shakespeare was conversant with classical authors such as Ovid, as in the fourth book of Golding’s (...)
  • 33 Jonson 2001, 112 (Induction, 164).
  • 34 Totaro and Gilman 2011, 8 (Introduction).
  • 35 We know that the play was acted at Court on St. Stephen’s night, 1604.
  • 36 See Thomas Dekker’s plague pamphlet, The Wonderful Year (1603).

22Thomas Lodge and Robert Greene expatiate on the Biblical story of Jonah and the fall of Nineveh in A looking glass for London and England (1594), where Nineveh’s sins are shown to coincide with those of contemporary Londoners. Shakespeare himself indirectly alludes to Nineveh in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Indeed, as Quince recites the prologue of “A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus / And his love Thisbe” (5.1.56), he explains that the two clandestine lovers intend to meet at the grave of Ninus, the founder of Nineveh (5.1.137).32 Ben Jonson, also mentions Nineveh at the beginning of Every Man Out Of His Humour (1600).33 Moreover, in times of plague, the marks of the infection were seen as “signs of God’s great, just wrath incited by a group and thereby recalling stories of Nineveh and of Sodom and Gomorrah.”34 Measure for Measure having been written either in 1603 or in 1604,35 the horrors of the plague during the “wonderful year” of 1603 were not far behind.36 As a result, ten years or so after writing the Dream, and immediately after the plague episode which marked James’s accession to the throne of England, Shakespeare may have had in mind similar biblical allusions and endowed them with much darker undertones.

  • 37 A pupil of Albrecht Dürer, Erhard Schön (1491-1542) was famous for creating such pictures.
  • 38 Lupton 1996, 139.

23Measure for Measure could thus be presented as a form of dramatized Vexierbild37 with its multiple enigmatic and cryptic locations. Vienna/Vienne/Nineve[h] is a seat of sin emblematic of man’s fall which is made to reflect the playwright’s concerns about luxuriousness and bodily putrefaction. Haunted by grotesque characters reduced to eyes, ears and mouths, Shakespeare’s Vienna is nothing but a headless city, i.e. a dis-membered body. As a result, the play presents itself as an optical illusion obsessed with the ineluctable passing of time as well as severed heads and ruined maidenheads.38 Through its many allusions to beheading, the plot not only evokes 17th century vanities, but it also calls to mind “acephalic pictures such as David and Goliath” in which Caravaggio “deconstructs the very possibility of sovereignty by portraying his own wide-eyed yet disembodied head,” Richard Wilson explains, only to add that “the text Shakespeare left behind also seems to have been intent on decapitating any sovereignty centred on power over life and death” (Wilson 2013, 4). More significantly, the severed heads of the play insistently evoke the beheading of Holofernes by Judith, a favourite subject of Renaissance painters from Andrea Mantegna to Lucas Cranach the Elder and Caravaggio, who completed his Judith behading Holofernes in 1599. If Caravaggio’s depiction of the scene, showing the blood spraying from Holofernes’s neck, is highly dramatic, Shakespeare’s rewriting of the same episode proves surprisingly graphic. In Measure for Measure, Angelo clearly stands for the Assyrian general who intended to destroy people’s lives. Indeed, he is the one who orders Claudio’s head to be severed, and who aims at destroying maidenheads. Yet, in the end, his female victim, the distraught Isabella, (first helped by Lucio, who replaces the threatening maid of Caravaggio’s painting), takes the place of young Judith. She succeeds in deceiving her enemy and, as a consequence, in overthrowing the head of the city-state of Vienna. Shakespeare’s heroine is thus a reworking of a biblical figure, and like her, she is impatiently waiting for her revenge.

  • 39 Compare with Shakespeare’s portrait of Antony in Antony and Cleopatra, 2.5.116-17: “Though he be pa (...)

24The play as a whole seems to function as a riddling game where each character is closely, if obliquely, associated with a double. Barnardine the prisoner is the deformed image of Claudio, Angelo the blurred picture of the Duke, Mariana the warped representation of Isabella, etc. In other words, Shakespeare having reversible portraits in mind,39 each of them in the play is provided with and confronted to his or her own living anamorphosis. As a result, Measure for Measure appears as a gruesome farce relying on a dramatic technique analogous to visual anamorphosis, which requires the viewer to look at a picture both in a frontal way and from an unusual acute angle.

  • 40 Massey 2007, 20.
  • 41 Shickman 1977, 67. Ned Lukacher explains that “this portrait was to be viewed through a viewing hol (...)

25The term “anamorphosis” was actually coined by the German Jesuit Gaspar Schott in 1657, but the technique was identified as “reverse perspective” or prospettiva inversa by Gian Paolo Lomazzo in his Trattato dell’arte della pittura, scoltura et architettura (1584).40 When Shakespeare mentions “perspectives, which, rightly gazed upon, / Show nothing but confusion; eyed awry, / Distinguish form […]” in Richard II (2.2.18-20), he actually writes of prospettiva inversa with William Scrots’s elongated portrait of Edward VI (1546) in mind. This painting now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery but, as made clear by Alan Schickman, it “was located at Whitehall when the poet performed there in 1591-92.”41

  • 42 See Shakespeare, King Henry V, 339-41: “French King. Yes, my lord, you see them perspectively, the (...)

26Even though Ernest B. Gilman has apparently nothing to say about Measure for Measure in his seminal study devoted to The Curious Perspective (1978), it is precisely this kind of trick perspective that makes the biased Angelo see Isabella “perspectively” as a seductress instead of a novice.42 If in Henry V (1599), King Henry obliquely looks at French cities as maids to be conquered, the anamorphosis is reversed in Measure for Measure. This time, Angelo does not view Vienna as a maid, but he probably sees Isabella as the city he must rule in order to impose his power upon her.

27The Duke also resorts to a reverse perspective when he devises the bed-trick in order to deceive Angelo:

Duke. […] The maid I will frame, and make fit for his attempt. If you think well to carry this as you may, the doubleness of the benefit defends the deceit from reproof.

Isab. The image of it gives me content already, and I trust it will grow to a most prosperous perfection. (3.1.256-61)

28As suggested by the ambiguous lexical field of the passage (“frame,” “doubleness,” “deceit,” “image,” “perfection”), Vincentio primarily intends the deputy’s eye. The bed-trick is thus presented as a form of live anamorphosis making Marianna’s body the warped image of Isabella’s, and eventually, Angelo’s indulgence in sexual pleasure in the dead of night does prevent him from optic acuteness. In the play, bed-trick and head-tricks distort visual perception, so that night and death similarly serve an anamorphic function: “O, death’s a great disguiser” (4.2.174) the Duke tells the Provost as they are about to “shave the head” and “tie the beard” (4.2.175) of Barnardine’s head to fool Angelo once again.

  • 43 Boyle 2010, 32. On the double nature of images projected in a camera obscura, see Gilman 1978, 66.

29The Duke thus appears as a clever political manipulator. He relies all along on voyeurism to re-affirm in secret his former absolute power, and as he overhears Claudio and Isabella quarrel in jail, he seems to view the scene through a sort of camera obscura. Since the image “that is ‘pressed’ through the techne of the camera obscura is inverted, divided, doubled,” it can be defined as a “distorted representation of the real.”43 As a result, Vincentio’s own perception of Claudio’s prison can be said to be an anamorphic one. Because he looks at Vienna from the margins, he fails to see the vitality of his city and can only detect its rampant misery.

  • 44 Fineman 1986, 138.

30Yet, Shakespeare’s Vienna is a kaleidoscopic town which may be approached through different perspectives. When in Sonnet 24 Shakespeare writes “Mine eye hath played the painter and hath stelled / The beauty’s form in the table of my heart,” the poet’s art appears as “bifocal,” i.e. as an art of “anamorphic tromperie.”44 In Measure for Measure, the playwright’s eye once again plays the painter. If we have so far mainly discussed the Duke’s marginal (yet central) vision, this must not make us neglect Lucio, the “fantastic” observer of the play’s events who is “always figuring diseases” (1.2.49) in his fellow inhabitants, since he allows us to position ourselves correctly to grasp some of the distorted meanings of the play. In Holbein’s double full-length portrait of the Ambassadors (1533), a disquieting skull only becomes clear once it is viewed from an acute angle on the right-hand side of the picture. Similarly, when seen from the margins, Measure for Measure shows a city peopled with syphilitic gentlemen whose “bones are hollow” (1.2.52). Lucio’s observation is all the more puzzling as in German, the name Holbein, or hohle bein, means “hollow bone.” In the Ambassadors, art historians have suggested that the hidden skull could be a visual pun on the artist’s name. Shakespeare’s double entendre may thus be read as an implicit reference to Holbein’s painting.

  • 45 Greenblatt 1980, 21.

31Soon after Lucio’s disconcerting remark, Mistress Overdone turns up and perambulates the stage as a grotesque memento mori. Even at the close of the tragicomedy, happy marriages dissolve into sad, deadly unions: “Marrying a punk, my lord, is pressing to death, / Whipping, and hanging,” Lucio tells the Duke, reluctant as he is to marry Kate the “punk.” In Renaissance Self-Fashioning, Stephen Greenblatt shows how Holbein’s painting “insists […] on the representational power of art, its central role in man’s apprehension and control of reality, even as it insists, with uncanny persuasiveness, on the fictional character of that entire so-called reality and the art that pretends to represent it.”45 In the same way, Shakespeare questions the status of drama by setting his tragicomedy both in a real place, Vienna, with its Duke, its substitute, its unhappy inhabitants, and in a never-never place which, seen from the margins, seems like a kind of transi tomb.

  • 46 The French mathematician Jean-Louis de Vaulezard was the first one to explain this technique in a t (...)
  • 47 In Shakespeare: the Invention of the Human, Harold Bloom defines Measure for Measure as “the master (...)

32Yet, the play can also be seen as a more elaborate form of anamorphosis, namely catoptric (or dioptric) anamorphosis.46 This kind of anamorphosis, used in 16th century Italy, requires the image to be seen in a curved mirror. In Measure for Measure, the protagonists are masked, veiled, disguised, or muffled like Claudio at the end of the play. One does not need to look at them from the wings, but certainly to hold a mirror up to these different characters in order to understand that they are not what they seem to be. Only the mirror of Lucio, whose very name evokes lux, i.e. light, is likely to reveal the deformities of Angelo, Isabella, and the Duke. As a result, with its proliferating, grotesque bodies and souls, Shakespeare’s play becomes a vanitas in which London, Vienna, and, say, Ferrara, merge in a form of generalized dystopia. In Measure for Measure, not only does the passing of time symbolize the fragility of life, but the eschatological aspirations of characters like Vincentio (with his “be absolute for death,” 3.1.5), and Angelo, his doppelgänger, also create a gloomy, melancholy atmosphere. If the play can be defined as a carnivalesque city-comedy, its carnival first and foremost remains a safety-valve for a particularly repressive society where characters like Lucio posit an existential hollowness.47 As such, Shakespeare’s Viennese carnival is not a merry festivity, but a very dark one in which laughter and terror run parallel.

Conclusion: Shakespeare’s “fantastical picture”

  • 48 Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, 5.1.213.
  • 49 Cf. Shakespeare, Hamlet, 3.1.123: “Get thee to a nunnery,” Hamlet tells Ophelia, obviously playing (...)
  • 50 Lyall 2008, 74.
  • 51 The development of optics during the early modern period testifies to the growing importance of the (...)

33In Measure for Measure, Shakespeare constantly provides us with an optical illusion, with “a natural perspective, that is and is not,”48 by juxtaposing brothels and prisons with court and church. In Jacobean and Elizabethan England, “nunneries” also designated “brothels” (OED, “nunnery”, 1. b).49 In Shakespeare and the Geography of Difference (1994), John Gillies uses the concept of poetic geography worked out by the Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico (1668-1774) in order to aggregate the topographic redefinitions that went along with the early modern exploration of territories beyond Europe or, more surely, beyond the limits of Shakespeare’s immediate experience.50 In Measure for Measure, the allusions to Europe do not simply belong to a geographical palimpsest but should be viewed as the different threads of a complex Mannerist tapestry reflecting images of the heated debates revolving around the nature and reliability of human perception51.

  • 52 Pye 1990, 92.
  • 53 Shakespeare, Hamlet, 2.1.65.
  • 54 Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, 2.4.121: “Ang.: we are all frail.” As noted by Lever in his editi (...)
  • 55 On Shakespeare’s grotesque, see Neil Rhodes, Elizabethan Grotesque (1980). The grotesque in Measure (...)

34Like Renaissance painters who used new techniques to surprise and titillate their viewers, Shakespeare fashioned an anamorphic Vanity in a defamiliarized landscape in order to present his audience with a dramatic trompe-l’oeil. By doing so, he shed light on a false reality while emphasizing the deceiving nature of the gaze. As Christopher Pye puts it, “the anamorphic device suggests that even vision is a function of difference.”52 In a more important way, the playwright also provided his audience with an indirect access to his own vision of the human mind. “By indirections,” spectators eventually “find directions out,”53 and discover both “frail” souls and decaying bodies.54 Shakespeare’s dis-membered representation of Vienna can therefore be regarded as a “crotesko work”,55 haunted by a Fantastic called Lucio as well as by an “old fantastical duke of dark corners” (4.3.156).

35To put it differently, the play, based on various anamorphic perspectives of the city of Vienna, simultaneously celebrates and negates the town. It presents us with an animated painting where most forms and figures have been drawn in a distorted, even monstrous way. Yet, when viewed from a certain angle, Measure for Measure reveals an image that one can readily recognize—the image of a diseased society, whose political and religious values are put upside down.

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Notes

1 By “pre-Gothic”, I refer to a play which mutatis mutandis foreshadows Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story (1765). Early Gothic novelists often relied on Italian locations. On the pre-Gothic aesthetics of Measure for Measure, see Bennett 2000, 58: “Measure for Measure is more like a Gothic church with crypts, winding staircases, and gargoyles. In Measure for Measure the forces governing inner and outer world are profoundly mysterious; […] the people, unattuned to the natural law and out of touch with themselves, see through a glass very darkly.” On “Gothic Shakespeare,” see Wilson 2007, 29-74 (chap. 1).

2 See Coveney 2012, 27-42: “Ironically, given that it’s arguably the most city conscious of Shakespeare’s plays, Measure for Measure was first performed at court in 1604. It’s a tough play and its insistent and unsettling theme of sex in the city no doubt contributed to its unpopularity with the Victorians and its sporadic revivals in the first half of the last century.”

3 Draudt 2005, 95-115.

4 As far as Measure for Measure is concerned, all references are to Lever’s edition (The Arden Shakespeare). Quotes from other plays by Shakespeare will be drawn from Wells’s and Taylor’s second edition of The Complete Works (The Oxford Shakespeare).

5 Redmond 2007, 214.

6 Redmond 2000, 212.

7 Quarmby 2012, 19.

8 Gosson 1923, 213-19.

9 Critics have long thought that the comedy dated back to 1604. However, in their revised edition of the Oxford Complete Works (2005), Wells and Taylor re-date the play as 1606 or early 1607, though with no complete certainty.

10 Unfortunately, nothing can be asserted for sure, because it all depends on the date when All’s Well That Ends Well was written.

11 Cox 2007, 287 (note 63).

12 Shell 1988, 35.

13 Shell 1988, 101.

14 Draudt 2005.

15 Marcus 1988, 186.

16 Taylor 2004, 250.

17 Hadfield and Hammond 2004, 214.

18 Maguire and Smith, “Many hands. A new Shakespeare collaboration?”, Times Literary Supplement, 20 April 2012.

19 Vickers and Dahl, “What is infirm…,” Times Literary Supplement, 11 May 2012.

20 Draudt 2005.

21 Lyall, 2008, 79. See, too, Draudt 2005, note 15: “Iulio” may well be identical with Vienna. According to Lewkenor, the city ‘was called of Ptolomey […] Iuliobona” (F2v), and a French dictionary printed in 1670 also identifies Juliobona with Wien, Italis Viena, urbs Pannoniae superioris’.” Draudt refers to Sjögren 1961, 27.

22 Cooper 2011, 21. Here, I would like to express my gratitude to Helen Cooper for her stimulating suggestions regarding the use of “Vienna” and “Vienne” in early modern literature.

23 Cooper 2011, 21.

24 Olson 2008, 213. In the Arden edition (Third Series) of The Tempest, Virginia Mason Vaughan and Alden T. Vaughan also state that “in the 1580s the English magus John Dee had briefly enlisted [Rudolph’s] support in a quest for the philosopher’s stone” (1999, 38).

25 Little 1998, 126.

26 Rudolph’s bouts of insanity gradually undermined the structure of his government. The Habsburg family had not only held the Holy Roman Empire for generations, but after Charles V, they held the Spanish Empire as well. Queen Elizabeth’s archenemy, Philip II of Spain, was Charles’s son and the head of the Habsburg family. After 1604, there are Habsburgs in several plays by Shakespeare. We also find Habsburgs in Marlowe’s Jew of Malta and Dr. Faustus. For further developments, see Isabel Gortazar, “Marloviana: Measure for Measure and Kit Marlowe’s Mother,” 18 May 2009.

27 Given the date of publication, Cinthio may have meant to refer to Maximilian II, who had inherited the Imperial Crown the year before. But whether Cinthio was referring to Maximilian I or Maximilian II, it seems that Shakespeare relied on Epitia to point at the Emperor Maximilian II, whose coronation took place in 1564.

28 See Lever’s edition, xxxi. Lever prefers to consider the speech between Lucio and the first gentleman as an allusion to peace negotiations between King James and Spain in 1603-1604. Indeed, the problem is that the mention of the King of Hungary’s peace is at odds with the reality of the time, since the peace between the Holy Roman Emperor and the Turks was not particularly disgraceful and, more importantly, was signed two years after the play was written, in 1606. However, if one remembers that Shakespeare’s aim was definitely not to adhere to reality but to allude to it in a very oblique way, the problem disappears. Partial invention and reconstruction of events should be viewed as part and parcel of a drama which contains many anomalies and inconsistencies.

29 Ironically, in 1605, a weakened Rudolph was forced to surrender effective power to his younger brother Matthias, not unlike Shakespeare’s Viennese Duke who, right from the beginning, proves unable to rule his own city state. As a consequence, the city is turned into a carnivalesque place where “Liberty plucks Justice by the nose” (1.3.29). If, in 1604, the playwright was possibly endowed with visionary spirits, in 1611, when he wrote The Tempest, he clearly had Rudolph’s fate in mind, and the strong commitment of Prospero to alchemy and magic is certainly not fortuitous. “Rudolph’s interests and political fate would inevitably have been known to many,” David Scott Kastan writes (1999, 193) and it therefore comes as no surprise that Vincentio and Prospero are often seen as two authoritarian and manipulative alter egos.

30 Lyall 2008, 78.

31 Marrapodi 1998, 196.

32 Shakespeare was conversant with classical authors such as Ovid, as in the fourth book of Golding’s Metamorphoses, one finds a similar reference: “They [Pyramus and Thisbe] did agree at Ninus’ tomb to meet without the town” (Golding 2002, 124, l. 108).

33 Jonson 2001, 112 (Induction, 164).

34 Totaro and Gilman 2011, 8 (Introduction).

35 We know that the play was acted at Court on St. Stephen’s night, 1604.

36 See Thomas Dekker’s plague pamphlet, The Wonderful Year (1603).

37 A pupil of Albrecht Dürer, Erhard Schön (1491-1542) was famous for creating such pictures.

38 Lupton 1996, 139.

39 Compare with Shakespeare’s portrait of Antony in Antony and Cleopatra, 2.5.116-17: “Though he be painted one way like a Gorgon, / The other way’s a Mars.” On this passage, see Gilman 1978, 90.

40 Massey 2007, 20.

41 Shickman 1977, 67. Ned Lukacher explains that “this portrait was to be viewed through a viewing hole drilled through a screen off to the side of the painting” (1989, 873).

42 See Shakespeare, King Henry V, 339-41: “French King. Yes, my lord, you see them perspectively, the cities turned into a maid; for they are all girdled with maiden walls that war hath never entered.” On women seen as cities in Shakespeare’s plays, see Chiari 2011, 3-26.

43 Boyle 2010, 32. On the double nature of images projected in a camera obscura, see Gilman 1978, 66.

44 Fineman 1986, 138.

45 Greenblatt 1980, 21.

46 The French mathematician Jean-Louis de Vaulezard was the first one to explain this technique in a treatise entitled Perspective cylindrique et conique (Paris, 1630).

47 In Shakespeare: the Invention of the Human, Harold Bloom defines Measure for Measure as “the masterpiece of nihilism” and suggests that “no other work by Shakespeare is so fundamentally alienated from the Western synthesis of Christian morality and Classical ethics” (1999, 364). For an opposite view, see Ciliotta-Rubery 2003, 84-107.

48 Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, 5.1.213.

49 Cf. Shakespeare, Hamlet, 3.1.123: “Get thee to a nunnery,” Hamlet tells Ophelia, obviously playing on the two meanings of the word “nunnery.”

50 Lyall 2008, 74.

51 The development of optics during the early modern period testifies to the growing importance of theories of light, vision and perspective at the time. In 1571, the English mathematician Leonard Digges published his Pantometria, a book which contained an important text on optics. In 1604, Johannes Kepler issued his seminal work on optics, Ad Vitellionem Paralipomina quibus Astronomiae Pars Optica Traditur (also known as Optica). See Porter, Park and Daston 2006, 597.

52 Pye 1990, 92.

53 Shakespeare, Hamlet, 2.1.65.

54 Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, 2.4.121: “Ang.: we are all frail.” As noted by Lever in his edition of the play, this sentence was proverbial and came from Ecclesiasticus, viii (61).

55 On Shakespeare’s grotesque, see Neil Rhodes, Elizabethan Grotesque (1980). The grotesque in Measure for Measure calls to mind Wolgang Kayser’s definition in The Grotesque in Art and Literature (1963): “The grotesque is the estranged world […]. The grotesque is a play with the absurd […]. [And it is] an attempt to invoke and subdue the demonic aspects of the world” (184-88).

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Sophie CHIARI, « City Anamorphoses in Measure for Measure », E-rea [En ligne], 11.1 | 2013, mis en ligne le 15 décembre 2013, consulté le 24 août 2017. URL : http://erea.revues.org/3365 ; DOI : 10.4000/erea.3365

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Auteur

Sophie CHIARI

Aix-Marseille Université, LERMA EA 853
Sophie Chiari est maître de conférences habilitée à diriger des recherches à l'Université d'Aix-Marseille et membre du LERMA. Spécialiste des 16e et 17e siècles, elle est l'auteur de plusieurs articles consacrés à Shakespeare et à la traduction littéraire. Elle a publié une monographie intitulée L'image du labyrinthe à la Renaissance en 2010 (Honoré Champion). Elle vient de terminer la traduction de Pride and Prejudice, de Jane Austen (Le livre de poche, 2011), ainsi que l'édition augmentée et révisée des Renaissance Tales of Desire (CSP, 2009 et 2012). Elle écrit actuellement une monographie consacrée aux liens entre William Shakespeare et Robert Greene. Membre du projet interdisciplinaire TTT (« Textes théoriques sur la traduction »), elle travaille également au sein d'une équipe de traduction des pièces de Tennessee Williams (coordonnée par Jean-Michel Déprats).
sophie.chiari@univ-amu.fr

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