Ask Philippa: Measure for Measure

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Philippa giving a grove talk
Philippa Kelly giving a Grove Talk; photo courtesy of Kelly

Ask Philippa: Measure for Measure

On September 1, Cal Shakes’ Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly offered her first of two lectures on Measure for Measure as part of  Shakespeare In-Depth. Here are a few questions that came up during the  first sessions. Feel free to join the conversation by adding your own questions and comments below.  If you missed the class but would still like to be part of Shakespeare In-Depth, there is still time to register for upcoming sessions on  King Lear, and The Taming of the Shrew.

Questions from September 1:

Question: Why does the Duke abdicate his responsibility.  What inner motivations might he have to leave ‘the dirty work’ to someone else?

Philippa: The Duke steps aside partly because Vienna is such a mess, and the brothels have gotten out of hand and made it disreputable, so that he wants to appoint someone to clean it up. I guess appointing a religious dogmatic is one way to do it! And I think he also wants to watch and learn more about his people (and perhaps about the role he should ideally be playing as Duke – learn from others’ mistakes.)

Question: Were there actual Puritans in Vienna? Or is Angelo someone with Puritan(ish) or Calvinist values?

Philippa: The use of Vienna (a Catholic city) was a great choice for Shakespeare, because he could critique the rise of Puritanism in England from a safe distance, as it were. (Also, Vienna afforded Isabella a convent to enter!)

Question: The duke may be self-serving, but is it possible he is truly in love with her? 

Philippa: I guess it depends on what “in love” means – there are as many versions of love as there are people. I have to say, The Duke slips around in his roles all through the play, none moreso than at the end. He says, “Joy to you, Mariana! Love her, Angelo:/I have confess’d her and I know her virtue.” OMG! He has confessed her? This is an outrageous mockery of the sanctity of a Catholic Friar! So I wonder how we see his offer of his hand in marriage? He does offer his hand with an “if”:  “if you’ll a willing ear incline…”



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This project is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities

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