Birdseye view of the Measure for Measure Argument
The Measure for Measure argument differs from the Hamlet argument in that it is not so much based on any particular line or lines, but on the plot of the play and the interactions of the characters. In short, the theory is that the main characters represent real-life figures – or, in Angelo’s case, the coin for which he is named – and that they all play something akin to their real-life roles in a debasement metaphor, in which monarch figures concern themselves with coinage that either is debased or may become debased. The introduction to the paper gives a list of “problems” that the proposed representations solve or shed light on.
1. As with Hamlet, start by considering the possibility that Shakespeare may have been concerned with economic issues.
a. He was obviously a successful businessman, having made good money in the cutthroat business of the Elizabethan theater.
b. He was a penny-pincher, as evidenced by his low-stakes lawsuits, as well as his real estate investments.
c. References to coinage in general and debasement of the coinage in general appear in many of his plays. See sources cited in Paper, n.22, and review Shakespeare’s Economics
d. Read the Hamlet portion of the article first; if it’s persuasive, it makes the Measure for Measure argument easier to accept.
2. Consider the work of other scholars who have found economic imagery in Measure for Measure.
a. Scholars agree that Shakespeare repeatedly punned Angelo with the English “Angel” coin. Shakespeare is full of examples of the use of “angel” as a double-entendre for coins. See, e.g., Sonnet 144.
b. RJ Kaufman: “Thus we find that the opening speeches of Act I tightly incorporate the tone and theme of the play. The Duke's opening speech is heavily imprinted with the imagery of economics.” . . . “The first fifty-one lines of Measure for Measure establish the basic terms of the play.”
c. JW Lever: “recurrent coin image”
d. Rosalind Miles: the “coin image . . . runs throughout the play.”
e. See generally notes to any edition,
3. Scholars have noticed the parallels between the Duke and King James.
a. Abhorrence of crowds
b. Other parallels depending on the scholar.
4. Scholars have noticed the parallels between Isabella and Queen Elizabeth.
a. Most notably, the name “Isabella” is
b. Isabella’s chastity parallels that of
c. A new contribution by this paper:
1. The excision of the entire play Measure
for Measure from a copy of the Second Folio censored by the Spanish Inquisition
supports the idea that Isabella represents
a. The only other excisions in the copy were of the names Elizabeth, and Cranmer, wherever they appeared.
b. Having the name “Isabella” on nearly every page made it expedient to simply rip the play out of the book.
c. Admittedly, what a 17th century censor thought “Isabella” represented is far from conclusive evidence of what “Isabella” truly represents
5. Scholars have proposed that Lucio represents Shakespeare
a. The “fantastick” is often the author’s alter ego.
b. Lucio demonstrates a kind of omniscience, and is often seen moving the plot along.
c. A new contribution by this paper: Lucio’s forced marriage to Kate Keepdown, whom he has gotten pregnant, parallels Shakespeare’s (probably) forced marriage to Ann Hathaway, whom he had gotten pregnant.
1. Note similarity between the names: One syllable first name, last name consisting of a verb and a preposition, having similar meanings: keep == hath; down == away
2. Awarding the alter ego a punishment that the author has already endured is the author’s way of saying that he’s already been punished in advance for any offense the play might give.
6. Pause to consider the possibility of an allegory at this moment.
a. In a play that scholars agree is heavily imprinted with economic imagery, we have a character named for a coin, two characters representing monarch-figures, and a figure representing the narrator.
b. The interaction between the monarchs and the coin are suggestive of something having to do with monetary policy. Both monarchs are “testing” the coin – the Duke by leaving Angelo in charge; Isabella by virtue of her attractiveness. A question in the play is whether the coin will be able to maintain its vaunted purity through these tests.
1. To make the allegory clear, one could say that Angelo will become debased if he deflowers Isabella or if he kills Claudio. But the Duke, Isabella, and Mariana work together to prevent the former, and the Duke prevents the latter.
2. A natural question to ask then – assuming there really is an allegory here – is whether Mariana also represents someone who might be relevant to currency policy.
7. Identifying Mariana
a. Four clues to her identity
1. Her name
2. Her brother, the great soldier Fredericke, who came to ruin with her dowry at sea
3. Her home – the “moated grange”
4. Her role in the play – saving Angelo from temptation and debasement.
b. Positing that Mariana = Juan de Mariana, a well-known Spanish Jesuit historian and theologian who wrote against debasement causes the other pieces of the allegory to fall more closely into place.
1. The name is the same
2. Whether or not Mariana is Juan de Mariana, the “great soldier” is almost certainly Federigo Spinola, a Genoan who had been in the upper echelons of the Spanish military machine for a decade, owing to a combination of money, military skill, and mercenary manpower. See generally Federigo Spinola
points generally in the direction of
b. Spinola was the embodiment of Mariana’s views regarding privateering.
c. Moreover, once we acknowledge that “Fredericke” most likely was a reference to Spinola, this strongly suggests that “Mariana” was a reference to someone or something.
1. Otherwise, the reference to Spinola is completely random.
2. Nobody has proposed a better “Mariana” than Juan de Mariana.
3. The most famous “moated grange” in
a. A moated grange could thus point to Jesuits, of which Mariana was one of the most famous.
b. A possible connection between Shakespeare (as William Shakeshafte) and Campion is intriguing but not necessary to make the connection for Shakespeare’s audiences.
4. Mariana’s relationship with Angelo is suggestive of Juan de Mariana’s relationship with the coinage.
1. Mariana has been separated from Angelo for five years.
2. Philip III began a devastating debasement of the Spanish coinage just after taking the throne in 1599, five years before Measure for Measure.
1. Mariana still loves Angelo
2. Juan de Mariana is concerned about the coinage, as evidenced by his later-published (see below) writings
c. Sex and marriage
1. Sex between Angelo and Mariana is not
sin, since they were engaged.
d. Miscellaneous parallels in unexplained lines
1. The “better off dead” remark
a. Isabella makes a dramatic but puzzling statement about how much better it would be for Mariana if she were dead.
b. Juan de Mariana wrote a book that
defended regicide in certain situations.
If Isabella is
2. The “brawling discontent” remark
a. The Duke says that he has oft stilled Mariana’s brawling discontent, creating a very strange image of Mariana (and causing one to wonder how often the Duke has visited Mariana as a friar).
b. King James’s work on the Divine Right of Kings can be seen as having quelled the brawling discontent of Mariana’s teachings.
8. The “problem” with Mariana as Juan de Mariana
a. The “problem” is that there is no confirmed evidence that Mariana published his views on debasement prior to the first performance of Measure for Measure, in December 1604.
1. His treatise on debasement was first published in 1609, as one of seven treatises.
2. His views on debasement were included in the 1605 second edition of his De Rege book (On the Education of the King).
a. Those views are not included in the only English translatin of the 1598-99 edition of De Rege (by G.A. Moore).
b. Nevertheless, Alan Soons, in his biography of Mariana, says that the views on debasement were in the 1599 edition.
1. Professor Soons has reaffirmed this in personal correspondence, and has indicated that he used Yale’s Beinecke edition – clearly a 1599 edition – for his work on Mariana.
a. I have not yet checked the Beinecke edition to confirm this.
c. In any event, Mariana’s book On Weights and Measures (De Ponderibus et Mensuris) was published in 1599, and was bound together with some copies of the 1599 De Rege.
1. There is no local copy of De Ponderibus et Mensuris that I can access (and in any event it’s in Latin); attempts to get a copy of the microfiche were unsuccessful.
2. This book covers coinage, and may include information – or even views – on debasement.
d. In any event,
1. Mariana probably came to his views long before he first published them in 1605 (when he was about 70 years old).
b. Assuming Mariana’s views were not
published until 1605, or if they were, in a very transitory publication with no
1. Mariana was an international figure and
prominent intellectual and thus was well known outside of
a. He taught in
b. He was prominent in the Spanish Inquisition in the 1580s.
c. He had written a book that was directly
at odds with a book written by
d. He wrote his treatise on Spanish
history for the express purpose of instructing foreigners about the glory of
e. He was one of the most prominent Jesuits in the world.
f. King James’s subsequent established connections to Mariana (these are dated considerably after the first performance of Measure for Measure, and thus constitute at best very indirect evidence; but they underscore Mariana’s importance as a thinker, albeit some years after 1604)
1. Calls Mariana a monster in a 1616 speech.
2. The British Museum’s copy of Mariana’s treatise on debasement (1609) is said to have been King James’s personal copy.
2. Given his status as a prominent thinker, Mariana’s views on debasement, even if unpublished, could have reached anyone interested in the issue of currency debasement in England, which would have included just about everyone in England.
a. Debasement is a constant concern in a
bullionist society, and the recent severe debasement in
b. These concerns were exacerbated at the
turn of the century, when
3. The Spanish Peace Delegation of summer 1604 – comfortably before the first performance of Measure for Measure – provided Shakespeare with 18 straight days of exposure to Spaniards, debased Spanish coinage, and Spanish views.
a. Although not all Shakespeare biographies even mention this important fact, all scholars that have addressed the issue agree that Shakespeare (along with the other King’s Men) most likely was among the ten “fellows” of Augustine Phillips and John Heminges who waited on the Spanish Delegation at Somerset House in August 1604.
1. The document showing payment for this service to Augustine Phillips and John Heminges can be found, among other places, in Schoenbaum’s Documentary Life (it’s mentioned at p. 252 of my version of the Compact Documentary Life), and Ernest Law wrote a whole book about the event.
b. The job of the King’s Men on this occasion was not to perform, but simply to wait on the delegation.
c. By now, Shakespeare was the most famous
d. The Spanish Ambassador was Don Juan Fernandez de Velasco, Constable of Castile (and about ten other titles, including “President of Italy”).
e. As of 1603, the Ambassador had a Secretary named Pedro Mantuan (or Mantuano).
1. In 1603, at the Ambassador’s direction,
Mantuan had written a book that was critical of Juan de Mariana’s history of
2. I have not been able to document whether or not Mantuan accompanied the Ambassador to Somerset House.
f. By 1604, the Spanish coinage was severely debased. The Spaniards at Somerset House would thus have had debased coins on hand, and might have even tried to pass some of these off to the King’s Men.
g. Peace negotiations with the Dutch were
also ongoing, even as Federigo Spinola’s older brother Ambrogio was conducting
the siege of
h. c-g above support the hypothesis that Shakespeare mingled and/or conversed with educated Spaniards, encountered debased coin, heard stories about Federigo Spinola, and may also have spoken to someone with detailed knowledge of Mariana.
9. Circumstantial evidence from the play
a. As others have observed, the play centers around a character named for a coin, and features continuous coinage, weighing, and testing imagery, all of which is consistent with a debasement theme.
b. Isabella and the Duke are monarch figures (as observed by others) who interact with the coin figure in ways suggestive of the debasement issue.
c. Making the assumption that Mariana is Juan de Mariana:
1. Is consistent with Federigo Spinola as Mariana’s brother, “the great soldier.”
a. Given Mariana’s outspoken advocacy of
privateering in the 1590s, and Spinola’s status as
2. Is consistent with Lyford Grange as the “moated grange.”
3. Is consistent with Shakespeare’s recent exposure to Spaniards, debased Spanish coinage, and possibly an author whose subject was Juan de Mariana.
4. Makes the play better by:
a. Completing the debasement mini-allegory that is suggested by the economic imagery and names of the characters.
b. Providing a clean explanation for two puzzling lines (Isabella’s wishing Mariana dead, and the Duke’s reference to stilling Mariana’s brawling discontent).
c. Providing clean answers to other questions
1. Why Mariana still loves Angelo
2. Why the Duke forces Angelo to marry Mariana (rather than, say, having him killed)
3. See paper for others.
5. See also Predictive Value
d. Why this evidence (that Shakespeare knew of Mariana’s views) is circumstantial, not circular
1. It somewhat resembles an inductive proof in mathematics
a. In an inductive proof, you start by noticing that your hypothesis holds for n=0. Then, if you can prove the statement that “if the hypothesis is true for n=k, then it is also true for n=k+1”, you will have proved the hypothesis.
b. In other words, after the initial observation, your proof really starts with an assumption (that the hypothesis is true for n=k), and then goes on to test, given that assumption, whether the hypothesis holds true for other circumstances (n=k+1). If we find that the hypothesis holds for all other circumstances, this then works back to “validate” the original assumption that the hypothesis was true for n=k.
c. While the Mariana argument is certainly not a mathematical proof, we find that by “assuming” it is true, it helps explain other circumstances in the play. This explanatory power then serves as evidence that the assumption was true in the first place, as does step 2 of the inductive proof.
2. Put another way, suppose there was absolutely no evidence that James Joyce had access to the Odyssey before he published “Ulysses.”
a. Would it be circular reasoning to infer, from reading the book alone, that James Joyce was familiar with the Odyssey?
b. Of course not – the parallels between Ulysses and the Odyssey would serve as circumstantial evidence that he was.
3. Accordingly, we cannot dismiss the argument as “circular,” we must weigh the circumstantial evidence.
4. See also Coincidence Theory
10. Satisfied that Mariana can be Juan de
Mariana, we now see the complete mini-allegory:
The coin (Angelo) starts off as an apparent model of purity. The King James figure tests the coin by
leaving Angelo in charge, and Angelo begins to fail the test by seeking to
deflower Isabella, in the course of which both he and she would become debased. The King James figure then arranges to save
both Isabella and Angelo from debasement, by substituting the Mariana figure –
to whom Angelo was engaged – for Isabella, and by eventually requiring Angelo
to marry Mariana, thereby ensuring the future stability of the coinage. The marriage proposal from the Duke to
Isabella represents a bridge between the reigns of James and
11. Does this mean that everything that has ever been written about Measure for Measure is wrong?
Hardly. This is merely an identification of a relatively small subtheme in the play and there’s no telling when Shakespeare decided to insert it.
a. Perhaps Shakespeare wanted to say something about debasement, as I argue he did in Hamlet, and as others have argued he did in Troilus and Cressida, and intentionally chose a source for his play that featured a prominent theme of human corruption. Recognizing – as dramatists have, ever since Aristophanes, that the potential that coinage has for becoming debased makes an apt metaphor for human corruption, he named his central character – the supposedly incorruptible Angelo – for a coin. The Duke figure already was a monarch, but he added a few nuances to make Isabella a monarch as well. At some point, the idea of a bed trick occurred to him, and what better name for the protagonist at this point than Mariana, representing the anti-debasement view.
b. On the other hand, perhaps he had already written or even performed the play, essentially as it was, without any thought of debasement. But at a certain point, the theme of human corruption and coinage debasement occurred to him, and he renamed the main character “Angelo,” inserted a few puns on the “angel” coin, renamed the Epitia character “Isabella,” and renamed the Mariana character “Mariana,” and inserted a few pointers (the moated grange, the brother Frederick, the strange lines that can be explained with reference to Juan de Mariana). For the record, these relatively minor changes could have been made sometime after 1609, or even by someone other than Shakespeare after King James had possession of his own copy of De Mutatione Monetae, and in plenty of time for Measure for Measure’s first publication in the Folio of 1623 (cf. Taylor and Jowett, who argue that Thomas Middleton made significant revisions to Measure for Measure in or after 1621).
c. Regardless of how he came to insert this particular theme, the play is full of other themes and issues, not to mention brilliant language and dialog, that have nothing to do with debasement of the coinage.