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The story is taken from Cinthio's Novels, Decad. 8. Novel 5. Pope.
We are sent to Cinthio for the plot of Measure for Measure, and Shakspeare's judgment hath been attacked for some deviations from him in the conduct of it, when probably all he knew of the matter was from Madam Isabella, in The Heptameron of Whetstone, Lond. 4to, 1582.—She reports, in the fourth dayes Exercise, the rare Historie of Promos and Cassandra. A marginal note informs ns, that Whetstone was the author of the Comedie on that subject; which likewise had probably fallen into the hands of Shakspeare. FARMER.
There is perhaps not one of Shakspeare's plays more darkened than this by the peculiarities of its author, and the unskilfulness of its editors, by distortions of phrase, or negligence of transcription. Johnson.
Dr. Johnson's remark is so just respecting the corruptions of this play, that I shall not attempt much reformation in its metre, which is too often rough, redundant, and irregular. Additions and omissions (however trifling) cannot be made without constant notice of them; and such notices, in the present instance, would so frequently occur, as to become equally tiresome to the commentator and the reader.
Shakspeare took the fable of this play from the Promos and Cassandra of George Whetstone, published in 1578.
A hint, like a seed, is more or less prolific, according to the qualities of the soil on which it is thrown. This story, which in the hands of Whetstone produced little more than barren insipidity, under the culture of Shakspeare became fertile of entertainment. The curious reader will find that the old play of Promos and Cassandra exhibits an almost complete embryo of Measure for Measure; yet the hints on which it is formed are so slight, that it is nearly as impossible to detect them, as it is to point out in the acorn the future ramifications of the oak.
Measure for Measure was, I believe, written in 1603. Malone.
Vincentio, Duke of Vienna.
Thomas, } two Friars.
ISABELLA, Sister to Claudio.
Lords, Gentlemen, Guards, Officers, and other Attendants.
• Varrius might be omitted, for he is only once spoken to, and says nothing. Johnson.
MEASURE FOR MEASURE.
SCENE I.-An Apartment in the Duke's Palace.
Enter DUKE, Escalus, Lords, and Attendants.
Escal. My lord.
Duke. Of government the properties to unfold,
Since I am put to know,] may mean, I am compelled to acknowledge.
: - lists – ] Bounds, limits.
And let them work.] Something is wanting in this passage, which the commentators have not been able to supply. The meaning may be, your skill in government is, in ability to serve me, equal to the integrity of your heart, and let them co-operate in your future ministry.
From which we would not have you warp.—Call hither, I say, bid come before us Angelo.
[Exit an Attendant.
Escal. If any in Vienna be of worth
. Enter AngelO. Duke.
Look, where he comes.
— with special soul
Elected him -] By these words the poet perhaps means, that he was the immediate choice of his heart.
5- thy belongings -] i. e. endowments.
6 Are not thine own so proper,] i. e. are not so much thy own property. STEEVENS.
7- to fine issues :) To great consequences.