• Continuing my series of blogs about Shakespeare’s sources for his plays, we now take a look at one which is currently being staged at the RSC, Measure for Measure. You may recall that in this story the corrupt Angelo offers the innocent Isabella a chance to save her brother’s life if she will sleep with him. Shakespeare manages to find a way for this situation to be resolved without any of the victims having to seriously compromise their morals. In other words Isabella does not have to sleep with Angelo and her brother’s life is also saved. Neither Shakespeare’s first source for the play George Whetstone’s Promos and Cassandra (1578) nor the tale it was based of Epitia and Juriste by Giraldi Cinthio, (1566).  spare Isabella’s virtue. Here is a summary of Whetstone’s play.

    • For whatever reason Shakespeare seems to have wanted to find a resolution to the story in which he could save his Isabella’s virtue. And he does so by introducing another character and another sub plot. That of the jilted Mariana, whom Duke Vincentio (In disguise) describes to Isabella

    • So Shakespeare manages to write into his retelling of Whetstone’s play a bed trick in which Marianna is substituted for Isabella thus sparing her virtue and insuring Mariana makes the match she desires with Angelo. A rather happier happy ending than Whetstone’s had been. Curious then that Shakespeare adds to his own version a proposal of marriage from the duke to Isabella but does not tell us how she responds to that, so having preserved Isabella’s innocence he leaves her (and us) with an unanswered question as to her future.

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