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MALE DOMINANCE AND FEMALE SEXUALITY IN MEASURE FOR MEASURE AND THE TAMING OF THE SHREW

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Constructed upon the model of the ‘tale of the unjust judge’, Measure for Measure presents us with an ambiance which is scarcely typical of Shakespearean comedy. The play is soaked through and through with libidinal urge, sexual appetite, abuse of authority and real threat of dishonour and death, and the characters are not at all light-hearted about life as they usually are in Shakespearean comedy. Prison houses, brothels, judgement chambers and rather uncomfortably enclosed and dark places are the locations where much of the action takes place.
Treatment of sex is what sets apart Measure for Measure from other Shakespearean comedies. Sex in Shakespeare is usually the source of enjoyment and happiness. However, in Measure for Measure, which in terms of genre belongs to the so-called dark/bitter comedies or problem plays, sex is the gloomy source of death. Jokes about sex are dismal and include allusions to venereal diseases such as syphilis. Only two of Shakespeare’s 38 surviving plays contain scenes in brothels. This is one of them, the other is Pericles.
Claudio is arrested because there is a law against fornication in Vienna and Angelo, who is in charge of the city, wants to purge the city of sexual offences with the aid of “strict statutes and most biting laws” (I.III.789) . Claudio confesses his guilt, although he stresses that "upon a true contract / I got possession of Julietta's bed .” When asked by his friend Lucio why he is being taken to prison, i.e. “whence comes this restraint?” (I.ii.116), he answers “From too much liberty, my Lucio, liberty” (I.ii.117).
The voice of the text presents a view on sexuality and sexual desire through Claudio's brief but nevertheless sharp remark when he is conveyed to prison:

Our ...


... middle of paper ...


...at temptation that doth goad us on
To sin in loving virtue. Never could the strumpet,
With all her double vigour, art and nature,
Once stir my temper; but this virtuous maid
Subdues me quite. Ever till now,
When men were fond, I smil'd and wond'red how. Exit
(II. ii. 177-192, my italics)




Works Cited

Benson, Sean., If I do prove her haggard: Shakespeare's Application of Hawking Tropes to Marriage in Studies in Philology; Spring 2006, Vol. 103 Issue 2
Dobson, Michael., ed., The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare, (Oxford University Press 2001)
Leggatt, Alexander., ed., The Cambridge Companion to Shakespearean Comedy, (Cambridge University Press, 2004)
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, The Shakespeare Head Press, Oxford Edition, Wordsworth Editions, 1996
Wells, Stanley., ed. William Shakespeare, The Complete Works (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988)


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