First a brief suggestion of the complexity of the city; I do not say ‘London’ because, as the preceding section made clear, London, thanks to the translatio imperii, as well as its position at the centre of Britain’s overseas trade, was something of an every-city. Between 1576 and 1642 London grew at a considerably faster rate than the rest of England, and with a population of two hundred thousand by 1600 it dwarfed all other English towns.[Bruster (1992), 118] A large part of this explosive growth was the result of immigration from abroad and from rural England, touched upon in The Second Part of Henry IV when Shallow comically reminisces about “little John Doit of Staffordshire” (3.ii.15-6) who was in London with him and Falstaff. Such immigration made sure that London was an ‘every-city’ in reality as much as in myth. It also meant that the city was full of strangers, a fact that Richard Sennett uses as part of his provocative attempt to define a city.
The simplest [definition] is that a city is a human settlement in which strangers are likely to meet. For this definition to hold true, the settlement has to have a large heterogeneous population; the population has to be packed together rather closely; market exchanges among the population must make this dense, diverse mass interact. In this milieu of strangers whose lives touch there is a problem of audience akin to the problem of audience an actor faces in the theatre.[Sennet (1974), 331-2]
The “problem of audience” is that, in a milieu of strangers, witnesses, and audiences do not know a person’s history. This means that a person or character’s identity is often dependent on their immediate interaction with their audience. Such a situation was probably even true of Shakespeare’s History and Roman plays, the vast majority of his audience having only the sketchiest idea of who their protagonists were. Many city comedies exploit this situation: the aptly named Lethe, in Middleton’s Michaelmas Term, is described as one “’Mongst strange eyes/That no more knew him than he knows himself” (1.i.148-9); much of the humour of A Trick to Catch the Old One is based on how Walkadine Hoard knows nothing of the ‘widow’; and, in The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare’s Antipholus of Syracuse must struggle in an ingenious variation on this position.
ANTIPHOLUS (of Syracuse) I to the world am like a drop of water
That in the ocean seeks another drop,
Who, falling there to find his fellow forth,
Unseen, inquisitive, confounds himself.
So I, to find a mother and a brother,
In quest of them unhappy, lose myself.
(The Comedy of Errors 1.i.35-40)
Even the briefest description of the plot of this play will reveal the intricate web of interdependency that Shakespeare weaves in Ephesus. This short soliloquy from Antipholus of Syracus neatly reiterates the starting, and already complex, position of the play. The “drop of water” and “the ocean” recall Egeon’s description of the shipwreck that sundered the family, and the possibility that Antipholus may “lose himself” is given pressing relevance by the resemblance it bears to his father Egeon’s plight who will soon be executed for being a Syracusan in Ephesus unless he can find a son to lend him a thousand marks. Furthermore, Antipholus’ brief moment of soliloquy, his sense of being “unseen” and “inquisitive” – an ideal pursued by the Duke of Measure for Measure as well – is soon shattered by the appearance of Dromio of Ephesus who, mistaking him for his master, Antipholus’ long-lost twin, informs him “The meat is cold because you come not home”(1.i.48). From here things only get more complicated, as dependencies are layered upon dependencies: at one point, a merchant requires payment from the goldsmith who requires payment from Antipholus, who, mistaken for his twin, must be found by Egeon to avoid execution. As Sennett points out, the city is more than the likelihood of meetings: these meeting are the result of economic, market forces. In The Comedy of Errors it is the multiplication of these forces, of these dependencies, that create the humour and comedy of the meetings. Furthermore, this network, unlike the vertical “degree” Ulysses propounds in Troilus and Cressida, is horizontal, levelling. In a certain sense, these dependencies give a framework in which to understand the city; the humour of The Comedy of Errors is the result of a situation wherein, because all the characters save the Duke, Egeon, and the Abbess, are operating without full knowledge of their history, the very framework that should confirm and render the city logical only serves to confuse them even more. The comic contrast is found in how Ephesus becomes, to the audience, more and more normal, more and more full of interrelations and chance encounters, even as it appears to become increasingly paranormal for the hapless protagonists. Shakespeare has evoked the everyday city and made its normality comical.
For Douglas Bruster, these interdependencies are grounded upon the objects of the play.[Bruster (1992), 64] He suggests that as theatre mimetically glossed the contemporary, urban and courtly preoccupation with commodity and materiality, objects became a focus of interest in their own right, and gained a “locative signification”. It is certainly true that the elaborate relation between Angelo the goldsmith, both Antipholuses and Dromios, Balthasar the merchant, Adriana, and the Courtesan revolves around the golden chain and its current location. Antipholus of Syracuse, for example, is defined as an oath-breaker whilst the chain is neither in his or his wife’s possession. Bruster describes this phenomenon, similar to the way that the handkerchief becomes the lynchpin of Othello’s identity as husband or cuckold, as an “uncanny facility of transference between subjective and objective”.[Bruster (1992), 67] Indeed, the cuckold and the merchant are never far apart in city drama: A Trick to Catch the Old One manages to combine them both as Walkadine Hoard is conned into both paying Witgood’s debts and marriage with Jane, the courtesan. Bruster suggests this is because cuckoldry and cozening are similarly based on the way that the possession of an object constitutes the base of the possessor’s identity. Such plays “prove that only that which can be lost (or stolen) can be possessed”.[Bruster (1992), 69] However, there is at least one episode in The Comedy of Errors that complicates this perception.
BALTHASAR […] Depart in patience,
And let us to the Tiger all to dinner,
And about evening come yourself alone
To know the reason of this strange restraint.
If by strong hand you offer to break in
Now in the stirring passage of the day,
A vulgar comment will be made of it,
And that supposed by the common rout
Against your yet ungalled estimation
That may with foul intrusion enter in
And dwell upon your grave when you are dead.
For slander lives upon succession,
For ever housed where it gets possession.
This is Balthasar’s counsel to Antipholus of Ephesus, who, returning from trade with his Dromio, discovers the doors of his house locked against him since his wife has admitted Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse already, believing them to be her husband and his servant. A material, economic discourse can be traced here, especially in the idea that “slander gets possession”, but the decision “that chain I will bestow – / Be it nothing but to spite my wife – / Upon my hostess there” (3.i.117-119) only follows what is first and foremost a psychological trauma. It is not the location of the chain, but the location of Antipholus of Syracuse that is important, because, here, Antipholus’ psyche and the action he takes are not shaped by material things but by a sense of being watched, of displaying oneself. Balthasar warns him that “a vulgar comment” would be made upon his forcing entrance to his house, but Antipholus then takes such a possibility and uses it to his advantage when he decides “in spite of mirth…to be merry” (3.i.108) and to “spite my wife”: just as his wife now appears unfaithful to him, so does he contemplate a display of unfaithfulness to Adriana. The balance of motives is neatly expressed by the scene’s penultimate couplet: “Since mine own doors refuse to entertain me, / I’ll knock elsewhere to see if they’ll disdain me.” (3.i.120-121) Several critics [Bruster (1992), 75] have pointed out the sexual implications that run through this dialogue, sharply focused by Antipholus’ choice to go and meet a courtesan: the barred gate a motif of refusal, and thus emasculation of Antipholus. However, there is another desire thwarted by the barring of Antipholus’ gate against him: the desire for shelter. Gaston Bachelard in The Poetics of Space argues that, as the Milosz line “Je dis ma mere. Et c’est à toi que je pense, ô maison!” indicates, a house can function as a shelter, and that, like many human virtues, such a capacity is best seen in response to a threat.[Bachelard (1994), 45-6] Antipholus of Ephesus is certainly under threat: this, his first and surprisingly late appearance in the play, already insinuates that his importance in aesthetic terms has been appropriated by his twin; and the opening exchange with Dromio of Ephesus immediately exposes him to the paranormal world of the double. His decision to go to a place called ‘The Tiger’ for shelter from what Titus calls a “wilderness of tigers” (Titus Andronicus 3.i.54) is a neat touch. The Ephesian is not trying to hide, but countering display with display. This play makes very clear that in a city of market forces, commodities, and crowds, it is not, as Bruster suggests the possession of the material object alone that defines identity, but the displaying of that possession, being seen by the crowd to have it. Display is everything, and The Comedy of Errors concludes only when Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse are displayed alongside Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus; and Egeon is displayed and recognised by his long-lost wife, now the Abbess.
DROMIO (of Ephesus) Methinks you are my glass, and not my brother.
I see by you I am a sweet-faced youth.
Will you walk in to see their gossiping?
DROMIO (of Syracuse) Not I, sir. You are my elder.
DROMIO (of Ephesus) That’s a question. How shall we try it?
DROMIO (of Syracuse) We’ll draw cuts for the senior. Till then, lead thou first.
DROMIO (of Ephesus) Nay then, thus:
We came into the world like brother and brother,
And now let’s go hand in hand, not one before another.
The repetition of “brother” is significant here: this moment is an early version of the reestablishment of family bonds that concludes such late plays as Pericles, and The Tempest. Such reestablishment offers a traditionalist framework to the city’s interrelations, based on the traditional unit of the family and not on the vagaries of the economy. However, this is still a moment of display, of theatre, and it is the act of display, Lysimachus introducing Pericles to long-lost Marina, that leads to the reunited family. My emphasis on display would appear to contradict Andrew Gurr’s opinion that the early modern theatre was filled with an audience, and not lots of individual spectators. How then does an audience hear ‘display’? These, the concluding lines of The Comedy of Errors, provide a possible way of doing so, because they contain several moments of verbal displaying, of blazoning. The last couplet is very clear: “hand in hand” is a plain instruction for the final tableau and the way in which such a pair of nouns recalls the similar construction of “brother and brother” gives a clear meaning, the fraternal iteration of the play’s many interdependencies. The other phrase of note, “Methinks you are my glass, and not my brother” describes, and so displays, Dromio’s appearance to the audience. Rather like the conclusion of Twelfth Night, when Viola and Sebastian (another pair of sundered siblings) meet, such a verbal trick is necessary because, for those lucky enough to see the stage, it would be as highly unlikely that the actor playing one Dromio resembled the other as the boy playing Viola reflected Sebastian. The aural, verbal effect is out of step with the visual, and, although this considerably complicates the conclusion of Twelfth Night, splitting the characters into those enjoying comic fictional bliss and those, like Malvolio and Sir Toby, left out,[Barton (1994), 91-113] The Comedy of Errors has been working on such a disjunction almost from the very start. Ben Jonson, operating on a surprising misconception regarding the use of such ‘stage-twins’, abandoned his own play of mistaken identity because he “could never find two so like others that he could persuade spectators they were one,” [Dorsch (2004), 20] with a telling use of the word ‘spectators’. The continual disjunction between aural and visual in the play is either, then, Shakespeare exploiting the presence of an audience and not spectators, or a metatheatrical level added to the farce of the play, or, as neither of these are mutually exclusive, both.
The sequence of ‘triumphs’ examined earlier all relate to a similar aural display. The heavy focus on “eye him” and “see him” in Brutus’ words from Coriolanus, Cleopatra’s fears that the crowd will “uplift us to their view”, and the order of Henry V’s chorus to “Behold” that which he is describing are all part of an aesthetic synaesthesia. It would be an oversimplification, though, to completely discount the visual aspects of early modern urban life. Almost every street would bear signs emblazoned with a symbol for easy recognition, even “theatres, like taverns and shops, were well illustrated to catch the attention of the citizens.”[Ackroyd (2000), 170] The Accession day festivities employed far more craftsmen than they did poets, although an emphasis on conspicuous display of wealth, and a continual redefinition of contemporary fashion was one of the principal effects of the court. Indeed, with each change of fashion, the playhouses themselves would acquire new costumes. According to Jones and Stallybrass, the theatres provided a useful second-hand market for expensive clothes whose circulation was limited not only by changes in fashion but in the sumptuary laws of the period as well.[Jones and Stallybrass (2000), 187] In spite of the second-hand nature of the clothes, the costumes of the actors would still have created a powerful spectacle, and, along with the dress of the wealthier members of the audience, the theatre also had the capacity to influence contemporary fashion – to be a place, as Jonson put it, “To see and be seene” (Dedication to The New Inn). Records still survive of the clothes worn by the actors, but they have been written in a most curious way: they are not described in terms of the player who owned them, but as part of the part whose costume they composed; thus we find a bill for the washing of “God’s robes”[Jones and Stallybrass (2000), 179] in amongst the theatre records. Such a note further complicates the aural-visual complication of the urban theatre of Shakespeare: these robes were undoubtedly spectacular so as to suggest the Almighty, but at the same time it is the words of the play in which the costume is used that give to the costume its significance and identity. Either way, such details, along with the fact that the purchase and maintenance of clothes constituted the largest part of a company’s spending,[Ibid. 178] gives at least an idea of to what extent Shakespeare’s drama was embedded in the city of fashion and market at its time; how the theatre was another act of display in a city already filled with them.
Gail Kern Paster, in her book on The Idea of the City in the Age of Shakespeare, makes this point, suggesting that display and performance are means of containing the essential doubleness of the city. She locates the archetypes of such contradiction in the Bible, and in secular myths about the founding of cities. The Old Testament describes how Cain, after killing Abel, “knew his wife, and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch.” (AV Genesis 4:17). This passage sets the death of Cain against the new life of Enoch, both of which are present at the construction of the first city; the pronoun of “he builded a city” appears at first sight to relate to Enoch, a further identification of the two acts. In secular mythology, Cain’s murder of Abel and construction of the city is repeated by Romulus’ murder of Remus and the founding of Rome. The New Testament also presents a contradictory view of the city: on one hand there is the whore and city of Babylon “The woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth” (Revelation 17:18), on the other New Jerusalem “And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there is no night there.” (Revelation 21:25). Paster’s point is fair enough, and relates in addition to what I said earlier on how epilogues could shape and cast their audience, and drama the environment in which it was performed. What Paster neglects to mention is the role played by display in respect to the city presented in the Bible itself. It is found in the story of Ruth.
So they two went until they came to Bethlehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi?
And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me.
I went out full and the LORD hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?
So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter in law, with her, which returned out of the country of Moab: and they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest.
“Is this Naomi?” This is a biblical version of what Sennett called the “problem of audience”. Because of her time in Moab, Naomi, especially as she is now returning with the “Moabitess” Ruth, must reveal her history. She does, but even as she recounts it, she prefaces it with a change of identity so that the story that displays her recreates her as “Mara”. As before, it is the act of display that constitutes an identity in a city. Later in the Book of Ruth, display carries a slightly different significance.
And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of corn: and she came softly, and uncovered his feet, and laid her down.
And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was afraid, and turned himself: and, behold, a woman lay at his feet.
And he said, Who art thou? And she answered, I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman. And he said, Blessed be thou of the LORD, my daughter: for thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich.
And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou requirest: for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman.
And now it is true that I am thy near kinsman: howbeit there is a kinsman nearer than I.
Tarry this night, and it shall be in the morning, that if he will perform unto thee the part of a kinsman, well; let him do the kinsman’s part: but if he will not do the part of a kinsman to thee, then will I do the part of a kinsman to thee, as the LORD liveth: lie down until the morning.
And she lay at his feet until the morning: and she rose up before one could know another. And he said, Let it not be known that a woman came into the floor.
Also he said, Bring the vail that thou hast upon thee, and hold it. And when she held it, he measured six measures of barley, and laid it on her: and she went into the city.
Display is part of the construction of reputation; Balthasar warns Antipholus of Ephesus that he will stain his as yet “ungalled estimation” if he continues to make his apparent rejection so public; in this passage, Boaz is aware of this, and so says “Let it not be known that a woman came into the floor”. This is despite the fact that “all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman”, but this should not be surprising: even a small, rural, biblical city contains strangers, and it is from these strangers that Boaz seeks to protect Ruth. This story can be glossed in Douglas Bruster’s terms: the “six measures of barley” are both the reason Ruth first comes to Boaz and an alibi for her visit (and as such a way of preserving her virtue). But the distinction is still clear: the object and the market bring Ruth to Boaz, but the unavoidable display of urban life and especially display to strangers, govern action and identity. These two unite in Boaz’s care so that Ruth is not shamed.
The Accession Day procession, when the theatre spread over the city, is an example of willing display, of panoply. To find its opposite – unwilling display – that is to say, shame, one need look no further than an anecdote of the man who famously Morris-danced from London to Norwich, the clown of the King’s Company, Will Kemp:
I rembred one of them to be a noted Cut-purse, such a one as we tye to a poast on our stage, for all people to wander at, when they are taken pilfring.[Cited by Gurr, 258]
Considering the Globe had some three thousand audience members in it, this was quite some punishment. Not to mention that recognition as a thief would severely limit one’s ability to continue with such a career. But if this was the punishment, one can only wonder at those who stood up and faced the crowd every afternoon to earn a living, sometimes even playing those punished with shame themselves, such as Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester, in King Henry VI Part Two. According to Barry Russell, actors in the, comparatively modest-sized, Swan Theatre when it was first built at Stratford-upon-Avon showed signs of nervousness when performing in such an intimate and exposing space.[Bruster (1992),24] It does not seem unreasonable to suggest that the references of characters like Cleopatra to “thick breaths,/Rank of gross diet” reflect in part the actor’s own anxiety at displaying themselves in front of so many people, and, most importantly, having to control and manage them.
The playing conditions, shame and display in the city: all these notes and comments have some bearing upon one of the few other plays classed by critics, along with The Comedy of Errors, as a city play by Shakespeare: Measure for Measure. It is a commonplace [Paster (1985), 219] to associate Vincentio’s scheme with theatrical endeavour: the play’s conclusion is managed like a play within a play, and the Duke follows a Machiavellian crowd-pleasing politics that “kept the minds of his subjects in suspense and admiration, and occupied with their outcome.” [Machiavelli (1985), 88] He sets out his position moments after appointing Angelo his deputy:
DUKE […] I love the people,
But do not like to stage me to their eyes:
Though it do well I do not relish well
Their loud applause and aves vehement,
Nor do I think the man of safe discretion
That does affect it.
(Measure for Measure 1.i.67-72)
The “loud applause and aves vehement” bears some resemblance to the positive response of a theatre crowd, and the slightly contorted use of “stage me” only supports this. His disavowal of public show also echoes James I’s own dislike of appearing in public.[Gibbons (2004), 22] As with much the Duke says in this play, the insight provided by this speech is more complex than it would first appear. Given that the Duke’s actions once disguised as Friar Lodowick can all be seen as an enormous theatrical performance, his apparent separation of playhouse and polis here looks to be a rather hypocritical statement. However, the phrasing of this speech, the constructedness and ceremony of the quasi-anthimeria [OED 3.b.] of “stage”; the fact that the public display is “loud and vehement”; and the passage’s references to the bodily functions of sight, taste and hearing – all directly contrasts to the role the Duke performs over the next few scenes. For Machiavellian or benevolent reasons, he attempts to become part of the city: his performance is both an attempt to efface his identity and to influence the city around him; to control the crowd by embedding himself in it. The choice of disguise, a clergyman, should also be commented upon since clergy, players, and politicians were often compared. The speeches over Caesar’s corpse in Julius Caesar happen at an un-roman “pulpit” (3.i.236), and the large open space near St Paul’s held regular congregations. Vincentio, though, does not become a theatrical Christian preacher but a lowly friar. Although his exchange with Claudio, persuading him to “Be absolute for death” (3.i.5) is not free from the rhetoric of the sermon, especially with its repeated use of “thou”, the stage is very bare, the space intimate and the Duke’s “thou” is part of an individual purpose. When Isabella knocks, the Provost’s startled “Who’s there?” sounds blunt in spite of Isabella’s elegant “grace and good company” because the Provost, like the rest of the audience, has felt the intimate and theatrical moment of this city Duke shatter.
The reason the Duke gives Angelo and Escalus for his dislike of being staged to public eyes deserves further examination. Simply put, the Duke does not trust the judgment of one that “affects” (that is to say ‘loves’ and ‘shows an affectation’) the “loud applause and aves vehement”; whether this caused a titter of metatheatrical laughter or not depends on the performance but it should be noted that the possibility at least is there. Either way, this seems to be an honest statement of Vincentio’s feelings, when he next appears and delivers his pseudo-soliloquy (“You will demand of me why I do this” 1.iii.18) to the Friar, he admits that he has “ever loved the life removed / And held in idle price to haunt assemblies / Where youth and cost witless bravery keeps.” (9-11). Even with the Duke’s habitually contorted syntax the distaste is evident: “idle price” evokes both a sense of ‘little worth’ and of ‘costly slothfulness’ that is developed in “witless bravery”. The next thing the Friar is told is that all power has been “delivered to Lord Angelo” (12) and the contrast between Angelo and such gallants is clear. Yet by the conclusion of this one-way dialogue it becomes evident that Angelo and the gallants share one trait at least: their conspicuousness. The scene’s concluding, and oft quoted couplet, “Hence shall we see, / If power change purpose, what our seemers be” (54-5) looks back to those gallants of the Duke’s earlier discourse as well as to the test of the deputy by using the neologistic “seemers” as opposed to Angelo’s actual name; this ambiguity here is also a self-mandate for Duke to observe elsewhere in Vienna. Finally, the musicality of this couplet has a special significance: “we”, “see”, seemers”, and “be” are all linked by their use of the long ‘e’ sound. This confirms my earlier point on the Duke’s peculiar, self-effacing performance: “we”, used in Vincentio’s opening speech as the royal ‘we’ (for example, “we have with special soul / Elected him” 1.i.17) now carries with it a sense of shared spectatorship and so, in its ambivalence, reflects the Duke’s own position. Shared spectatorship (“we see”) is then behind the sequence that alters “seemer” to the bare existence of to “be”. Overall, the couplet whets the audience’s appetite for what is to come. Unfortunately this is too neat an analysis, and, at the “moated grange” of “dejected Mariana” (3.i.247-248), the only time the scene is set outside the city, we hear why.
DUKE Oh place and greatness, millions of false eyes
Are stuck upon thee; volumes of report
Run with these false and most contrarious quest
Upon thy doings; thousands escapes of wit
Make thee the father of their idle dream
And rack thee in their fancies.
Note first the return of “eyes”, always a popular image in Shakespeare and here, as in Brutus and Cleopatra’s speeches quoted above, once again capable of taking on a metatheatrical resonance as the six thousand or so eyeballs belonging to the groundlings and the galleries of the amphitheatre playhouse swivelled onto the actor. In addition, these are “false eyes”: the Duke can no longer easily identify himself as a watcher as he is beginning to realise the danger such a relationship entails. William Warburton, in 1747, thought this speech should be placed elsewhere, whereas A.P. Rossiter thought that this speech should be augmented by the Duke’s tetrametric couplets on “He who the sword of heaven will bear / Must be as holy, as severe” (3.ii.223-44). But this speech works fine as it is: its brevity recalls the form of the earlier moment of self-realisation that follows the Duke’s exposure to Lucio, and even perpetuates the earlier insight that “back-wounding calumny / The whitest virtue strikes” (3.ii.159-60). These two short speeches problematise the Duke’s position as a watcher, as a member of the crowd. Not only are the eyes “false” but they “are stuck” upon “place and greatness”: the construction of “are stuck” gives no clear sense of agency, and instead only a generalised present tense, it suggests both that the “false eyes” have stuck themselves to “place and greatness” and that they have been stuck to it. Again, this follows the shape of the Duke’s paradoxical position: the attraction of authority is seen as something both constructed by authority and, as it were, an instinctive lure. Dominating both senses is the other meaning of “stuck”: the eyes are not only fixed upon “place and greatness” but trapped there. This irrevocable nature is important to the Duke’s hendiadys of “place and greatness”: although it sounds proverbial, the trope also suggests a detailed distinction, an equality of emphasis derived from personal knowledge; thus the rhetorical phrase works as a comment in general and as one on both Angelo and Vincentio. Rather like the disguised Henry V giving “a little touch of Harry in the night” (4 Chorus 47), the Duke is stuck with the fact that he is the Duke. Although he attempts to be part of the crowd, such a performance only reveals the performance necessary to being a leader; by acting the spectator he observes his own acting and the forces that control such display. To do so requires a theatrical city, and Vienna certainly is.
Vienna shares several similarities with Ephesus. The characters of Vienna are also interdependent: they are not bound by trade or blood, but instead linked through sexual appetite. There is a hint of this in The Comedy of Errors, the role of the courtesan to Antipholus’ household as well as Dromio’s steadfast avoidance of the kitchen maid’s “Netherlands”, but Measure for Measure goes much further. Sexual relations link every character in the play, be it the comradely question of “which of thy hips has the most profound sciatica?” (1.ii.47-8) or the Provost taking care of “the groaning Juliet” (2.ii.16). This interdependency is accentuated by the fact that Vienna, like Ephesus, is a distorted city: in the same way that being from Syracuse merits death or ransom in Ephesus and so the ultimate emphasis is placed upon questions of identity from the play’s beginning, so does Angelo’s reinstatement of the death penalty for fornication give Measure for Measure one central, ramifying concern. This, with the aid of some critical theory, provides a valuable insight into Shakespeare and the city. In the early twentieth century, a movement loosely known as Russian Formalism began with the central idea that art worked by making the familiar strange so as to break the blinkered, habitual way of considering the world and show it anew. Art was made strange, or ‘defamiliarised’ (a translation of the Russian ostrenie), by the devices employed by the artist. The relevance to Shakespeare should be clear: Vienna and Ephesus are both defamiliarised urban environments, made strange by peculiarly draconian laws that serve as a means of building interdependencies between the characters of the play. One of the criticisms of Russian Formalism, voiced by Roman Jakobson, was that the process of defamiliarisation requires some kind of limitation as well since without it one would be unable to perceive the original for the applied strangeness, the city for the death penalties. Vienna and Ephesus provide this limitation through their contemporaneous qualities: the aforementioned description of Dromio’s Nell plays upon conventional Elizabethan national stereotypes.
ANTIPHOLUS (of Syracuse) Where France?
DROMIO (of Syracuse) In her forehead armed and reverted, making war against her heir.
ANTIPHOLUS (of Syracuse) Where England?
DROMIO (of Syracuse) I looked for her chalky cliffs, but I could find no whiteness in them. But I guess it stood in her chin, by the salt rheum that ran between France and it.
(Comedy of Errors 3.ii.109-15)
Here, The War of the Three Henries may be behind Dromio’s description of France “making war against her heir”,[Dorsch (2004), 38] and the “salt rheum”, as well as representing the English Channel, makes a typical joke on the various venereal diseases associated with the French, salt baths being an early modern treatment for such diseases. They are mentioned in terms of the similarity such tubs bore to the powdering and preservation of beef in Measure for Measure as well: Mistress Overdone, in Pompey’s words “hath eaten up all her beef, and she is herself in the tub” (3.ii.50-51). Angelo’s other edict, that “All houses [i.e. Brothels] in the suburbs of Vienna must be knocked down” (1.ii.80), resembles a proclamation of James I on 16th September 1603 that called for the pulling down of houses in the suburbs as a protection against the spread of plague.[Gibbons (2004), 88] Finally, the Duke’s ‘return’ to Vienna has been said to resemble the Accession Day of James I, taking place in early 1604. [Ibid. 21]
The final scene of Measure for Measure, the public performance of the Duke’s return to Vienna would seem to contradict my argument that Vincentio, by performing the spectator in a theatrical city, seeks to achieve an insight into the dynamics of authority. As I noted at the beginning of this discussion, this event unfolds like a play within a play, before the eyes of not only the Jacobean audience but the majority of the characters in the play as well. I would maintain, though, that the Duke does not deviate from his position as a spectator for the majority of it, and when he does do so it is because he is then able to assume authority. The real performer, staged to the city’s eyes, is Angelo. And, just as Boaz acted to protect Ruth from the shame that display in a city can inflict, so is the deputy exposed in what, to the once reclusive Duke’s way of thinking, must be the most tortuous of punishments. One way of considering Measure for Measure is, in Freudian terms, as a kind of mass repression. Pompey’s dialogue with Escalus makes this very clear by contrasting natural libido and imposed, legal restriction.
ESCALUS How would you live, Pompey? By being a bawd? What do you think of the trade, Pompey? Is it a lawful trade?
POMPEY If the law would allow it, sir.
ESCALUS But the law will not allow it, Pompey; nor it shall not be allowed in Vienna.
POMPEY Does your worship mean to geld and splay all the youth in the city?
By the final stages of the play the success of this repression is very ambiguous. On one hand, neither Pompey Mistress Overdone nor the two Gentlemen are present at the denouement; on the other, the prison has become a concentrated den of iniquity filled with “Mistress Overdone’s…old customers”, and Angelo confesses to fornication. What can be said, though, is that repression has been brought out into the open in a series of sudden, dramatic, and shaming coups de théâtre. It is easy to forget, but, up until this point, Angelo has never appeared in so very public circumstances: unable to bear Pompey’s stalling any more, he abruptly leaves the relatively small-scale proceedings of Froth and Elbow; and although the Provost does report that, as regards Claudio’s hope of reprieve, “upon the very siege of justice / Lord Angelo hath to the public ear / Professed the contrary.” (4.ii.85-7), this too implies none of the ceremony of the play’s conclusion, focusing on the bureaucratic “public ear” and not the “false eyes” of public spectacle. Even on the level of the play’s imagery, Angelo has also been distinguished as rather inward, as containing things within him. In his tortured soliloquy following Isabella’s first petition, he figures his current predicament as a crisis of urban redevelopment.
ANGELO …Can it be that modesty may more betray our sense
Than woman’s lightness? Having waste ground enough
Shall we desire to raise the sanctuary
And pitch our evils there? Of fie, fie, fie, fie,
What dost thou or what art thou Angelo?
The relentless use of the rhetorical question (erotema) forcibly conveys the dividedness of Angelo as much as it establishes the extent of his self-containment. Containment is also the most striking aspect of Isabella’s description of the garden where Angelo expects to have sex with her. “Cicummured with brick”, “with a vineyard backed”, having “a planched gate” that requires “a bigger key”, and further secured with “a little door / Which from the vineyard to garden leads” (4.i.25-30): a symbolic interpretation of the garden as Angelo’s repressed libido is very tempting, and to some degree supported by traditional associations of gardens and sexuality. Thus Angelo, entering the city with the Duke, is on the verge of being physically and psychologically exposed.
DUKE Oh, your desert speaks loud, and I should wrong it
To lock it in the wards of covert bosom
When it deserves with characters of brass
A forted residence ’gainst the tooth of time
And razure of oblivion. Give me your hand
And let the subject see, to make them know
That outward courtesies would fain proclaim
Favours that keep within.
Like many of the Duke’s speeches in this scene, these words have a certain bendiness to them since the audience are as aware as Vincentio that forms of public display are also forms of public exposure. “Favours” is a particularly charged word, serving as a nexus between the accoutrements of rank and patronage, and sexual liaison. It should also be noted that the Duke, although prominent, is already staging Angelo, here in an emblematic hand-holding with himself and Escalus, and then far more explicitly when he replies to Isabella’s petition by telling her that “Here is Lord Angelo shall give you justice” and, with the usual irony, to “Reveal yourself to him.” (5.i.27-28) The ramifications of Angelo’s exposure should be considered in terms of the Duke’s own distaste and distrust of those who relish loud applause and aves vehement. The Duke and Angelo are very close in this scene: as Angelo’s own neuroticism, hypocrisy and asceticism are brought to trial, so too does the Duke work through his own psychological difficulties, shielded in part by the very public position in which he has placed Angelo. The conclusion of this process is Lucio’s discovery of Vincentio since, just as the twins of The Comedy of Errors were displayed alongside one another to restore order to the play, now the Duke’s deception is revealed to the characters and his exploitation of “the problem of audience” at an end. He is no longer a spectator, but is in total control because he is still sharply aware of the dynamics of audience.
DUKE [To Isabella] If he be like your brother, for his sake
Is he pardoned, and for your lovely sake
Give me your hand, and say you will be mine,
He is my brother too. But fitter time for that.
By this Lord Angelo perceives he’s safe;
Methinks I see a quickening in his eye.
Well, Angelo, your evil quits you well.
Look that you love your wife: her worth, worth yours.
I find an apt remission in myself; […] (5.i.483-91)
The Provost, cued by the Duke, has presented the hooded Claudio as though he were a different prisoner, one “Who should have died when Claudio lost his head, / As like almost to Claudio as himself” (481-2). This turn of phrase not only keeps Isabella in suspense right up until her brother is ‘unmufffled’, it also suggests that Claudio may be slightly changed, perhaps even reformed. The discovery of Claudio is also a clear repetition of Lucio pulling off the Duke’s disguise, with the effect that the phrase “If he be like your brother”, as well as describing the reformed Claudio, could also describe the similarly hoodless Vincentio. The suggestion is very subtle, but it is the first step of an identification that continues in “He is my brother too” and culminates in the proposal of marriage. Not only is the Duke in control, but he is subtly part of his audience as well. Isabella’s silence is not surprising: forgiving Angelo, and finding Claudio to be alive have left her stunned, and the Duke knows this, not withdrawing his proposal but giving her “fitter time for that”. Even when focused on Isabella, the Duke is now so profoundly part and power of the scene: he has spotted “a quickening” in Lord Angelo‘s eye. The timing of Angelo’s reaction suggests that the Deputy is himself aware of how closely his fate is linked to the Duke; the “this” of “By this Lord Angelo perceives he’s safe” can be both Vincentio’s proposal and the survival of Claudio: both are indicative of the Duke’s power and mercy that bodes well for the chastised official. To a certain extent, Angelo is correct, since the Duke, after this final piece of early modern ‘aural display’ demanded by the dramaturgy, does pardon Angelo. The “apt remission in myself” is both the Duke publicly admitting how he, by playing the spectator and manipulator, is complicit, as well as the moment at which mercy is distinguished from leniency. By finding an “apt remission” in himself Vincentio metes out judgment having been informed by experience and by an understanding of the dynamics of audience in the city; his kindness is not the kindness of an unthinking, reclusive leniency any more.
DUKE […] Dear Isabel
I have a motion much imports your good,
Whereto, if you’ll a willing ear incline,
What’s mine is yours, and what is yours is mine.
So bring us to our palace, where we’ll show
What’s yet behind that’s meet you all should know.
Here is another moment of oft-remarked silence from Isabella, but she need not speak. Although the Duke is offering marriage, he does it almost hypothetically, and does not yet expect an immediate reply: it is up to her to choose “if you’ll a willing ear incline” (emphasis mine). This delay and the concluding couplet’s promise of further revelations withheld from the audience are the final iteration of the Duke’s new, extremely powerful position. Vincentio is now the cynosure he once dreaded, but he strikes a remarkable balance: he displays his intention of marriage, and of making further revelations, but then denies these events from both the audience of the theatre and the urban characters of the play (Pompey is working in the prison, Lucio to be married by force, and Mistress Overdone mysteriously absent). This anticipation leaves all the audiences in his power, and the Duke with a measure of control over the forces of display that have been so active throughout the play. With no wit to leap forward, Volpone-like, and offer an alternative view of the play, there is no better representation of the Duke’s new power, no longer isolated ruler nor half a member of the crowd, than his walking away from that great crowd, the three thousand pairs of eyes, the breaths that smelt “brown bread and garlic” (3.ii.156) of the theatre audience.
Both The Comedy of Errors and Measure for Measure present two distinct yet related ways in which Shakespeare explores the city, and, on top of this, explores the ways in which the city can be given meaning, and partly defined. Distortion, defamiliarisation, and display are part of these explorations; but so is an engagement with both an economic, market-orientated discourse and with a psychological awareness of the pressures of urban life. Both psychological and economic representation rely upon a strong level of interdependency between characters, in part provided by the plot, in part provided by the type of city that Shakespeare has built. Vienna and Ephesus are built from London, and they are built in London upon the stage of its theatre or its court; they offer a view on the city around them, even as they draw power from the playing conditions of the time. In his relationship to the city Shakespeare powerfully exploits what Bacon eloquently called “a great secret in nature” in The proficiencie and advancement of learning, divine and humane.
The action of the theatre, though modern states esteem it merely ludicrous unless it be satirical and biting, was carefully watched by the ancients, so that it might improve mankind in virtue; and indeed many wise men and great philosophers have thought it to the mind as the bow to the fiddle; and certain it is, though a great secret in nature, that the minds of men in company are more open to affections and impressions than when alone. [Bacon (1605, cited by Gurr (2004), v]