Although the oppressive heat during Friday night’s performance of “Measure for Measure” was downright hellish, issuing from the very bowels of Satan himself (it’s okay to say bowels, Shakespeare used it all the time), the title of the play actually comes from Jesus, from his Sermon on the Mount, in which he outlined his moral code as being distinctly different from the “eye for an eye” routine of the Old Testament days. The basic plot and characters of the play are borrowed, too. Not from Jesus, but from George Whetstone, a minor writer whose work Shakespeare also dipped into for “Much Ado About Nothing.” Whetstone’s “History of Promos and Cassandra” includes a hypocritical minister of the law who asks a virtuous young nun to give him her virginity in exchange for her brother’s life, and the righteous duke who returns in the end to sort everything out. But Shakespeare complicates the easy moral vision of the original story in a great many ways, most famously when the Duke saves the virginity of Isabella, the nun, with one of those nifty little bed tricks Shakespeare so loved and then follows that up by asking her to marry him when all she really wants to do is get back to the nunnery and complete her vows.
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