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WMG / Measure for Measure

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Shakespeare set Measure For Measure in Vienna because he thought it was in Italy.
To begin with, no other Shakespearean play is set in a Teutonic country (except perhaps A Winter's Tale, of which more.) Bohemia, where the Holy Roman Emperor (i.e., the German emperor) did hold court, is the setting of A Winter's Tale, but it was actually a Slavic country (the modern Czech Republic), not a German one. However, MANY of S.'s plays are set in Italy, particularly the comedies: The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Much Ado About Nothing, A Merchant of Venice, The Taming of the Shrew, The Comedy of Errors, etc.
  • Second, S. made a number of elementary geographical mistakes in his plays — one of the most famous (it was mocked by Ben Jonson) being that he had characters in The Winter's Tale shipwrecked on the coast of Bohemia. That's right — shipwrecked on the coast of a landlocked country. Furthermore, in Two Gentlemen Valentine travels from Verona to Milan via ship. Yup — both landlocked again.note  In the early play King John a Duke of Austria does appear — called "Lymoges" by the playwright, who was apparently not aware that Richard the Lionheart's enemies Ademar V, Viscount of Limoges (in west-central France) and Leopold V, Duke of Austria, ruled territors some 950 miles apart.
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  • Third, the nomenclature of Measure For Measure consists of common English names, like Froth, Elbow, and Mistress Overdone; classical names like Escalus and Pompey; and Italian names like Vincentio (the Duke), Isabella, Claudio, Juliet, Angelo, Mariana, and Lucio — and not one single German name!
  • Finally, Shakespeare makes none of the two usual Jacobean jokes about the Germans — the bagginess of their pants (a joke which he does make about "Austria" in King John) nor even the ancient, universal, and certainly highly appropriate for Measure For Measure one about their drunkenness (a joke which he does make about the Duke of Saxony's nephew in Merchant of Venice). Obviously, ol' Will couldn't tell the difference between Vienna and Verona, and proceeded accordingly.
  • This makes a ton of sense.
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  • Of course, Shakespeare's Genius is evident in the fact that most of the people saying he knew nothing about geography apparently know very little about Shakespearean contemporary geography.
    • For starters, the coastline of Bohemia. The extent of a country's borders, at that time and even now, is not solely determined by pure geography. Today we talk of, for example, "U.S. Soil" in terms of U.S. embassies, even though the ground they stand on is clearly a part of some other country, because of legal fictions used today and in Shakespeare's time. The same is true of the coastline of Bohemia: the Bohemian Empire once extended to the ocean (under King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, from 1575–1608, the period of Shakespeare), even though Bohemia itself has no coastline. Thus a Shakespearean contemporary would know of a "Bohemian" coastline that existed from 1575 to 1608, in spite of the fact that Bohemia itself had no coastline.
    • Next, getting from Milan to the ocean via boat. Some have made the error of assuming that Italy's canals were small enough that large boats could not make their way up its canal system. The Grand Canal, still in existence today, shows that quite large ships could make their way deep "inland" into Italy. Shakespeare's extensive sailing knowledge and sailing language does not preclude the use of large canal boats used to get to the ocean sailing ships, that then wreck on distant shores.
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Isabella is a lesbian.

She's taking the veil because she's in love with Juliet. Notice how when Lucio mentions Juliet to her, Isabella goes into an ill-organized, but very warm speech about how she and Juliet were best friends in school, even exchanging names, but then quickly stops herself by saying it was all dumb, little-kid stuff - "In vain but apt affection," "Vain" meaning it all amounted to nothing. Now Juliet is engaged to be married to Isabella's brother, and she and Claudio seem to really love each other. Isabella wants her brother and her beloved to be happy, but it hurts too much to be around them. She's only too happy to renounce the world, and of course she's fine with forever abjuring the company of men - she was never that interested in them, anyway.

  • Alternatively, Isabella is a sex-repulsed asexual, which could explain her utter mortification at Angelo's ultimatum and her eagerness to take her vows.


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