home contact

Sources for Measure for Measure

Shakespeare's primary source for Measure for Measure was The Right Excellent and Famous Historye of Promos and Cassandra: Divided into Commercial Discourses, by George Whetstone, published in 1578. Whetstone had derived his plot from the Italian author Cinthio's collection of stories called The Hecatommithi, written in 1565. Although we have no direct proof that Shakespeare could read Italian, based on the frequency with which he used Italian works as source material, some of which were not even translated into English at the time, it is likely that Shakespeare did know Italian. In this case he probably read both Whetstone's version and the original work of Cinthio.

Shakespeare follows the events in Whetstone's text closely, including the comic and bawdy sub-plot involving Mistress Overdone and her bordello. But Shakespeare seems to have concluded that certain elements of Whetstone's play were unsuitable for his dramatic purposes. In Promos and Cassandra, Cassandra does marry Promos, her Svengali and the murderer of her brother. This union would have been looked upon very harshly by Renaissance play-goers. As Davis Harding points out, "It was clearly his recognition of this flaw which led Shakespeare to make his most striking alteration in the plot of the original story. By introducing the Mariana story and the device of the bed-trick, he contrives to save the virtue of his heroine Isabella and, at the same time, does no disservice to Mariana, whose love for Angelo, it is made clear, had triumphantly survived the passage of time and his original dislike for her" (Harding, 129).

How to cite this article:

Mabillard, Amanda. Shakespeare's Sources for Measure for Measure. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. (date when you accessed the information) < >.

Work Cited
Shakespeare, William. Measure for Measure. Ed. Davis Harding. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954.


Related Articles

 How to Pronounce the Names in Measure for Measure
 Measure for Measure: Detailed Plot Summary
 Shakespeare on Lawyers and the Law
 Introduction to Isabella from Measure for Measure
 Introduction to Angelo from Measure for Measure
 Introduction to the Duke from Measure for Measure
 Famous Quotations from Measure for Measure
 Shakespeare Quotations (by Play and Theme)
 Quotations About William Shakespeare

 Shakespeare's Language
 Exploring the Nature of Shakespearean Comedy
 Shakespeare's Boss: The Master of Revels

 Why Study Shakespeare?