Article Title

Measure for Measure and the Unreconciled Virtues


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

When F. S. Boas called Measure for Measure, among other plays, a "problem-play," he did so because it could not be strictly called a comedy or tragedy. We are led down "dim untrodden paths, and at the close our feeling is neither of simple joy nor pain; we are excited, fascinated, perplexed, for the issues raised preclude a completely satisfactory outcome, even when ... the complications are outwardly adjusted in the fifth act."1 Boas included Hamlet among the problem-plays, for there not even a "partial settlement of difficulties takes place, and we are left to interpret its enigmas as best we may" (p. 345). W.W. Lawrence disputed this inclusion, arguing that "when the problem play becomes tragedy, it is ... best considered under that rubric."2 But in a sense Boas was right, for some critics have been so "perplexed" by the "issues" raised in Measure for Measure that they have decided, as T. S. Eliot decided with Hamlet,3 to explain its apparent contradictions by blaming its creator. From one viewpoint, then, if not from another, both plays are indeed "problem-plays."

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