MEASURE FOR MEASURE is the most characteristic of the group of so-called `dark comedies' produced in Shakespeare's middle period. Modern critics are agreed that 'Meas ure for Measure,' first printed in the 1623 folio, must have been composed about 160.3. and the critics' opinion, based almost solely upon evidence of style, can now be confidently supported by a piece of external evidence lately redeemed from suspicion of forgery; namely, a memorandum in the accounts of the royal Revels Office which records that 'Measure for Measure> by gShasiberd" was performed before King James by His Majesty's Players on Saint Stephen's night, 26 Dec. 1604. Few of Shakespeare's greater works are so unequal in quality or have evoked such diverse opinions. In certain details of form it is one of the most careless of the plays. The subject is intrin sically displeasing to modern taste (though vastly more refined here than in the original story) ; several of the characters (notably the goody-goody Duke and the unmanly Claudio) repel the reader; and many of the devices of plot, especially in the perfunctory closing act, are frank clap-trap. On the other hand, Shake speare's moral beauty and dramatic brilliance are nowhere more loftily exemplified than in the best scenes— those, namely, in which Isa bella's gracious figure appears. In a word, this play marks, and is the first to mark, the com plete ascendency of spirit over form so notable in the last plays of 8 or 10 years later; it is the earliest to make conspicuous Shakespeare's utter heedlessness of rules and details and his uncanny splendor in silhouetting moral beauty against an all-encompassing mundane vileness.
((This is a play as full of genius as it is of wisdom,' says Hazlitt, and Masefield in a notable appreciation calls it gone of the greatest works of the greatest English mind.' There is no evidence that 'Measure for Measure' has ever been much performed (except in Ger many), though an injudicious attempt to blend it with 'Much Ado about Nothing' ('The Law against Lovers,' by Sir William Davenant) was popular in the latter half of the 17th cen tury. Yet two English revivals in 1907 and 1908 (one by the company of Oscar Ashe and Lily Brayton, the other by the Oxford University Dramatic Society, supported by actresses) proved marvelously impressive. They fully established both the serene morality of the piece when honestly presented and also the genuine effectiveness of the usually slighted comic scenes. Shakespeare's source was a long, flashy play in two parts (10 acts), and Cassandra,' by George Whetstone (1578), which in its turn is derived from an Italian tale in Cinthio's (Hecatommithi.>