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Muffled Protest: Parrhēsia, Politics, and Platea in Thomas Middleton’s The Phoenix and William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure

Mark Kaethler

August 10, 2015

Essay Cluster: Literature of Protest


Abstract: This essay aims to trouble conventional approaches to politics in early modern theater by offering an alternative to the defeatism of new historicism’s subversion/containment model. In the absence of pure transgression, we can nevertheless locate points of contention that are muffled in the contractual, familial bonds between an appointed monarch and his or her people. From this angle, the work reevaluates the criticism on two disguised duke plays that were performed at the outset of James’s reign of England with protagonists that clearly allegorize the king: Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and Middleton’s The Phoenix. Neither Shakespeare nor Middleton stage overt protests; however, Middleton’s democratic theater and politics shape an ongoing and dynamic relationship between the ruler and his people that challenges the oppositional and hegemonic binary construction of subversion and containment that Shakespeare dramatizes. Whereas Isabella remains silent, neither complying with nor denying the Duke’s offer of marriage, the Jeweller’s Wife politely challenges Phoenix’s reprimand of her by playing the submissive party, only to critique her superior by using the rhetorical device of parrhēsia. In both plays an ironic or paradoxical flux remains unresolved. The difference between them is in the degree of democracy the rulers allocate to their fellow play-world characters and their audiences. Vincentio refuses to acknowledge his reliance upon others, an audience, or theatrical convention, assuming a position of authority in the locus, but Phoenix establishes mutual governance with the other characters in the play and with the audience through his regular entry into the liminal, democratic space of the platea. Protest remains muffled in The Phoenix, but it is louder than silence.


Jonathan Dollimore best summarizes early modern drama’s inability to stage pure transgression, a political energy akin to the blatant protests we see today. He explores new historicism and cultural materialism’s creation of a subversion/containment model that fails to achieve this pronounced recalcitrance to the status quo because subversion is embedded within the systems of authority (Sexual Dissidence, 284-7).1 The only way to see upheaval is to reimagine political relations less as a binary (subversion/containment) and more as a reactionary relation that enmeshes the two forces without a clear division (299).2 Some early modern texts perpetuate the binary while others subtly or clearly disassemble its bifurcated structure. The absence of pure protest in these instances is understandable given censorship and the penalties associated with rebellious acts. In light of this fact, Annabel Patterson rationalizes that in such a time, “ambiguity becomes a creative and necessary instrument” (11). Coupled with a reaffirmation of the status quo, this indirectness leaves many scholars longing for the moment when Shakespeare promulgates a distinct political agenda. Unlike Gertrude who believes the Player Queen protests too much, such critics perceive that Shakespeare protests not enough. Since the advent of new historicism, moreover, scholarship has tended to be aporetic of approaches to politics in Shakespeare.3 This retrospect provides valid and warranted caveats against locating radical intentions in the dramatic work of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, especially when these readings overlook or ignore the historical groundwork that is required to stake such claims. Given this context, it is important to ask, is early modern drama not a place of true historical protest, but a form of political mollification? Does protest have a space in early modern drama?

This article suggests that attempting to ascertain a playwright’s political allegiance or motivation, without the necessary historical evidence, remains an act of folly. But one can still find worthy possibilities for protest in the dramatization of conflicted, ongoing political affections. Shakespeare provides an apt example of the possibilities for such protest in Much Ado About Nothing:

BENEDICK: I protest I love thee. . . .
BEATRICE: You have stayed me in a happy hour; I was about to protest I loved you.
BENEDICK: And do it with all thy heart.
BEATRICE: I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest. (4.1.278-9, 282-6)

These words between Benedick and Beatrice show Beatrice employing “protest” first as a proclamation of love (“I protest / I love thee”) and then as an acquiescence of her previous counteractive emotion (“none is / left to protest”). This dialogue presents the audience with the anticipated comedic moment that bridges the sustained dramatic tension between them, as both characters realize and disclose their feelings for one another. At this time Beatrice’s heart is filled only with love for Benedick and has no resistant voice “left to protest.” The subversive forces to the orderly and contained romantic comedic plot have been thwarted and contained. Or have they? It may seem as though Beatrice’s victorious love assuages her prior doubts, but Benedick’s love for her proves not to be absolute. Immediately following the previously cited passage, Benedick beckons her, “Come, bid me do anything for thee,” to which Beatrice asks him to “Kill Claudio” (4.1.287-8). She takes his reluctance to perform the task as a lack of conviction, stating, “There is no love in you” (4.1.292-3). The world of lovers is fraught; it is similar to the relations between the monarch and his or her people.4 Benedict and Beatrice’s love story is not “happily ever after”; it is dynamic in a manner comparable to the ongoing tension Dollimore elucidates between subversion and containment. Early modern drama can likewise reveal that political conflict is not contained happily ever after. Clashes between competing politics linger, making love of the sovereign conditional rather than absolute.

James I’s image of himself as divinely appointed to rule over the multitude as a worthy and righteous husband to her provides a fitting point of entry into this topic.5 Taking as its subject two disguised-duke plays from the commencement of James’s reign of England, this piece intends to elucidate competing methods of governance that align with the monarch’s methodology while simultaneously denying the king total control. Both Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and Thomas Middleton’s The Phoenix stage this statecraft through an ironic framework that resists a comfortable sense of closure.6 The Phoenix provides a more convincing staging of protest than Shakespeare’s play by addressing its prince’s errors, which mirror James’s recent mistakes. Like Measure for Measure, The Phoenix stages a tale of a disguised ruler; however, unlike Shakespeare’s protagonist, Middleton’s Phoenix is not yet governor of the land, but the son of an old Duke. He promises his father, as Vincentio does to Angelo et al, that he will travel, but instead decides to interpret his words to mean at home rather than abroad. He never assumes a specific disguise, unlike Vincentio who takes on the habit of a Friar, but like Vincentio, he uses subterfuge to investigate the sinful conduct of the city. Whereas Measure for Measure frames its main plot with the subplot concerning Mistress Overdone’s brothel, The Phoenix’s secondary plot involves the lascivious dealings of a Jeweller’s Wife and a Knight. The plots also similarly intertwine: Vincentio rebukes Lucio and Phoenix chastises the Jeweller’s Wife. Measure for Measure’s conclusion, however, only allows the potential for audience members to question and resist Vincentio in the space Isabella’s silence creates, whereas The Phoenix actually stages the Jeweller’s Wife’s valid and ironic overturning of Phoenix’s condemnation of her. The provisional politics of Middleton’s Phoenix portray governance as a shared responsibility between the monarch and his people that is ongoing and conditional, dissolving the binary of containment and subversion that Shakespeare’s play stages.

Middleton’s play frames the interdependency between the monarch and his people in a dialogic space that allows subjects a space to voice their dissatisfaction, establishing an early form of democracy. In condoning the Jeweller’s Wife’s action, The Phoenix dramatizes parrhēsia (also parrēsia), or the freedom to advance a recrimination of the governor. The trope broaches a rhetorical arena for the monarch and the people to discuss politics through polite decorum. Early modern rhetorical manuals advocate that parrhēsia be expressed with courtesy to the ruler. In The garden of eloquence, conteyning the fitures of grammer and rhetoric (1577), Henry Peacham describes parrhēsia as “when speaking before them whome we ought to reuerence and feare, & hauing something to say, which either toucheth themselues, or their friends, do desire them to pardon our boldnesse” (Miiv-Miiir). Angell Day humorously describes the trope as “libertie to speake, when by winning of curtesie to our speech we seeke to auoyd anie offence thereof, as thus. Pardon if I be tedious, the circumstance requireth it” (II. Oiir).7 The Jeweller’s Wife deploys this rhetoric when she rebukes Phoenix’s chastisement of her. The polite decorum with which citizens must present a rebuttal to their betters exemplifies the mandatory respect of the monarch, but nevertheless challenges his superiority by bringing to light issues he neglects. Such politics promote a mutually established system of governance through dialogue. Michel Foucault’s lectures on parrhēsia likewise advocate for communally constituted governance by allowing citizens an equal footing to speak truth rather than simply being told the truth.8 In The Governance of the Self and Others, Foucault defines multiple forms of parrhēsia, but a determining factor over the course of these talks is the articulation of truths in “an agonistic game, [which] allows freedom for others who also wish to command” (105). In a similar vein, the Jeweller’s Wife enters into a polemical dialogue that questions the monarch’s displacement of blame for the city’s sins onto her, drawing attention to the sovereign’s own contribution to Ferrara’s current corrupt state. The Phoenix thus depicts the potential for parrhēsia within a monarchal state, allowing for a degree of democracy. By contrast, Vincentio essentially scripts Vienna’s new political order in a monologue. The audience members are never invited to participate in his game, and between the reprobate Lucio and the mute Isabella, they receive no overt encouragement from the text to voice their discontent.9 As Foucault maintains, truth of the variety Vincentio demonstrates, in which the governor imposes truth upon the populace, borders upon tyranny (Foucault 156). Containment in The Phoenix is conditional upon mutual correction whereas in Measure for Measure silence is the only call to arms that is made available.

The different forms of theatrical command that Phoenix and Vincentio use determine the degree of democracy they allocate to audiences and their fellow play-world characters.10 Hence, the rulers cultivate their theatrical and political authority in ways that either silence or open a moderated space for protest. Robert Weimann’s terms locus and platea might seem archaic, but they are extremely useful for comprehending these divergent manners in which governance is constituted.11 Vincentio works alone and is more comfortable speaking from the locus, a fixed position that assumes authority, whereas Phoenix employs the assistance of Ferrara’s good citizens and rarely displays reservations in speaking from the platea. A character that speaks in the locus presumes to have predetermined control over the space, events, and people. He or she speaks to audience members as God does in medieval drama, often from a distance on a throne or scaffold. A character in the platea, on the other hand, uses theatrical conventions in order to establish authority with the audience in dialogue through metatheatrical references. Such a figure shows control over the space of the theater rather than that of a court, the customs of which are revealed to be imagined ceremonies. A throne for this character is merely a wooden chair, and he or she often, but not always, speaks from the edge of the stage, implicating and thus coaxing an audience into complicity with his or her authoritative position. A character may transition in and out of these theatrical modes, highlighting their interdependency, but what is important to note is that the platea enacts a democratic form of theater in which an audience consents, whereas the locus assumes authority and control over an audience by utilizing the social conventions that privilege him or her. The imposition of truth onto the world from the locus differs significantly from the communal, liminal space of the platea.12 Although both characters inevitably operate to a degree within the platea, given that their disguises establish complicity with the audience, Vincentio remains far more hesitant to draw attention to this fact. His speeches regularly maneuver the platea by reasserting his position in the locus. He appears unawares that he is being seen while nevertheless referring to the public’s gaze.13 Phoenix, too, reestablishes his stance in the locus on occasion, but not as habitually as Vincentio; he allows the audience and the other characters room to participate in the reconstitution of the state. Measure for Measure stages a dominant monarch whose imposed truth the people either consent to or reject, whereas The Phoenix actually stages and encompasses a degree of democracy.

Both plays are nevertheless interrogative texts that disrupt an idealized and absolute image of a governor, who in both plays, through topical allusions, resembles the audience’s newly appointed monarch.14 The plays’ fracturing of narrative cohesion accentuates the imperfections of their political order. The Phoenix challenges the patriarchal authority of Phoenix and breaches the world of the audience with the collective invitation the play’s final words voice. By contrast, Measure for Measure enacts the sovereign’s solitary and secret reformation of the political system, which the audience members either embrace or question. Although this article is attuned to the morally nuanced portrayal of Vincentio throughout Measure for Measure, it is nevertheless skeptical of the degree to which the text encourages one to protest the Duke’s manner of governance. The possibility lingers to refute his absolutism, but a valid counterblast is never actually launched against the ruler. Measure for Measure concludes with an “ambiguating perspective[,]…a daring and dissident intervention in an era of absolutist claims by official thought” that retains the potential for protest (Fitter 32). The Phoenix, on the other hand, actually denies the ruler full autonomy over the politics of the realm. Both plays can thus be said to protest absolute containment, but The Phoenix presents a much more persuasive case for a politics based upon ongoing, conflicting sentiments instead of obedience.


Absolutism is a word popularly associated with the Stuarts in scholarly discourse, and both plays include several topical allusions to events at the commencement of James’s reign.15 The references make the allegories too tantalizing to neglect completely. In The Phoenix, the Duke reigns for the same forty-five years that Queen Elizabeth I had prior to James’s succession. Andrew Hadfield remarks that Vincentio’s displeasure at public displays “remind[s] the audience that the ruler is being ‘staged’ in Measure for Measure. Duke Vincentio is and is not James” (Shakespeare and Renaissance Politics, 191). The allegorical correspondences imply that Middleton and Shakespeare’s personages represent James while also circumventing direct references to the monarch.15 Kevin A. Quarmby astutely cautions against the tendency to read disguised-duke plays as oppositional responses to James’s monarchy, given that the genre has a trajectory that precedes his reign. A Whig bias, Quarmby suggests, leads to anti-Stuart readings in the scholarship. This is a warranted caveat, but Quarmby at times seems to go so far as to preclude any reading of the dukes as James (6). My approach retains an attention to these fictional rulers as figurations of James without imposing a modern factional politics onto the early modern period. The texts instead present mixed sentiments on their ruler’s actions as both praiseworthy and flawed. The protest against absolutism that these texts either stage or allow is not evidently oppositional toward James, but merely provides different representations of his governance. This segment of the article outlines the historical circumstances that inform The Phoenix’s and Measure for Measure’s differing approaches to Jacobean politics at the outset of James’s reign.

The king’s writings and words often idealize his rule over the populace as being far more contained than it actually is, for James was not entirely unwavering or absolute in his governance. Generalizing Jacobean absolutism as a complete containment of social unrest would be a gross historical inaccuracy given that James would have had to operate within the English parliamentary and legal system, meaning that he was answerable to others. This excerpt from a speech James delivered to parliament on 21 March 1610 presents both the king’s absolutism and his dependency upon the English people:

you doe not meddle with the maine points of Gouernment; that is my craft: tractent fabrilia fabri; to meddle with that, were to lesson me: I am now an old King; for sixe and thirtie yeeres haue I gouerned in Scotland personally, and now haue I accomplished my apprenticeship of seuen yeeres heere; and seuen yeeres is a great time for a Kings experience in Gouernment…I must not be taught my Office. (190-1)

Although the opening and closing lines of this segment suggest otherwise, James clearly makes efforts to adapt to the English political system between his rise to the English throne and this speech delivered seven years later. He refers to his time in office as his “apprenticeship,” using the discourse of the English people’s livery companies to justify his right to rule. These words reveal a history of receptive education rather than a consistently stubborn pupil. This article’s understanding of absolutism instead identifies James as presumptuous in his projected bond of affection with the people. Tracts such as Basilicon Doron and The True Law of Free Monarchies that were written during his reign in Scotland and reprinted for English book buyers presuppose that he has the love of the people. James, for instance, concludes the latter piece by proclaiming, “the Land may thinke themselues blessed with such a King, and the king may thinke himselfe most happy in ruling ouer so louing and obedient subiects” (84). These words assume rather than negotiate the people’s love and uphold James as a god over subjects rather than a greater part within the whole that is the kingdom. James’s rhetoric models himself as the sole decider, entrapping the citizens in an enclosed dialectic that allows him to be the unquestioned monarch who is divinely appointed to regulate the fluctuating state of the kingdom. The speech above depicts an old king still young in his station anxiously upholding the patriarchal stance he fashioned as the father of the people.17

The Phoenix’s boy company production at St. Paul’s with a protagonist mirroring the monarch inevitably disrupts this hierarchy. Although Paul’s performances were significantly less satirical than those of the notorious children of Blackfriars, The Phoenix’s allegorical portrayal of the king with a troupe of boy actors entails a degree of scandal. Michael Shapiro maintains that Phoenix would have had to be played by an older boy actor given the sophisticated language and elegant speech the role demands (117). The prophecy Phoenix foretells to Proditor shortly before they are about to execute their plot to assassinate Phoenix’s father, however, suggests that even if Phoenix was played by the eldest boy in the company, roughly eighteen years of age, he did not appear to be of the highest standing:

There was a villainous raven seen last night
Over the presence chamber in hard jostle
With a young eaglet. (15.19-21)

A raven is a rather large bird and obviously correlates with Proditor given its “villainous” description. The reference to Phoenix as the “young eaglet” is a compliment, for such birds were symbolically regal, but it also likely draws attention to the shorter stature of the actor playing Phoenix when compared to Proditor.18 Phoenix was not a pipsqueak boy, for he has a demanding part; however, these lines reveal that he is not the largest boy in the company. The contrast between the age of Phoenix and his appearance as younger than Proditor means that the visible age of the actor (less than eighteen years of age) creates a dissonance between the age of the character and the actor, disrupting the power of the Prince’s station. This discrepancy creates a tension throughout the play—accentuated in this moment—that compromises attempts to interpret Phoenix as an idealized embodiment of James.19 The casting suggests that the king lacks the knowledge of his kingdom, which would have been new to James at the time, making him a young ruler, despite being an erudite governor.20 This poignant staging does not clearly target James satirically, for as already mentioned, the text’s likening of Phoenix to an eaglet is a compliment; instead, the text, when performed, merely levels the playing field. The king stands on equal or comparable footing to his subjects, allowing the medium to frame governance evenly.

Such theatrical tactics establish mutual political terms between James and the people, and these tactics are not only found in The Phoenix. Middleton advances a similar political dynamic in the speech for Zeal he contributed to Jonson and Dekker’s The Magnificent Entertainment, or James’s accession celebrations in which the sovereign and his entourage were paraded through the streets of London. In a similar manner to The Phoenix, Middleton’s words mix praise of the monarch with parrhēsia, asking him to see himself as accountable rather than absolute. Having aggrandized James as an exemplary ruler with his union of Britain, Middleton concludes Zeal’s speech by making a polite request: “lowly I entreat / You’d be to her as gracious as you’re great” (2178-9). The narrative structure of The Magnificent Entertainment in which James is cast as the bridegroom to the personified female London frames these words as a conditional bond of love based upon mutual affection that recognizes James’s right to rule, but asks that he pledge to rule well. These pageants attempt to constitute a new vision of governance between monarch and city, but James was not attentive or engaged. His disinterest and general apathy distanced him from the people, unlike Elizabeth who accepted gifts, participated in dialogue, and acted as part of the ceremonies in her royal entry.21 D.J. Hopkins interprets this distinction as a theatrical one. James occupied a locus removed from the populace, knowing that he was the center of attention while acting unaware of the fact that he was (120). Elizabeth, by contrast, enacted governance with the people in the ceremonial and celebratory space of the platea (118). The Phoenix and Measure for Measure likewise stage different models of governance that either accord with the ways in which the travels of a royal procession were ideally envisioned or with James’s own performance in opposition to them.

Staged after The Magnificent Entertainment, Measure for Measure seems to reflect or at least cater to James’s enactment of governance: seemingly disinterested, yet deliberately so. The first surviving record of Measure for Measure is a Christmas performance in 1604. Shakespeare attended the king’s accession celebrations earlier that year, and the play was likely composed around the time of this event or at least would not have been staged beforehand given that the playhouses were closed due to the plague (Lupton 151-2).22 As a result it also predates James and Queen Anne’s discovery at the Royal Exchange the day before the processions when the king angrily chastised his subjects when they caught a glimpse of him through the royal couple’s disguise (Lever xxxiv). This event leads J.W. Lever to conclude that the Duke’s reluctance to take part in public events before the people’s eyes indicates a post-royal entry composition given that Londoners would not be aware of James’s reclusive personality until this point (xxxiii). The text’s inclusion of a Duke who simultaneously dislikes being a spectacle to the public gaze while being a character of masterful stagecraft and statecraft speaks to the theatrical governance James presented in the locus.

The topical references in Measure for Measure seem, at least on the surface, to uphold the monarch’s methods. The play’s structure moves from a carnivalesque atmosphere to a unified social order, representing a popular example of “the subversion[/]containment debate that followed new historicism everywhere” (Butler 16). The imposed law against brothels that Mistress Overdone faces in the play mirrors James’s proclamation from September 1603 that blames “dissolute and idle persons” for the spread of the plague, ordering that houses of ill repute be demolished to resolve the epidemic (Steele 111). While one might sympathize with Mistress Overdone or her immoral client Lucio, especially given our modern sensibilities, the text does not overtly beckon the audience to identify with these lewd persons. In fact it instead seems to dissuade such pity by frequently showing Lucio to be a pernicious gossip. The Duke’s mercy toward him can be said to warrant the dubious morality of Vincentio’s disguise. The text leaves the reader or audience member with the dilemma of whether to comply with Vincentio’s imposed politics or to dissent against them. The ruler, however, never displays any compunction with his guise.23

Instead of containing subversive elements in an isolated, clandestine manner that separates him from his kingdom in a panoptic manner, Phoenix is consistently part of the whole that is his polis. He is enmeshed within the social world of subversion; he conducts his governance with other members of the body politic; and, in turn, the text compromises James’s comfortable stance outside of and above the kingdom. Threats to the realm must still be subdued, but not from a presumed higher or distant ground. Phoenix’s guilt regarding his subterfuge instead portrays him as nearer to the people and the audience by way of making him susceptible to flaw, complementing the text’s staging of him in the platea, bringing the body of sovereign into closer proximity with the people. The text furthers this humanizing of the ruler through continually demonstrating his culpability or his susceptibility to corruption. Phoenix repeatedly laments the inherent, even if minor, corruption his actions entail. At the very outset of his journey, Phoenix shares a “white lie” with the audience by reconstructing the truth that he still travels, but at home rather than afar: “By absence I’ll obey the duke my father, / And yet not wrong myself” (1.87-8). During his involvement in the Captain’s sale of his own wife to Proditor, Phoenix bemoans in an aside that he is unable to enact justice due to the necessity of his disguise: “If I were as good as I should be — ” (8.97). The implication is that if Phoenix were as good as he should be, then he would not take part in these acts; he would dismantle the scheme before it took shape. At the end of the play when Phoenix absolves his guilt, still in disguise, the Duke rebukes Proditor’s attempts to displace blame from himself onto Phoenix with the evaluative statement, “You’re too foul; your crime is in excess; / One spot of him makes not your ulcers less” (15.117-8). The lines establish a clear contrast between Phoenix’s peccadillo and the villain’s malevolent actions, but nevertheless identify a slightly tarnished Phoenix who is not free from sin. Phoenix’s “spot” distances him slightly from the “spotless power,” which Phoenix attributes earlier to the ethereal female personification of matrimony (8.181). The text thus draws repeated attention to Phoenix’s mortal and fallible nature, despite its depiction of him as a virtuous and skilled governor.24 As the next portion of this article will prove, Phoenix’s sound governance is indebted to the aid of his people. The Duke’s statement concerning his son, Phoenix, “He that knows how to obey, knows how to reign,” suggests a power dynamic in which the ruler relinquishes his mastery over his subjects and shares governance as well as service (1.57). In a similar vein, when discussing a learned constitutional rule on the monarch’s part, Aristotle suggests “that men are praised for knowing both how to rule and how to obey, and he is said to be a citizen of excellence who is able to do both well” (66). These mutual politics blur the binary of subversion and containment, allowing for a space in which characters can productively constitute governance by clearly allocating space for multiple persons to voice parrhēsia. This venture takes place in the similarly liminal and democratic zone of the platea. Although Vincentio at times seems to speak from the same middleground in his stagecraft and statecraft, we will see that Middleton and Shakespeare’s governors develop and harness the theater and the polis in divergent ways that reflect their historicity.


In both plays the duke’s disguise establishes an intimate rapport and a sense of inside knowledge with the audience, positioning the character in the platea. Vincentio, however, harnesses this liminal energy to control the events. His interaction with the Friar, who is the only person he ever makes privy to his plot, is a prime example of Vincentio dabbling with interdependency only in order to reassert his containment of the conversation. Although the Duke, like Phoenix, admits to his flaws at this moment, he nevertheless directs his own confession:

DUKE: Now, pious sir,
            You will demand of me, why I do this.
FRIAR: Gladly, my lord.
DUKE: We have strict statutes and most biting laws,
            The needful bits and curbs to headstrong jades,
            Which for this fourteen years we have let slip;
            Even like an o’er-grown lion in a cave
            That goes not out to prey. (1.3.16-23)

The irony is both that the Duke demands that the Friar demands this question of him and that the Friar never actually formally asks it. He complies by saying, “Gladly, my lord,” but the words are Vincentio’s. The Duke already plays church and state by requesting and delivering his own confession. He scripts his past errors and guilt in such a manner that frames dialogue as though it were a monologue. He remains in the locus because he remains theatrically unaware that he is constructing this image of authority. The audience sees his mistakes because he allows them to be seen. Vincentio operates within the platea whenever he is in disguise, since the audience members are indirectly accomplices to the plot, but he retains the authority of the locus insofar as he does not clearly draw attention to the theatricality of this act. In other words, the Duke inevitably utilizes the liminal space of the platea, but like James at the civic celebrations, the text does not show him drawing attention to the construction of this authority. Like the Friar, the audience is instructed, willing or unwilling, to follow his plans.

Unlike Phoenix, Vincentio also lacks companions on his journey or guilt concerning his deceit. While some might encourage the Duke’s secret policing rather than finding it incorrigible, his methods are questionable and do not openly involve others, despite surreptitiously depending upon them as pawns to enact his schemes. The Duke, for instance, delivers a short aside after he commands Mariana to follow Isabella, presumably upstage, so that Isabella can delineate the bed-trick plot the Duke has devised and which they will help to enact. He uses this time to lament the heavy burden of his station:

O place and greatness! Millions of false eyes
Are stuck upon thee: volumes of report
Run with these false, and most contrarious quest
Upon thy doings: thousand escapes of wit
Make thee the father of their idle dream
And rack thee in their fancies. (4.1.60-5)

In unpacking the burden of his office, Vincentio evokes pity by bemoaning his hardships, but aside from the fact that he is speaking aside from the other characters there is nothing to indicate that he addresses the audience. This passage resembles the Duke’s earlier confession to Angelo that he does not like to be the subject of the public’s gaze — “I love the people, / But do not like to stage me to their eyes” (1.1.67) — only here Vincentio refers to his critics rather than the multitude at large. But neither of these instances clearly exhibits a person occupying the liminal space of the platea. The one passage is spoken in dialogue with characters onstage, and unless the Duke’s lines above cast the audience as full of false eyes, he does not directly draw attention to his presence onstage. In fact, these lines situate the Duke as an object that can be slandered in an ill manner, as Lucio has done and as the Duke describes, or in a virtuous light, as the audience would be presumed to see him or as the Duke implies.25 Vincentio’s awareness that he is or will inevitably be seen as a ruler makes him an authority seen unawares by the audience rather than a character cultivating theatrical privilege with the audience. Even if he speaks at the physical threshold, or downstage, he is still a character establishing a fixed sense of “place and greatness” — a locus. His proximity to the audience is an illusion. When the Duke says he does not like to stage himself to their eyes, he in fact means that he does not like to call attention to the stagecraft of his governance.

The Duke’s control of the circumstances remains a result of his own authority rather than one established with the audience. When Barnadine refuses to be executed and the Duke is forced to oblige due to Barnadine’s inebriated condition (not to mention the fact that the audience knows that the Duke is not actually a Friar), the Provost arrives by chance with news that they have the freshly decapitated head of a notorious pirate named Ragozine who just so happens to bear a striking resemblance to Claudio. This haphazard substitution calls attention to the improvisatory space of the theater. Rather than using this circumstance to show theatrical prowess or privilege, however, Vincentio’s orchestration denies the coincidental nature of the event, deeming it instead “an accident that heaven provides” (4.3.76). Vincentio reestablishes cohesion and claims what appears to be circumstantial as providential. This assertion of order in the midst of these extemporaneous circumstances resembles Weimann’s account of the platea’s relationship to the locus:

[The platea] normally refused to submit to the pictorial mode of symbolizing, and thereby unifying, place; rather, by assimilating thresholds between the imaginary world-in-the-play and the stage-as-stage, it tended to preclude closure. Hence, any consistently upheld locus, as represented icon of a given imaginary place, time, and action, could again and again be suspended in a partially, gradually or completely open regime of mise-en-scène. (Author’s Pen, 192)

The text calls attention to the contingency of the world and the theater while simultaneously championing the Duke as a person who is able to wield its flux without necessarily drawing attention to his engagement with the theatrical practices that enable him to govern the space. The reciprocal relationship of locus and platea resembles that of subversion and containment; however, Vincentio never calls attention to the fact that he utilizes subversion or the platea, reinforcing his containment and power. While the audience perhaps — and with good reason — questions the plausibility of the Duke’s interpretation of these events, the text and its characters do not express a refutation to this divine locus, nor is the audience allocated space to articulate reservations. Truth here is suspiciously imposed by the monarch rather than collectively formulated.

There are, however, a few instances in the play when the Duke speaks from the platea. This passage, delivered shortly before he makes the audience privy to his decision to withhold information from Isabella, represents perhaps the most prominent example of Vincentio speaking from the platea:

Now will I write letters to Angelo,
The Provost, he shall bear them, whose contents
Shall witness to him I am near at home;
And that by great injunctions I am bound
To enter publicly . . .
We shall proceed with Angelo. (4.3.92-6, 100)

Asides such as this one can be interpreted through specific markers as establishing a rapport with the audience. In Hamlet without Hamlet, Margareta de Grazia notes Hamlet’s resemblance to the medieval Vice through his engagements with the audience when he says, “Now I am alone,” which she interprets as a means to be alone with the audience (184-6). Indeed, the word “Now” establishes a spatiotemporal presence that conflates the time and space of the play-world with the audience’s reality. Vincentio’s aside can be said to use this same word to bridge the fictional world and the audience’s reality. Coupled with his dissemination of privileged information to the audience, this passage represents his most evident elocution in the dialogic space of the platea.26

Two later passages also exhibit Vincentio occupying the platea through providing the audience with privileged knowledge of his plans. One is a soliloquy before Mariana, he, and Isabella convene to discuss the plan to stage the bed-trick, and the other takes place shortly after the episode with Ragozine’s head when he chooses not to reveal to Isabella that her brother is in fact alive. While neither of these passages contains any signals to suggest that an audience should interpret a form of direct address, they do both allow for a degree of complicity, for the audience members are the only ones to share knowledge of the Duke’s plans, establishing their shared superiority over the characters in the play through dramatic irony. At these moments the audience is in the upper tier of the hierarchy of theatrical knowledge the Duke creates and controls. Juxtaposed next to one another, however, these instances cause one to become skeptical of the Duke’s morality:

Craft against vice I must apply.
With Angelo tonight shall lie
His old betrothed, but despised:
So disguise shall by th’disguised
Pay with falsehood false exacting,
And perform an old contracting. (3.2.270-5)

And later:

. . . She’s [Isabel] come to know
If yet her brother’s pardon be come hither;
But I will keep her ignorant of her good,
To make her heavenly comforts of despair
When it is least expected. (4.106-110)

The underlying irony in associating Angelo’s corrupt character with “th’disguised” is that Vincentio too is “th’disguised.” The ambiguity of disguise conflates it into a marker of vice and virtue, equating the Duke’s logic to two wrongs making a right. He, too, by this logic is an arbiter of vice and virtue both through his disguise and his mediation of justice. The audience is inevitably led to suspect the virtue of his actions when he withholds the truth from Isabella. These events make his imposition of truth all the more suspect.

The Duke never formally addresses the matter of his subterfuge, and the text only suggests its malignant nature. The single figure to try Vincentio on the issue is Lucio, whom he repeatedly silences. Lucio offers the only blatant counterpoint or parrhēsia to the Duke’s otherwise scripted finale. Vincentio forgives Lucio despite sentencing him to what Lucio perceives as corporal punishment: marrying his “whore.” Lucio contests the Duke’s punishment, claiming he voiced fraudulent vituperations earlier to the Duke “but according to the trick”—the trick being his disguise as a friar (5.1.502-3). As Debora Kuller Shuger points out, tracts on equity at the time recognize that a trick could be justified as a dolus bonum (good trick) if it was deployed in order to deceive the deceiver (94). In this manner, Lucio could be pleading that he was only attempting to gather information on dissenters, or his words could implicate Vicentio in this same ambiguous trickery, given the Duke’s entrapment of Lucio through deception. Shakespeare allows both meanings to play out in this line, showing again that both characters are “th’disguised.” Lucio’s words call attention to what Phoenix similarly reminds the audience: there is an element of mischief in the Duke’s actions that stains his righteous mission. The Duke’s mercy demonstrates lenience, but he neglects to respond to Lucio’s charge, leaving the matter open-ended. Measure for Measure’s plot (characterizing Lucio as a liar and a miscreant) encourages the audience to favor the Duke over Lucio. As David Farley-Hills notes, the audience is led either to side with the Duke or with Lucio, leading “criticism to run the whole gamut of response to the Duke from seeing him as Christ figure (Wilson Knight) to condemning him outright in Lucio’s terms as a ‘fantastical duke of dark corners’” (163). This dynamic causes one either to accept the locus Vincentio has established or reject it, but choosing to counter the governor ends with one siding with Lucio, which is problematic, for one knows him to be a scoundrel.

In this manner, Lucio serves as Vincentio’s scapegoat, whom he castigates in order to uphold his actions and agenda as righteous. Vincentio does something similar when he uses Angelo’s precise and austere governance as an antithesis to his previous lackadaisical politics. In these ways, Vincentio valorizes his politics of containment by shifting from one extreme to the next — a flux that he conveniently balances upon his return. Although from a contemporary standpoint this panoptic control might seem contemptible, Ivo Kamps reminds us that early modern subjects often desired a managed social world, and he distinguishes Measure for Measure’s subversion to containment model as merely a different form of dramatizing this governance from that of The Phoenix (250). Not every subject necessarily felt this way, but Measure for Measure leaves little recourse outside of obedience to the Duke who speaks the truth from his theatrical locus in a manner that could be interpreted as the desired restoration of order or the imposition of tyranny. The only remaining potential act of protest is Isabella’s silence, and the lack of textual evidence from which to deduce for certain how the conclusion ought to be read leaves the critic at an impasse. On the one hand is the forlorn new historicist wishing the text could be more transgressive and on the other an early reader respondent, William Johnstoune from the mid-seventeenth century, who remarks on the play’s final words in his copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, “pleasant conclusions of the aduentures” (qtd. in Bate 417). Either way, the audience arrives at the standstill that is Vincentio’s imposed truth from the locus.

Isabella’s silence is ambiguous and leaves her interpreter to find the words. The reader cannot discern for certain whether Isabella accepts or rejects the Duke’s request for her hand in marriage. Silence, however, resonates with topical forms of political obedience. As Christopher Doty suggests, Lucio’s sustained banter models poor citizenship when one observes that James commended standing in silent attendance as the proper form of devotion to the monarch (50). Isabella’s silence can be said to conform to this historical reading or it could be said to identify the folly in such a model of governance since such mute obeisance cannot adequately articulate allegiance. Although Doty’s historical examination offers a convincing method of interpreting Isabella’s silence, a degree of ambiguity nevertheless persists. Peter Platt wrestles with these conflicting viewpoints in his study of paradox in the play. On the one hand, Platt makes a convincing argument for the significance of Isabella’s silence at the sudden reunion with her brother, previously believed to be dead (132). Platt, however, also illuminates the manner by which Vincentio’s proposal leaves the ending open to the reader’s or director’s interpretation, making for a paradoxical conclusion that dismantles Vincentio’s imposed meaning through an open-ended text (137).27 Having vanquished Lucio’s parrhēsia, the text only provides this indirect invitation for the audience to voice their own protestations, assuming they even do take issue with the events that have transpired. The text’s ending allows the reader or audience member to protest, but quells any subversive action onstage through containment.

Middleton’s women, by contrast, are quite vocal. Lars Engle depicts how female characters in The Phoenix sharply oppose misogynist derision, such as when the Lady, Fidelio’s mother, addresses the Captain’s poor conduct as a husband, saying, “I deserve more respect” (2.80). Engle astutely observes the contrast between Middleton’s portrait of a lady and Shakespeare’s: “Anticipating other Middleton heroines, the Lady defends herself robustly against male misunderstanding—what others say of such Shakespearian characters as Desdemona, she can say herself” (441). Engle identifies the political distinction between Shakespeare’s texts, which open-endedly allow readers or audience members to articulate their own grievances, and Middleton’s works, which actually portray female characters defending themselves and voicing their frustrations. Middleton’s women, too, achieve varying degrees of defiance. We see this contrast played out in The Phoenix through the difference between the otherwise passive Lady (who addresses her poor treatment but never protests patriarchy) and the equivocal identity and wordplay of the Jeweller’s Wife. When Phoenix and Fidelio reveal themselves and apprehend the Captain, the Lady remains absurdly loyal to her husband who was going to sell her to Proditor: “Who hath laid violence upon my husband? / My dear, sweet captain—help!” (8.299-300). Phoenix corrects her by first revealing his true identity and then by exposing her folly in adhering to her subordinate post as the Captain’s wife: “Lady, you wrong your value; / Call you him dear that has sold you so cheap?” (8.301-2). Although Phoenix identifies that the Captain’s corrupt economics commodify her as an object he can do away with rather than seeing her merit as a worthy companion, Phoenix still assumes the role of the patriarch, as evidenced by the Lady’s immediate adherence to him when she recognizes his true identity: “I do beseech your pardon, good my lord” (8.303). She then rises when Phoenix commands her to do so. These reinscriptions of masculine authority aside, the ruler encourages parrhēsia rather than blind devotion to the Captain.

Phoenix directs the Lady to recognize her value, but he is unable to discern that of the Jeweller’s Wife. His logic is questioned, undermining the previous blame he has ascribed to her as the root of vice and corruption in the cityscape. She instead restores a degree of uncertainty and irony to the play’s allegorical framework by declaring that she will live a virtuous life if he pardons her. The Niece, the Jeweller’s Wife’s cousin, heightens this conflict of interpretation by proposing that the Jeweller’s Wife’s “birth was kin to mine; she may prove modest. / For my sake, I beseech you pardon her” (15.263-4). Preceding this suggestion, Falso offers to stand as “her warrant” and Phoenix dismisses Falso with his rationale of “lust being so like”—in other words, like father like daughter (15.257, 262). The Jeweller’s Wife remains an unknown variable positioned in the middle of a binary opposition constructed out of familial relations. From one angle, Falso’s relation to her would define her as lustful, but the Niece’s affiliation to her signals virtue. The uncertain outcome retains an ironic tension at the play’s ending that does not allow Phoenix to categorize her as fundamentally corrupt. Phoenix instead complies with the Niece’s proposal and follows by enacting another proposal:

For thy sake I’ll do more. Fidelio, hand her.
My favours on you both; next, all that wealth
Which was committed to that perjured’s trust. (15.265-7)

Continuing with his plan to restore the social order, Phoenix conveniently shifts his and the audience’s attention away from the uncertain matter of the Jeweller’s Wife to his marriage of Fidelio and the Niece. This action represents a restitution of theatrical governance and parallels Phoenix with Vincentio in his unassuming command over the events and actors, reasserting a temporary locus in the midst of a turbulent world. The plot thus moves away from Phoenix as a part of the governing process to Phoenix as governor over the people. This sudden redirection calls attention to the artificiality of Phoenix’s control over the events after the Jeweller’s Wife questions his judgment.

Phoenix’s sudden adoption of the comedic form with a marriage in order to attenuate the anxiety of his precarious position in relation to the Jeweller’s Wife recalls his initial impromptu rendezvous with the Jeweller’s Wife. In this encounter, too, he manipulates the theatrical events in a similar manner to Vincentio. The Jeweller’s Wife mistakes Phoenix for her Knight and steals him away to her dark parlour where Phoenix’s attempts to illuminate his surroundings are thwarted by the Jeweller’s Wife, who repeatedly blows out his candle. As Jeremy Lopez notes, the scene entails a pleasurable dynamic for the audience in which they share superiority with Phoenix over the events (104). Phoenix anxiously reconstitutes his authority, relaying to the audience the way in which they should view the scene and the Jeweller’s Wife: “Fair room, villainous face, and worse woman. I ha’ learned something by a glimpse o’th’ candle” (13.18-20).28 Phoenix then uses the truth in order to con the Jeweller’s Wife into believing he is the Knight, promising that he will show her at the court. These words, like Phoenix’s white lie to his father, are not technically egregious, for he does reveal her at court, but not in the manner she hopes he will.

Phoenix’s mastery over the semiotics of the theater is later questioned when the Jeweller’s Wife rebukes his misogynist chastisement of her and those like her for the corruption of the city. Phoenix codifies the Jeweller’s Wife, as he already has the Captain or Falso, as a contaminant to the body politics that needs to be purged:

Stand forth — thou one of those
For whose close lusts the plague never leaves the city.
Thou worse than common — private, subtle harlot,
That dost deceive three with one feigned lip:
Thy husband, the world’s eye, and the law’s whip. (15.230-4)

The line in which Phoenix blames the Jeweller’s Wife for “the plague [that] never leaves the city” resembles James’s aforementioned proclamation from 16 September 1603, calling for suburban buildings to be demolished as a precaution to prevent further spread of the plague. Although The Phoenix does not draw attention to these specific regulations, its protagonist nevertheless identifies a sexual deviant as the cause of the epidemic much like James accused similar “dissolute and idle persons” for the spread of the plague.29 Like Mistress Overdone, the Jeweller’s Wife becomes a victim and culprit of the ruler’s allegorical cleansing of the body politic, but unlike her she has an opportunity to speak back:

’Tis ’long of those, an’t like your grace, that come in upon us, and will never leave marrying of our widows till they make ’em all as free as their first husbands. (15.243-6)

Phoenix draws attention to the ironic, recalcitrant inversion of culpability the Jeweller’s Wife’s words convey when he can only respond by saying, “I perceive you can shift a point well” (15.247). The playwright confers upon the Jeweller’s Wife the power of parrhēsia. She politely but ironically counters the truth of the new sovereign, leaving him essentially speechless. Parrhēsia in this case demonstrates the governor recognizing the validity of the protest his subject expresses.

This protest involves a satire likely alluding to James’s sale of knighthoods. The Phoenix’s subplot involves the Jeweller’s Wife’s adulterous relationship with a Knight she finances in order to gain sexual pleasure and hopefully an audience at court.30 Her father Falso’s ironic apology to the Knight elucidates this topical concern:

Why this is but the second time of your coming, kinsman. Visit me oftener. Daughter, I charge you bring this gentleman along with you. Gentleman? I cry ye mercy, sir! I call you gentleman still, I forget you’re but a knight. You must pardon me, sir. (9.1-5)

The staggering number of newly dubbed knights threw the customary order of rank into disarray. Traditionally a gentleman came second to a knight, but as Falso’s sardonic comments to the Knight suggest, being a gentleman now carries more clout than being a knight does, given the ubiquity of knights created by James I. Situating The Phoenix as an interregnum play that precedes James’s politics, Paul Yachnin provides a valid counterpoint to this interpretation by suggesting that the knights in question refer to Essex’s knights rather than James’s (“Two Allusions,” 376). However, Middleton frequently makes references to knights in plays we know to be written after James’s accession to the throne of England.31 It thus remains more likely that Middleton regularly alludes to James’s knights rather than shifting his attention from Essex’s knights to those of James.

Yachnin’s hesitation to interpret the knights as James’s rather than Essex’s stems from warranted skepticism over why the budding playwright would present such an obvious satire to the king. This reading is in keeping with E.K. Chambers’s suggested court performance of 20 February 1604, based upon the title page’s indication that the play was staged before James and the corresponding moments in the records at which a performance at court might have occurred (439). If the play was performed at court on this date or another one, then it is possible that the character of the Knight could have been cut from the performed text to avoid offending the king.32 But the inclusion of the Knight might instead represent James’s own admission of this error he had taken action to amend. In a proclamation dated 11 January 1604, the speaker enumerates new acts on James’s part in order to remedy the body politic and demonstrate his good character before he summons Parliament:

As he is about to summon Parliament (which he would have done before but for the Plague), and is anxious that his first should set a good example to others, the King lays down the following regulations. Great care to be shown in selecting Knights and Burgesses of good ability and sufficient gravity and modest conversation, men neither of superstitious blindness nor turbulent humours, not bankrupts or outlaws but regular taxpayers. (Steele 113)

These words demonstrate an indirect acknowledgement on James’s part that he has allowed the chain of rank to fall into disarray by appointing too many knights, allowing those who do not uphold the quality of the station to occupy it. The Knight could function both as a reminder of James’s previous errors and an emblem of his new efforts to restore the social order.33 The Knight’s presence in the play, like this proclamation reflecting James’s own governance, inevitably unsettles an entirely absolutist, perfect portrayal of Phoenix or James. The governance enacted onstage, like that of James himself, is one susceptible to flaw and receptive to the people’s criticisms, without contesting his right to the throne.

Vincentio instead consistently guides the events and words of the final scene, seeming to evoke or allude to James’s later demands for silent devotion to him. Vincentio’s chastisement of Lucio by regularly having to demand his silence augments this paradigm that precludes parrhēsia instead of providing a space to enact it. As Christopher Doty remarks, the ending of Measure for Measure is not democratic (56). Vincentio’s final words exclude the audience rather than requesting their applause:

So bring us to our palace, where we’ll show
What’s yet behind that’s meet you all should know. (5.1.535-6)

For Doty, the Duke’s control of the events over the course of the final scene and his reluctance to request applause amplifies James’s perception that silence is the best form of devotion to a king (55-7). Although one might dislike the ending or imagine a different one to Vincentio’s ideal state, the Duke and the text do not explicitly allocate the space to do so; instead, they leave the public at the city gates as the cast exits into the royal palace. The Duke thus ostracizes them from the protracted resolution. This ending differs significantly from the conclusion of Middleton’s play. The Phoenix’s finale has often been read didactically and as a result has garnered far less attention than that of Measure for Measure.34 This tendency is likely due to the promised marriage of Fidelio and the Niece, the discovery and rectification of the city’s social evils, and the purging of the mad lawyer Tangle, but the play’s final words leave matters more unsettled than these events would otherwise suggest:

We both admire the workman and his piece.
Thus, when all hearts are tuned to honour’s strings,
There is no music to the choir of kings. (15.348-50)

But not “all hearts” are conclusively “tuned to honour’s strings,” as this harmony remains to be proven by the Jeweller’s Wife’s future conduct. Phoenix’s references to “the workman” (i.e., Middleton) and his “piece” (or “masterpiece” as Danson and Kamps gloss [126]) represent a metatheatrical commentary on the play, positioning Phoenix as an intermediary in a liminal space between the play-world and the audience’s immediate reality. As a result, Phoenix inhabits the platea. His “We” no longer clearly bespeaks a royal We, despite the fact that the Duke has bequeathed his throne unto Phoenix by this point. “We” also implies a collective that extends beyond the play-world to the audience. Without clearly representing Phoenix or the actor playing Phoenix, the character embodies a theatrical and governing authority, one that includes the audience. The conclusive use of “Thus” amplifies the importance of this spatiotemporal dissonance that requests the audience to reflect upon the fictional world they have just seen that resembles their own social world. The “when” that follows creates a disjuncture between the space and time of the play-world that has been set in order with a ruler who has navigated its landscape and that of the current social world, indicating that such absolution, however imperfect it remains, has not yet been brought about in Jacobean London.35 The contractual language of these three final lines implicates the audience in an action that transcends the events of the play and leaves parrhēsia in their hands.

The language of The Phoenix’s truncated “epilogue” dismantles the comfortable dialectical mastery that James circumscribes between him and his people by portraying the ideal state as one yet to be enacted outside the theater. The dialogic and communal energy the play stages with a disguised duke working together with his good citizens to establish a morally sound cityscape while listening to the complaints of his questionable subjects still celebrates monarchy, but with a democratic energy that encourages a degree of protest. If Measure for Measure allows for protest to take shape, it is in silent opposition to a monarch who assumes solitary and secret control over the state, re-inscribing his power by displaying it to the audience over the course of the performance. Resistance can only be characterized through the audience speaking for Isabella after the characters have left the stage rather than hearing her own thoughts. If she does in fact represent the city, as Julia Reinhard Lupton suggests, then she presents herself in the equivocal manner of devotion that James commended (151-2). As its critical history indicates, Measure for Measure’s politics, conservative or liberal, are based upon audience and reader reception, which can equally accept Isabel’s equivocal silence as implying obedience to the monarch or as disagreeing with his methods. While the ironic framework of The Phoenix also remains uncertain in the Jeweller’s Wife’s precarious honesty and whether or not the audience concedes to Phoenix’s contractual conclusion, the communal nature of recognizing the adulterer’s predicament and inviting the audience to agree or disagree with the final words marks a sharp distinction from the oppositional framework of Measure for Measure’s interrogative finale. Neither text overtly protests the monarch’s divine right to the throne, but they differ in the manner in which they represent the citizens’ feelings toward him. Whereas The Phoenix reveals the conflicting sentiments the kingdom has, Measure for Measure’s audience members discover their own hearts’ allegiance. Perhaps the lingering irony of Shakespeare’s play is that in dutifully portraying and commanding citizens’ silent devotion to a ruler embodying the king — equivocal or not — the playwright reserves any raucous applause for himself and his actors.


I am indebted to my anonymous readers as well as to the editors of this special issue of Upstart for their valuable suggestions and their decision to include me in this collection. I also wish to thank the participants who took part in a workshop at the University of Guelph organized by Dr. Leslie Allin, where an earlier version of this article was circulated and discussed. Last, but certainly not least, I extend my gratitude to Drs. Viviana Comensoli, Mark Fortier, and Paul Mulholland for their counsel.

1 Mark Fortier offers a concise summary of the containment/subversion dynamic: “New historicism has been strongly influenced by the work of Foucault on the ways that institutions of power foster and channel such forces as sexuality, madness, illness and crime...This has given rise to the twin concepts of subversion and containment: the state needs to foster insurrection in order to exercise its powers of response; representations of radical and subversive activity and thought on the stage, especially when ultimately overcome, contribute to the legitimacy and authority of the powers that be” (165). Stephen Greenblatt’s essay “Invisible Bullets,” located in his book Shakespearean Negotiations and other collections, provides a popular example of this trend. In the same book, Greenblatt analyzes one of the texts this article examines, Measure for Measure, in this theoretical vein (138).

2 When this article refers to “politics,” it applies the term as Debora Kuller Shuger does in her work on Measure for Measure. She uses the early modern period’s definition of politics as “‘government’ or ‘governance’: that is, whatever pertains to the ordering and rule of a polity” (141, n.4).

3 Gary Taylor makes an amusing and apt comparison between such efforts and the blind Gloucester on the heath in King Lear, whereby readers are similarly led astray and find themselves washed up on the shores of authorial intention (287). Paul Yachnin shows the ways in which the very genre of theater does not allow for a unified perspective or politics, for like the Mousetrap to which the aforementioned Gertrude responds, reception is varied and is thus impossible to anticipate or to channel entirely (“Powerless Theater,” 58). In addition to these two examples, see Anthony B. Dawson’s “Measure for Measure, New Historicism, and Theatrical Power” for a skeptical overview of new historicism focused on one of the texts this article examines.

4 This thinking resembles what Victoria Kahn perceives as “the constitution of the affective subject[, which] is central to early modern contractual theory” (85). Her examination of these contractual bonds that form through early modern literature in the early years of the Civil War are based in a gendered reading of power between monarch and people, with the former party as the dominant member of the relationship (86). Elizabethan and Stuart governance anticipates the royalist philosophers who developed these contractual theories. For instance, Melissa E. Sanchez shows a similar relation at work in the monarchies of Elizabeth and James with the commonplace “claim that sovereign and subject, like husband and wife, are bound as much by reciprocal love as by law or necessity” (3). Her work explores the ways in which the desire for submission queers the loving bond between sovereign and people, revealing that some literary works glorify this violent suffering as true love and others problematize it (5-7).

5 In Basilicon Doron, James’s description of marriage to Henry is allegorized in a similar manner to the body politic in which the Prince was the head that ordered the unruly civic body: “Ye are the head, shee is your body; It is your office to command, and hers to obey; but yet with such a sweet harmonie, as shee should be as ready to obey, as ye to command; as willing to follow, as ye to go before; your loue being wholly knit vnto her, and all her affections louingly bent to follow your will” (42).

6 After John Jowett’s extensive bibliographical work, it is difficult to claim that Measure for Measure is solely Shakespeare’s text. Jowett convincingly attributes a good portion of passages to Middleton’s hand at what is likely a later stage nearer to the printing of the First Folio. However, this article does not concern itself with a given author’s standpoint on a political issue or issues. The attribution of the play to Shakespeare throughout the article is thus simply due to the fact that he was the original playwright to whom the text was attributed. For more on Middleton’s hand in Measure for Measure, see Jowett’s edition of Measure for Measure in Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works and his additional bibliographical claims in Thomas Middleton and Early Modern Textual Culture: A Companion to The Collected Works.

7 For further information on the rhetorical usage of parrhēsia during the early modern period, see David Colclough’s Freedom of Speech in Early Stuart England. His examination of the trope yields the conclusion that “[t]he pervasiveness of rhetorical education in sixteenth-century England means that a great many Englishmen would have been aware of the figure and that their conception of free speech would thus have been rhetorically coloured” (60). The application of this rhetorical device breaks from the common usage of Foucauldian theory to reify a subversion/containment model of politics in early modern London. Instead of pessimistically seeing subversion as inevitably trapped within the confines of power, this approach adopts the more fluid models of power that Foucault observes in his later lectures.

8 Foucault’s theories are in keeping with Andrew Hadfield’s examination of republicanism in the works of Shakespeare, which illuminates the underlying possibilities for mixed rule comprised of monarchy, oligarchy, and democracy (Shakespeare and Republicanism,52). The drama enacts a form of governance that privileges communal constitution of the state: “The personal and public interaction of friends and allies is shown to be infinitely preferable to solitary action. The former leads to cooperation, the exchange of valuable advice and the establishment of a desirable body politic among equals; the latter to solitary, hierarchical rule, which invariably degenerates into tyranny” (74).

9 Although one might argue that Isabella’s silence is a form of protest, one would also be ascribing intention to her act (putting words in her mouth). Even if Isabella’s act is radical in its ambiguity, it is not parrhēsia, for as Foucault states, “those who do not concern themselves with the affairs of the city remain silent. If they remain silent, then they do not use parrēsia” (156).

10 As Christopher Doty argues, “The playhouse was a democratizing space because in it, private persons imitated the actions of kings and queens, and those roles were often infused with topical political content” (56).

11 In Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theater, Weimann observes that the locus fixes theatrical meaning through referring to symbolic locations whereas the platea draws attention to the fluid and carnivalesque atmosphere of the theater thus embodying a degree of proximity and engagement with the audience (74, 79). Although these terms are typically taken to be dichotomously envisioned in a binary opposition of upstage (locus) / downstage (platea) that confers power onto authorities speaking from the locus, Weimann’s later return to these theatrical devices and Erika T. Lin’s protracted work on their applications and dynamics suggests a far more complex and mutually constitutive relationship between the two (Lin 45; Weimann, Author’s Pen and Actor’s Body 208).

12 Lin elucidates that characters acting within the platea also cultivate authority, but in a manner that does not depend upon a solitary, grounded, fundamental sense of power, as a character operating within the locus would attempt to establish. Instead, these figures draw attention to their prowess through demonstrating knowledge of theatrical conventions in a liminal space between the play-world and the audience’s reality that creates a complicit proximity with them. She defines this method of establishing control as “theatrical privilege” (36).

13 Lin observes that characters in the locus do not call attention to the fact that they are performing authority; rather, they are “watched or heard unawares” (33). In Author’s Pen and Actor’s Voice, Weimann observes a similar dynamic in Vincentio’s deployment of disguise: “Although Duke Vincentio does not parade his own skill like Richard Gloucester, and although he certainly never assumes Pompey’s purely presentational stance in delivering a mimicry of Jacobean men-about-town like Master Rash, Master Caper, and so forth (4.3.1-19), his position on stage is marked by both a presentational, even directorial stance and the representation of a character” (94). The Duke’s disguise implicates the audience, meaning that he is still in the platea, but his hesitancy to draw attention to the theatricality of this device or his use of performance to craft authority shows his reluctance to act overtly in this liminal space. Vincentio thus uses the platea to cultivate his locus.

14 In Critical Practice, Catherine Belsey defines an interrogative text as one that “disrupts the unity of the reader by discouraging identification with a unified subject of the enunciation. . . . [Such a text] invite[s] the reader to produce answers to the questions it implicitly or explicitly raises” (91).

15 The divine right of kings, which James’s The True Law of Free Monarchies purports, upholds this absolutist agenda. As Shuger observes, “Modern historians of Stuart political thought generally understand [absolutism] as the opposite of the view that power derives from the community” (56). Although Shuger identifies this critical trend as deriving from an anachronistic dialectic that opposes parliamentarians, my working definition of absolutism perceives this political imposition as stemming from solitary rule instead of royalism. The “absolutism” that is often associated with “mercy” and “the crown’s equitable jurisdiction,” according to Shuger, can therefore be enacted in a collective or singular manner, which is what I perceive as distinguishing the politics of Phoenix from Vincentio’s (80).

16 It was against English law to stage any living monarch at the time (a law Middleton later broke with his play, A Game at Chess). The paradox Hadfield refers to — this is and is not James — corresponds with the “doubleness” George A. Puttenham associates with the rhetorical devices of allegory and irony (238).

17 In The True Law of Free Monarchies, James circumscribes the patriarchal relationship between monarch and people: “The King towards his people is rightly compared to a father of children, and to a head of a body composed of diuers members: For as fathers, the good Princes, and Magistrates of the people of God acknowledged themselues to their subiects. And for all other well ruled Common-wealths, the stile of Pater patriae” (76).

18 E.M.W. Tillyard explains, “The aspray, or osprey, was a small eagle, king among birds, and fish were supposed to yield themselves voluntarily, turning their bellies up to him” (35).

19 Shapiro describes this dissonance as a “dual consciousness of the player as player and as character” (103).

20 Phoenix’s abilities as a governor are highly commended at the outset of the play. In the first scene, the Duke describes Phoenix’s “serious studies, and those fruitful hours / That grow up into judgment” (1.34-5), and Fidelio calls him the “wonder of all princes, precedent, and glory, / True phoenix” (1.131-2).

21 As part of her entertainments, the queen received an English Bible from the City “with both hands…kiss[ed] it, and lay[ed] it upon her breast; to the great comfort of the lookers on” (98). She also led the crowd by holding “up her hands to heavenward and will[ing] her people to say Amen” and speaking lines, such as “‘be ye well assured, I will stand your good Queen’” (95).

22 James Leeds Barroll’s historical documentation of the plague in London provides only brief windows between 28 April 1603 and 5 May 1603 or between 9 May 1603 and 19 May 1603 when a play could have been publicly staged before The Magnificent Entertainment (102). In all likelihood neither The Phoenix nor Measure for Measure were staged until after the theaters were reopened, given their topical references to knighthoods and the decimation of brothels, respectively.

23 While a desire for order might be said to validate Vincentio’s methods, Andrew Hadfield identifies that such tactics parallel anxieties concerning tyrannical governance: “as the works of Tacitus so frequently demonstrate, secrecy, plotting and conspiracy become the way of life under the rule of a tyrant” (Shakespeare and Republicanism, 57).

24 Both at the beginning and end of the play, the text draws attention to Phoenix’s ability to govern. In the first scene, the Duke describes Phoenix’s “serious studies, and those fruitful hours / That grow up into judgment” (1.34-5), and Fidelio calls him the “wonder of all princes, precedent, and glory, / True phoenix” (1.131-2). Phoenix only lacks knowledge of his cityscape and the people that inhabit it. In the final scene, after obtaining this knowledge, the Duke sees him as having surpassed his own previous performance and tenure as ruler, saying to Phoenix, “thou hadst piercing art: / We only saw the knee, but thou the heart” (15.179-80).

25 Editors of the play frequently note that these lines are out of place where they appear and that they would be better suited to Vincentio’s words after his discussion with Lucio when he is disguised as Friar Lodowick (Lever 99; Bawcutt 180).

26 The use of “We” in the final line of this passage could be said to heighten the complicit nature of the aside, but it is equally possible that it simply harkens a return to his role as king with the royal We.

27 Weimann’s analysis of the play’s final words yield a similar interrogative quality: “the concluding words of the Duke to Isabel combine a pledge of social (in this case, marital) unity with the suggestion that, even when the play is over, there remains something (or somebody?) that continues to satisfy questions” (Author’s Pen and Actor’s Voice,231).

28 The need to reassert control throughout their interaction (when asked for a kiss at the closing of the scene, Phoenix exclaims “Enough!” [13.102]) bolsters the earlier suggestion that Phoenix does not seem to be the eldest member of the company. If the boy playing him appears susceptible in this scene to being an object of sexual desire (for the Jeweller’s Wife and the audience), then Middleton would want to be very cautious in this scandalous portrayal of an actor allegorically representing the monarch’s body.

29 Jonathan Dollimore notes this unjust correspondence between disease and sex workers, or what the state labels social contaminants, both in James’s proclamation and Shakespeare’s play: “Here, as with the suppression of prostitution, plague control legitimates other kinds of political control” (“Transgression and Surveillance,” 77).

30 One early modern historian describes James’s prodigal award of knighthoods as follows: “With the accession of King James on 24 March 1603, royal parsimony was suddenly replaced by the most reckless prodigality: in the first four months of the reign he dubbed no fewer than 906 knights. By December 1604 England could boast of 1,161 new knights, which means that the order had suddenly been increased almost three-fold” (Stone 74).

31 See Michaelmas Term:1.2.188, 3.1.47-50, 3.4.62-3; A Trick to Catch the Old One: 2.1.167-9; A Mad World, My Masters: 1.1.61-72, 2.1.4-5, 5.2.18-9; Your Five Gallants 2.4.54-6. Critics such as Margot Heinemann and Douglas F. Rutledge identify the knights as James’s, but read their inclusion as the playwright taking a deliberate oppositional position against the monarch (Heinemann 70, Rutledge 101). Danson and Kamps support this attribution in their justification for the play’s date (“Works Included.” 346).

32 Andrew Gurr and Mariko Ichikawa speculate that cuts were made to texts “to censor dubious pieces of dialogue which might give offence” (44).

33 Regardless of whether or not the play was staged before James, it would have more than likely been performed at Paul’s. Given the topical allusions in the text and the previously mentioned closing of the theaters due to the plague, this new proclamation would have been made before the play was performed for theatergoers.

34 This propensity spans the gamut of Clifford Davidson’s didactic reading of the play’s association with civic pageantry to Leonard Tennenhouse’s interpretation of The Phoenix as exemplifying the subversion-to-containment trend of new historicism (Davidson 122-5; Tennenhouse 159). In either case, the play’s ending is read as a neat and tidy denouement.

35 Although it is tempting to interpret these textual details in concert with Chambers’s suggested court performance, which would signal that these changes would be brought about in a month’s time when James traversed the city for The Magnificent Entertainment, there remains insufficient historical documentation to substantiate this hypothesis.

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Mark Kaethler is a PhD candidate at the University of Guelph where he has taught several courses on medieval and early modern literature. This research represents a segment of his dissertation on Thomas Middleton, irony, and Jacobean politics. He has previously presented at several international conferences and regularly reviews books for the Sixteenth Century Journal. Mark is proud that his first publication is an Upstart.

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