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Authorized Versions: Measure for Measure and the Politics of Biblical Translation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2018

Andrew Barnaby
University of Vermont
Joan Wry
Saint Michael's College


Despite the common practice of reading Shakespeare's Measure for Measure in relation to the cultural politics of the first year of the Stuart monarchy, politically-oriented criticism has largely neglected the play's connection to the politics of one of King James's most ambitious undertakings: the new biblical translation first announced in January of 1604 at the Hampton Court Conference. While maintaining that the play cannot be reduced to a simple allegory of James's effort to link his new political authority to the "authorizing" power of scripture, this essay examines how the "topicality" of that effort might be registered in the play's complex pattern of biblical allusion. We argue, finally, that with its staged conflict between ethical ideal and social practice, Measure for Measure offers a cautionary tale about the dangers of deploying religious rhetoric in secular political contexts.

Copyright © Renaissance Society of America 1998

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