This essay explores how Shakespeare's Measure for Measure investigates the possibilities of intercessory speech and action. Intercession was a crucial and diversely realized component to many forms of late medieval religious expression, in which a person would seek the aid of another to procure his or her desires. This fundamental structure animated, for example, prayers for the dead, confession, and petitions to the saints. Yet these intercessory practices would be largely dismantled by Protestant Reformers, who argued that human intercession “darkens, and almost buries, the intercession of Christ,” as Calvin wrote. In its staging of a plot in which characters frequently depend on others to speak for them (most importantly Angelo for the Duke, and Isabella for Claudio), Measure for Measure explores the consequences of a theological insistence on speaking for oneself, while scrutinizing the capabilities and costs of an intercessory ethic.
Devin Byker; Bent Speech and Borrowed Selves: Substitutionary Logic and Intercessory Acts in Measure for Measure. Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 1 May 2016; 46 (2): 405–432. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10829636-3491858
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