In 1604, James had newly ascended to the throne and England was now part of Great Britain. The Puritans-largely silenced during Elizabeth's reign-began again to assert political influence and call for reformation to both the state and the church. This is the context in which Shakespeare wrote Othello and Measure for Measure. In both plays, the role of the government in Cyprus or Vienna hinges upon the passions of a single authority figure. Both Angelo and Othello cause political unrest because they mismanage sexuality. In the case of Othello, his unfounded sexual jealousy leads to the death of Desdemona, Emilia, and himself. In Measure for Measure, Angelo's unbending literal interpretation of law threatens the life of Claudio, and his newly awakened lust threatens the virtue of Isabella. Both Othello and Angelo, through their self-government and sexual management, put those around them at risk. My study uses the techniques of New Historicism to contextualize Othello and Measure for Measure in terms of both sexuality and religion. I intentionally avoid the typical Marxist perspective of New Historicism and instead focus on religion as itself an organizing and motivational principle. This thesis examines these two plays together because of their chronological synchronicity and their thematic unity. Looking at Othello and Measure for Measure together provides a somber look at the attitudes toward sexual transgression and the role of the church in 1604. The quandaries raised in Othello are highlighted in Measure for Measure, but also resolved. Through the Duke's labors as the church-masquerading state, Measure for Measure discovers societal stability through the institutional church.



College and Department

Humanities; English



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Shakespeare, Othello, Measure for Measure, Sex, Church, Religion, New Historicism