Remember how I’ve been saying (er, writing) that Measure for Measure is perhaps a little too timeless, a little too timely for our world? (how could you, I’ve been banging that subject like a drum lately… and with the discussion of bawdy coming up–you ain’t heard nothin’ yet…) Well, Willy Shakes, that sly societal observer, wasn’t afraid to mix in a little contemporary commentary in his plays.
In Act One, Scene Two, we hear of the proclamations that “all (whore-)houses in the suburbs of Vienna must be plucked down” (I.ii.94-5). Now, of course, the whorehouses within the city limits are safe because of the intervention of a “wise burgher” (I.ii.99); it’s always good when the 1% can look out for themselves.
Substitute London for Vienna and you have Shakespeare’s world.
[NOTE: while there were–undoubtedly–brothels within the city limits (like in Vienna), there were no theaters in London; you had to cross the river for plays…you have to draw the line somewhere…]
London’s “entertainment” (and by “entertainment,” I mean everything from theater, to bear-baiting, to dog-fights, to cock-fights, to other cock-related activities [oh, myyyyyy…blush] in brothels) district wasn’t in London proper. No, to get to the fun, you had to cross the Thames to the South Bank area, also known as Southwark and Bankside. Here, you were outside the jurisdiction of the city leaders, so “entertainment” was more readily available. Of course, ironically, most of the land there was under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Winchester; you would think this would be an issue, but it wasn’t (thus, the use of the phrase “Winchester goose” to denote a prostitute). So while London proper was seemingly more, well, proper, the suburbs was there the action was.
Measure for Measure, timely then, timely now. Timeless…