Measure for Measure is based on George Whetstone’s Promos and Cassandra, written first as a play and then as a novel (1578). Shakespeare would have also known Whetstone’s main source, G. B. Giraldi Cinthio’s Hecatommithi (1565). In the extract below, Whetstone summarizes his story in clear, sometimes colourful, language. Shakespeare made some changes, most notably introducing the Marianna subplot so that Isabella makes it to the end of the play with her chastity intact. He reduced the role of the accused brother Andrugio/Claudio and instead created a larger role for the King/Duke, who in Whetstone appears only at the end of the play. In the second extract, Cassandra visits Andrugio in prison to tell him about Promos’s proposal. Shakespeare rewrites the scene in Act III, scene i. However, in his version the brother does not succeed in persuading his sister to save his life and, crucially, he introduces the Duke secretly watching the scene.
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