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Research Article

“Let Me Have Claudio’s Head”

The Beheading of John the Baptist as a Remote Source in Measure for Measure

Giuseppe Leone    Università degli Studi di Palermo,Italia    



In an attempt to produce a reconstruction of the genealogy of the sources, this essay investigates the relationship between Measure for Measure and the Gospel of Matthew, examining in particular the possibility that the episode related to Claudio’s supposed beheading is somehow associated with the death of John the Baptist, as recorded in Matthew 14:1-12. In Shakespeare as well as in the Evangelist’s text, the request for the head is charged with a highly symbolic value: it is a visualization of the triumph, the gift that the instigator makes to his own superiority, a narcissistic gratification. It is an expression of personal affirmation; an acknowledgment of one’s own power and of the capacity to make it operative. Doing violence becomes an investigation of one’s own political force. It represents the violation of the corpse, the desecration of the relic. But it is also an appalling solution to put to rest any possible accusation related to immoral or illicit relationships condemned by the law. Moreover, it is a violent act, secretly perpetrated, with neither moral purposes nor royal warning.

Keywords: Measure for Measure. John the Baptist. Matthew’s Gospel. Shakespeare.

Language: en

Submitted: May 12, 2016   Accepted: July 6, 2016   Published: Sept. 30, 2016  

permalink: http://doi.org/10.14277/2499-1562/AnnOc-50-16-15

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License