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“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.

Sept. 30, 2016
July 6, 2016
May 12, 2016

Keywords: ShakespeareJohn the BaptistMeasure for MeasureMatthew’s Gospel

Copyright: © 2016 Giuseppe Leone. This is an open-access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction is permitted, provided that the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. The license allows for commercial use. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.