Monday, February 28, 2011

The Duke is Insane

The ending of Measure for Measure revealed the true nature of the Duke's character: he is an apt, forgiving, just, caring ruler after all, and any attempts to replace him will fail. The Duke will go to extraordinary lengths to prove this, which is how the play begins. Shakespeare makes it seem that the Duke was giving up his position as an act of cowardice, a general unwillingness to uphold the law. The Duke, probably sensing that the people pf Vienna held this opinion, decided to spy on anyone and everyone who had anything to do with his rule and the law of the land.

The best part of this elaborate plan was his return to rule in Vienna and the subsequent revelation that he was the friar that many of the main characters have been confiding in. He dishes out a number of punishments to almost everyone, to take them back a few lines later, showing that he's a kind ruler. He goes along with Angelo's opinion that Isabella and Mariana are lying and crazy, and has Isabella sent away to jail at first. After being revealed as the friar, he first forces Angelo to marry Mariana for engaging in pre-marital sex, then he condemns him to death for the hypocritical punishment of Claudio for the same “crime.” The Duke forces Lucio to marry whatever prostitute he impregnated, then orders him to be flogged and killed.

Suddenly, though, the Duke simply forgives everyone. Everyone. Claudio, Angelo, and Lucio all must get married to their respective partners. Lucio is the only unhappy one here, as he likens marrying a whore to getting beaten and executed: “Marrying a punk, my lord, is pressing to death, whipping, and hanging” (5.1.515-516). Even a prisoner of nine years, Barnardine, who was supposed to be executed, who was even seriously recommenced to be executed in Claudio's place by the Duke, was pardoned. Barnardine's probably the second strongest character in this play, besides the Duke, because he puts off his execution by being too drunk and lazy to cooperate. When he's called upon to die, he even announces he's going back to his cell to go to sleep. I love the Duke's explanation for Barnadine's pardon: “Sirrah, thou art said to have a stubborn soul / That apprehends no further than this world, / And squar'st thy life according. Thou'rt condemned; / But, for those earthly faults, I quit them all,” (5.1.474-477). That's like saying, “Barney, you refuse to die, and have no aspirations. But everyone's got their own problems. You're pardoned.” Perhaps the Duke saw a little of himself in Barnadine.

Redemption is a strong theme within this play. Virtually every character gets let off the hook for their various crimes, no matter how serious. Even Pompey gets to execute people for the rest of his life. Good for him. I'd say that this play is a commentary about the unnecessary harshness of puritan values. Angelo represents a move towards that conservative, unforgiving nature, of Puritanism. The Duke, however, represents Shakespeare's opinion of the previous, relaxed rule of Elizabeth I. He's such a perfect ruler in the play that it's clear Shakespeare wanted this type of ruler to come back, as opposed to the Puritan rule of King James after her death.

Word Play (with a side of metaphysics)

I’d like to jump into the text with a discussion of Shakespeare’s play on the word “mettle” and its homonyms (i.e. medal and meddle)--word play that unifies a few spheres of discourse in the drama. We get the first instance of “metal” (a variant of “mettle”) at the very beginning of the play when Angelo implores the Duke, “Let there be some more test made of my metal/Before so noble and so great a figure/Be stamped upon it” (1.1.49). On the surface, Angelo refers to the quality of his spirit or character (his metal) and the noble responsibility about to be entrusted to his soul. There’s also an implicit meaning in the diction though, which suggests that what’s being vested in him is not only of a spiritual nature, but also dons a material badge. The language calls to mind the stamping of a coin or honorary medal, and as we come to discover, the play is all about appearance and substance, illusion and truth, outward action and inner dimension. Later in the play we get the slang “medlar” meaning “prostitute” (4.3.161) which then ironically resonates with Lucio’s indictment of Friar Lodowick (the Duke) for “meddling” in the situation (5.1.127). Then we get Friar Peter’s defense of Lodowick, saying he is not a “temporary meddler” (5.1.144). This brings me back to the movement of the spiritual and material spheres in the play; the spirit (mettle) does not meddle in matters of the ephemeral world, such as the appointment of any kind of medal of honor. At the same time, the action and drama of the play emerges out of the Duke’s impulses. In the Vedantic tradition, Brahman (the conscious principle that underlies all reality, including the manifested world) is often talked about as a divine trinity consisting of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Brahma is the creative impulse of Brahman, while Vishnu is its preserving aspect and Shiva is the force that returns all of creation to its source, Brahman. The Duke, like Brahman, creates, preserves and returns the play to its original order. Out of the Duke’s omniscient Mind, a drama arises in which the actors become lost in the illusion of the material world, mistaking it for true and substantive, and thus fall from grace. After this drama has been sustained long enough for us to learn a lesson, the Duke returns that world to its original harmony. I think one of the more spiritual lessons learned comes from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount; namely, our inner lives are just as real and consequential as our outward actions. When Isabella gets down on her knees at the end of the play and pleas for Angelo’s life, on the grounds that he should not be punished because his intent never became action and only actions are punishable; of course, ironically, the drama and excitement of the play derive entirely from thoughts, desires, and intentions. Again Shakespeare gives us a wonderful dramatic irony at the end of the play. While everything onstage is apparently resolved because no harmful action has been committed, we as an audience have learned the power of desires and thoughts to shape the drama of the world around us.


Claudio is the only character to remain in his constant belief throughout the whole play. He stands true to his belief that he has not committed a crime that is worth any punishment, especially that of execution. Claudio’s admittance to his crime, and the fact that he expresses he would do the same thing again illustrates his solidarity as a character: “Our natures do pursue, / Like rats that raven down their proper bane, / A thirst evil; and when we drink, we die” (1.2.108-10). Claudio knows that there is no stopping the sexuality between each other, which is why he chooses not to fight it. His hesitancy to talk about the subject with Lucio does show his acknowledgment for the law, no matter how unjust it may be, but never does he feel shame for his act as most would after being sentenced to death. His feelings of being an example are evident when he says, “Whether the tyranny be his place, / Or in his eminence that fills it up- / I Stagger in” (1.2.140-2). The most important note of his character is revealed in his demeanor to accept what he has done. His inclination to get his sister to help with pardoning him of the crime still highlights him as a stoic character because he never attempts to change what he has done or the traits of his character. He has a consistent acceptance for himself. Even as he becomes closer to his execution his demeanor stays the same: “The miserable have no other medicine / But only hope. / I’ve hope to live, and am prepared to die” (3.1.2-4). He has come to terms with the conditions of his life, and can only hope that the others can help his situation because he knows that it is out of his hands. Even as he comes closer to death his character stays the same. There are changes in the Duke, Angelo is inconsistent, and Isabella’s future is unclear. So, it seems that Claudio is one of the only characters to remain constant.

Isabella as the Virgin Mary?

From the beginning of the play while all of the other characters are engaging in illegal and sexual activities Isabella is off doing her own thing. She is ignoring the conformity of her fellow characters and choosing to not partake in the sexual promiscuity that is occurring all around Vienna. Instead, she chooses the complete opposite and decides to join a convent. It is almost as if she represent the virtuous and pure virgin Mary and the city of Vienna is essentially the whore. Yet, despite Isabella’s attempt to break away from the sins of the city she is pulled back into the chaos. Just as she is about to assert her final act of sexual independence and claim her body as her own for the rest of her life she is asked by Lucio to use her feminine wiles to help save her brother, Claudio, from being executed. Thinking that her love and respect for God would help persuade Angelo to allow her brother to live she is sadly mistaken. All of Vienna, including the ruler had been engulfed by the lure of sex. And it seems that no matter what Isabella does she can not escape the promiscuity that is occurring in her city. It becomes abundantly clear after Angelo insinuates that he will pardon Claudio’s life if Isabella has sexual intercourse with him that Isabella is not going to be able to escape this life, no matter how badly she wished to join the convent. At the end of the play however, it seems that Isabella may have given into the conformities of marriage and the sins of the city allowing herself to leave behind her dreams of a virtuous and sinless life at the convent. In Act V, the Duke proposes to Isabella, although we are not given her answer before the play ends she seems to be happy and pleased by his proposal. This situation however, of the Duke proposing to her reinforces Isabella’s loss of sexual freedom and identity which she had been trying to hold on to throughout the entire play. Although, Isabella would still be virtuous if she married the Duke she would be denying her freedom. The conflict of Isabella wanting to be an independent woman is still a conflict that occurs today. Which is one of the reasons why Measure for Measure is a great story. Yes, many students probably love it because it focuses on sex, it is essential to a classroom or a person individual library of knowledge because it focuses so heavily on not only modern day conflicts. But the conflict of a woman wanting to be independent, virtuous and able to have their own sexual freedom as well as the ideas and social stigmas that go along with prostitution have continually been themes throughout history since Shakespeare wrote Measure for Measure.

Clout and the Legitimacy of Authority

The duke disguised as the friar laments in Act III Scene I that Angelo sentences Claudio to death for something Angelo plans to do himself. "Though an angel on the outward side!/ How may likeness made in crimes/ Make my pratice on the times/ To draw with idle spiders strings/ Most ponderous and substantial things?" says the duke, questioning the utility of a law (the spider's wed) that catches only small flies (according to the footnote) but is ineffectual in preventing more powerful persons from flouting it. The point of Claudio's harsh punishment is to establish that the law will not tolerate lechery, yet the law doesn't stand up to Angelo's clout, or his "unsoiled name" (2.4) as he puts it to Isabella which makes his "false o'erweigh [her] true."
Angelo in this sense is the ultimate Machiavellian, because his reputation of precision and honor shroud his actual hypocrisy. I believe that Shakespeare is using Angelo to illustrate how often the values of truth and justice in human society are measured not by the sincerity of one's heart, but by the clout of one's position in society or one's personal charisma. The title "Measure for Measure" I take to partly mean how differently the sins of Angelo are measured when compared to Claudio on the scales of justice; Justice is not so blind to title and privilege.
The actual duke is a questionable character because he seems so well-meaning to the audience, but it is really he who put everyone in this position in the first place. Shakespeare seems to be using the duke as another example of appearances and titles shrouding duplicity, since the duke is disguised as a friar who is supposed to be humble, helpful, and honest (and seems this way to the other characters in the play), but he is actually the grand manipulator of this scheme. The duke is only seen and treated as a friar because he puts on the habit, yet if he were the duke in their eyes the other characters would act much differently around him.
Shakespeare puts into question the legitimacy of authority in this way. The duke is no longer considered a legitimate authority simply because he puts on a friar's habit; Angelo is considered to have authority because he was rendered it by the duke in his "absence." Angelo's will is NOW what counts as the law in Vienna, but why should his authority be considered legitimate by the people? Is it because he wears a fancy hat? Under the duke's rule, according to Lucio (3.1), the same law that Claudio is to be put to death for was largely considered on a case by case basis (or simply ignored) rather than following its strict letter. Since English common law is based principally in custom rather than in code, why should anyone listen to Angelo's personal vendetta on lechery when it was de-facto tolerated in for such a long time? Clearly Angelo has achieved the political legitimacy to be able to enforce such harsh measures in the context of the play, but I think the point that Shakespeare is trying to make is that Angelo's government should not be considered legitimate because it skews justice and is based on the appearance of virtue rather than the practice of it (the Machiavellian ideal).

Reflecting on a production past

Fall of 2008 our college put on a production of Measure for Measure. I worked backstage on the show and have some really fond memories of it. While the actual production itself was sometimes hard to follow due to its use of having one person play multiple roles as well as gender bending those roles. Also not exactly an inspired choice, but far less boring that placing it in the baroque era as our recent Twelfth Night our school's production of Measure for Measure was set in the Victorian era. Here are some photos and a video I took while working backstage :-). The video is of the little boy's song to Mariana in ACT IV

1. Abe Kless was hysterical as the much abused clown Pompey
2. The cast hamming it up
3. Amy Smith as the bombastic Mistress overdone she had to sit with her hair in pin curlers for quite some time to get the romantic over the top coif of the era
4. Real life Brit Alex Oates as the Duke. His portrayal of the Duke was charming and sincere. To disguise his northern english accent Alex put on a scottish accent as the friar.
5. Lauren Kennedy as the fierce Isabella.
6. Kyle Ryan get in character to portray the lascivious Lucio
7. The lovely Lauren Tyrel gender bends as Escalus

Isabella: two-faced or human?

There is a lot to respond to in the final acts of Measure for Measure, but there is one character I want to respond to the most, and that is the notorious Isabella. She has to be one of the most interesting and misunderstood women I’ve ever read in Shakespeare. For a woman who is seen as pious and chaste, it seems she does quite a few things that lead audiences and readers alike to see her as two-faced, not so much as good/evil or angel/devil, but as chaste and good/clever and flawed. The entire play reveals these aspects of Isabella, but for this post I will center on act IV scenes I and III.

It can already be argued that Isabella is doing the wrong thing in convincing Mariana, Angelo’s ex-betrothed, to have sex with him in Isabella’s stead. Do we know that this act is wrong? In the first scene of act IV, Isabella explains what she has said to Angelo, and when Mariana comes in, Mariana says, “Will’t please you walk aside?” (4.1.55) Not only has Mariana decided to listen to Isabella, but she talks to her in secrecy, outside the hearing range of the duke. This can possibly be seen as a simple stage direction –perhaps Shakespeare did it this way so as to not repeat the plan again –but it can also be seen as more than that. We as readers and audience do not know what is said to Mariana: we trust that Isabella has only told her what we know. Who know what she could have said to convince the woman?

Despite this all being speculation, the point is that Mariana does agree to Isabella, supposedly without a fight, since they had to make haste (4.1.53). If Mariana wholeheartedly agrees with this plan, how wrong can it truly be? Angelo is not an innocent man that is to be corrupted by this plan, and Mariana wants it to happen.

Scene I of act IV reveals Isabella’s ability to convince others to do her bidding (referring to Angelo as well as Mariana, though we as the reader do not hear what she says to Angelo). In the third scene, what reveals her other side is her remorse at finding out her brother has been beheaded despite having “slept” with Angelo (not knowing, of course, that he is alive all along). Isabella is incredibly upset, threatening to “will to him and pluck out his eyes” (4.3.111). Though her part is small in this scene, it reveals a part of Isabella that the audience did not know she had. Isabella, for a single moment, forgot who she was, and made a threat to silence a man, which could obviously be read as to kill him. That’s a big mortal sin, as she well knows, being ready to get into sisterhood.

I believe the point Shakespeare is making in this play concerning Isabella is that those who wish to devote themselves to God, those who take their chastity very seriously, those people are still human with emotions. Isabella originally came off as uptight, set on her nunnery ways, but in reality I believe that Isabella was simply revealing her stubbornness and need to argue (since she is a natural with persuasion). She’s not being a hypocrite at all; she’s just revealing her personality. That’s why she’s a such a great character.

The Duke's Dirty Work

One of the most powerful characters in Measure for Measure is the Duke. The Duke gives his power to Angelo to enforce Vienna’s rules. Although he sees Angelo to be the perfect man to take over his responsibilities, he does not fully trust him. He disguises himself as a friar to spy on Angelo, but none of the other characters know this. He plays with the other character’s emotions throughout the play, and proves himself to be one of the most evil characters in the play.

When the Duke returns to Vienna as the Friar, he learns what Angelo has done to Isabella, and comes up with a plan. He wants to expose Angelo as the jerk that he is, but also save Isabella’s virginity and Claudio’s life. As he tries to do this, he causes conflicts in the other characters lives. An example of this is in scene 4.2 when Angelo demands Claudio’s head, so the Duke executes Barnardine instead so Claudio can survive. Even worse in scene 4.3, the Duke tells Isabella that her brother is dead even though he’s not:

“The tongue of Isabel. She’s come to know
If yet her brother’s pardon be come hither;
But I will keep her ignorant of her good,
To make her heavenly comforts of despair
When it is least expectd” (4.3.99-103).

In scene 5.1, after revealing his identity as the Duke, he takes everything a little too far. He calls Mariana a “pernicious woman” (5.1.237), and basically sticks up for Angelo, and let’s Isabella feel like she’s betrayed her religious beliefs. Also, he leaves Claudio to think he is about to be executed, and has no idea what will happen to Juliet and their child.

Basically, the Duke is more concerned with himself than anyone else. He takes his games too far, and wants to look like the hero when he “saves” everyone. In the end, his plan works and everyone in the play has a happy ending, but he makes himself look like a manipulator and a cruel man to the reader.

The Ironic Role of Death

I believe it is necessary to focus on the idea of death in Measure for Measure and how it is the central focus for the entirety of the play. With Claudio’s life at stake from the beginning, it becomes the duties of others around him to find alternatives to his death, like Isabella’s quest to free him with her good, strong virtues. We talked in class the other day about the rules of a comedy, specifically a Shakespearean comedy, and how they work in Measure for Measure. One key fact is the idea that there is a sense of limited time, or that we should forget or laugh at death.

At the beginning of Act III, death is mentioned several times, and it is extremely interesting to look at both the Duke’s and Isabella’s convincing arguments toward Claudio when it comes to the positive side of death. Claudio explains to the Duke that although he is prepared to die, he hopes to be pardoned by Angelo. Here the Duke tries to show a positive outlook on death:

DUKE: Thou art not certain,

For thy complexion shifts to strange effects

After the moon. If thou art rich thou’rt poor,

For like an ass whose back with ingots bows

Thou bear’st thy heavy riches but a journey

And death unloads thee….Thou hast nor youth nor age,

But as it were an after-dinner’s sleep,

Dreaming on both: for all thy blessed youth

Becomes as aged and doth beg the alms

Of palsied eld… (3.1.25-36)

Claudio thanks him and seems to convince the audience that he is ready. However, Isabella then enters and Claudio asks if there is a way to change the sentence. She too, tries to convince him death is better and that it is the only way.

ISABELLA: Therefore your best appointment make with speed,

Tomorrow you set on. (3.1.58).

And later,

ISABELLA: Yes, thou must die:
Thou art too noble to conserve a life…(3.1.86-88).

Both Isabella and the Duke here bring out selfish qualities. Yes, we are aware that the Duke is a trickster throughout the play, selfish and a coward, but Isabella seems to be a different story. She wants to stick to her virtues, even at the cost of her own brother. I found these passages and this scene in general fascinating because of the arguments both characters lend out to Claudio on why he should die and no longer fight for his life.

The ending of the play works in such a strange, comedic way, that it almost cancels this entire scene out. The Duke decides to use Barnadine, another prisoner, and to send his head as if it were Claudio’s. So after the Duke’s convincing speech to Claudio, here he wants to save his life.

I think the most confusing part of the entire play is how the Duke proposes to Isabella and it is implied that she accepts. This was extremely shocking because of her attempt throughout the play to keep her virtues and virginity. It doesn’t make sense why she would then leave the nunnery at the ending.

DUKE: What’s mine is yours, and what is yours is mine.

So bring us to our place, where we’ll show

What’s yet behind that’s meet you all should know. (5.1.527-531).

These last sentences seem to imply taking her virginity, which was the one thing she tried to keep sacred throughout the play.

With everything, the play proves its comedic virtues, where the characters do wind up laughing at death. Since Claudio lives, everything seems to be okay, and Isabella is all for the end of her virginity and the nunnery. The irony is crazy but extremely interesting, to say the least.

The Duke's Original Intentions

At the beginning of Measure for Measure, it is understood that the Duke has let the law slip a bit, and fears that it would now be impossible to re-implement it. The people no longer take it seriously and have become increasingly rowdy and badly behaved. So, knowing he cannot effectively enforce the law after not doing so for so long, he appoints Angelo to do it. Angelo will lead without mercy. He will prove to the people that the law must be taken seriously, making examples of those who disobey. This seems to be the Duke's goal, but the way the rest of the play works out, it may be a goal to which he is not very committed.

Angelo starts things off by sentencing Claudio to death, making a very bold statement to the people of Vienna. Claudio's crime is not particularly heinous, (in fact, by our modern standards, there's nothing about it that could even be considered a crime) yet he's received the harshest of punishments: execution. At this point, we can reasonably understand why the Duke would slip in to undo this sentence. Perhaps Angelo has taken the Duke's instructions a little more strongly than he had expected, and doesn't want to see Claudio die for what he's done. So in this case, the Duke goes against his wish to see the law strongly enforced. His merciful nature has gotten the best of him, and it's understandable regarding this case of such a victimless crime with a very harsh punishment. But there are two other characters who less deservedly get the Duke's mercy, all while he was originally trying to strengthen the law: Pompey and Barnadine.

Pompey has broken the law in some sense, though it is not entirely clear how. He frequents brothels and is said to be a thief. Certainly this is the kind of criminal who can rightly be made an example of, if that's what the Duke is really looking to do. Yet, there is no word of punishment for him. When the Duke is looking for someone to be executed instead of Claudio, Pompey isn't even considered. Barnadine is considered, though. We don't really get any information on why he is in prison, but we know he's been in there for nine years, and his behavior hasn't really improved the entire time. The Duke then calls for his head, but is relieved to find out that a "most notorious pirate" who looks a bit like Claudio has died that morning. The Duke calls it "an accident that heaven provides." Then, at the end, the Duke pardons Barnadine entirely.

My question is, what happened to the Duke's original intentions? He's associating freely with criminals, pardoning long-term prisoners who haven't shown signs of improvement, and doing his best to undo the first authoritative act of the man he appointed.

The Duke—A Precursor to the Modern Comic Book Superhero?

I have to admit that I am taking a kind of perverse pleasure in Measure for Measure. I am enjoying the hilarity of the role switching that is taking place and, while the narrative line is somewhat predictable, only in that Shakespeare broadcasts his intent early on in the play, I find the whole thing kind of fun. Which is why it surprises me to find that several of those posting before me seem to find the Duke detestable.

I do, to some degree, understand this. After all, the Duke does seem to be intentionally leaving all the other players in this play hanging. (pun intended) But, from where I sit, there is a sense of justice and mercy at play here that makes the story intriguing and there is a sense of the humorous here that really tickles me.

What I found particularly delightful was the interplay in 4.3 between Pompey, Barnardine, and Abhorson in the moments before Barnardine is supposed to lose his head. It is, I think, gallows humor at its best, and a signifier that Barnardine is unlikely, as we do see in the latter part of 5.1, to lose his head.

Sirrah, bring Barnardine hither.

Master Barnardine! You must rise and be hang’d, Master Barnardine!

What ho, Barnardine!

Barnardine (Within)
A pox o’ your throats! Who makes that noise there? What are you?

Your friends, sir, the hangman. You must be so good, sir, to rise, and be put to death.

Barnardine (Within)
Away, you rogue, away! I am sleepy.

Tell him he must awake, and that quickly too.

Pray, Master Barnardine, awake till you are executed, and sleep afterwards.

Go in to him, and fetch him out.

He is coming, sir, he is coming. I hear his straw rustle.

Enter Barnardine.

Is the axe upon the block, sirrah?

Very ready, sir.

How now, Abhorson? What’s the news with you?

Truly, sir, I would desire you to clap into your prayers; for look you, the warrant’s come.

You rogue, I have been drinking all night, I am not fitted for’t.

O, the better, sir; for he that drinks all night, and is hang’d betimes in the morning, may sleep the sounder all the next day.

Enter Duke disguised as a friar.

Look you, sir, here comes your ghostly father. Do we jest now, think you?

Vincentio, the Duke
Sir, induc’d by my charity, and hearing how hastily you are to depart, I am come to advise you, comfort you, and pray with you.

Friar, not I; I have been drinking hard all night, and I will have more time to prepare me, or they shall beat out my brains with billets. I will not consent to die this day, that’s certain.

Vincentio, the Duke
O sir, you must; and therefore I beseech you
Look forward on the journey you shall go.

I swear I will not die today for any man’s persuasion.

Vincentio, the Duke
But hear you—

Not a word. If you have any thing to say to me, come to my ward; for thence will not I today.

I do understand that it seems repulsive that the Duke is willing to sacrifice the head of poor Barnardine for the sake of fulfilling his plan, but what I feel when I read the dialog is that Barnardine is pretty capable of holding his own. In fact, I have the feeling that he's been down this road before and has, in a similar manner, saved his own neck in the past. It's clear to me that this is here for comedic effect. And, frankly, it works quite well on me. I mean really, "Friar… I have been drinking hard all night, and I will have more time to prepare me…" seems a rather thin excuse for putting off a beheading, and yet the Duke consents, and in the end relents, setting Barnardine free.

As to the question of whether the Duke is cruel, beyond the obvious dramatic purposes behind the way he behaves, I think what we see here is a desire to have the truth reveal itself. If you remember early in the first scene of the first act The Duke says:

I love the people,
But do not like to stage me to there eyes;
Though it do well, I do not relish well
Their loud applause and aves vehement;

There is a degree of humility here that I think is revealed throughout the play in the way that The Duke handles himself and in how slow he is to reveal his identity. Granted, some of this is the apparatus of drama—you would lose almost two acts if The Duke were to pop out from behind a curtain, grab Angelo by the neck and scream, "Scoundrel! I know your deeds!" So, instead we enjoy a bit of a cat-and-mouse game, which adds to the interest of the play. But, by his own admission, The Duke loves the people he serves but doesn't like the limelight. I think the whole charade playing out here allows The Duke the anonymity he desires while still allowing him to handle the law in the way he desires.

In the end, I see The Duke as a precursor to the modern comic book hero, although, unlike most comic book heroes, The Duke's true identity is revealed in the end. But the concept remains the same. The Duke, not unlike Bruce Wayne or Peter Parker, is someone who dons a costume in order to fight evil or corruption anonymously. And it is this anonymity that allows him to work in the way that he does.

Marriage as form of punishment...

I found it very odd that marriage is used as a punishment to the male characters in this play. If marriage is a sacrament then why is it being used as a punishment? Throughout the entire play, it seems as though marriage is viewed as something trivial and almost materialistic to the male characters. For example, in Act III, we find out that Angelo broke off his marriage with Mariana because her dowry was lost...
"There she losther marriage dowry; with both, her combinate husband, this well seeming Angelo" (III.1. 216-218)

In Act V, the sacrament of marriage of even further spit upon when the Duke begins giving out punishments to the male characters. For Lucio, he is to marry the prostitute he impregnated. Lucio even says to the Duke, ""Marrying a punk, my lord, is pressing to death" (V.1. 515). For Angelo, he is to marry Mariana, the woman he abandoned when her dowry was lost. Isabella is to marry the Duke, whether she likes to or not.

I have very mixed emotions regarding why Shakespeare would choose to use marriage as a form of punishment in this play. On one hand, I can understand making characters take responsibility for their actions, like Lucio. I can also see how Shakespeare is portraying the harsh reality that marriage is not always a fairy tale. However, this conclusion still leaves me with a feeling of confusion. Maybe it is because I, like the rest of us, am so far removed from the time period that my “independent woman” is kicking in and I’m finding it hard to believe that any woman would accept being married off to a man who dismissed her in the first place. I’m curious to see what the rest of you think of this. Why do you think Shakespeare used marriage as a punishment in this play?

Is this what you call convent material?

Through reading Measure for Measure, we are introduced to Isabella. She is portrayed as a woman of morals and values, as she has entered a convent and aims to become a nun. She willingly gives up all worldly pleasures and completely devotes herself to the Lord, preserving her spirit and her soul. This is who Isabella wants be to be and might even be seen as on a base level. Her actions in this play might actually point to something else.

In the beginning scenes of the play Isabella finds out from Lucio that her brother Claudio is to be put to death for bedding Juliette whom he has not yet married. Lucio tells Isabella that she should speak to Angelo and try to get Claudio off the hook. When Isabella doubts her ability to make any difference in the matter, Lucio tells her, "when maidens sue, men give like Gods, but when they weep and kneel, all their petitions are as freely theirs as they themselves would owe them," Lucio is basically encouraging Isabella to use her feminine charm in order to help Claudio. Despite being in a convent and knowing that doing such a thing might be seen as wrong, she still immediately agrees to try saving Claudio in that way.

After speaking with Angelo and being propositioned by him (her body for Claudio's life) she immediately turns it down. When this happens, Isabella says, "I am now going to resolve him. i had rather my brother die by the law than my son should be unlawfully born." Her wording in this line is very telling. It is completely about herself and has nothing to do with any concerns over her brothers soul. Though she had previously mentioned concerns over his soul, i am convinced that she only says it as a way of convincing Claudio that it is for his own good that she doesn't sleep with angelo. The way i see it, she is simply trying to look selfless when speaking to claudio there but the line above shows that this is really all about her.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Duke - Interesting but Kind of a Jerk

As interesting as I think the Duke is as a character in Measure for Measure, I find his actions at the end of the play deplorable. At the start of the play, I was more or less on his side, believing that his actions (that is, disguising as a friar to “test” Angelo) were for the good of the people; he simply wanted to see “if power change purpose” (I.iv.54). However, in Acts IV and V, as his plans for Claudio and Isabel unfold, it seems the feelings of others are just about the last thing on his mind.

In Act III, the Duke (dressed as a friar), orders the Provost to basically sacrifice the unsuspecting Barnardine. I understand that Barnardine’s fate was already decided, but he is basically using this unsuspecting man as simply a tool in his grand scheme instead of leaving his to die in (somewhat) peace.

Here, the Duke uses his “double life” to his advantage as a form of manipulation. First, he uses words such as “vow,” “by the saint whom I profess,” and “plead,” and makes reference to his religious “coat,” that is, uses his alter ego’s religious power in order to persuade the provost. But when that doesn’t work, he writes a letter from himself (the Duke) especially for the provost, discussing his return and ordering that this execution take place. To further persuade, he claims that this information was not even given to Angelo.

The nature of his manipulation of Isabel is slightly more ambiguous to the readers (or at least to me). In IV.iii, the Duke (still disguised as a friar), deliberately lies to Isabel about her brother’s fate: “But I will keep her ignorant of her good, to make her heavenly comforts of despair when it is least expected” (IV.iii.101-103). According to the Duke, he is doing this for her own good; in the end, he will bring her peace of mind. But first of all, the way he delivers the new is, to me, completely malicious! “He hath released him Isabel, from the world. His head is off and sent to Angelo” (IV.iii.107-108). He deliberately builds her up, implying they released Claudio from prison, and then, after a pause, adds, “from the world.” It was almost as if he wanted her to suffer more. Or is this another test, perhaps of Isabella’s faith? And when she breaks down in front of him, instead of comforting her, the Duke flatly tells her “This nor hurts him, nor profits you” (IV.iii.115). This response is much like what a mother would say when her young child has a tantrum; instead of entertaining the outburst, she would simply respond: “this isn’t doing anyone any good.”

But what are his true motives? As I said before, he claims that withholding the information will bring her peace of mind, but why bother waiting? In my opinion, the text suggests that the Duke is doing this for his own benefit. He tells Isabella:

“The Duke comes home tomorrow – nay, dry your eyes –[…]Already he hath carried/Notice to Escalus and Angelo,/Who do prepare to meet him at the gates,/There to give up their power. If you can pace your wisdom/In that good path that I would wish it go,/And you shall have your bosom on this wretch,/Grace of the Duke, revenges to your heart,/And general honour” (119-128). It seems to me that the Duke is withholding the information until he can be the Duke again, so that he can reveal to her, as himself, the good news; he wants to be the hero. Basically, he is saying, “There, there, Isabella, that super-awesome Duke of ours will solve all your problems.” Moreover, he uses this good news as a platform to propose to Isabella? What a gem!

And does anyone else find it ironic that the Duke is dressed as a friar while “playing God” with these people’s lives?

The Duke's Wicked Games

Throughout the play, the characters play many games upon one another but none of them are fun games – they’re all pretty wicked. The best example of this is the character of The Duke. The Duke is a bit of a mystery because he is a strong hidden force throughout the entire play, but he remains hidden from the public eye. The audience knows that the Friar is in reality the Duke, but the other characters do not realize this secret. The Duke seems to be playing types of games with the people of his society. A lot of the things he is doing are rather cruel. In the beginning of the play he seems pretty pathetic, putting Angelo in charge just so he wouldn’t have to send Claudio to his death. He can have someone else do it for him. He gets to have Angelo make his tough decision rather than himself. But this is only the beginning.
Throughout the play he meddles in peoples’ business, pretending to be a friar. None of them once realize the person they are speaking to is the Duke. One of the major conflicts in the play is that Angelo wants to sleep with Isabella, but Isabella can’t give her body to Angelo, even though her brother’s life is on the line. The Duke is the one that thinks of a certain plan to save both Claudio AND Isabella. This involves Mariana, the ex-lover of Angelo. He tells Isabella to accept Angelo’s offer, but in the night they’ll switch she and Mariana and Angelo will sleep with her instead and then will be bound to Mariana rather than Isabella.
For me, the Duke’s cruelest game is what he does to Isabella. In his final speech the Duke is talking to each of the characters about what has been going on and what will happen. But what he says to Isabella is incredibly cruel:
[…] Dear Isabel,
I have a motion much imports your good,
Whereto, if you’ll a willing ear incline,
What’s mine is yours, and what is yours is mine.
So bring us to our palace where we’ll show
What’s yet behind that’s meet you all should know. (5.1.527-532)
It sounds likes the Duke isn’t just proposing marriage to her, but it sounds more like he is forcing marriage onto her. Isabella is studying to be a nun; she is a woman that wants strict rules. She was willing to let her brother die so that she would not have to sin by having sex. Now here is the Duke, telling Isabella how they will be married. The Duke is not that good of a man through all the acts he performs in the play. One thing I find interesting is that we never hear nor see Isabella’s response. It makes me believe that she is unhappy. She does not seem to be getting a happy ending in this play like most of the other characters are getting. Claudio gets to marry the woman he loves. Even though Angelo is being forced to marry Mariana, she will be happy and Angelo is a sort-of villain so he is getting his comeuppance. But with Isabella, the Duke seems to be forcing marriage and an unhappy ending onto her.
The Duke is a man who plays wicked games upon all these characters. He is a sort of puppet master and everyone in town is his puppet. He isn’t the lazy man we once thought he was in the beginning. He is a cunning man who can control anyone he wants and knows how to get his way, even when in disguise.