Shakespeare’s play “Measure for Measure” explores the complicated relationship of justice and the law (not necessarily the same thing) in early Seventeenth Century Vienna. The characters Angelo and the Duke Vincentio are the mainstays of the plot. Their relationship has three main stages in the play. At the beginning, they have similar aspirations for the state, and both have the power to change it. However, as the play moves on Angelo becomes corrupted and the Duke now works against him rather than with him. He endeavours to defeat Angelo in order to save Claudio and change Angelo himself. At this stage, they have different views, ideas and aspirations for the future. It’s only at the end of Act Five they are together in forgiveness and mutual understanding.

Angelo has one of the most complicated and intricate personalities in the play, thinking abstractly and ruling exactly “by the book”. The conflict of his puritanical views with his lust, opportunism and amorality give him the appearance of having a divided self. Much of his corrupt behaviour invites hostility from the audience, none more so than when he propositions Isabella. She must choose between loosing her brother’s life (“Most just law”) or saying it by submission to, “Such a sweet uncleanliness” (Act ? scene four). The fact that Angelo is aware that taking Isabella’s chastity is “unclean”, shows that he acknowledges that what he’s doing is wrong yet at the same time he cannot help surrendering to what is “sweet”. The audience (initially at any rate) feel pity for Isabella’s innocent, unstained but assaulted character, which inevitably produces a loathing of Angelo. This along with the over strict condemnation of Claudio, shows his willingness to act- in contrast with the Duke’s previous lack of action. However this puritanical Angelo, turns into, “A hypocrite, a virgin violator” according to Isabella in Act V and his “action” is worse than no action at all.

Angelo himself realises, (as highlighted in his soliloquy of Act ? scene 4), that he possesses animal desires and that his image of “fallen” Claudio can also be applied to himself: “Now I give my sensual race the rein”-thus imagining himself as a rider of a horse which is no longer reigned in and that is therefore out of control. The language he uses is almost breathless – built on metaphors in contrast with his earlier more abstract way of speaking. In Act ?, emotions of lust and sexuality are now violently released from the pressure of constraint, with Isabella being the target of this new release.

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At this point, Angelo’s personality has in fact been torn between the two extremes of chastity and desire. Lucio describes Angelo at first as a man whose, “Urine is congealed ice.” (Act ?scene 2) – meaning he hasn’t got any sexual desires in him whatsoever. Of course we do have to question Lucio as a reliable witness due to his low character and corrupt way of life. He describes the Duke as being guilty of lechery, whilst in reality the Duke had neglected his duties. This shows the reliability of Lucio to be seriously weakened because here he is simply maliciously gossiping, although he is backed up by what others say and there is some truth in what he’s said about Angelo’s “icy” nature.

Angelo had been seen by himself and others, as employing restraint and steadfastness, ” a man of stricture and firm abstinence” (Act?). This confirms what Lucio says later in the same Act where Angelo is described as: “Whose blood/ is very snow broth!” Furthermore, In Act ? scene 2, Claudio produces the image of Angelo as a rider taking control over the horse of state with his spur: “A horse whereon the governor doth ride, / Who newly in the seat, that it may know/ He can command, lets it straight feel the spur” This is the counter image discussed above. It shows Angelo to be in control of the “spur” proving that he can now “command”- which suggests that Angelo is trying to be a moral crusader, dealing with the law, by the book.

In public Angelo’s speech often reflects this image of a “moral crusader”. His speech is clipped and precise, showing him to be constantly keeping himself in check. Before Angelo meets Isabella in Act ? scene 1, he speaks in this way: “How now, sir, what’s your name? And what’s/ the matter?”- Using simple words, very matter-of-factly and speaking only when necessary. When he meets Isabella herself, his speech continues to be, precise, condensed and abrupt: “Well: the matter?” Act ?scene 2 line 34, asking Isabella what the problem is that she’s come to see him about. It’s only when she’s left the room that it changes. This is demonstrated by his soliloquy. It’s broken rhythms and incessant questions convey the tatters of his iron self-possession. “What is this? What is this? Is it her fault or mine?” This is the first line of the soliloquy and Angelo is clearly wrestling with his inner conscience. The broken speech is also shown by, “The tempter or the tempted who sins most? /Ha?” Clearly Angelo is searching and scrambling around for some kind of an answer or even some reassurance, but the “Ha?” sounds almost strangled. His torment is to be seen in his relentless self-questioning: “What are thou, Angelo? / Dost thou desire her foully for those things / That make her good?” Act ? scene 2.

From there he moves into a self-loathing and when his behaviour is revealed in Act V, he craves, “death more willingly than mercy.” He has reasserted his moral crusade but this time it is aimed at himself. However I believe that the vanity which Angelo had shown earlier in the play, (an example in Act ? scene two is where Angelo using the word “I” four times in lines 100-101), again comes to the surface even when he shows remorse. This vanity could be seen in Act Iscene one where he has a desire to be seen in a very serious light, “Let there be some more test made of my mental/Before so noble and so great a figure/Be stamped upon it.” By act V Angelo is so wrapped up in himself, all he can think about is how bad he has been, ignoring the damage he has done to Isabella and the effects he’s had on others. He is so self-centred that he doesn’t want to go through a trial, he’d rather die, than lose face and live with his shame. However there is another side to this argument since Angelo’s self-loathing leaves the path clearly open to his redemption.

It has also to be said that this wish to condemn himself could also be sparked by the puritanical side of Angelo’s nature: ” It is the law, not I, condemned your brother; / were he my kinsman, brother, or my son, / it should be thus with him” Act ?scene 2. In Act V lines 369 to 371 realisation has set in: “But let my trial be mine own confession. / Immediate sentence, then, and sequent death / Is all the grace I beg.” He is painfully aware of his shortcomings, as he had been in his soliloquy: “This deed unshapes me quite, makes me unpregnant/ and dull to all proceedings”( Act ? scene 4 lines 18 – 19), showing that he realised that he had done wrong, yet at the same time was powerless to control himself. Not surprisingly then, he accepts in Act V that he, himself should be subject to the same treatment as that of the condemned, Claudio.

Like Angelo the Duke has two sides to his personality, however he isn’t affected by a divided self and therefore can act freely rather than come up against himself as Angelo does. Angelo appears to have the power and control, but it is actually the Duke who is in control and oversees many events and sets of circumstances both as Friar Lodowick and as the Duke himself in Acts Three, Four and Five. The Duke’s keeping control and power, which at the end of Act V determines the ending of the play and the fate of the characters operates through secrecy as he works through Isabella, Marianna and the Provost.

Lucio’s interpretation of this character is of the “Duke as one of dark corners” This is true in a Machiavellian sense yet not as a libertine, showing Lucio as slandering him when actually the Duke is chaste. (In Act ? scene two, he’s described as being the “sword of heaven.”) There are lots of scenes showing him as a Machiavellian, power monger. Using deceit to resolve everything in the end. However only the audience see this Machiavellian side whilst the other characters remain mostly oblivious. Whichever interpretation of the Duke is emphasized in a production, it is crucial to the play that the Duke is on stage so much of the time. He holds the play together as a whole: exposing, concealing, manipulating and plotting events, all in preparation for a “resolution” that is revealed in Act V. From any interpretation of his character, one thing is certain, that he is the pivotal character in this play.

However, this is not how he appeared in Act I. At the beginning of the play, the audience is introduced to a Vienna, out of control and with a duke who could be seen as fleeing through a back door without ceremony. The law has fallen into such disarray and decline that the Duke could be seen as “passing the buck” to Angelo. However this “way out” ends up as “Friar Lodowick”. In this position he can see all, hear all in a complete disguise, only being “The Duke” to the audience. We soon learn of his increasing involvement, with his monitoring of Angelo’s progress. This therefore discounts the notion of him always evading on responsibility actually showing his responsible side. This doesn’t come totally to light until Act ? in the play and consequentially the first impression of the Duke is that of a man running away from his duties.

However we later discover that the Duke wants to make up for his earlier neglect and he soon realises that this has to be done through consensus, working with and through others, rather than by his authority alone. The Duke clearly plans events and when he asks Isabella to publicly accuse Angelo of something which he hasn’t done – in this case his seducing her and succeeding, means that the Duke acts in an underhand way, since he puts her at risk from the law and with her own conscience. However, Angelo is guilty because he had intended to seduce Isabella. So the Duke’s “lies” are in part true. Unlike Angelo, he is working for good.

Of course the grief that Isabella endures is only temporary because in fact Claudio is alive and well. Nevertheless her grief has still been made apparent: “Unhappy Claudio! Wretched Isabel! / Injurious world! Most damned Angelo!” In Act ? scene 2 lines 120 to 121. This is included by Shakespeare to show how she is thawing emotionally.

– Isabella must be made to believe that Claudio is dead for two main reasons. Firstly she must realise that a brother is just as valuable as her chastity, which she’s so obsessed with. Then secondly, that learning to freely forgive Angelo (which relies on her believing that Claudio is dead) is such an important lesson. The Duke teaches both Angelo and Isabella self-awareness then redemption and forgiveness. His manoeuvring provides the perfect stage from which the Duke can work for his own redemption.

During the concluding scene, the audience can now see the descent of Angelo and the rise of the Duke together on stage. Admissions are made and Angelo states, “There was some speech of marriage”, conceding the fact that he was actually betrothed to Marianna. With Angelo himself making admissions to the Duke, both power and moral roles have been reversed. This could be seen as the beginning of true repentance, though we do not see a great deal of this. Everything happens so quickly in Act V and in any case Angelo’s “change of heart” will probably take years to effect. With Angelo commanded to marry Marianna and Isabella being proposed to by the Duke, Shakespeare is allowing both men to become re-educated for their own good and for that of the people they rule. Therefore making them take responsibility for themselves allows them to become better individuals and better rulers.


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