Measure for Measure

Measure for Measure - William Shakespeare, Barbara A. Mowat, Paul Werstine Measure for Measure is a play about lust in the sense that Claudio has been sleeping with a woman, Juliet even though they are not married. Is it love or is it lust. In my mind this is really love turned into lust because they had been married, but could not acknowledge it because of some problem with the legality. They are in love but lust creeps into the scene because they refuse wait any longer and thus they break the law.

Angelo is passing judgement on Claudio once he gains power. He appears to be an honest, just person in the beginning of Act One. His true desire is revealed when Isabella comes to try to save her brother. Angelo than is portrayed as a creep and someone who no one would like to meet in a dark alley. He pretends to be something but he really is not. He reminds me of (the Disney) version of Claude Frollo, (I can't speak for Victor Hugo's version, as I haven't read it yet) from the Hunchback of Notre Dame, with Isabella in the place of Esmeralda, as the kind, innocent woman he lusts for and is trying to manipulate in order to get what he wants.

The Duke believes his city is corrupt and he believes that he cannot fix the city without his people hating him because he has not enforced the law. He believes the law needs to be enforced now but he does not believe that he will be able to do it because he has been so lax in allowing the people not to follow the law. He leaves this problem to Anglo thus abdicating his responsibility. "I do fear, too dreadful:/Sith ‘twas my fault to give the people scope,/For what I bid them do: for we bid this be done/When evil deeds have their permissive pass/And not the punishment. Therefore, indeed, my father,/I have on Angelo impos’d the office;/Who may, in the ambush of my name, strike home,/And yet my nature never in the fight,/To do it slander. And to behold his sway,/I will, as ‘twere a brother of your order,/Visit both prince and people: therefore, I pr’ythee,/Supply me with the habit, and instruct me/How I may formally in person bear me/Like a true friar."

The Duke’s true desire is to have people like him but he also wants his city to be a city of people with good morals. He believes Angelo is of good character and by leaving the city in the hands of Angelo, he is able to see if his people will live a moral life and if Angelo is a good leader who is able to get the people to follow a moral life. I also wonder if the Duke perhaps does not have an heir thus trying out Angelo as a potential heir, and therefore, in leaving him in charge of the city, yet remaining behind to watch, may have been his way of testing to see if Angelo could be a good leader. I don’t think the Duke, Vincentio, is trying to torture his citizens. He seems to want to help them and have a city that is morally good but he doesn’t think they will listen to him because he has not enforced the law so it will be too hard to change the behavior. Yet even if he had good intentions, leaving his people at the mercy of Angelo was a cowardly way to fix the problems he saw. At the very least he should have revealed himself when he learned of Angelo's corruption, and attempts to get Isabella into his bed, instead of going through the elaborate hoax to make Angelo think he had gotten what he wanted.

The Duke is the driving force behind the play because it him who decides the city needs to change. The message Shakespeare leaves me with is that man is unconsciously immoral and there is corruption even in men who we believe are good. This is of course illustrated in Angelo who in the beginning uses Claudio as an example of immoral behavior but he himself becomes even a bigger example of immoral behavior when he tries to corrupt the good and innocent Isabella.

I'm not entirely satisfied by the ending of the play. I admire Isabella's forgiving Angelo who wronged her so, much as I admire Immaculee Ilibagiza for forgiving the people who did her wrong, but just because Angelo was forgiven doesn't mean that he should have gotten out of punishment. Only Mariana's grief kept him from death, but I feel she deserved better than Angelo. Claudio has survived, and I'm sure that Isabella will forgive him for what he asked her to do to save his life, but will he forgive himself? Even ignoring the fact that Isabella wanted to become a nun, the tactics of manipulation Angelo was using were such that I would say he was trying to rape her, and Claudio wanted her to let him.

I liked the way that the duke conducted himself, coming as the duke, then the friar, and then revealing himself, as the friar to be the duke, but I don't like what he asked of Isabella. She was trying to become a nun, and this play has taken place over the course of, at most, three or four days. That is not enough time to discern out of your perceived vocation. My grandma almost became a nun, but discerned that she was called to marriage, and years later, married my grandpa. (I have pictures of her in a habit dated 1947 and she got married in 1952). If I was confident that Isabella had discerned that she was called to marriage I wouldn't object to the duke asking for her hand, but four days (at the most) is not enough for her to have made that decision, especially since she was preoccupied with trying to save her brother and believed the duke to be a friar. It makes me doubt the duke's motivations in saving Isabella and her brother. Did he do it just because he wanted Isabella, not because it was the right thing to do? I haven't completely lost faith in him, but I do doubt his character now.

The beginning of my book has summaries of all of Shakespeare's plays so that, I suppose you can read to supplement your understanding of them. I feel that Isabella would be justified to be upset with the duke's proposal, but the summary says "He himself makes Isabella his Duchess," and even Wikipedia says that "her reaction is interpreted differently in different productions: her silent acceptance of his proposal is the most common in performance. This is one of the "open silences" of the play." I find this frustrating because she wanted to become a nun and while it's possible to change your mind and discern that you're called to marriage it would take a lot of prayer and more time than was given in the play to come to that decision.

While I liked the duke in most of the play, I found his marriage proposal to Isabella to be disrespectful to her and her vocation.

The ending isn't a comedy, that's for sure. The only comedic part of the play was Lucio (slandering the duke, unknowingly, to his face), and he is going to prison to be executed. But all isn't lost, the main characters yet live, so it's not really a tragedy either. I describe Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand as a Tragicomedy because, though it is subtitled 'a comedy in five acts' and until the very end of the fourth act it does seem like one, but the ending is tragic. Measure for Measure can't even have that title, as it doesn't have enough comedy or tragedy to be called either, or both.

I liked parts of this ending, but I disliked other parts. Because of this, I did not find it satisfying.

(this review is made up of comments I made for an online Shakespeare class)