- Posted by: essay
- Category: Free essays
Shakespeare’s tragicomedy “Measure for Measure” was first staged in the “Globe” in 1604, was written, probably shortly before. “Measures for Measure” is based on a story of a ruthless and vicious ruler who agrees to grant pardon to the man condemned to death, if this man’s sister gives up to him, but having achieved what he wants, he does not fulfill his promise. The story had been repeatedly reflected before Shakespeare, with certain variations, in novels and political works of different Western European nations. In most of these variations, the outcome was that the unworthy ruler, after the disclosure of his guilt, immediately married the disgraced woman, and right after the wedding, he was executed.
Shakespeare with great skill outlined the characters of the main heroes, whose actions became more motivated, arising from the peculiarities of their natures. Many details of the plot were changed and reworked. An important thing is that the image of the prisoner’s sister became much more attractive, pure, and noble. Isabella does not sacrifice her honor to propitiate Angelo (Dash, 175). Outraged by a heinous demand of the ruler, up to the end she does not give up to him, and rather prefers her brother’s death. However, changing in this respect, the traditional plot, Shakespeare, of course, had to devise some scene, which would leave Angelo in the belief that the young girl did what he wanted, and yet would give her the opportunity to preserve her honor unspotted. For this purpose, he introduced a new character into the play, Marianne, Angelo’s former fiancée, who was rejected by him and gave up hope to become his wife. Through the intervention of the disguised Duke, Marianne, on his advice, goes on a date with Angelo, who takes her for Isabella and feels completely satisfied. Having raised Isabella’s inner world in the eyes of the audience, Shakespeare added a kind of ambiguity to the actions of Marianne, who makes a very risky move, forgetting all modesty and femininity (Dash, 183-184). If we accept this, we certainly have to admit that the rehabilitation of Isabella made the play more interesting and complete.
Disguise of the Duke, who crawls incognito into the crowd, and for the first time hears everything secretly said about him, gets acquainted with the backstage side of the town’s life is the detail entirely invented by Shakespeare. It contributes a lot to the proper development of the plot and its gradual approach to the outcome. If the pretended monk hears everything and knows everything, if Angelo’s viciousness is clear, at the end of the play, he naturally must publicly accept Isabella’s complaint, though she accused a respected man. If the disguised Duke did not have the opportunity to talk with Claudio and his sister, he perhaps would not immediately believe the complaint of a young girl, and the bitter truth for a long time would have remained hidden from everyone.
Shakespeare wanted to emphasize once again the triumph of the natural instincts over all theoretical arrangements. Still some scenes (for example, the second stage of the first act or the beginning of the third stage of the fourth act) perturb the moral sense of a contemporary reader and makes staging almost impossible without cuts.
The main interest in “Measure for Measure” is focused, of course, on the identity of Angelo. His psychology is much more complex and peculiar. He is not an ordinary tyrant or a profligate. He passes through several successive stages, reveals the pride, conceit, confusion, sensory instincts, hypocrisy, deceit, discouragement, etc. Depicting him, the playwright wanted, above all, to bring a representative of a Puritan morality, which had always been antipathetic to him. He was an opponent of the Puritans simply because they denied the arts and saw the love and passion as something sinful and perverse. Consequently, he stigmatized their stiff and cold moral in the face of Angelo.
His soul splits between honest belief in the strict ascetic ideal and the feeling that he declines from the path of truth. He cannot faithfully execute his duty anymore, he cannot pray (like King Claudius in “Hamlet”). Then he makes his disgusting proposal to Isabella (“Measure for Measure” II, 4).
Admit no other way to save his life,-
As I subscribe not that, nor any other,
But in the loss of question, – that you, his sister,
Finding yourself desired of such a person,
Whose credit with the judge, or own great place,
Could fetch your brother from the manacles
Of the all-building law; and that there were
No earthly mean to save him, but that either
You must lay down the treasures of your body
To this supposed, or else to let him suffer;
What would you do?
But even though he reconciles himself with his fall, he realizes its horror. He is in despair and confusion, which leads to complete collapse of his consciousness, and exclaims: “I deserve death!” Isabella rightly says that “he was faithful to his duty, until he saw me.” Angelo is often seen as a complete hypocrite, who wants to lay grievous burden on others, and considers that everything is allowed to him. But he sincerely believes in the necessity of strict, harsh measures, and hopes to eradicate immorality in Vienna.