Showing posts with label Measure for Measure. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Measure for Measure. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The comic elements with tragic potential in Measure for Measure

Though Measure for Measure ends with marriages like a conventional comedy ,the play contains many dark and tragic elements. The characters and plot of the play are linked by tragic themes and pose troublesome moral questions to the audience.In fact ,for this combination of the tragic and comic elements Measure for Measure has frequently been termed a “Problem Play”. Scholars have argued that the play is a comedy only by the force of the contrived happy ending. Its theme, characters, and action are tragic, and only the manipulations of the duke, who acts as a deus ex machina, bring the play to a happy conclusion. The eloquent poetic passages on the ephemerality of life and the fear of death's unknown realm are cited as indications of the tragic style.Coleridge called it a painful play made of disgusting comedy and horrible tragedy.

The play combines the comic and tragic conventions

Measure for measure contains both the elements of a comedy and also the elements of a tragi-comedy. Comedy in Shakespeare's time was chiefly identified by its happy ending.Other conventions of romantic comedy of the seventeenth century included an idealized heroine, love as the basic theme, and a problem brought to happy conclusion. In this respect the play is a comedy.

But the play can also be called a tragicomedy.Tragicomedy offered a tragic theme with a happy close brought about by the intervention of a deus ex machina. Conventions included characters of noble rank, love as the central theme (its ideal forms contrasted with the vulgar), disguise, and virtue and vice thrown into sharp contrast. Clearly, Measure for Measure might fall into either category and may reasonably be considered both romantic comedy and tragicomedy.

The tragic elements in the play

The first half of the paly is vary much tragic in nature, both in the darkness of the issues presented, and the depth of characterization.The main tragic plot is introduced in the second scene of the play when Young Claudio is arrested at the command of the new deputy Angelo for getting Juliet with child before they are married. Fornication is forbidden according to a law that has been allowed to sleep; Angelo reactivates the law and throws Claudio into jail.Claudio is to be executed some three days hence, at the command of Angelo.He is impervious to the entreaties of Claudio's friends and others, and indifferent to Juliet's fate. This deputy, uncompromising and assured of his own virtue, seeks to literalize the Bible’s warning that “the wages of sin is death”, usurping divine prerogatives for the State. He condemns the pregnant young woman to prison, and her lover to the executioner’s block, certain that “Tis one thing to be tempted…another thing to fall”.

The first tragic plot brings the second tragic plot of the play.In Act 2,Scene 2 Isabella,Claudio’s sister arrives to beg the deputy to reconsider her brother's sentence.She makes requests by making direct reference to Christran forgiveness. Christ, she declares, who was in a position to judge us all, showed mercy: Angelo should do likewise. The allusion to the Sermon on the Mount is clear: "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again" (Mark 4.24). But it is the law, according to the deputy, that condemns Claudio.Isabella then turns to the aspect of the case mentioned earlier in this same scene by the provost: "Who is it that hath died for this offence? / There's many have committed it" (88-89). Still, Angelo is determined to enforce the law, which he says has been long asleep. Isabella's grief drives her to fine tragic poetry. She compares Angelo to a tyrannous giant. "Man, proud man, / Drest in a little brief authority" (17-18) is too proud of his power to show mercy.

But in the course of their conversation Angelo is completely bewitched by Isabella. Having never before experienced an erotic passion he is quite unprepared for the havoc which lust now wreaks within him. Angelo stands firm but finally suggests that Isabella return on the following day. After her departure, his closing soliloquy reveals that he has been shaken by the temptation her maidenhood represents.Thus the audience suspensefuly waits for further tragic happenings.

In Act 2,Scene 3 Isabella arrives to ask Angelo's decision with regard to her brother. Angelo at first states that he must die, then hints subtly that he may yet be saved. His hints become broad, but still Isabella fails to take his meaning. Finally, the deputy asks what Isabella would do if by surrendering her body she might save her brother. In her response, the reader sees again the fine tragic poetry that Shakespeare gave Isabella in the earlier scene between herself and the deputy: "As much for my poor brother as myself: / That is, were I under the terms of death, / The impression of keen whips I'ld wear as rubies" (II. iv. 99-101). Isabella is trapped. She cannot accuse him openly since his reputation would back up his denial. She has no choice but to go to her brother with the story so that he may prepare himself for his execution.

Isabella finds herself being sexually blackmailed by the seemingly upright judge: her virginity for Claudio’s survival.This is an essentially tragic motif. The corrupt judge’s abuse of power makes all authority suspect. Claudio, young and terrified of dying, abandons his code of honor and begs his sister to save him by submitting to the rape. Isabella, faced with this double masculine betrayal, rebukes Claudio cruelly, and thus fails in the Christian charity she espouses. All three characters are in crisis. There seems no remedy to the tragic dilemma: either a life must be lost, or a soul destroyed.

Deus ex machina

Then suddenly, the Duke, disguised as a friar, intervenes (III, ii, 151) and the rest of the play is “comic” in the sense that solutions are found to each dilemma.A substitute bedmate – Mariana - once contracted to the Deputy, is disguised to take Isabella’s place with the lustful Angelo. A substitute head is found to replace Claudio’s when Angelo breaks his word and goes forward with the execution. Angelo's moral position is now far worse than that of any of the others: Planning to deflower a novice-nun, he has ordered her brother's execution to cover up his own crime — a particularly serious form of murder, in fact.

The tragic intensity reaches to the point of climax in Act 4,Scene 2.Here the provost informs Claudio that he is to die on the following day, along with a condemned murderer. The duke arrives, expecting to hear of Claudio's pardon, only to be on hand as a letter is received from Angelo urging an early morning execution. The duke, however, persuades the provost to spare Claudio, sending the murderer Barnardine's head in his place.

Later Barnardine is found unready to die and it is decided that another prisoner’s head ,who has died of a fever will be a substitute, and Barnardine will be hidden along with Claudio. When Isabella arrives, the disguised duke allows her to think that her brother's execution has gone forward. He tells her that the duke is returning and she must be present at the gates along with Angelo in order to reveal the truth and have her revenge.

Thus the tragic atmosphere is carried to the final scene of the play ,in which everything suddenly ends in seemingly happy manner. In the final scene, virtually everyone is to be married and no one is killed, not even the murderer Barnadine. However,many scholars and audience members find the Duke’s wholesale justice dubious.

The play ends in marriage for Angelo and Mariana, Claudio and Juliet, and the Duke and Isabella. Even Lucio will probably be forced to marry a prostitute whom he has impregnated. This is a traditional ending to comedies, and it provides somewhat of a conclusion, at least suggesting that all the characters are about to embark on another phase in their lives. However, it is not really a happy solution for Angelo or Lucio, who would rather remain bachelors. Isabella's willingness to marry is also unlikely, since she wanted to be a nun.

How measure for measure is achieved in Measure for Measure?

The title of Measure for Measure is taken from the Bible: "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged and the measure you give will be the measure you get" (Matthew 7.1 and 7.2). This quotation from Christ's Sermon on the Mount, stating generally that each individual will be judged as harshly as he has judged others, implies that mercy and human sympathy should temper justice.In Mark, the thought is expressed again: "And he said to them, 'Take heed what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you'" (Mark 4.24).It is interesting to note that the phrase also appears in one of Shakespeare's earlier plays, King Henry VI, Part 3: "Measure for measure must be answered" (II. vi. 55).

Generally, the title of any work is reflective of the central theme and/or plot of the piece of literature. The title Measure for Measure is truly an explication of the play's theme. The word measure means to judge, and throughout the play, judgment is being made; sometimes mercifully and sometimes unmercifully. Sometimes the judgment is made of others; sometimes the character looks inside and judges his/her own heart.

It is an irony of fate that Isabella sought justice from Angelo, and got the opposite. Subsequently, she demanded justice from the Duke, and received it "measure for measure." The Duke appears to be an exponent of the Mosaic law of justice "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth', and that is precisely why he says "An Angelo for Claudio, death for death."

He dispenses his justice measure by measure. That is why, in the end, he is able to pardon Claudio, Lucio, and even Angelo and mercifully fit their punishments measure for measure to their crimes. Only Angelo seems to get off very light; but the Duke explains that a measure of repentance is met with a measure of pardon. At the end of the play, Angelo does acknowledge his misdeeds and begs for forgiveness. The title Measure for Measure is certainly an appropriate one for this play.

The first part of the play dramatizes the measure for measure in a very unchristian way.Isabella comes to Angelo to plead for her brother's life. But Angelo is taken over by his lust while in her presence. He asks whether Isabella would consider a sin to be good, if it were to help someone else; soon, he asks her hypothetically whether she would give up her virginity in order to save her brother. Isabella vehemently insists that she would not, and that she prizes her virginity over even her brother's life. Angelo is angered, and tells her that either she relents, or her brother dies; Isabella grieves that Angelo's good appearance belies the corruption that seems to have taken him over, but is still resolute that she will not sleep with Angelo to save her brother.

Isabella comes to her brother Claudio to ask him get prepared for the execution.The duke then goes apart with Isabella to suggest a plan that he declares will save Claudio and be of some help to Mariana. The latter, betrothed to Angelo, was deserted by him when her dowry was lost in a shipwreck. Mariana, if she consents, will be a substitute for Isabella in meeting Angelo's demands. Isabella agrees to the plan.
The Duke says that Isabella should go to Angelo immediately, agree to his terms, and ask that the whole thing happen in darkness and be brief. Isabella will send Mariana in her stead, which means that Angelo will have to marry her after all, once it is revealed that he has taken her maidenhood. Isabella agrees heartily to this plan; she will go see Angelo, while the Duke fetches Mariana, and convinces her to go along with the ruse.

Isabella convinces a young woman whom she has just met to have sexual relations under bizarre circumstances with a man who has spurned her. The plan is a strange one, yet the woman gives her consent in a period so short that it would hardly be possible for Isabella to relate even a sketch of the reasons behind the deceit. The duke's lines themselves are strange since they have no bearing upon the current scene, alluding to the deceitful gossip to which persons in great places are subject. The lines in fact seem more appropriate to the duke's reactions in the previous scene to Lucio's falsehoods. It appears that some mix-up has occurred to confuse the scene.

In any case, Mariana agrees to the plan when the duke sanctions it. Significantly, the duke repeats his assurances that the scheme is not immoral or dishonorable since Angelo is Mariana's "husband on a pre-contract" (72).

The duke promises that "disguise shall, by the disguised, / Pay with falsehood false exacting" (294-95). In other words, the duke will punish Angelo's deceit with deceit of his own. The deputy's lust, disguised by counterfeit virtue, and his false promise to save Claudio's life are paid back with the duke's own tricks: the substitute bed partner and Ragozine's head for Claudio's. Angelo gets measure for measure.

The tragic intensity reaches to the point of climax in Act 4,Scene 2.Here the provost informs Claudio that he is to die on the following day, along with a condemned murderer. The duke arrives, expecting to hear of Claudio's pardon, only to be on hand as a letter is received from Angelo urging an early morning execution.
Angelo's crime is compounded by treachery. He writes the provost to execute Claudio four hours earlier than his original time and to deliver the head to him. In a sense, Angelo's treachery parallels that of the duke, Isabella, and Mariana. He is deceived by a surrogate bed partner, and he, in turn, deceives the conspirators by reneging on the promised pardon.

The duke, however, persuades the provost to spare Claudio, sending the murderer Barnardine's head in his place.

Later Barnardine is found unready to die and it is decided that another prisoner’s head ,who has died of a fever will be a substitute, and Barnardine will be hidden along with Claudio. Thus Isabella and the duke will have the last laugh by providing a substitute head to the deputy.

The measure for measure is also done in the last act.Here after everything is publicly exposed and the Duke proclaims that Angelo must die for committing the same sin as Claudio; Mariana protests this decision, and Isabella's intervention, to ask that Angelo be allowed the mercy her brother did not get, then causes the Duke to let Angelo go. Claudio is fetched from the prison, and the fact that he is alive is revealed to all. Immediately after his appearance, the Duke proposes marriage to Isabella, perhaps using her flood of happiness at seeing her brother to secure her quick consent. Lucio is then sentenced to marrying the prostitute he got pregnant, as punishment for slandering the Duke.

The Duke then says for Claudio to be reunited with Juliet, and for Mariana and Angelo to live happily. He calls Isabella to him, since they are to be joined, and calls the play to a close on a 'happy' note.

The main theme of Measure for Measure is that rational rules and regulations are necessary to maintain law and order. In Angelo's eagerness for reform, he demands "measure for measure," which means pure justice, without mercy. His belief is in 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth' no matter the circumstances. Measure for Measure speaks about man's action, its results, and the need for mercy, even if there is a strict legal system. Justice has to be tempered with mercy; only then can a government conduct its affairs smoothly.

Shakespeare's Measure for Measure as a Problem Play

The play Measure for Measure is called the problem play, because it gives rise to many questions about the characters, themes and other issues which remain very problematic to the very end.The main characters of the play have the contrasting values in their personality,the theme of the play ’measure for measure’ has not been equally applied to all,and the play also touches upon some social,poletical and moral problems.

Problematic characters

In his book, Shakespeare and his Predecessors (1896), F.S. Boas calls All's Well that End's Well, Measure for Measure, and Troilus and Cressida, as Shakespeare's problem plays,because it presents as heroes or heroines characters who are seriously flawed in some way and, thus, problematical for audiences used to applauding and identifying with flawless heroes and heroines. For example, the duke is fair and just–but weak. Claudio grovels for his life. Mariana loves Angelo in spite of his egregious behavior. Isabella is admirable for her virtue but censurable for her coldness.

Problematic themes

Today, most critics agree that Measure for Measure has earned its designation as a "problem play"—both because it leaves us with moral issues which remain ambiguous to the end and because it refuses to be neatly classified. The resolution of the themes and debates seems inadequate and, in the final act, the deliverance of justice and completion one expects does not occur. Other definitions have been proposed since, however all center around the issue that these plays cannot be easily assigned to the traditional categories of comedy or tragedy.

Complexities of human life

A problem play reveals a perplexing and distressing complication in human life, which is presented in a spirit of high seriousness. The problem is usually one involving human conduct, as to which there are no fixed and immutable laws. Since human life is complex, problem plays, although structured similarly, are also complex and diversified in nature. Shakespeare, who masterfully depicted life's complications in his plays, wrote several dramas that are considered problem plays.

Problem with justice and mercy

The main problem in the play deals with justice and mercy. Angelo must decide the fate of Claudio, and condemns him to death. Isabella must decide whether it is more important to save a life or save a soul. She justifies her action through her Christian belief of salvation, refuses to accept Angelo's sinful proposition, thereby committing her brother to death and saving her soul. At the end of the play, Isabella becomes the symbol of mercy when she pleads for Angelo, the man who tried to seduce her and who condemned her brother. In a similar fashion, the Duke also reveals his mercy when he pardons Claudio, Lucio, and Angelo; their "punishment" is only to get married and be a good husbands." The Duke feels he hands out appropriate justice based on the nature of the crime, measure for measure. Shakespeare, in fact, seems to be pleading for a more humane and less literal interpretation of the law in Measure for Measure.

Problem with literary genre

It is called problem play also for the fact that the literary form of the play can’t be easily defined. It shows life to be complicated and exposes the worse sides of human existence. The problem plays have neither the humor of the comedies nor the redemption of the tragedies. Like a comedy, Measure for Measure ends in multiple marriages but not with unqualified joy. There is no ‘feel good’ factor to Measure. It ends in irresolution rather than with songs or dances.

Most critics have argued that the play is a comedy because of its happy ending. However, it is not called a romantic comedy since there is no spirit of adventure or joyous abandon, which are the hallmarks of the romantic comedies. Here, intellect rather than imagination drive the action of the play. And in the end, it is rather a dark comedy, where there are glimpses into the oppressive gloom of the prison and the oppressive deceit of the human heart. Measure for Measure is a drama of ideas, and it is the ideas that are the problems. At the spiritual level, excessive zeal is corrupted to pride, and cloistered virtue subordinates charity to chastity.
It is definitely difficult to categorize Measure for Measure. At best, it is probably called a tragicomedy, since the play offers a tragic theme but with a happy closure.

Deals with the social and political problems

“Measure for Measure” has been classified a “problem play” by many scholars, partly due to Shakespeare’s prowess in confronting the problems plaguing society. Definitely in ‘Measure for Measure,’ there is discussion of political corruption, sexual politics, hypocrisy (and) meaty social issues.”

In view of the overriding importance of religion and the spiritual life in early seventeenth-century England, and in view of the control exerted over both religion and morality by the State in this era when Parliament actually debated the death penalty for premarital sex, it is easy to see how Measure for Measure might capture its audience's interest. One such issue is the division of opinion about the role of government in shaping the morality of citizens. For those who regard such governmental action as intrusive, the duke may seem intolerably meddlesome in his interference in the lives of his people; for those who want government to act in the defense of conventional morality, the duke may be understood as properly exerting himself to impose standards of moral behavior on his people.

Problem with the two worlds

There are two worlds to this play: worlds of nuns and brothel madams, strict officials and perverse prisoners, moral severity and tawdriness. “Measure for Measure” concentrates on these opposing worlds and their intersections: the places where the subversive underbelly of Vienna touches the ethically austere surface. “As the play goes on you realize that there are lines connecting these two worlds, tendrils that never really were broken,” Manganello said. “Each of the worlds encodes the other one.”

Because of its peculiar transitions between disquieting subject matter and bouts of jolly jesting, “Measure for Measure” is also considered a problem play in the sense that it’s difficult to perform. But it’s no problem for this production: The jarring shifts only serve to highlight the actors' abilities and Shakespeare’s craftsmanship in emphasizing the main themes.