Comparing the Duke and Angelo in Measure for Measure

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Comparing the Duke and Angelo in Measure for Measure


Angelo and the Duke are similar in the following respects: they both initially claim immunity to love and later come to be affected by it; to achieve ends they desire, both manipulate others into situations those others would not willingly choose to be in; both have sought to maintain a particular reputation; they both spend much of the play seeming other than what they appear; both think themselves to be other than what they are in the beginning; and both claim to value a life removed.

The Duke says: “Believe not that the dribbling dart of love / Can pierce a complete bosom” (1.3.2-3). Angelo said, “Ever till now, / When men were fond, I smiled and wondered how” (2.2.185-186). The Duke asks Isabella to marry him by the end—which isn’t necessarily proof of love, however.

The play begins with the Duke manipulating Angelo to “weed” the vice of the people (3.2.258), and to see “what our seemers be” (1.3.58). The Duke has reason to believe that Angelo will strictly enforce laws that the Duke had neglected to enforce (1.3.50-53). We have already seen how Angelo manipulates Isabella. The Duke’s manipulation, he believes, will bring order to his people without him personally having to be perceived a tyrant, “And yet my nature never in the fight / To do it slander” (1.3.42-43). Angelo, too, has taken pride in maintaining a particular reputation. The Duke’s great concern about being slandered suggests he has a less than complete bosom, showing a lack of self-knowledge—another feature shared by Angelo.

The Duke manipulates others in part by using a disguise. Angelo, too, comes to use a disguise (2.4.12-15; 2.4.153-156). In addition, the Duke has “ever loved the life removed” (1.3.8), which sounds similar to Angelo’s reputation for austerity.

The differences between the Duke and Angelo are far greater, however, depending on the reading the play is given (All the perspectives I mention below come from Lever’s ‘Introduction’). It is possible to interpret the Duke as being more a stage device than a full-fledged character. His primary role may be to represent the middle way that good rulers should adopt, and to orchestrate the trials and learning experiences that move the other characters from their extreme positions into more moderate ways of being. The Duke does this by implementing the historic ruse of going in disguise among his people to find out how things are really going, and to set them right if need be.

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While the play is set in Vienna, from an Anglican perspective the ruler’s masquerading about as a monk might not be sacrilegious but part of his role as head of the church. And one of the Duke’s main speeches (3.2.249-270) can be seen as a chorus where he is speaking in part as ‘everyman’—in which case “my vice” (3.2.258) means the vices of the people. In addition, the speeches where the Duke complains of slander (3.2.176-180; 4.1.59-64) may have originally been one speech, but lines were taking from one part to fill in at the later part. All this is to say that the Duke could be interpreted as a much less rich, complete, and carefully portrayed dramatic character than Angelo. That sounds lazy however.

Works Cited

Lever, J. W.. Introduction. The Arden Shakespeare. Measure for Measure. J. W. Lever, ed. London: Methuen & Co., 1965. xi-xci.

The Pelican Shakespeare. Measure for Measure. Jonathan Crewe, ed. New York: Penguin Books, 2000.


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