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Shakespeare's Measure for Measure Essays

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Shakespeare's Measure for Measure

Game-playing in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure

Thieves for their robbery have authority When judges steal themselves

Critics have often seen Vincentio, the Duke in Shakespeare's play Measure for Measure, as performing a function similar to that of Prospero in The Tempest. The reasons for such an assumption is clear in the very first scene of the play, as both characters set the plot into motion by exercising their power, withdraw to observe events from behind the scenes, then return to restore order at the end.

The Duke, seeing that the city of Vienna has degenerated and is desperately in need of reform, decides to remove himself from the post for a period so that his successor Angelo can rectify the problems, even though those problems were created and nurtured by the over-indulgence of the Duke himself. The Duke is practical, he is aware that a sudden strict application of the law might destroy or tarnish the legendary reputation that he has built up for himself. His purpose is made clear when he says to Friar Thomas;

Sith 'twas my fault to give the people scope,
'Twould be my tyranny to strike and gall them
For what I bid them; 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 imposed the office,
Who may, in th'ambush of my name, strike home,
And yet my nature never in the fight
To do in slander. [Act I Scene iii]

Thus Lord Angelo, who subsequently misuses the power that has been bestowed on him, is initially set up to be a scapegoat; someone who has to drive the nail in, a task the Duke evades, fearing the loss of his subjects' good will.

From this opening, the plot can, ...


... middle of paper ...


...uthority to outwit Angelo by defeating him in his own game and pardoning him.

Just as Angelo has the power to punish, the Duke has the power to pardon, and this seems to be the only moral that Measure for Measure conveys. The problem of the corrupt society remains unresolved. In this context it can still be called a 'problem' play, because the play does not satisfy the problems outlined in the exposition. But if it is seen as a game with the society only as a backdrop then it seems understandable that Shakespeare did not attempt to settle the troubles that beset the society.

Bibliography

Boas, F. S. Shakespeare and his predecessors. 1968

Eco, Umberto. The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts. 1984

Lawrence, Professor W. W. Shakespeare's Problem Comedies. 1931

Shaw, George Bernard. preface to Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant. 1922


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