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October 26, 1940 - Image 4

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1940-10-26

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Pager FP ER S PE C T I V E S
..Contined from Page Three

references to events of its own day.
Ostensibly placed in Vienna, the play
may well turn on a problem of con-
temporary London, and several remarks
of the minor characters refer beyond
all doubt to the commencement of
James' reign and to the puritan pres- o
sure for restriction of leaping houses.
It is possible, then, to come to some
conclusions about the amount of light
shed on the play through a knowledge
of its historical background.
Measure for Measure is remarkable
technically for the initial rapidity of its
action, for the decided, almost violent
use of contrast in portraying character,
and for the deliberate use of irony as
a dramatic method. The rapidity of
the action somewhat conceals Shake-
speare's inability to enlist our sympathy
for a protagonist who, though poten-
tially good, is swept on to evil by his
very virtues. In general, the early com-
edies engaged the sympathy of the audi-
ence rather through the action than
through character development. The
mature tragedies, on the other hand,"
attain a fine balance between interest
in character and action, so that even
an evil character, such as Macbeth, or
a weak character, such as Antony. yet
enlst our active sympathies. But the
protagonists of the problem comedies,
Bertram, Troilus, Angelo, though they
develop from an unbalanced or evil
attitude toward a balanced or ethical
attitude, somehow fail to engage our
sympathies deeply. Shakespeare was
still fumbling with the problem of de-
veloping a character enmeshed by his
own qualities, that is, a potentially trag-
ic figure, in such a way that he would
retain the affection of the audience even
while engaging in un alatable acts. In
Measure for Measure this defect is
somewhat compensated for by the ini-
tial rapidity of the action which allows
us little time for speculation. Contrast is
at once the simplest and most effective
method of realizing characters, and, like
rapidity, it compensates, to some extent,
for the failure to make the characters
more attractive. For it tends to reveal
the characters by means of another
character, rather than to stress, as in
the great tragedies, the integrity of
personality. The most remarkable tech-
nical device in Measure for Measure,
however, is the use of irony. Irony as
a matter of dramatic technique re-
quires a logical relation between char-
acters, action, and denouement; also,
as we shall try to show, it involves a
particular view of life important for its
bearing on the meaning of the play.
Rapidity characterizes the action from
the opening line to the end of the first
scene of Act III, that is, to the end of
the second movement. In little more
than four hundred lines, the audience
is acquainted with all the characters and
the major complication. Scene I (85
lines acquaints us with the Duke's pur-
posed withdrawal and Angelo's eleva-
tion to power. Scene 2 (195 lines) de-
picts Claudio's arraignment upon Ange-
lo's proclamation against fornicators.
This second scene, by the way, is prob-
ably slightly longer in our printed ver-
sion than it was on the stage. I believe
it has not been pointed out that lines
58-82 can not consistently be played
with the fifty lines which follow them,
not so much because they are ,unwar-
ranted duplication, as because Mrs.
Overdone must become suddenly ignor-
ant of that which she has known just
a moment before, and because Claudio
is kept dangling in the background and
twice given cue for entrance. Apparently
we have two drafts for the same bit of
action. Scene 3 (55 lines) explains the
Duke's hidden purpose; and in the final
scene of the act (90 lines), we see the
impression which the saintly Isabella,
her virginity vowed to God, makes upon

the usually licentious Lucio. This scene,
by the way, should prevent the critics
from reiterating stock phrases about
Isabella's "cold, hard, chastity." She
is regarded throughout the play as a
sister, "ensky'd and sainted by (her)
renouncement" and bound by the vows
of the holy order which she is about to
profess, just as Claudio is regarded as
legally wed to Juliet, save that they "do
the denunciation lack of outward order."
Thus, at the end of the first act, we
have sounded Angelo's nature, the
Duke's purpose, Claudio's illegal con-
demnation, and Isabella's religious po-
sition. The second act, consisting of
the interview between Angelo, Escalus
and Elbow with his "notorious bene-
factors," and the two interviews be-
tween Isabella and Angelo, is developed
by means of contrast, but it is as rapid
in movement as the first act. The third
act maintains this rapidity, but it like -
wise depends upon contrast in the inter-
views between the Duke and Claudio.
The swift movement of the action up to
this point swerves to engage the read-
er's continual interest, to hurry the
principal actors into sudden, unconsid-
ered decisions, and thus to emphasize
the dramatic necessity of the compli-
cation. The abandonment of this rapid-
ity of action after the third act is due,
as we have remarked, to experimenta-
tion with the technique of dramatic
irony and to the introduction of con-
temporary references in the conversa-
tion of Pompey, Lucio and even the
Duke. For instance, the somewhat ted-
ious speech of the bawd Pompey when
hailed into prison bears no reference
to characters or events in the play:
. am as well acquainted here as I was in
our house of profession: one would think
it were Mistress Overdone's own house,
forhere be many of her customers. First
here's young Master Rash; he's in for a
commoadity at brwn paper said oleginer,
nine-score and seventeen pounds; ofw wih
he made five marks. ready money marry,
then ginger was not much in request,
for the old women were all dead. Then
is there a oeMacer Caper,atther itn a
Matea Three-pile the ierer, tee cme
four suits of peach-coloured satin, which
now peaches him a beggar. Then have
we here young Dizy, and young Master
Deep-vow.a acMasteahCpper-spr, ad
Mater Stare-Lacisey (e apier ad dg-
ger can, and young Drop-heir that kiled
lusty Pudding, and Master Forthlight the
tilter. and brave Master Shootsathetreat
travseller and ald Hal-ctat stabed
Pots, and. I think, forty more; all great
doers in our trade. and are now 'for the
Lord's sake.' (IV. 3, 1-21)
Such a torrent of names must have
satire in it; it differs too widely from
the humor of most of Shakespeare's
minor characters to believe that it was
intended to be funny for its own sake.
One might conjecture that there had
been wholesale imprisonment of fellow
actors; at least the references, "the
rapier -and dagger man," "that killed
lusty Pudding" "the tilter," etc., seem
to glance at individuals well known to
the audience. An ingenious historical
scholar, by searching through court
records and biographies, might well ex-
plain some of these references; "wild
Half-can that stabbed Pots" might,
for instance, be Jonson, who, as
he told Drummond, "being ap-
pealed to the fields had killed
his adversary, which had hurt him
in the arm and whose sword was ten
inches longer than his." But even if
the reference could be established
would it increase either the humor of
the passage or its significance in the
play? On the contrary, would not such
information prove that the passage was
irrelevant to the play as a whole ,and a
flaw in its structure? Another example
of this frequent introduction of ir-
relevant material occurs in a passage
between the Duke and Escalus:
Es. What news abroad f' the world?

Duke. None, but that there is so great a
tever oc eooacess that the disslutioc
at it must cure it: nvelty is tnly irs -
quest; and it is as dangerous to be aged
in any kind of course, as it is virtuous to
be constant in any undertaking. There
is scarce truth enuh lie t mae
scietiescrsecure;ut securityvenougt t
make fellowships accurst:-much upon
this riddle runs the wisdom of the world.
This news is old enough yet it is ery
d's new. I pray yel, s, oatCc
disposition was the duke?
(II, 2, 234-45)
This had little relevance to the Venice
of the play, but it does seem to glance
at the growing power of the puritans,
who on James' accession hoped that the
"novelty" of their religion would be
kindly received, and who, in their fervor
on goodness, were becoming a threat to
the security of the state. But, although
this passage might be explained by
reference to contemporary conditions,
the explanation could in no way serve to
knit the speech moe closely to the ac-
tion of the play. It would seem that
historical investigation of this sort is
better calculated to explain what is
imperfect and extraneous in a work of
literature than what is imperfect and
necessary. The less closely knit a work
is, the more illumination it can stand
from contemporary documents; but this
has the unfortunate effect of leading
historical scholars to those works which
are , as literature, least worth studying..
Measure for Measure is not a better
play because it contains passages that
demand illumination from outside, but
a worse one. The introduction of such
material fails to advance the action
and hence destroys the rapidity which
was so excellently maintained through-
out the first three acts.
Dramatic contrast is employed in
Measure for Measure chiefly as a means
of illuminating character, but it also
appears in the juxtaposition of the
Claudio-Juliet and Anglo-Mariana ac-
tions. Claudio's relations with Juliet,
unpublicized act of betrothal, are sharp-
ly opposed to Angelo's faithlessness to
Mariana, to whom he was openly and
publicly contracted. The contrast serves
to knit the plot more closely together
and to provide a dramatic recognition
in the final act. The method is prepared
for at the opening of Act II when the
good constable Elbow hails before Ange-
lo and Escalus "two notorious Bene-
factors, void of all profanation in the
world that good Christians ought to
Escalus ilstens with a very calm good
humor while the honest oficial pro-
ceeds to detest his own wife before
heaven and his honor; the severe An-
gelo, however, cannot restrain his im-
patience long enough to understand the
rhis will last out aenigh t in erssia.
-When nightse elarsest there: I'll tae
my leave.
And leave you to the hearing of the cause;
Hoping you'll find good cause to whip
them all.
Escalus carefully unwinds Elbow from
his language, gets to the bottom of the
accusation and deals leniently, but just-
ly with the offenders.
Then follow in rapid sucession the
four great interviews which contain
the most dramatic passages from the
play and which are among the most
moving scenes of English drama, -
more moving than the speeches
from Troilus and Cressida because
they are more dramatically fit-
ted to the action and to the characters.
The sharp contrast of each interview,
which sustains the tension throughout
this movement of the play, is height-
ened by the contrasts between the roles
of the characters in the different in-
terviews. But in the second interview
it is Angelo, now the licentious ad-
vocatus diaboli, who is pleading with

Isabella that the crime which is un-
known to the law is uncommitted. He re-
calls her favorite words:
You seemed of late to make a law a tyrant;
And rather proved the sliding of your
A merriment than a vice. (It. 4, 114-1-16)
and seeks to pervert their logic to hi
own purpose. Again, in the fourth
interview, the Duke, disguised as a
Christian friar, exhorts Claudio by ar-
guments drawn from Epicureanism to
believe that death is a boon; but, short-
iy thereafter, Claudio is pleading with
his sister with all the passion of quick
youth's fear of cold death. Here,
strangely enough, an effective contrast
is gained by the total absence in the
friar's speech of any reference to heav-
en or hell or God, while in Claudio's
speech, though he had previously been
convinced of the beneficence of death
through the friar's pagan arguments,
the gloomy background of all heaven
and hell breaks forth.
The contrast between Angelo and Isa-
bella in their first interview is drawn
more sharply by Angelo's identification
of the majesty of the law with the
cold severity of his own uprightness:
Is. Tee; Ido think that you might pardon
And neither heaven nor man grieve at
the mercy,
An. I will not do't.
Is. But can sac, it ycu wuld? -
AI. Leak, what I will nt, that I can-
not do. (II, 2, 49-53)
And it is at this identification that
Isabella strikes, after her pleas for mer-
cy are unanswered. For, so long as
Angelo is unable to imagine .himself in
danger of transgressing the law, he will
lack that self-knowledge upon which
mercy must be based. With swift direct-
ness, Isabella hits at this self-decep-
Because authority, though it err like
Hath yet a kind of medicine in itself,
That skins the vice o' the top. Go to your
Knock there, and ask your heart what it
doth know
That's like my brother's fault: if it-confess
A natural guiltiness such as is his,
Let it not sound a thought upon your
Against my brother's life. (II, 2, 134-41)
And Angelo, startled into realization
of his own passions and the weakness
of his will, takes fire at her words:
She speaks, and 'tis
Such sense, that my sense breeds with it.
And so, with one of these apt and moving
plays on words which Shakespeare likes
to employ in moments of great stress,
the way is prepared for the next inter
view in which the roles shall be re-
The next day Isabella returns to
learn of Angelo's decision, and he, in
the meanwhile, has .been brooding on
an innocent remark of hers, "Hark,
how I'll bribe you," a remarV which
she unconsciously recalls in her greeting,
"I am come to know your pleasure."
Throughout the scene Angelo's am-
biguous remarks are contrasted with
Isabella's innocent directness, till he,
in another furious pun, cries out:
Nay, but hear mne.
Your sense pursues not mine; et er yur
are ignorant,
Or seem so, craftily; and that's not good.
11,4, 74-76)
Then, as the drift of Angelo's licentious
hints becomes clear, Isabella breaks into
an opposing fury of resentment. Just
as mercy and strict application of the
law were contrasted before, now lust
and chastity contend; the roles of pur-
suer and pursued have been reversed by
the lack of any real virtue in. Angelo'
character. Isabella's concluding tines
recall the dispute of the interview and
prepare for what is to come:
continued on Page Eight

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