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October 26, 1940 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 1940-10-26

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Psg 'c//

TPE RSPECTI VES

MEASURE FOR MEASURE ..Cortfrii~CC

o perilous mouths,
That bear in them one and the self-same
tongue,
Either of condemnation or approof;
Bidding the law make court'sy to their
will:
itotieg bth right and wrong to the
appetite,
To follow as it draws!
(II, 4, 12-77)
The contrast is not only dramatically
effective because of its vividness; it al-
so serves to mark off the characters
clearly and. to sharpen the ethical di-
rection of the play by ranging the pre-
eminently Christian virtues of charity
and chastity against the obstinacy of
hardheartedness and lust.
The third great intreview, that be-
tween the Duke disguised as a friar from
Rome and the condemned Claudio, is
surely one of the strangest scenes of
ghostly comfort in literature. It is cus-
tomary, I believe, in exhorting a mian
to that final leap across the boundaries
of life and death, to dwell much on the
infinite mercy of God, on the kindly
intercession of the saints, and on the
inestimable benefits of last-minute re-
pentence. But here we have a hooded
friar practicing the final rites of the
Church in phrases drawn wholly from
the pagan philosophers. Certe, cuullus
non facit monachum! There is not a
Christian note in any line of the con-
solation, yet throughout the rest of
the play, both before and after this
speech, the Duke discourses with sound
priestly piety. The similarity between
this eloquent pagan harangue and the
closing lines of the third book of the
De Rerum Natura has not, so far as I
am aware, been remarked by the com-
mentators. It is not at all likely that
Shakespeare was familiar either direct-
ly or indirectly with Lucretius, whose
popular revival came later under the
aegis of Hobbes and Gassendi. Lear's
"nothing will come of nothing''is prob-
ably a reminiscence of a copy-book
citation of Lucretius' ihil de nihilo
gignitur. Still, the similaritiesin phil-
osophical attitude, in the arguments em-
ployed, and even in some of the turns
of language and imagery, are curious.
And they are the more curious when
they come from the lips of a priest of
Rome. Dame Nature in Lucretius had
sought to persuade recalcitrant mor-
tals that death was but an unconsidered
trifle:
quid tibi tanto operest, mortalis, quod
nimis aegris
luctibus indulges? Quid mortem con-
gemis ac fies?
sin ea quae fructus cumque es periere
profusa
vitaque in offensast, cur amplius addere
quaris,
rursum quod pereat male et ingrtum
occidat omne,
non potius vitae finm facos atque la-
boris?
De Rermi Natura, II, 933-43)
Our good friar, the Duke, thus begins
his comforting speech:
Reason thus with life:
If I do lose thee, I do lose a thing
Thatnone ut fools would keep; a breath
thou art,
Servile to all the skyey influences,
That dost this habitation, where thou
keepst,
Hourly afflict.
The comparison of death to sleep is a
commonplace both in Latin and English
poetry so we might expect to find:
Thy best of rest is sleep,
And that thou oft provokest; yet grossly
fear'st
Thy death, which is no more.
num quid ibi horribili apparet, num triste
videtur
quicquam, non onni somne securius ex-
stat?
But the comparison to sleep is an un-
usual and striking image to occur in
both poets in such similar language:
Thou hast nor youth nor age,
But, as it were, an after-dinner's sleep,
Dreaming on both.
mortua cui vita est prope am vivo atque

videnti

qui somno partem maiorem conteris aevi
et vigilans stertis nec smnia cernere
cessas.
I may be pardoned for giving one more
example wherein the turn of the words
is so close as to be almost an exact
translation:
Happy thou art not:
For what thou hast not, still thou strivest
to get,
And what thou hast, forgetst
sed quia semper aves quod abest, prae-
sentia tennis'
imperfecta tibi elapsast ingrataque vita.
But there is no need to search out
the many parallels; the interested
reader will find other similarities of
argument and phrasing. What is im-
portant here is not the question of
borrowing, but the problem of why
Shakespeare deliberately employs non-
Christian arguments at such a peculiar
time. Even could we show that the
passage came indirectly from Lucretius,
we should still need to explain the
speech in terms of the play as a whole.
The disguised friar, who has hither-
to been sufficiently pious, makes men-
tion of no tenet of Christian theology
and nowhere exhorts the doomed Claud-
io to bethink him of God, of heaven,
of the saints, or of the immortality of
his soul. On the contrary, he exclaims:
Thou art not thyself;
For thou exist'st on many a thousand
grains
That issue out of dust.
A good Lucretian argument for the mor-
tality of the soul. Nor is this non-Chris-
tian attitude the only disturbing thing
in this harangue. Not a single line is
pertinent to Claudio's individual po-
sition, although the ghostly confessor
is supposedly reconciling him to the jus-
tice of his punishment. The passage is
a deliberate piece of logical oratory,
constructed according to the best rhet-
orical style and designed to persuade.
The reiterated phrases, "thou art not
noble," "thou'rt by no means valiant,"
"happy thou art not," "thou art not
certain," "if thou art rich, thou'rt poor,"
"friend hast thou none," etc. are
marks of the rhetorical style. Though
the persuasive eloquence is applicable
to man in general, it is not applicable to
this particular Claudio at this particular
time, who, as the Duke well knew, waf
condemned for a sin more unlawful in
appearance than in reality.
What possible explanation is there for
this speech that fails so signally to
jump with the circumstances? It might
be argued that Shakespeare has mo-
mentarily broken through his dramatic
fabric and is speaking his own voice.
Such moments are not unknown in the
best of authors. But the speech is too
deliberately constructed, too eloquently
argued to be an instance of slipshod
technique. It might also be argued that
the speech is characteristic of the Duke
in his real person, however inconsis-
tent it may be with his present dis-
guise. Unfortunately, other passages in
the play do not support this interpreta-
tion. There remains a third explanation.
The first two interviews have been built
largely upon contrast. The interview
which is to come between Isabella and
Claudio, one of the most brilliant poetic
passages in Shakespeare, is likewise
built up by the coptrast between Isa-
bella's revulsion from Angelo's illicit
proposal and Claudio's sudden fear of
death. The non-Christian exhortation
of the friar both sets the stage for this
interview and contrasts sharply with
it Immediately after the Duke with-
draws, Isabella informs her brother that,
by Angelo's decree, he must die. And
uppermost in her mind is the shameful
means by which she might purchase
her brother's pardon:
O, I do fear thee, Claudio; and I quake,
Lest thou a feverous life shouldst enter-
tain,
And six or seven winters more respect
Than a perpetual honour. Darest thou

die?

The sense of death is most in apprehen-
sion;
And the poor beetle, that we tread upon,
In corporal sufferance finds a pang as
great
As when a giant dies.
(I, 1, 74-81)
Her argument follows that of the Duke,
but with less logic and far more passion.
Through a crescendo of mounting emo-
tion, we begin to feel the growing fear
of Claudio, who, in spite of his apparent
agreement with the friar's eloquent ar-
guments, unconsciously looks on death
she wouldn't, and he had to leave dough.
as a live and personal neing. His
thoughts take color from his sensual
nature,
If I must die
I will encounter darkness as a bride
And hug it insmine arms.
So the transition proceeds from philoso-
phic reason to the final frenzied out-
burst of fear.
Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
This sensile warm motion to become
To lie in cold obstruction and to rot:
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice;
To be imprisoned in the viewless winds.
And blown with restless violence round
about
The poendent world; or to be worser than
Of those that lawless and incertain
thought
Imagine howling:-'tis too horrible!
The weariest and most loathed worldly
life
That age, ache, penury, and imprisonment
Can lay io nature is a paradise
Ta what we fear of death.
(Ill, 1, 118-32)
Claudio's anguished fear answers not
only the pleading of Isabella but also
the clear logic of the Duke. It is the dra-
matic climax to the great triad of con-
trasting speeches which began with Isa-
bella's first interivew with Angelo. The
persuasive eloquence of Epicureanism
with all its fullest arguments against
the fear of death meets the quick human
dread of the unknown. Claudios death-
filled imagination leaps beyond all logic
to the horrors that wait the fleeting
soul, and the pagan philosophic view
of death as but a restful and enduring
sleep finds its counterpart in the wild
vision of the tortures of the Christian
damned. If one may be allowed a tem-
porary license, we have in this contrast
the overthrow of all the restrained
reason of the best ancient philosophers
by the new mad supersition of
medieval superstition. And what mag-
nificent phantasy it is! What contrasts
there are within the speech itself, con-
trasts of cold obstruction and warm
motion, of fiery floods and thick-rib-
bed ice, of the windy world of tortured
shades and of this kindly human earth,
-contrasts that give wing to the imagi-
nation. Claudio's mind leaps with an-
guished celerity from one extreme to
another. Without the background of the
Duke's eloquent but restrained charac-
terization of life and death, how much
of its dramatic propriety to gain this
effectivenes would be lost! The vividness
of Claudios lines have often been point-
ed out, but I believe that it has not been
noticed how lightly Shakespeare sacri-
ficed a superficial dramatic propriety
to gain this vividness. So overwhelming
is this symphony of emotion that it has
canceled the technical means whereby
the effect was wrought,
Contrast, as well as rapidity, is aban-
doned throughout the rest of act three
and most of act four. Then Shake-
speare unfortunately turns to satire and
humor, interrupting the smooth and
vivid progress of the action. The low-
ered tension of much of this third move-
ment of the play is reflected in the use
of prose rather than poetry. The un-
wieldy material is not condensed and
wrought into order; the introduction of
Barnadine, for example, serves no pur-
pose whatsoever, although it is obvious

that Shakespeare originally intended

him as an understudy in death to
Claudio. When a better and simpler de-
vice was later discovered, Shakespeare
neglected, for some reason, to return
and expunge the befuddled Barn'adine.
The fifth act recovers somethng of the
rapidity and contrast of the earlier
acts. But here the contrast depends upon
a fine use of dramatic irony which has
placed the spectators in possession both
of certain information and of a point
of view which is hidden fron the ac-
tors.
Dramatic irony is the most totiteable
single device in Measure for 2easure,
and in its sustained use the play repre-
sents a definite technical advance over
the earlier plays and a prepsti n for
the great tragedies. In a narrow sense,
dramatic irony consists in apprising the
audience of information withhld from
the characters; but in a braader ap-
plication. it is the perceptio. that a
man's seemingly good qualities' rn en-
mesh him to his hurt. It is then. an
essentially dramatic view of human
life, wherein the logic of a sitation re-
veals the probable outcome. Its use de-
pends upon a consistent portrayal of
character and upon the impliratieon that
there is in the universe a retributive
justice which works through the de-
fects of our virtues. In Edgar aords:
The gods are just and of our pleaat vices
Make instruments to scourge us.
(Lear, V, -, 171-2)
This attitude toward the necessary
interrelation of character and fate can
be found in Homer's
oide kalauto
sphesin atasthaliesin uper more alge'
extsin
(a, 33-4, et.al.)
for of themselves
through their own faults they stiter woes
past measure.
It can be found in Herodotus, Sophocles,
and indeed, most of the great Greeks,
though Shakespeare's word "just" would
in them likely to be the untranslatable
word, phthoneros, which seems to im-
ply not only a sense of grudging envy,
but a kind of retributive or retaiatory
compensation.
This sese of irony in man's actions
raised the Athenian dramatists above
all those whom the world has known,
and it is in his mature perception of
this connection between character and
fate that Shakespeare rivals the
Greeks. Examples of it are frequent in
the great tragedies. Thus Antony, in a
bitter moment of self-recognition, cries
out:
But when we in our viciousness grow
hard,-
o misery on 't!-the wise gods see our
eyes;
In our own filth drop our clear judgments:
make us
Adore our errors; laugh at 's while we
strut
To our confusion.
Antony and cleopatra, III, , 111-15)
And one of the earliest and clearest
examples of Shakespeare's conception
of this existence of retributive irony in
the universe occurs in Angelo's re-
mark when he recognized that his lust
for Isabella springs from the very source
of his reputation for virtue:
O cunning enemy, that to catch a saint
with saints dost bait thy hook,
He is addressing no one, and no com-
mentator, to my knowledge, has explain-
ed the meaning of "0 cunning enemy."
Some hostile force is implied in the
world, some retributive element that
lies in wait for those who would take
pride in their own virtues. "Cunning
enemy" conveys nearly the same sense
as the Greek, phtlioneros. The same
agency is. glanced at by Troilus:
But something may be done that we will
not,
And sometimes we areo devls dto our-
selves,

Continued or .age Nine

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