Scanned image of the page. Keyboard directions: use + to zoom in, - to zoom out, arrow keys to pan inside the viewer.

Page Options

Download this Issue


Something wrong?

Something wrong with this page? Report problem.

Rights / Permissions

This collection, digitized in collaboration with the Michigan Daily and the Board for Student Publications, contains materials that are protected by copyright law. Access to these materials is provided for non-profit educational and research purposes. If you use an item from this collection, it is your responsibility to consider the work's copyright status and obtain any required permission.

October 26, 1940 - Image 9

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

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.


Page Nine

... Continued from Page Eight

When we will tempt the frailty of our
Presuming, on their changeful potency.
(lC'otilus and Cressida, IV, 4, 93-6)
What ihcny there was in the earlier
plays wa largely the result of dis-
guise and :mistaken identity, rather than
a logical and a necessary connection
between character and events based on
a belief in some retributive power.
Without 6iscussing these plays at
length, th generalization may be al-
lowed th the characters are not so
conceived as to bring about their 'own
felicity on degradation; consequently
the conch.sons are frequently improb-
able and inadequately prepared for.
Often they come not because of, but in
spite of th preceding action, as in the
unwarrani character-reformation of
The Twr Gentlemen of Verona. Sur-
prise is the note of such endings, and
the fifth act often finds both audience
and playe r startled by a deus ex ma-
china. Tbus the solution of the bond
story in the Merchant of Venice, the
sudden reconciliations in the enchant-
ed forest of Arden, the lack of
logical necessity in Romeo and Juliet
(the lovers are quite literally "star-
crossed; they are overcome by chance
circumso ines. not by the recoil of their
own chaoc'ers; the critics by their very
ingenuity and disagreement prove this
point; the protest too much),' the
fairy ages y in Midsummer Night's
Dream, ans the unexpected conclusion
of Much Ado are a few instances of
technical immaturity - though it is the
immaturity of a Shakespeare.
In TwdIh Night surprise and im-
probability are somewhat replaced by
the logic implied in dramatic irony.
Violas disguise, her love for the Duke,
and the impossibility of her marriage
to Olivia a'e revealed to the audience.
as, in the underplot, is the proposed
deception of Malvolio who falls through
his very virtues. The surprise is thus
transferres from the audience to the
characters. All's Well shows a still
more skillful use of dramatic irony;
from the .oment when Helena receives
the letter from Bertram (III, 3)., the
audience, though not the actors; are
informed of the probable outcome of
the comspo:cation. The hint for this
method of development may have come
from the source it exists, at any rate,
in Boccacic's tale. In the Brutus of Jul-
ius Caea we have the first in a series
of mighty figures whose fates are de-
termined b phthonerotic destiny work-
ing through character. Brutus is struck
down by his own nobility. But the ac-
tion of the play was determined by his-
torical t; hence the logic of the
irony is somewhat obscured, and the
structuree i not wholly harmonized with
the iron conception of destiny. In
Troilus and Cressida irony takes a more
comprehensive form. The outline of the
story wa familiar to the audience;
hence iron was not necessary in un-
folding o:1 se plot. But a greater irony,
an irony that of men's pleasant vices
makes instruments to scourge them,
hangs ove each actor in the play,
dogging his with a spirit of frustration.
Thus Cressida, in ignorance of her
own character and what the future
holds, swers to Troilus:
If I be aie, or swerve a hair from truth,
When time is old and lath forgot itself,
When waterdrops have worn the stones
of Tro,
And bn0 oblivion swallow'd cities up,
And msighty states characterless are grated
To dusty nothing, yet let memory,
From fal to false. among false maids in
Upbraid o: falsehood .. . .
Yea, let them say, to stick the heart of
"As false as Cressd."

If ever you prove false one to another,
I have taken such pains to bring you to-
gether, let
all pitiful goers-between be called to the
end after my name; call them all Pan-
ars; let all
constant men be Troiluses, all false wo-
men Cressids,
and all brokers-between Pandars! Amen.
The explanation of the ambiguities of
Troilus and Cressida rests, I believe, in
Shakespeare's attempt to rework a
plain, unvarnished tale in terms of a
new conception of ironic destiny, root-
ed in men's characters, a concption
which motivates the great tragedies
and has its origin in the use of dramatic
irony as a technical device. But of this,
more anon.
The early plays, then, tended in their
neglect of logical structure to utilize
novel or improbable conclusions. The
mature tragedies, on the other hand,.
are sustained by a fine logic, a deft
and mature use of dramatic irony, both
as a technical means of unfolding the
action and as a conception of character.
The audience istaken into the author's
confidence and prepared for the probable
conclusion. Surprise is thus abandoned
for a fine inevitability. In learning this
technique, however, Shakespeare wrote
three plays, the problem comedies, which
have an unmistakable tendency to sag
in the middle. In Troilus and Cressida,
in All's Well That Ends Well, and in
Measure for Measure the complication
is knit with fine artistry; then follows
a movement of lengthy and not too well
contructed preparation for the resolution
of the plot. Shakespeare seems to
experimenting with his new method.
In Troilus and Cressida the resolution
does not come off perhaps because
the traditional ending was too strongly
in Shakespeare's mind. But in the other
two plays, after come fumbling with the
preparatory material, the necessary con-
clusion follows swiftly and inevitably.
And in both plays the interest of the
final act depends upon the ironic reve-
lation to the characters of circumstances
which have been made known through-
out the play to the audience. In both,
the protagonist is snared in a net of
his own contriving. The problem plays
are, technically, the prelude to the mas-
terly structure and character drawing
of the tragedies.
Irony both as a technical device and
as a view of the universe pervades
the action in Measure for Measure. So
fully is the instrument exploited that
Shakespeare gratuitously writes some
scenes between the disguised Duke and
Lucio which, since they bear little re-
lation to the action, must be considered
as exercises in technique. A few ex-
amples of irony may clarify the impor-
tant role which it plays. Thus Angelo,
immediately after condemning Claudio
to death for lechery and immediately
before his own passion is aroused by
Isabella's purity, protests to Escalus:
You may not so extenuate his offence
For I have had such faults; but rather
tell me,
When I, that censure him, do so offend,
Let mine own judgment pattern out my
And nothing come in partial.
(I, 1, 27-31)

She speaks. and 'tis
Such sense, that my sense breeds with it.
(H, 2, 142-3)
Again, when Isabella returns for the
second interview, her first mark stirs
the smouldering flame of Angelo's lust:
I am come to know your pleasure.
(1, 4, 31)
and he immediately replies:
That you might know it, would much
better please me
Than to demand what 'tis.
The interview continues in a tone of
ambiguous irony which heightens the
hypocrisy of Angelo. One of the most
bitter and telling strokes comes when,
in white-hot anger at Angelo's irreverent
proposal, Isabella announces to Claudio
that he mst die:
Claud. Now, sister, what's the comfort?
Isab, Why,
As all comforts are; most good
most good indeed.
Lord Angelo, having affairs to
Intends you for his swift ambassa-
Where you shall be an everlasting
Theefore yoursest appointment
mare withs speed;
Tomorrow you set on.
(m1,1, 53-60)
But this kind of irony in language can
be found throughout the play; it is
concomitant with Shakespeare's use
of the wider irony of character.
Irony is more of an innovation, how-
ever, for the part it plays i the develop-
ment of the action and in the self-revela-
tion of character. As a dramatic method
it necesarily rules out the use of chance
or fairy enchantment as resolving forces.
The improbable and surprising conclu-
sions of the earlier plays give way to
a dramatic logic dependent whollyupon
human manipulation of events in ac-
cordance with a consistent view of des-
tiny. It has been argued that the Duke
is, in effect, a deus ex machina, but
this is a misuse of terms. The Duke's
activities and intentions are known to
the spectators, though not to the actors,
throughout the play, and his machina-
tions do not go contrary to the bent
of the characters, but make use of them.
He is the precipitating force through
which retributive irony becomes effec-
tive, but he does not, as does a deus ex
machins, stand outside the action. The
result of this ironic development of
the action, wherein human nature is
hoist by its own petard, is a logical
unity which knits the play up into a
probable whole.
An ironic view of the relation' between
character and cunning or phthonerot-
ic destiny brings about in the gre at
tragedies dramatic moments of self-
realization. In Measure for Measure, An-
gelo is taken in the snare of his own
seeming virtue. There is a homeopathic
element in fate which strikes
through that part of our armor which
we deemed strongest. So Angelo, who
seemed proof against all the temptations
of the flesh, is filled with lust by the
very purity of the novitiate Isabella:
What, do I love her,
That I desire to hear her speak again.
And feast upon her eyes? What is 't I
dream on?
O cunning enemy, that, to catch a saint,
With saints dost bait thy hook. Most
Is that temptation that doth goad us on
To sin in isving virtue: never could the
With all her double vigour, art and nature,
Once stir my temper: but this virtuous
Subdues me quite.
(11I, 2, 177-87)
The ill which Angelo has seen in the
depths of his own soul, and which should
make him merciful to his brother trans-
gressors in this world. is gradually re-
vealed to Isabella, to the Duke, and then,
through them, to all. The revelation,

which takes up most of the fifth act,
is accompanied by a use of dramatic
irony which is almost overdone. The
Duke's pretense that Claudio has been
put to death pains both Isabella and the
critics. It is not necessary for the
development of the plot that Isabella
be deceived, but it does add to the irony
of the last act. Here, again, Shakespeare
seems overly preoccupied with his new
technique. It is also of some significance
to the thesis that Shakgspeare was at
this time deliberately experimenting with
diamatic irony that the ironic speeches
contain the most carefully wrought
poetry of the play. Thus the Duke, after
long passages of prose. greets the cor-
rupt Angelo with the ambiguous words:
O, your desert speaks loud; and Ishould
wrong it,.
To lock it in the wards of covert bosom,
When it deserves, with characters of brass,
A forted residence 'gainst the tooth of
And razure of oblivion.
(V, 1, 9-13)
Angelo., with an audacity that tempts
the blow of fate, asks permission to
judge Isabella's accusation against him-
self. Like Oedipus unconsciously search-
ing out the proofs of his own iniquity,
he speaks lines which ironically fore-
tell the imminence of his overthrow:
Now, good my lord, give rse the scope of
My patience here is touch'd. I do per-
These poor informal women are no mare
But instruments of some more mightier
That sets them on: let me have way, my
To find this practice out.
(, 1, 235-8)
The "instruments of some mightier
member" refer ostensibly to the ma-
chination of the Duke disguised as a
friar, but who doubts the working of that
"cunning enemy which has not already
caught Angelo in the net of his virtue?"
Retributive destiny made him the engine
of his own destruction. One further ref-
erence to this phthonerotic power that
work through character may occur in
Angelo's lines when his shame is publicly
O my dread lord,
I should be guiltier than my guiltiness,
To think I can be undiscernible,
When I perceive your Grace, like power
Hath lookd upon my passes.
(V, 1, 371-5)
It has been usual to regard the phrase
"like power divine" as appositive to
"your Grace." The interpretation is
natural, although its extension into ar-
gument that the Duke is therefore a
reincarnation of destiny seems unwar-
ranted. However, "like" is used by
Shakespeare as a conjunction as well as
a preposition. If this other interpreta-
tion is followed, as it is grammatically
possible, the "power divine" assumes a
new significance, recalling as it does,
both the "cunning epemy and the
"more mightier power" of a few lines
before. I am inclined to believe that
both interpretations were in Shake-
'speare's mind when he wrote the phrase.
Perhaps enough has been said to
indicate the scope of dramatic irony in
the play, both as a means of unfolding
the action logically and as a conception
of the recoil of character upon itself.
The presence of so many ironic in-
nuendos in the speeches follows logical-
ly from the preoccupation with it. One
final example, which has often been
misunderstood, deserves citation. The
Duke fixes the repentant Angelo's sen-
We do condemn thee to the very block
Where Claudio stoopd to death, and with
like haste.
(V, 1, 492)
It is known to the spectators, though
not to the actors, that Claudio has never
Continued on Page Eleven

which duly comes to pass. Both of Is-
abella's interviews with Angelo are filled
with ironic plays upon words whose
significance is clear to the audience
though not to the characters. Some
of these, in keeping with the situation,
have an unpleasant double meaning,
as when Isabella cries out to Angelo:
I would to heaven I had your potency,
And you were Isabel.
(II, 2, 58-9)

(III, 2, 113-195) or when Angelo, taken by the bait of
Which andaruss prophetically echoes; her beauty, murmurs,

Back to Top

© 2020 Regents of the University of Michigan