The Duke’s reign has shaped an atmosphere in Vienna fraught with indulgence and an overall disregard for the law. The Duke wishes to have more order in Vienna but is unsure how to bring it about himself so he has called upon Angelo to take over. Claudio’s later sentencing will serve as an example in order to change the course of the kingdom.
The characters may be divided into groups depending on their opinions of fornication and other sexual behavior considered an offense by the new leader. Mistress Overdone presents one extreme of the spectrum: managing the prostitution business while Isabella represents the other end: abstaining completely from sexual activity in order to become a nun exemplifying the conflict between hedonism and religion. Isabella seeks to retire from the sins of the common people of Vienna by joining the safe and pure environment of a convent. Lucio removes her from this “haven” and makes her vulnerable and open to this sins of others: questioning her values about acceptability and propriety, emotionally hold onto her chastity when it is asked for, and be asked to marry and never return to the nunnery. Isabella acts on familial loyalty rather than religious devotion under the belief that Claudio’s sentence is warranted but too harsh. Isabella’s brother Claudio may be placed in the middle of this spectrum through his noble-minded relationship with Juliet without the restraint of sexual desire. The only character that is mobile is Angelo. Angel...
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...son is a willing party. Perhaps the Duke justifies the legalities through “tricking” Angelo in order to progress his strategy. At the end of the play, the Duke remains in disguise to continually manipulate his subjects while allowing them to believe that they are acting of their own volition. This manipulation also serves as a test of their devotion to their positions. When the Duke asks for Isabella to marry him, she is not given the chance to respond verbally. This final situation will highlight the transference of power over to the Duke with the loss of her sexual independence, or to God and her eternal soul. Unlike other Shakespearian plays, the function of marriage is not necessarily a crystal clear punishment or reward. Union to higher power depends upon individual qualities and the situation and cannot be classified as fitting only into comedy or tragedy.
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