The Dark Comedy of Measure for Measure
Measure for Measure, the last of Shakespeare's great comedies, is also the darkest of his comedies, and represents his transition to tragic plays. This play differs from Shakespeare's other comedies, and is in many ways more akin to tragedy than to comedy. In setting, plot, and character development Measure for Measure has a tragic tone, however, because none of the main characters actually loses his life, this play is considered a comedy.
Almost all of Shakespeare's comedies have dual localities: the real world of crime, punishment, and responsibility, and an idyllic world, where reality is malleable, and forgiving. For example, As You Like It occurs in both the world of the court, dangerous for almost all of the primary characters, and the forest of Arden, a sanctuary that nurses conflict to resolution. Measure for Measure, on the other hand, offers no safe haven for the characters. They are trapped in the corrupted mire called Venice. Angelo, appointed scourge of the city, lets no person escape his punishing hand. Painting no "Arden" to provide asylum, Shakespeare gives Measure for Measure a grave tone. The play is more like a tragedy: intense focus on the gravity of the situation with littleemotional respite for the reader and characters. Measure for Measure is like a tragedy in plot development, as well. Shakespeare's earlier comedies pose situations of extreme danger, but through plot development, Shakespeare handles the conflict with a lighter tone. Much is at stake, but he reassures the reader that good will prosper, and evil will not escape some sort of punishment. Measure for Measure is dangerously close to being a tragedy throughout the whole play.
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...r protection of her virginity never wavers; not even when her brother's life is at stake will she relinquish her morals. Isabellaand Angelo are more closely related to Shakespeare's Othello than they are to Rosalind who constantly adapts to the situation. Whereas Rosalind's ability to change enables her to affect the plot of As You Like It, Othello's fierce, short sighted determination sends him reeling through a predetermined fate to a tragic end. Angelo and Isabella, in their stubborn adherence to principles, head for a cruel fate, only avoided through the duke's manipulation.
Though Measure for Measure ends with no major characters dying, it is only marginally a comedy. The characters, plot, and setting more resemble Shakespeare's tragedies than his comedies. Shakespeare forces the "happy" ending, and in so doing, announces the end of his comedic works.
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