Essay PreviewMore ↓
(A version of this essay appeared in Shakespeare Quarterly 46 (Winter, 1995), 454-464.)
Since 1970, when the Isabella of John Barton's RSC production of Measure for Measure first shocked audiences by silently refusing to acquiesce to the Duke's offer of marriage at the end of the play, Isabella's response (or lack thereof) to the Duke's proposal has become one of the most prevalent subjects for Shakespearean performance criticism.See, for example, Jane Williamson, "The Duke and Isabella on the Modern Stage," The Triple Bond: Plays, Mainly Shakespearean, in Performance, ed. Joseph G. Price (University Park: Penn State UP, 1975), pp. 149-69; Ralph Berry, "Measure for Measure on the Contemporary Stage," Humanities Association Review 28 (1977), 241-47; Philip C. McGuire, Speechless Dialect: Shakespeare's Open Silences (Berkeley: U of California P, 1985); and Graham Nicholls, Measure for Measure: Text and Performance (London: Macmillan Education, 1986). However, attention to this issue has tended to overshadow another ambiguous aspect of the same stage sequence: the question of why the Duke asks Isabella to marry him in the first place. It is generally agreed that the text provides no evidence to suggest a romantic attachment to Isabella on the Duke's part until the moment of his proposal, but the play's stage history reveals a pattern of attempts to supply what the text lacks, either through stage business or interpolated declarations of love. Hal Gelb notes, "Critics and directors have so keenly felt a sense of the marriage as a tacked-on after-thought that they have sought ways to prepare it earlier in the play" ("Duke Vincentio and the Illusion of Comedy or All's Not Well that Ends Well," SQ, 22 , 31). These attempts, based on a culturally specific conception of matrimony as prompted by erotic desire, disregard other textually prominent motivations for marriage grounded in Renaissance moral, social, and financial concerns. Ann Jennalie Cook, comparing contemporary notions of marriage to those of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, writes, "Despite the romantic ideas expressed in plays and poetry, most marriages were contracted on the basis of interest rather than affect. Society demanded a legitimate male heir to preserve the family name and properties. Moreover, the financial arrangements of a marriage settlement were essential to insure that both parties could live securely until death. Marriage was also viewed as the safest outlet for the healthful discharge of sexual appetites.
How to Cite this Page
"Matrimony and Recompense in Measure for Measure." 123HelpMe.com. 16 Jul 2018
Need Writing Help?
Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.Check your paper »
- Morality in Measure for Measure Shakespeare's play, Measure for Measure, focuses on human morality. The play also explores the question of what kind of sexual conduct is socially acceptable, and what is not. The play depicts various attitudes toward prostitution, promiscuity, and premarital sex. But it also suggests that human laws and perhaps human morality are quite arbitrary and relative. Measure for Measure considers the need for statutes and laws to govern sexual appetites and ensure domestic tranquility.... [tags: Measure for Measure]
2108 words (6 pages)
- Abstinence and Orgy in Measure for Measure Many existing views of Measure for Measure seem intriguing but incomplete. They might reinforce our perception of this play as fragmented and baffling, because they do not integrate apparently conflicting outlooks presented in the play’s Vienna, and generated by the mysterious action of Vincentio. Notice how the following different interpretations display the conflicts: the extreme view proposed by Roy Battenhouse that the Duke stands for God (Rossiter 108-28); the modified position of Elizabeth Marie Pope that the Duke is a successful magistrate with divinely-delegated powers ("Renaissance" 66-82), almost in line with Eliade’s version of... [tags: Measure for Measure]
2585 words (7.4 pages)
- Exploring Morality in Measure for Measure In Measure for Measure, Shakespeare is able to examine the concept of right and wrong through the characters of Mistress Overdone and Mariana. Throughout the play, by using characters that most people would find morally reprehensible, Shakespeare is able to give the audience a different view of these people and, hopefully, show his audience that people aren't always what they appear to be. Through the character of Mistress Overdone, Shakespeare is able to bring a jovial side to the oldest job known to man -- prostitution.... [tags: Measure for Measure]
739 words (2.1 pages)
- Angelo in Measure for Measure Within Measure for Measure, the character of Angelo can be seen as a case study of will over moral nature. Angelo, a deputy, is given the Dukes authority to act in his behalf while the Duke is away. The story unfolds as Angelo uses the agency he's been given in ways that many men in authoritative positions have done. It is interesting to follow his line of thought and to realize that this is a man who is not unlike many others. The main conflict between Isabella and Angelo is a contemporary problem.... [tags: Measure for Measure]
1019 words (2.9 pages)
- The Good and Evil Angelo of Measure for Measure In Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, Angelo emerges as a double-sided character. Scholars have argued for centuries whether or not Angelo is a moral character or an evil character. Those scholars who support the notion of Angelo as moral often cite the following facts: the Duke obviously trusts Angelo, Angelo is disheartened enough by the end of the play to offer a sincere apology, and Angelo tries to resist the temptation that Isabella presents. On the other hand, others have argued that Shakespeare depicts Angelo as a purely evil man. These critics emphasize Angelo's treatment of Marian, the Duke's possible suspicion... [tags: Measure for Measure]
1975 words (5.6 pages)
- The Virtuous Isabella in Measure for Measure Measure for Measure is not a celebration of family values, the play points towards both the political virtuosity, which sustains the comic, and the humbler self-knowledge that preserves the integrity of the virtuoso. Human virtue can only be chosen in freedom, but we need not deny ourselves the opportunity of ensuring that this choice is not stifled by the subtly related powers of abstract intellectualism and carnal necessity Isabella in Measure for Measure personifies innocent virtue.... [tags: Measure for Measure]
1284 words (3.7 pages)
- The Pontification of Isabella in Measure for Measure Within Measure for Measure the character of Isabella is characterized as an innocent pure female, and there is a focus on her ever-present moral dilemma. By using Elizabethan perspectives on women, nuns, and chastity, Shakespeare uses Isabella to reveal character traits and morality of those around her. However in opposition Isabella made be seen as an individual who pontificates too much when her brother’s life is at stake, it is perhaps easier for Isabella to suffer the condemnation of a modern audience.... [tags: Measure for Measure]
1126 words (3.2 pages)
- Immorality and Corruption in Measure for Measure In ‘Measure for Measure’, Shakespeare demonstrates that there is an innate immorality and corruption in the heart of man. Shakespeare illustrates that power does not cause corruption. This is achieved by presenting the Duke, who has the most power in Vienna, as a moral hero, and conversely revealing the corruption of the powerless class through characters including Pompey, Mistress Overdone, and Barnadine. Through all this, Shakespeare uses Lord Angelo in Measure for Measure to show that immorality and corruption is innate in mankind.... [tags: Measure for Measure]
1566 words (4.5 pages)
- The Bed Trick in Measure for Measure Critics have referred to the concept of Mariana taking Isabella's place in Angelo's bed "the bed trick." This plan of the Duke's, which is supposed to save Isabella, Claudio, and Mariana, appears to be almost corrupt and shameful, and is one of the reasons scholars consider Measure for Measure a problem play. What exactly is going on here with all of these characters? It seems almost uncharacteristic of the sweet, naïve, virginal Isabella to condone another performing such an act in her place. Isabella is, in a sense, asking Mariana to perform the very act which she has not only been avoiding, but that she is disgusted by. The fact that Isa... [tags: Measure for Measure]
1894 words (5.4 pages)
- Measure For Measure on the Stage Near the end of his well known treatment of transgression and surveillance in Measure for Measure, Jonathan Dollimore makes an observation about the world of the play that deserves further consideration by feminist scholars: the prostitutes, the most exploited group in the society which the play represents, are absent from it. Virtually everything that happens presupposes them yet they have no voice, no presence. And those who speak for them do so as exploitatively as those who want to eliminate them.... [tags: Shakespeare's Measure For Measure Essays]
4821 words (13.8 pages)
At the Duke's first appearance after having delegated his power to Angelo, Vincentio allays Friar Thomas's suspicion that his secretive retirement is intended to facilitate a romantic tryst: "No. Holy father, throw away that thought; / Believe not that the dribbling dart of love / Can pierce a complete bosom" (1.3.1-3). Quotations from Measure for Measure refer to J.W. Lever's Arden edition (London: Methuen, 1965). Given that other Shakespearean heroes, such as Valentine, Berowne, and Benedick, deride love only to be overmastered by it, such a statement sets up the expectation that Vincentio will also succumb to Cupid's arrow. But as Richard P. Wheeler notes, "such an irony does not seem ... to be effectively exploited, even when Vincentio abruptly proposes to Isabella in the last scene." Richard P. Wheeler, Shakespeare's Development and the Problem Comedies: Turn and Counter-Turn (Berkeley: U of California P, 1981), p. 124. For some critics, however, the fact that the Duke offers to marry Isabella is in itself proof that love has conquered him; for instance, J.M. Nosworthy writes, "The issue of the final Act clearly shows that Cupid's dribbling dart has, after all, pierced that complete bosom. Precisely when this occurs is not made clear ... " J.M. Nosworthy, ed, Measure for Measure, New Penguin Shakespeare (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1969), p. 28. Indeed, at no point in the play does the Duke declare feelings of love, and to take his proposal as such a declaration assumes that an offer of marriage always issues from amorous passion. On the contrary, Measure for Measure provides several other instances of marriages prompted, not by love, but by the desire for money, the need to provide for bastard children, and the wish to repair the honor of a wronged woman.
For example, Angelo's original agreement to wed Mariana, which took place five years before the action of the play, was apparently impelled on his side by purely pecuniary motives, for when her dowry was lost at sea, Angelo called the wedding off without apology. Even Claudio and Juliet, the only couple in the play to express mutual affection, delay their nuptials, as Claudio tells us, "for propagation of a dower / Remaining in the coffer of her friends, / From whom we thought it meet to hide our love / Till time had made them for us" (1.2.139-42). For money's sake, Claudio and Juliet decide to postpone marriage, but they do not elect to put off the "mutual entertainment" (1.2.143) of sexuality, which leads to Juliet's pregnancy. For Claudio and Juliet, erotic desire alone is enough to justify a secret betrothal and conjugal relations, but without a dowry, love is not a sufficient reason to induce them to marry. In fact, Claudio must finally be compelled by the Duke to wed his dowerless bride at the end of the play and to take responsibility for his illicitly-conceived child. Similarly, the Duke also forces Lucio to take Kate Keepdown, the mother of his bastard son, as his wife: "If any woman wrong'd by this lewd fellow, / --As I have heard him swear himself there's one / Whom he begot with child--let her appear / And he shall marry her" (5.1.507-10). As Marilyn L. Williamson notes, "This marriage is entirely one of the Duke's will to provide for Lucio's bastard, for the invisible, voiceless Kate Keepdown is never present to ask for marriage." Marilyn L. Williamson, The Patriarchy of Shakespeare's Comedies (Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1986), p. 103.
The Duke harbors an abiding interest in the maintenance of bastards because, in the absence of other means of financial support, the care and sustenance of illegitimate children falls to the responsibility of the state. For a description of social problems in Shakespeare's England resulting from the state's duty to care for bastard children, see Williamson, pp. 81-85. In the case of Lucio's bastard, Mistress Overdone has kept the child for "a year and a quarter" (3.2.195), but her arrest deprives the infant of the material means for its subsistence, and unless the father can be compelled to acknowledge it, the Duke himself, as the embodiment of the government of Vienna, will have to provide for it. Lucio unwittingly reminds Vincentio of this responsibility when he imputes to the "absent" Duke a lax attitude toward illegitimacy: "Ere he would have hanged a man for the getting a hundred bastards, he would have paid for the nursing a thousand" (3.2.113-15). Later, while Isabella explains the bed-trick to Mariana, the Duke muses on the vulner-ability of princes to such calumnious remarks:
place and greatness! Millions of false eyes
Are stuck upon thee: volumes of report
Run with these false, and most contrarious quest
Upon thy doings: thousand escapes of wit
Make thee the father of their idle dream
And rack thee in their fancies. (4.1.60-65)
Having listened to Lucio disparage him as being willing to nurse "a thousand" bastards, the Duke characterizes this slander metaphorically as a type of false paternity: a "thousand escapes of wit" unjustly make him "the father of their idle dream," just as bastards force the state to become their foster parent. Lever (pp. xx-xxii) discusses the long-standing editorial assertion that this soliloquy was removed from its original place at 3.2.179 and moved to 4.1 to cover the withdrawl of Isabella and Mariana. If so, the speech at one time immediately followed the sequence during which Lucio points out that the state must nurse abandoned bastards. Given the prevalence of bastardy in Vienna (Constable Elbow laments that, the way things are going, soon "we shall have all the world drink brown and white bastard" [3.2.2-4]), illegitimacy constitutes a serious economic threat to the city government. The Duke combats this danger by forcing bastard-makers like Lucio and Claudio to accept their own financial obligations, which they do by marrying the mothers of their offspring, whether they love the women or not.
However, at the heart of all three constrained marriages at the play's conclusion lies the notion that the men must offer matrimony to their sexual partners to compensate for the damage they have done them through fornication. Victoria Hayne, referring to sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English legal practice, writes, "Although they were sentenced to penance, couples found guilty of fornication were never ordered to marry, even if they had an illegitimate child. Only couples who had previously betrothed themselves and, by consummating their union, created a legally irrevocable marriage would be ordered to complete with public ritual what they had enacted in private" ("Performing Social Practice: The Example of Measure for Measure," SQ, 44 , p. 6). Hayne attempts to apply this precept to the play, but in order to do so, she must argue that Kate Keepdown is not a prostitute and that she and Lucio were betrothed before their sexual encounter (pp. 7-8), which is not clear in the text. Furthermore, in one of Shakespeare's sources, Epitia's story from Giraldi Cinthio's Hecatommithi (1565), Claudio's counterpart Vico is not betrothed to his partner but is instead "a boy of sixteen whose crime, the violation of a virgin, is ascribed to 'la forza di amore,' and may be set right by marriage" [Geoffrey Bullough, ed, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, Vol. 2 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1958), p. 401]. Even though matrimony may not have been enforced upon unbetrothed fornicators in Renaissance England, such a practice exists in the source material and appears to have been performed in Shakespeare's fictional Vienna. As Lucio must marry the woman he has "wrong'd," so Claudio must carry out the Duke's command, "She, Claudio, that you wrong'd, look you restore" (5.1.522). Angelo, who has unwittingly consummated his betrothal to Mariana, is ordered to "marry her instantly," (5.1.375), fulfilling the Duke's earlier prediction of one of the results of the bed-trick: "If the encounter acknowledge itself hereafter, it may compel him to her recompense" (3.1.251-53). N.W. Bawcutt, editor of the Oxford Shakespeare (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1991), glosses "acknowledge itself" as "reveal itself, become publicly known (perhaps by Mariana becoming pregnant)." Hence, the notion of recompense encompasses both the restoration of Mariana's honor and Angelo's responsibility for the possible bastard child of their union. For the argument that procreation is the result of every act of sexual intercourse in Measure for Measure, see Marc Shell, The End of Kinship: "Measure For Measure," Incest, and the Ideal of Universal Siblinghood (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1988), pp. 33, 213n. It is also worthwhile to note that Pompey accuses Elbow's wife of having been "respected with him, before he married with her" (2.1.167-68), and she is also currently pregnant. Measure for Measure clearly circulates the idea that, although pre-marital sex may destroy a woman's reputation, marriage to her seducer possesses the power to restore her honor. Shakespeare imports this concept of recompense from his primary source, George Whetstone's The Historie of Promos and Cassandra (1578), in which Isabella's counterpart Cassandra pleads to Promos, the substitute ruler, that her brother be allowed to marry the maid whom he has deflowered: "Way his yong yeares, the force of loue, which forced his amis, / Way, way, that Mariage, works amends, for what committed is "Promos and Cassandra is reprinted in full in the New Variorum Measure for Measure edited by Marc Eccles (New York: MLA, 1980). See p. 315. In a similar fashion, Shakespeare's Isabella, upon hearing that Claudio has impregnated Juliet, cries, "O, let him marry her!" (1.4.49), but this solution is not imposed until the Duke steps out of his disguise in the final scene. Whetstone's King, facing the fact that, in his version of the story, the sister gives up her virginity to save her brother's life, inflicts marriage as a type of punishment upon Lord Promos: "On thee vyle wretche, this sentence I pronounce: / That foorthwith, thou shalt marrie Cassandra, / For to repayre hir honour, thou dydst waste" (356). As with Angelo in Measure for Measure, the seducer must wed his victim to rectify his sexual crime, and love has nothing at all to do with it.
Plainly, romantic affection is not the only spur to matrimony in either Shakespeare's play or its source, but for centuries, producers and directors have assumed that the Duke's proposal indicates just such an emotion, and they have gone to great pains to convey it to their audiences. As the introduction to Oxberry's acting edition of 1822 points out,
[I]t is curious to remark how, in the closing lines of the acting-copy, the players have thought proper to swell the Duke's hint of his attachment to Isabella, into a formal declaration of his passion. They were willing to compensate for the absence of love-scenes in the body of the play, by introducing a little courtship at the close. Measure for Measure, A Comedy; By W. Shakespeare. As it is Performed at the Theatres Royal. By W. Oxberry, Comedian (London, 1822), p. vi.
The "little courtship" to which this comment refers is an epilogue of ten lines spoken by the Duke appended to several nineteenth-century acting editions, including that of Oxberry, Kemble, and Cumberland. It begins,
"For thee, sweet saint--if, for a brother sav'd,
From that most holy shrine thou wert devote to,
Thou deign to spare some portion of thy love,
Thy Duke, thy Friar tempts thee from thy vow:
[ISABEL is falling on her knees, the DUKE prevents her--kisses her hand, and proceeds with his speech.] This quotation refers to the Cumberland edition, Measure For Measure: A Comedy: In Five Acts. By William Shakespeare. As now performed at the Theatres Royal, London (n.d). The passage appears in substantially the same form in Shakespeare's Measure For Measure, A Comedy, Revised by J.P. Kemble; and now first published as it is acted at The Theatre Royal in Covent Garden (London, 1803).
As Oxberry's edition suggests, this interpolated passage provides the "formal declaration" of the Duke's "passion" that Shakespeare elects to withhold. In asking Isabella to spare some portion of her love, the Duke implies that he will receive it and return it in kind. Also, the added stage direction, which calls for the Duke to kiss Isabella's hand, suggests a physical dimension to his appreciation of her virtues unsupported by the original text. Spectators viewing such a version of the play's final scene could hardly help but conclude that the Duke's marriage proposal is motivated mainly by his love for Isabella.
While nearly all twentieth-century productions of Measure for Measure have resisted the temptation to interpolate an amorous epilogue, many have instead employed stage business to convey a growing romantic attachment to Isabella on the Duke's part. The rationale for such a choice resembles that expressed by critic Charles R. Lyons, who writes, "At the end of the comedy, we assume that Isabella has also provoked the sexual desire of the Duke. The director of Measure for Measure and the actor playing the Duke must make a decision about the specific point at which Vincentio decides to claim Isabella for himself." Charles R. Lyons, "Silent Women and Shrews: Eroticism and Convention in Epicoene and Measure for Measure," CompD, (1989), 129. Several recent productions have chosen to locate the arousal of the Duke's desire at the end of 3.1, after he proposes the bed-trick to Isabella. Herbert S. Weil, Jr. remembers her response in director Michael Bogdanov's revival at Stratford, Ontario in 1985: "startlingly, the novice, after hearing the Duke's plot, kissed him before she exited. No wonder the Duke, who took off his glasses when he first spoke to Isabella . . . now put them on again." Herbert S. Weil, Jr., "Stratford Festival Canada," SQ, 37 (1986), 248. On the same stage seven years later, Michael Langham's production used similar business to achieve a comparable effect:
Delighted by the Duke's proposal to save Claudio's life and Isabella's "honor" through the help of Mariana . . . Isabella spontaneously thanked the Duke with a hug. While this worked with the jaunty music to create a happy, hopeful conclusion to the first half of the show, the interaction--particularly the look Brian Bedford gave the audience--also demonstrated that an excited expression of hope and gratitude on Isabella's part was taken by the Duke as a sign of more intimate contact to come. C.E. McGee, "Shakespeare in Canada: The Stratford Season, 1992," SQ, 44 (1993), 478-79.
Although neither Bogdanov nor Langham implied that Isabella shared the emotions she unintentionally excited in the Duke, some recent revivals have suggested a growing mutual attraction between Vincentio and Isabella. Actor Daniel Massey, who portrayed the Duke opposite Juliet Stevenson's Isabella in Adrian Noble's 1983 RSC production, openly admits that "there is not one vestige of a syllable, line, or comma, even, until 5.1.491 to suggest that there is anything between them at all." Daniel Massey, "The Duke in Measure for Measure," Players of Shakespeare 2: Further essays in Shakespearean performance by players with the Royal Shakespeare Company, ed. Russell Jackson and Robert Smallwood (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1988), p. 19. Nevertheless, he remembers how the players deduced the existence of a reciprocal affection from the conclusion of the play, projected it backwards into earlier scenes, and communicated it to their audience:
We found moments, of course, scattered through the play, where we could build a growing awareness of each other. Isabella becomes so excited about the scheme of the bed trick with Mariana in Act 3 that she plants an impulsive kiss on the Duke's cheek. There is more than a vestige of the adventure caper about the whole moated grange sequence which proved wonderfully useful, and at 4.3.142 where he must, in the short term, steel himself to put her through an awful emotional struggle, he plants a kiss upon her forehead. This is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Lucio. They spring apart, and, in a long look across the stage at each other, during Lucio's bitter-sweet speech, much seemed to be accomplished. But the decision to bring them closer together was accounted for largely by the Duke's proposal at the end. Massey, p. 19.
Nicholas Shrimpton's eyewitness account confirms that Massey and Stevenson's attempts achieved their desired result:
In 3.1, as the Duke finished his explanation to her of the bed-trick, they grasped at each other in a momentary embrace of triumph. Seconds later, remembering their status as novice and friar, they nervously disentangled themselves, having set up with the greatest possible delicacy the erotic charge which would make their eventual marriage credible. Nicholas Shrimpton, "Shakespeare Performances in Stratford-upon-Avon and London, 1983-4," ShS, 38 (1985), 204.
Such efforts to establish a mutual "erotic charge" between Vincentio and Isabella may clearly succeed on the stage, but they are only essential if we assume that sexual love is a necessary condition to render "credible" the Duke's offer of matrimony at the end of the play.
An emphasis on the credibility attained through this strategy also occurs in Miranda Johnson-Haddad's review of Michael Kahn's 1992 production at The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C. Miranda Johnson-Haddad, "The Shakespeare Theatre, 1991-92," SQ, 43 (1992), pp. 455-72. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations from this review appear on p. 466. She recalls that actor Keith Baxter "made us believe in the Duke's love for Isabella, a love that . . . developed credibly throughout the course of the play, so that the Duke's proposal in the final scene was surprising to no one except Isabella (and perhaps not much of a surprise to her)." As in Noble's revival, the actors conveyed a shared affinity between Vincentio and the young novice:
This Duke and Isabella were clearly much drawn to each other early on. In 3.1, when the Duke explains to Isabella his idea about the bed trick . . . she gave him her hands as she agreed to go along with the plan, and they stood smiling at each other and holding hands until they became aware of what they were doing and dropped their hands abruptly. She kissed his hand gratefully upon departing, and, after she had left, the Duke tenderly kissed his hand where she had kissed it.
The Duke's affection for Isabella was also underlined by Kahn's amplification of the mythological reference in Lucio's allusion to "Pygmalion's images newly made woman" (3.3.44). In the opening scene of the performance, located in the Duke's study, the set displayed "Jean-Leon Gerome's nineteenth-century painting of Pygmalion embracing the magnificent nude figure of Galatea at the moment the statue comes to life." Johnson-Haddad, p. 463. Angelo covered the nude upon assuming power, but he ripped the curtain off the painting in 3.2 in a display of his aroused passion. These forceful images caused Johnson-Haddad to meditate on the appropriateness of Kahn's innovation:
I found myself reflecting upon the painting of Pygmalion and Galatea that hung in the Duke's study and that Angelo first covered up and then dramatically revealed. In this production the Duke brought Isabella fully to life, and the presiding image of Galatea turning from beautiful but cold marble perfection into warm and living flesh was apt.
If, in this production, Galatea stands for Isabella, then Pygmalion represents the Duke, who "falls in love with his creation." Richard Hillman, William Shakespeare: The Problem Plays (New York: Twayne, 1993), p. 120. Again, a modern performance of the play elects to motivate the Duke's offer of marriage through the establishment of a love relationship, but as I hope to show, the text's concern for the damaging effects of slander begs us to consider an alternative motivation.
When the Duke as friar first presents the bed-trick to Isabella, he assures her that her cooperation will leave her "honour untainted" (3.1.254), but he later informs her that she must also declare openly at the city gates the false claim that she has sacrificed her virginity to Angelo in exchange for Claudio's life. Although the postulant is reluctant to do so ("To speak so indirectly I am loth" [4.6.1], she admits to Mariana), at the Duke's urging, she slanders both Angelo and herself:
the vile conclusion
I now begin with grief and shame to utter.
He would not, but by gift of my chaste body
To his concupiscible intemperate lust,
Release my brother; and after much debatement,
My sisterly remorse confutes mine honour,
And I did yield to him. (5.1.98-104)
An understanding of the effect of this slander on Isabella herself requires an acknowledgement that virginity is as much a social as a physiological state in Vienna. Once a woman is charged with unchastity, she wears the social stigma of a fornicatress even if she has never actually engaged in sexual activity. For instance, when Mariana's dowry is lost, Angelo, "pretending in her discoveries of dishonour" (3.1.226-27), proclaims her an unacceptable partner, and she withdraws humiliated to the moated grange. Moreover, as Marilyn French points out, when Isabella announces that she has visited Angelo's bed, "She opens herself to public contempt for an act she scorns more than anyone else--and indeed, she receives it, immediately, from Lucio, who begins to joke at the expense of a woman he himself called enskied and sainted not too long ago." Marilyn French, Shakespeare's Division of Experience (New York: Ballantine Books, 1981), p. 193.
Critic James Trombetta argues that Isabella's "virginity is restored to her, in turn, when Mariana stands revealed," James Trombetta, "Versions of Dying in Measure for Measure," ELR, 6 (1976), 72. but, due to the persistent nature of slander, such is not the case. Over 150 lines after Mariana divulges that she supplied Isabella's place in the bed-trick, Escalus cries, "Away with those giglets" (5.1.345), thereby referring to both girls as lewd, wanton women (OED 1a). Having admitted that she slept with Angelo, Isabella can never see her virginity truly restored in a communal sense; the act of slander itself is enough to deflower her in the eyes of society. For this reason, slander is associated in the play, and elsewhere in Shakespeare, with penetration by a phallic weapon. For example, early in the play, Vincentio explains to Friar Thomas one reason for his delegation of power to Angelo: "I have on Angelo impos'd the office; / Who may in th'ambush of my name strike home, / And yet my nature never in the fight / To do in slander" (1.3.39-43). In Richard II, Mowbray, arraigned for treason by Bolingbroke, complains that he has been "Pierced to the soul by slander's venom'd spear" (1.1.171) (This quotation refers to The Complete Works of Shakespeare, ed. David Bevington, 4th ed. [New York: HarperCollins, 1992]). In Much Ado About Nothing, Leonato, the father of Hero, another betrothed bride unjustly accused of fornication, charges that Claudio, her accuser, has pierced her with his false allegations:
Thou hast so wrong'd mine innocent child and me,
That I am forc'd to lay my reverence by,
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
I say thou hast belied mine innocent child;
Thy slander hath gone through and through her heart . . . .
(5.1.63-68) Quotations from Much Ado refer to the Arden Shakespeare edited by A.R. Humphreys (London: Methuen, 1981).
Claudio has "wrong'd" Hero through slander, completing a symbolic defloration no less damaging to her reputation than the genuine seductions of Measure for Measure, in which Claudio and Lucio have also "wrong'd" their partners. Tellingly, Much Ado's Claudio must also marry his betrothed at the end of the play, which atones for the sexual injury he has caused her.
In Measure for Measure, the piercing effect of slander is also linked to the Duke, whose high position makes him the target of libelous remarks. After listening disguised to Lucio's denigration of his character, Vincentio states,
No might nor greatness in mortality
Can censure 'scape. Back-wounding calumny
The whitest virtue strikes. What king so strong
Can tie the gall up in a slanderous tongue? (3.2.179-82)
Although the "dribbling dart of love" cannot pierce him, Vincentio does feel stabbed in the back by the "calumny" or slander of Lucio, who has significantly portrayed him as a sexually experienced and permissive ruler: "He had some feeling of the sport; he knew the service; and that instructed him to mercy" (3.2.113-17). Although Vincentio, disguised as the friar, protests, "I have never heard the absent Duke much detected for women; he was not inclined that way" (3.2.118-19), Lucio insists on depicting his liege as a lecherous old man: "The Duke, I say to thee again, would eat mutton on Fridays. He's now past it; yet, and I say to thee, he would mouth with a beggar though she smelt brown bread and garlic" (3.2.174-78). Lucio's slanders permanently besmirch the chaste reputation of the Duke; in effect, they take away his virginity in the public sense, for once spoken, they pierce and adhere to him like a prickly thorn. As Lucio, the embodiment of slander, admits, "Nay, friar, I am a kind of burr, I shall stick" (4.3.177).
If we accept Lucio's slander of Vincentio as a type of sexual crime, we may better understand how Lucio's marriage to Kate Keepdown at the end of the play also serves as his punishment for disparaging the Duke:
Lucio. I beseech your Highness, do not marry me to a whore. Your
Highness said even now, I made you a duke; good my lord, do
not recompense me in making me a cuckold.
Duke. Upon mine honour, thou shalt marry her.
Thy slanders I forgive, and therewithal
Remit thy other forfeits.--Take him to prison
And see our pleasure herein executed.
Lucio. Marrying a punk, my lord, is pressing to death,
Whipping, and hanging.
Duke. Slandering a prince deserves it. (5.1.512-21)
Although Lucio is putatively forced to marry a punk to repair the damage he has done to her, the crime for which he is punished, according to the Duke, is "Slandering a prince." Matrimony may act as the penalty for such an offense because slander is a metaphorical form of illicit seduction, which may only be remedied by "recompense," or marriage to the injured party. Since Lucio may not wed the Duke, Kate Keepdown functions as Vincentio's female surrogate, receiving Lucio's act of atonement on the Duke's behalf. Despite the fact that Kate never appears in Shakespeare's text, both Trevor Nunn's 1991 production at the RSC's The Other Place and Kahn's 1992 version have recently brought her on stage to accept Lucio's restitution of the Duke's good name. Reviews of Nunn's production that mention Kate Keepdown's presence include Robert Smallwood, "Shakespeare at Stratford-upon-Avon, 1991," SQ, 43 (1992), 356 and Irving Wardle, rev. of Measure for Measure, Independent on Sunday 15 March 1992, p. 21. For Kahn's revival, see Johnson-Haddad, p. 467.
Like Vincentio, Isabella is a chaste figure dishonored by slander, and only matrimony can wipe away her stain. Yet who will marry her? In Whetstone, Promos is available to wed Cassandra, whom he has violated, but in Measure for Measure, Angelo must give recompense to Mariana despite the wrong he has also done to Isabella. As the Duke tells her, "For this new-married man approaching here, / Whose salt imagination yet hath wrong'd / Your well defended honour, you must pardon / For Mariana's sake" (5.1.398-401). The Duke, responsible for Isabella's shame in that he advised her to slander herself against her will, must now enforce upon himself the same act of recompense he has mandated for the citizens of Vienna. As Angelo asserts in relation to his condemnation of Claudio, magistrates must be judged by the same laws they impose upon their subjects: "When I that censure him do so offend, / Let mine own judgement pattern out my death, / And nothing come in partial" (2.1.29-31). Vincentio, defending the severity of Angelo's judgement, agrees: "If his own life answer the straitness of his proceeding, it shall become him well: wherein if he chance to fail, he hath sentenced himself" (3.2.249-51). At the end of the play, the Duke must live up to the principle of measure for measure and answer the straitness of his own proceeding by offering recompense to Isabella. I am indebted to William Carroll for pointing out to me that, since Angelo and Mariana are substitutes for Vincentio and Isabella, the bed-trick represents a symbolic sexual union between the Duke and the novice, for which the Duke must take responsibility. Tellingly, Isabella imagines that such an encounter, if she were in Mariana's place, would inevitably produce a bastard child: "I had rather my brother die by the law, than my son should be unlawfully born" (3.1.188-90).
The phrasing of the Duke's two proposals in the final scene suggests that his offer of marriage springs, not from erotic desire, but from a wish to look after Isabella's best interests. After Claudio is revealed to be alive, Vincentio says to her, "If he be like your brother, for his sake / Is he pardon'd; and for your lovely sake / Give me your hand and say you will be mine" (5.1. 488-90). Here the Duke offers to take Isabella's hand in marriage for her sake, not for the sake of his own passion. Moments later, he proposes again with a similar stress on what Isabella stands to gain through the match:
I have a motion much imports your good;
Whereto if you'll a willing ear incline,
What's mine is yours and what is yours is mine (5.1.531-34).
With its emphasis on the "good" that Isabella's marriage to the Duke would bring her, this second proposal echoes Vincentio's explanation to Mariana of why he ordered Angelo to marry her:
Consenting to the safeguard of your honour,
I thought your marriage fit: else imputation,
For that he knew you, might reproach your life,
And choke your good to come. (5.1.417-20).
In fact, this speech applies equally as well to the novice: the imputation that Isabella has slept with Angelo has brought her reproach, and the Duke thinks her marriage appropriate to prevent the choking of her "good" to come. In this case, Isabella's good includes not only the status and financial rewards associated with being a duchess ("What's mine is yours"), but also the public restoration of her honor, something that a return to the nunnery cannot offer her, since the convent frequently offers a refuge to those women whose good names are damaged beyond repair. As the Friar in Much Ado tells Leonato, if Claudio will not repent his slander of Hero, "you may conceal her, / As best befits her wounded reputation, / In some reclusive and religious life, / Out of all eyes, tongues, minds, and injuries" (4.1.240-43). Thus, a return to the convent might shield Isabella from the public consequences of her "wounded reputation," but only the Duke's self-imposed act of recompense offers her a way to recapture her honor in the eyes of Viennese society.
Even though the text of Measure for Measure does not offer evidence that the Duke's proposal of marriage stems from love for Isabella, it is not surprising that modern productions often interpolate such feelings, given that our current conception of matrimony presupposes a mutual romantic attachment. The play allows, but does not demand, such a motivation, an ambiguity which implies that other textually supportable interpretations are also possible. Since the play insistently reiterates the Renaissance notion of matrimony as a form of recompense for sexual offenses, it seems worthwhile for directors to consider this alternative motivation and the performance choices that might make this impetus to marriage manifest in the theater. To conclude, I would like to offer an option for the staging of the final scene of the play that derives from a recent tendency in productions to bring the bastard children of Claudio and Lucio into the action.
Before Isabella arrives for the first time to plead for her brother, the Provost questions Angelo about Claudio's imminent execution and the disposition of his pregnant lover: "What shall be done, sir, with the groaning Juliet? / She's very near her hour" (2.2.15-16). As Louise Schleiner points out, this passage indicates that Juliet is in labor, so by the end of the play, at least a day and a half later, she has probably delivered the child and "may appear [in 5.1] holding the new baby." Louise Schleiner, "Providential Improvisation in Measure for Measure," PMLA, 97 (1982), 234. Indeed, Juliet does appear with her child at the conclusion of the 1978 BBC-TV version directed by Desmond Davis:
She entered carrying an infant, and her entrance came immediately after Lucio was taken off to be married [5.1.521]. That repositioning set up a contrast between Juliet's silence, Lucio's talkativeness, and the wail that announced the infant's presence even before it was visible. Davis' relocation of Juliet's entrance also gave to the reunion of the two lovers . . . greater prominence than would be possible if she had entered with Barnardine and Claudio [at l.475]. Babe in arms, Juliet entered from the rear of the crowd and proceed-ed on her own down the lane they formed for her. As she approached the foot of the slightly raised platform on which the Duke sat, Claudio stepped toward her and they embraced. McGuire, p. 76. The promptbook for John Blatchley's 1962 production at Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare Centre Library Promptbook Meas. 9) includes a stage direction enjoining Claudio to take his sister to Juliet and show Isabella their child. According to Roger Allam, who acted the part of the Duke, the baby also appeared in Nicholas Hytner's 1987 RSC production ("The Duke in Measure for Measure," Players of Shakespeare 3: Further essays in Shakespearean performance by players with the Royal Shakespeare Company, ed. Russell Jackson and Robert Smallwood [Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993], p. 40).
Similarly, Michael Kahn's 1992 production not only brought Kate Keepdown onto the stage, but also her illegitimate child: "In an amusing piece of business, Lucio's punk, Kate Keepdown, appeared at the end of the play, with babe in arms, and she shrieked with delight when the Duke ordered Lucio to marry her." Johnson-Haddad, p. 467. Although both productions embody the bastard children mentioned in the text, the child is not the focus of concern in either staging; Davis chooses to highlight "the reunion of the two lovers," Claudio and Juliet, while Kahn uses Kate's shriek to concentrate attention on her delight at her upcoming nuptials. Neither performance makes use of the text's preoccupation with the financial support of bastards and the damaged but reparable reputations of their mothers.
The following projected staging adapts some of the techniques used by Davis and Kahn but gears them towards the expression of the concept of recompense as the motive behind the Duke's proposal. Near the beginning of the scene, Isabella enters and accuses Angelo of having blackmailed her into giving up her chastity. The Duke, pretending to disbelieve the charges, cries, "To prison with her!" (5.1.124), at which point Isabella is seized by guards and pelted with debris by jeering onlookers, staining her white garment. Isabella continues to wear these tainted robes even after the bed-trick comes to light and Claudio is revealed to be alive. When the Duke turns upon Lucio, announcing that he will be forced to marry the woman "Whom he begot with child," Kate Keepdown emerges from the crowd and ceremoniously presents the ragged toddler to its father. Approximately ten lines later, Claudio is reunited with Juliet, who in turn hands over his bastard child to him while the Duke orders, "She, Claudio, that you wrong'd, look you restore." The repetition of this gesture may help indicate to spectators that the enforced marriages at the end of the play are designed by the Duke to recuperate the image of the wronged women and insure that their bastard children have a father to support them. Moments later, Vincentio turns to Isabella to offer his second proposal of matrimony; before speaking, he looks at the other three couples, registering in his own mind the ways in which he has compelled the young men to live up to their responsibilities and therefore how he must, as a just ruler, accept his own. A photo of the Duke's first proposal accompanying Roger Allam's essay (p. 39) shows Vincentio and Isabella facing each other a few feet apart. In the background, framed by the two primary figures, Claudio and Juliet share an embrace in which they mutually cradle their newborn child. The placement of the figures in this tableau shows how easily the young couple's actions can be used to comment visually on the nature of the relationship between the Duke and Isabella. As he wipes the stain from Isabella's garment, he offers her marriage, a means by which the public acknowledgement of her virtue may be restored. The novice, with no other way to recapture her precious honor, accepts. As with any performance created in the mind of a critic rather than in the theater, there are material problems with this staging that might make it difficult to put into practice (i.e. the staining and wiping clean of Isabella's gown). I put it forward, however, as an option that other critics and directors might consider and adapt in other, more practical ways (through lighting effects, for example) that I may not have imagined.
Such a staging avoids one of the problems that plagues any production of the play that attempts to convince us that the Duke proposes to Isabella out of love: the stark contrast between those couples united by romantic sentiment and those thrust together without reciprocal affection. Much of the historically troubled reaction of critics and theatergoers to the conclusion of Measure for Measure stems from the way in which the juxtaposition of these disparate unions makes the ending in multiple weddings seem inconsistent and forced. As David Bevington writes in his introduction to the play,
Of the concluding marriages, two are foisted on the bridegrooms (Angelo and Lucio) against their wills, whereas that of the Duke and Isabella jars oddly with his stoical teachings and with her previous determination to be a nun. The ending thus seems arbitrary; both justice and romantic happiness are so perilously achieved in this play that they seem inconsistent with the injustice and lechery that have prevailed until the last. p. 404.
Plainly, if one assumes that matrimony is motivated by mutual desire, the marriages of Angelo and Lucio do not fit this mold, and a blatant disparity arises between those alliances and the "love-matches" obtained by Claudio and the Duke. Furthermore, as Bevington notes, attributing amorous passion to both Vincentio and Isabella at the end of the play clashes with everything the text tells us about them before, which makes us doubt that a sense of "romantic happiness" has been achieved in Vienna. To erase this disparity, I suggest that a production need not strive make the play conform to the conventions of romantic comedy, in which marriage represents the culmination of erotic desire. If one avoids importing the modern notion that a proposal of matrimony necessarily indicates love, one may see how all of the marriages that conclude Measure for Measure are equally rooted in a Renaissance acknowledgement of the need for recompense for sexual crimes, even in the case of Claudio and Juliet, where reciprocal affection also exists. The comic satisfactions that arise from such an ending lie, not in the joyous celebration of romantic love, but in the pleasure we as spectators receive from seeing the men of Vienna, including the Duke, justly accept responsibility for their own deeds.