Discuss how Shakespeare uses language and dramatic techniques for character development in Act 2 Scene 2 of Measure for Measure. Shakespeare uses a variety of linguistic devices and dramatic techniques for character development from Act 2 Scene 2 to Scene 4.
We see Angelo’s precise, business-like persona transform to temptation, and final cruelty whilst we see the true, confident side of Isabella as as she attempts to convince Angelo to reverse his judgement, but eventually loses her ignorant hope on the realisation of his true ‘purpose’.
In Act 2 Scene 2 Shakespeare portrays Angelo as precise, intelligently dealing with the pleas of Isabella to save the life of her brother by reversing the death sentence that has been handed down to him. The scene begins with the Provost and Angelo discussing Claudio’s punishment.
The Provost dares to ask Angelo if he really wants Claudio murdered, ‘All sects, all ages smack of this vice, and he to die for’t!’, and Angelo states that he does, ‘Did not I tell yea? Hast thou no order? Why dost thou ask again? ’. Shakespeare instantly uses dramatic technique of foreshadowing the conflict that is to follow through the sharp words exchanged between the two. Provost then asks what’s to be done with the woman he got pregnant, Juliet.
Angelo still refuses to relent, and says that Juliet, who is in labour, should go to a more fitting place, away from everything that is going on ‘Dispose of her To some more fitter place’ Shakespeare’s lexical choice conveys his ruthless nature to the audience, in this context would mean ‘send her away’, but of course reading the text using more modern language; ‘dispose’ is an unpleasant word, especially when referring to a human being, where it seems incongruous, especially in reference to a pregnant woman, thus subtly foreshadowing the revealing of Angelo’s animalistic nature later in the scene.
Angelo also calls Juliet a ‘fornicatress’, the harsh constanents of the name once again conjuring the theme that is constantly present through the play, that of appearance versus reality. Although Juliet appears from Angelo’s quick appraisal to be just a sinful person, her reality is far more complex; she is much better than most women of the time, she is not a prostitute or adulterer, rather her only fault was not securing a marriage contract before she slept with her fiancee.
She is actually a woman of strength and principle, not the simple sinner that Angelo’s developing harsh, cruel character reduces her to. Isabella comes to see Angelo innocently, as shy as she appeared in her first scene at the nunnery, and begins to plead with him for Claudio’s life, ‘I have a brother is condemned to die. I do beseech you, let it be his fault, And not my brother’. Angelo is portrayed to be business-like and unrelenting, ‘Condemn the fault, and not the actor of it?
Why, every fault’s condemned ere it be done’ but Lucio urges her to persist, encouraging her ‘Ay, touch him, there’s the vein’ acting as a kind of Greek chorus for the audience. She does, and calls upon Angelo’s pity, mercy, and moderation; she recognises that Angelo has the power to enforce the law in full, but impresses upon him that one must use power with moderation.
Isabella’s strategy is a keen one, trying to persuade Angelo to have the same mercy for her brother that she has. Once again, the issue of mercy is urged upon Angelo, as is the theme of human weakness, which all, Isabella stresses, fall victim to.
Her character is portrayed as increasingly canny, when she has to be; her argument is strong and persuasive, although it is not her argument that causes Angelo to relent, but his attraction to her. Isabella also touches upon the theme of use of power; ‘it is excellent to have a giant’s strength,’ she tells Angelo, ‘but it is tyrannous to use it as a giant’, making an allusion to ‘Jove’ to demonstrate her point – even the gods, with tremendous power, know how best to use their awesome abilities.
This is another lesson that Angelo’s character must learn; for although he can use the law to its full extent if he wishes, he has to learn how to temper his power with mercy and heed moderation. Comparing the characters of Angelo and Isabella, one could argue that Isabella is ‘the symbol of goodness and mercy set against a background of moral decay’.
Alternatively, one could see her character as self-righteous and hypocritical, as we later discover when she values her chastity higher than her brother’s life. Isabella continues arguing with Angelo until he finally relents and tells her to come back the next day to hear his judgement.
Everyone leaves, and Angelo speaks a rather striking soliloquy, apparently talking to himself ‘…what art thou Angelo? Dost thou desire her foully for those things that make her good? ’. Thus, through Shakespeare’s staging, we learn that Angelo admits to himself that he is in love with Isabella because of her virtue and purity. Often characters in Shakespeare’s plays have soliloquies but they do not often refer to themselves in third person and when they do, it is often a sign of madness. Perhaps Shakespeare is suggesting this as a sign for Angelo.
What is certain is that he is struggling with an inward battle between what he knows he should do and what he desires to do, as his develops and starts questioning the morality of his own character. It is with great irony that Isabella’s call to Angelo to mark the weaknesses in his own heart is answered by Angelo’s acknowledgement that he is tempted by Isabella. It is this temptation that brings from Angelo his first statement of mercy toward Claudio: ‘O, let her brother live!
Thieves for their robbery have authority when judges steal themselves!’ Shakespeare shows how Angelo realises that with experience of one’s own weakness comes mercy for others’ failings; however, he soon ignores this lesson, and falls into hypocrisy in Act 2 Scene 4. In this scene, Isabella comes back the next day as Angelo had asked, and he begins by saying that Claudio must die.
Isabella begins to leave, but Angelo begins to tempt her to save her brother, by offering herself instead. Isabella ignorantly misunderstands Angelo’s subtle sexual offer, and he is forced to tell her plainly that if she sleeps with him he will let Claudio live.
Angelo accuses her of hypocrisy, and they discuss the frailty of women. In terms of character development in this scene, Angelo begins in a state of agitation, pondering why he cannot pray and with a new awareness of how the appearance of things might not be true to reality. Where before Angelo was unified in his intentions and actions, he has now become internally divided, ‘O place, O form, How often does thou with thy case, thy habit, Wrench awe from fools, and tie the wiser souls to thy false seeming!
Blood, thou art blood. ’- questioning the power of authority, position and outward appearance to convince even wise men that false men are virtuous. Shakespeare uses language of coercion, ‘wrench’ and ‘tie’, and apostrophe – ‘O place, O form’ to perhaps illustrate the sophisticated and baffling nature of false appearances. Shakespeare also shows how Angelo is beginning to seduce Isabella with subtle and ambiguous lexis, but moving more and more towards blunt, harsh and animalistic discourse as the scene progresses.
‘I have begun, and now I give my sensual race the rein’; Shakespeare shows how Angelo has almost been possessed by his animal side. This is perhaps emphasised by the use of horse imagery, ‘race the rein’, as well as the use of plosives and dentals ‘fit they consent to my sharp appetite’, drawing attention to his teeth and lips, reinforcing his sexual lust and passion for Isabella. When Isabella enters, however, she meekly accepts Angelo’s judgement, but as the scene progresses she continues to find her voice.
As Angelo descends into sensuality, she seems to become more pious and religously extreme, almost swapping roles with Angelo. ‘Th’ impression of keen whips I’d wear as rubies, and strip myself to death’ – Shakespeare uses images of love, death and falgellation to express her disgust at the idea of submitting to Angelo. Though the sentiment is spiritual, the language and images are highly physical, suggesting that her character would resist the carnal sexuality by yielding herself to more gruesome lovers: torture and death.
Her innocence is also shattered by Angelo’s crass offer – she seems shocked to find out that justice might not be as perfect as it appears. Her naivety is gradually stripped away as Angelo easily overcomes her threat to expose him, and she sees that virtue does not necessarily triumph over iniquity. Yet, she still has ignorant faith in the honour of her brother, Claudio, and trusts that he will defend her honour even at the cost of his life.
Courtney from Study Moose
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