Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure is a play that is hard to like. It is stark, structured, and monotoned in dialogue and plot. The characters within the play are overwhelming disgusting specimens of humanity who are one dimension characters which seem to not be fully developed. Central character, The Duke, is a cruel and calculating leader that is more like a puppet master than a living, breathing man. He is responsible for manipulating the characters’ and free will within the play, Measure for Measure.
The Duke’s actions are morally wrong.
While The Duke claims his motivations are pure and he is trying to observe the governance of Vienna, there are other motives. The Duke likes to control people, by pretending to be a Friar is able to emotional rape and manipulate people and their free will. The Duke, who lives Italy, is in charge and it is his civic duty to maintain order. However, he seems unable to do so on his own.
He employs the indifferent and unemotional Lord Angelo to carry out the gruesome work as punisher. The Duke, instead, decides that he should go out and mingle with his citizens.
He decides to dress like and pretend to be a Friar. Lord Angelo, like many corrupt official, becomes intoxicating with power, using it for his own gain. The Duke shrugs off his duties to another individual which is obviously not trust worthy. He does this because he is lazy and is not entirely comfortable with enforcing the law. The Duke believes that he is incapable of enforcing the law himself and therefore his authority is reduced. He comments, to Thomas, “our decrees, / Dead to infliction, to themselves are dead, / And Liberty plucks Justice by the nose” (1. 3. 27-29).
Thomas responds “It rested in your Grace / To unloose this tied-up Justice when you pleased” (1. 3. 31-32). It is clear that Thomas also believes that The Duke has intentionally stop doing the job he is responsible for. The Duke acknowledges Thomas’ point and explains that he wants to remain a kind leader and not one known for punishment. He states “‘Twould be my tyranny to strike and gall them / For what I bid them do; for we bid this be done / When evil deeds have their permissive pass, / And not the punishment” (1.
3. 36-39). Instead of completing his civic duties, The Duke chooses to go down to the prison and pretends to be a Friar. In pretending to be a religious figure he breaking the trust which individuals place in God and the people who are chosen to represent God. His behavior is questionable and his motives are clear — he wants to be a voyeur. He claims he wants to be closer to the people he was chosen to lead however, this is the ultimate control.
The Duke is supposed to be civic minded and ethical yet he easily chooses to deceive the people, in prison, that need him, whether a Friar or a Leader, him most. As he takes people’s confessions he taunts them. For example when he speaks with Juliet who has conceived out of wedlock, his approach is callus. The Duke informs her that it is her fault the man, Claudio, she loves will be punished by Lord Angelo through execution. Then the Duke talks to Claudio, and advises him that he should just give up hope of life and seeking Juliet again and hoped he is “prepared to die” (3. 1. 4).
This is followed by a long, unemotional speech about how life is not worth living and that nothing in life really matters, as way to encourage Claudius to be thankful for his early demise. The Duke is not done yet, he continues to make people believe he is a Friar and uses this power to manipulate them. The Duke becomes aware that Claudio’s sister, a virgin, has agreed to have sex with him. In doing so, Lord Angelo has agreed that Claudio will not be killed. Isabella explains the situation to her brother. However, The Duke insists on listening.
He requires the prison to offer him a “concealed” (3. 1. 53) spot. Eventually, The Duke reveals himself and claims that Lord Angelo was never serious and “had never the purpose to corrupt her; only he hath made an assay of her virtue to practice his judgment with the disposition of natures” (3. 1. 161-164). Once again The Duke is manipulating the lives of the people he is supposed to protect and look after. He creates situations and causes people to react in certain ways. He is amused and satisfied with himself.
The Duke then tells Claudio that his execution will happen. Then The Duke changes his mind and decides that he will sleep with Lord Angelo’s ex finance instead of Isabella. The Duke insists that this is a good thing because “the doubleness of the benefit defends the deceit from reproof” (3. 2. 262-263). The Duke’s manipulations continue when Lord Angelo demands that Claudio be executed and The Duke suggests that they should just substitute another inmate for Claudio. Even after Claudio’s live is saved, The Duke insists on telling Isabella that Claudio is dead.
It is morally unacceptable that The Duke pretends to be a Friar. While The Duke claims that he is monitoring Lord Angelo’s virtue as a governorship it is clear that The Duke has his own motives in pretending and ease dropping. He believes that he has the power to a be a puppet master and pull the strings of everyone below him. If The Duke’s true motive was in measuring how well Lord Angelo is doing his job, he would have confronted him much sooner then he actually does. The Duke inflicts unnecessary harm on people for his own pleasure and feeding of his own ego.