Dramatic portrayal of Duke in Measure for Measure

Categories: Measure for Measure

In Measure for Measure, Shakespeare presents Duke Vincentio in the opening scene as an authoritive figure; he is highly respected and he is referred to as "My Lord". The audience immediately understands that the Duke is the central character in the play. In the very first instance the Duke's choice of words, his use of pronouns such as "we, our, government, justice and unfolds" reflects his presence and control. The Duke emerges as a problematic character for this is suggested by his searching questions regarding Angelo; "for what figure of us you think he will bear?" which raises uncertainties and questions in the mind of the audience as we speculate why he is leaving so rapidly and secretly as he will:

"privy away. I love the people

But do not like to stage me to their eyes"

(Act I Scene ii)

The play opens with the Duke deciding to appoint Angelo to govern Vienna in his absence:

"For you must know, we have with a special soul

Elected him our absence to supply"

(Act I Scene I)

The Duke makes it clear that Angelo's qualities are very obvious for all see.

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He thinks, "There is a kind of character in they life" which Angelo should use to the utmost. At this point the Duke seems very decisive, his authoritive role certainly takes motion here, it seems at this point that the Duke has everything well planned and organised. Shakespeare moves the play on rapidly and as the Duke leaves Vienna, the audience gradually realises the state that the city is left in.

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in scene two the conversation between the gentlemen emphasizes this vividly, they accuse each other of gaining sexual transmitted diseases. We learn that people like Lucio, also utilizes the services of "Mistress Mitigation":

"I have purchased as many diseases under her roof as to come"

(Act I Scene ii)

The fact that these men are comparing amount of diseases they have gained gives impression of the City of Vienna as being in total moral decay. Later it is believed that "the strict deputy" has ordered for the arrest of young Claudio for it IS "for getting madam Juliet with child". They later learn that Angelo has ordered for the brothels to be shut "as there is a change indeed in the common wealth" the new governor comes across to people as one who has strict moral values. However they are still not concerned about the fact that the brothel is to be shut but "though you change your place you need not to change your trade" at this point the people do not realise how very wrong they are. The incidents following the conversation between the gentlemen and Mistress Overdone as well as the arrests of Claudio and Juliet reflects appallingly on the Duke's rein over the City. The Duke's hasty departure makes the audience feel uneasy about him.

It makes them realise how weak the Duke is even though he has infinite power to do absolute anything in the City. In scene three, Shakespeare using the Duke's character to portray the whole notion, we get this impression by the "dribbling dart of love". This suggests that the Duke has an association with a romantic past regardless of this he assures the friar that his problems are nothing to do with love but infact more serious matters. The Duke confides in the friar and gives him an explanation as to why he wishes to go into disguise. He also informs the friar that he has handed over his authority to

"A man of stricture and firm abstinence,

My absolute power and place here in Vienna"

(Act 1 Scene 3)

The Duke's disguise from Duke to friar is very surprising to the audience we see the way the Dukes deceitful mind operates as he has planned this whole charade.

This scene reveals a private side to the Duke's character; we see that the Duke acknowledges his flaw and weakness in his governing of Vienna. We also see a more devious and manipulative side to him, his testing of Angelo's character gives this impression and evidently the audience gradually begins to see the Duke as a politician. Shakespeare doesn't really introduce the Duke in a very friendly manner at the beginning of the play; hence we begin to form all types of conclusions about his character. However, his disguise really crucial, through the code of the friar we see that the Duke has lost control over his rein of the city. He as well as the audience sees this through his disguise. The audience is given a private glimpse into the Duke in which he admits his flaws and accepts his weaknesses. His disguise creates dramatic irony the fact that Lucio constantly slanders the Duke in front of the friar unknowingly that the friar is reality is the Duke creates a sense of dramatic tension between them and it also reveals the fault of the Dukes rein as:

"The baby beats the nurse, and quite athwart

Goes all decorum"

(Act 1 Scene iii)

The Dukes makes a mistake in connection to his identity he says:

"Hail you provost - so think you are"

(Act ii Scene iii)

and he immediately recovers his mistake, we begin to wonder whether this signifies the loss of his authority in Vienna, and whether Shakespeare has this deliberate mistake to emphasise this. The Duke is "bound by his charity and blessed order" as he pays a visit to the "afflicted" spirits to learn the nature of their crime so that he may minister them according. He sees Juliet and asks her to:

"Repent you, friar one, one the sin you carry"

(Act ii Scene iii)

He asks her to confess about her crime and is possibly willing to give her some advice. At this point the Duke raises doubts in the minds of the audience, we are uncertain of the tone of voice he uses whether it is of a friar or that of a machiavellian Duke. The fact that he notifies Juliet that Claudio must die makes him appear as a more problematic character then ever. Despite this we see again the same type of a confused Duke when he speaks to Pompey out of disgust:

"Fie, sirrah, a bawd, a wicked bawd!"

(Act iii Scene ii)

His speeches to both Juliet and Pompey confuses as to what character does the Duke speak out from the Duke or the friar and this in a way distances us from the Duke as we see that instead of him coming out and taking matters into his own hands he does something to the contrary and infact causes me problem then is. The Duke then visits Claudio and instead comforting him he asks Claudio to "be absolute for death". He eaves drops on the conversation of Isabella which detachments us from his good qualities and makes him appear as a devious Duke.

He uses the eaves drop technique to gather information. Further more the Duke acquaints Claudio with the thought of "do not satisfy your resolution with hopes" which strikes the audience as a cruel intention., he takes away the glimpse of hope from him. Surprisingly, the Duke even though in the state of the friar's state he begins to flirt with Isabella he compares her to a "goodness that is cheap in beauty". The Duke is left alone with Isabella, he informs her about the plans involving a woman called Mariana, and he further reveals that in place of her, Mariana will be placed in the bed with Angelo. He enlightens her with his plan about the "bed trick" and explains that this will not only save Claudio, but also retain Mariana's love and maintain Isabella's virginity. Immediately we confirm that the Duke is rather hypocritical after accuses Pompey of sexual disorder. He displays the notion of corruption at the top and bottom of the hierarchical stage.

The undercurrent, of this event makes both Isabella and the Duke two insincere figures, they both who are presumed to be pure and holy are undoubabley not. The Duke is truly seen as a opinionated figure because would lower himself to any means to achieve the desired outcome. At the end of the scene there is a turning point in the character of the Duke, the observer plays an active role in this scene as we see more then we are told. Lucio seems like a key figure in the relation to the Dukes false identity. He constantly slanders the Duke, which gives the play and scene its dramatic tension and creates comedy in the play. The Dukes vital speech in the form of a soliloquy, his speech is put in a prose context that signifies its importance.

His speech is put in a rhyming couplet, this scene is rich irony. The Duke is forced to apply "craft against vice" we begin to wonder if the Duke is forced to make the decisions in order for him to achieve the correct outcome. Shakespeare creates a great sense dramatic anxiety in Act four. He decides to visit Mariana at the moated grange. Isabella arrives there and the Duke with Isabella talks privately. Isabella informs the Duke that she has agreed to meet Angelo. The Duke allows Isabella to explain the devious "bed trick" to Mariana. When the Duke asks Mariana

"Do you persuade your self that I

Respect you?"

(Act 4 Scene I)

Raises doubts in the mind of the audience as to do we really respect him?. Never the less Mariana agrees to the bed trick and the Duke enlightens her with the fact that she is not committing a sin in fact commencing their marriage as they are technically promised to each other. The Dukes devious plan goes into motion and works to a certain extent, he seems pleased about the plan, but they are instantly hints that his plans about to go wrong. Angelo has ordered execution of Claudio immediately and demands hid head to be delivered to him at once. The Duke instantly reacts to this situation and asks the provost to do him a favour and spare Claudio's head, instead deliver the drunkard prisoners head. The idea perplexed the provost but the "Friar" responds with a positive attitude a produces a letter informing him of the Dukes arrival within 2 days. The content of the letter manages to convince the provost. Both plans of the Duke are presented to be underhand to the audience and he comes across being "the old fantastical Duke of dark corners". The old prisoner fails to prepare himself for death and the Duke arrives dressed as a friar to prepare him. Regardless of this he fails. The Duke gets very angry and for the first time we see a more controlling figure of him. Barnardine displays the metaphor of the "baby beats the nurse" as a result of this it reflects appallingly on the Dukes reign.

Ultimately, the Duke decides to return home, however, he wishes to enter the city on the exact antithesis that he left in. he thanks Escalus and Angelo for their noble work, but then is approached by Isabella and asked to grant "justice, justice, justice, justice!". The Duke asks Angelo and Escalus to form an inquiry into this matter. They both ask for the "friar" to come "hither". Lucio then unmasks the Duke. This creates tension for the audience because we see Lucio is now shamed of slandering the Duke constantly, this also gives it a comedy element. We begin to wonder whether the Duke is really a changed man, we get this idea from the fact that all the lies he has told Isabella makes us wonder whether the Duke is capable of delivering equal justice. Moreover, the Duke realises the extent of his corruption:

"Dare no more stretch this finger of mine then he dare wreck his


(Act 5 scene 1)

Gradually, the Duke realises the faults of his government in contrastingly he appears to be of a more god like figure after his facade was revealed, Angelo's speech:

"When I perceive your grace like power divine,

Hath looked upon my passes"

(Act 5 scene 1)

There is the whole notion of the Dukes power that is certainly restored. Shakespeare portrays the Duke in a more theoretical directorial manner, he tells people where to stand and what to say, he advises Angelo to take the beloved Mariana's hand in marriage, he advises the provost to bring the spared prisoners, and informs them that he will be promoted to a better job, he enlightens Isabella

"Your Friar is now your prince: as I was then,"

(Act 5 scene 1)

Everyone is brought to justice all except Lucio; he is punished by marrying the maiden "he got with child". Simultaneously Shakespeare elucidates the fact that the Duke is delivering justice to all:

" Haste still paste haste, and leisure answers


Like doth quit like, and measure still for measure"

(Act 5 scene 1)

In conclusion I believe Shakespeare introduces dramatic tension to the play via the Dukes dublatandro character. We see the flaws and the disorder of government through the eyes of the Duke. The Dukes conversations and devious plans outline the nature of a deteriorating government. We see that the Duke has tried to put everything in order; all but one at the end Lucio isn't given the right to speak. Although the Duke has used an inappropriate motive to achieve its desired outcome, nothing has changed. This is possibly what Shakespeare tries to portray, that maybe we would prefer a kind ruler than a strict one, and he also makes us understand that natural politicians go about any means to chief a desired outcome. Therefore, to a large extent I believe I find the Dukes character dramatically interesting, we constantly see the shift in the personality of the Dukes character, and in times we sympathise with him and his situation. The events transform our eyes from someone who is shifty and devious to someone who dispenses firm justice, but justice that is tempered with mercy.

Updated: May 03, 2023
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Dramatic portrayal of Duke in Measure for Measure. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/find-dramatically-interesting-shakespeares-presentation-duke-play-measure-measure-new-essay

Dramatic portrayal of Duke in Measure for Measure essay
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