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Throughout Measure for Measure Escalus can be seen to have two contrasting roles in the play. Many see him as a superficial, unimportant character that plays no significant role in the play, but by others he is seen to be a crucial character that has a major impact on the main plot. This essay will discuss these two views in detail and how they develop and express different approaches to the play.
Escalus’ name means scales and the title of the play Measure Fore Measure suggests that it is a play of balance and judgement.
Throughout the play Escalus in many ways is often seen as a byword of rational justice in the play;
“Well, heaven forgive him, and forgive us all
Some rise by virtue and some by virtue fall
Here he physically displays his role of a balancer by using rhyme and equal sentences, being someone who does not go to extremes and who gives reason. Some may argue that he is the character whose personality and ways are at mid-point between the Duke and his easy going and lenient conduct and Angelo’s severe and strict discipline.
In a way he can be seen as a kind and gentle hearted man who will show mercy where needed. When Angelo shows his strict and “cold” view that “We should not make a scarecrow of the law”, Escalus tries to give him advise to be more yielding and gentle with the people of Vienna;
“Let us be keen and rather cut a little
Then fall, and bruise to death” (p20)
As well as a kind-hearted man he is also seen to be very formative, but at the same time fair in the way is does this.
When the low life character Pompey and Froth are brought before him for the first time, he listens well and offers them his wise and rational judgement, an almost fatherly approach. After listening to Pompey, he explains that if he is brought before him again, he will be punished in some way; so on this occasion lets him free. Later on in the play, he is brought to Escalus again and so he is arrested and punished accordingly. This shows how Escalus is firm but fair at the same time as he follows through with his earlier threats.
Also at this point when the low life characters are brought to him, he is seen to be extremely patient. Angelo almost immediately looses patience with the two men and shows his lack of lenience and his casual brutality by informing Escalus that he hopes they have done something that is worth whipping them for. This suggests that Angelo is not good and this sort of thing and so leaves Escalus in charge of punishing them, which shows him to have a positive reputation in sorting out others problems. Escalus at this point has much mare patience and offers them a chance to say what they have come to say without question, and gives out fair punishments showing righteousness and justice.
From Reading the play, Escalus, in many ways could be seen to take the role of the narrator, prï¿½cising the movements and actions of characters and commenting on what is happening. For example, in the final act he expresses the audiences’ view, possibly to ensure that Angelo’s actions are apparent to everyone in the audience and to inform them how they should react to and feel about it.
” I am sorry one so learned and so wise
As you, Lord Angelo, have still appeared,
Should slip so grossly, both in the heat of blood
And lack of tempered judgement” (p100-1)
Social snobbery could be seen within the character of Escalus when Pompey and Froth are brought before him. From the moment he finds out that Froth is a man of some wealth and a ‘gentleman, he only provides him with a mild rebuke. This is similar to his view on Claudio’s fate for the reason that he also is a man who comes from a good family and has wealth behind him, he says he
“Had a most noble father” (p20)
On the other hand, this was a general view held at this time in society. The word gentleman comes from the Middle English concept of ‘gentlillesse’, which was a cipher of chivalry and honour thought to be followed by rich people, like Escalus.
In a way many believe that Escalus can be a very sympathetic man who turns these feelings towards Claudio. He asks the provost to “furnish (him) with divines and have all charitable preparation” (pg 61). If Claudio’s fate were left to Escalus, his choice would be to let him free, showing Angelo to be a very stringent and cold-hearted character in comparison.
” If my brother wrought by my pity, it should not be so with him.” (pg 61)
Here he could be seen, as been the courageous and moral character, challenging Angelo in his attempt to defend Claudio. He asks Angelo whether he has ever committed the same sin as what Claudio is about to be executed for;
” Whether you had not sometime in your llife
Erred in this point which now your censure him
And pulled the law upon you.” (p20)
Conversely, some may argue that Escalus does not provide a strong enough defence to save Claudio’s life. However, here he could be thinking ahead and showing that as soon as disorder comes about, his voice of reason and justice was not actually listened too.
Throughout the play, Escalus seems to be in some ways diplomatic, choosing his words very carefully, using very formal language and showing much politeness and courtesy towards The Duke;
“If any in Vienna be of worth
To undergo such ample, grace and honour
It is Lord Angelo” (pg 6)
At this point, he appears to be agreeing with the Dukes opinion, but how he carefully chooses his words may suggest something else; that no one in Vienna has the abilty and do not hold the worthiness and honour to take the role of the Duke into their hands (except for the reining Duke).
Overall, Many argue that Escalus is one of the most important character that plays a major role the plays overall plot and meaning. This is shown through his attitude and the way he presents himself to the other character in the play and through the way he attempt to judge and balance things out with justice and honour.
However, he could be seen to be the unimportant character that plays no significant role in the play. In many ways through how he can be seen as superficial, only concerned about the surface of matters and his appearance to others.
In my opinion, Escalus plays a crucial role in Measure for Measure, and provides the play with some kind justice and honour, rather than deceitful actions and secrecy.
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