Comparing Measure Essay

1989 words - 8 pages

What is comedy? Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia says: "A comedy depicts the follies and absurdities of human beings." Webster's Dictionary defines comedy as: "A drama or narrative with a happy ending." Shakespeare's play, Measure for Measure, fits both of these descriptions. Follies and absurdities are present in the play: Lucio slanders the Duke, not realizing that his crude remarks are being spoken to the Duke himself; Angelo abuses his power thinking that the Duke is not present to know; and Ragozine happens to die in prison the day a head is needed to substitute for Claudio's. The play also ends on several merry notes, consistent with the definition of comedy. For example, ...view middle of the document...

Sometimes, instead of the law, the play starts with a mood of deep gloom that is the main obstacle the comic action must overcome. Twelfth Night, for example, opens with Duke Orsino's love melancholy, evident from his first lines: "If music be the food of love, play on/ Give me excess of it, that surfeiting,/ The appetite may sicken, and so die" (Twelfth Night, I, I, 1-3). The depression prevalent in Twelfth Night also affects two female characters, Olivia and Viola, who are in mourning for their dead brothers. The melancholic barriers in Twelfth Night are similar to the obstacles presented by the harsh rule of Angelo in Measure for Measure. The ugly law of fornication that is strictly enforced by Angelo scowls at the characters in Measure for Measure from the beginning, and Angelo's temperament, in both his incorruptible and later phases, ensures that there will be enough gloom.

Like Portia in The Merchant of Venice, the Duke in Measure for Measure disguises himself in order to intervene and turn the tide of the near-tragic plot. Some critics, however, have a difficult time accepting the crafty Duke because he tricks and manipulates everybody in the play. However, like the Christian idea of "providence" bringing events about in an unlikely and unexpected way, the Duke's mysterious and unusual workings eventually lead to a deep benevolence. In the long run nobody in the play is physically hurt; the Duke shows mercy by punishing Lucio and Angelo only with marriage, and even the condemned criminal Barnardine is set free, except that he has another friar attached to him. Like Rosalind, who masquerades as a male in As You Like It in order to test Orlando and manipulate the other characters, the disguised Duke serves as a puppeteer in the play, and tests the quality of his subjects. Angelo, the hypocrite, and Lucio, the liar, fail but are penalized lightly and forgiven to keep with the comic ideal, while both Isabella and Escalus pass. The Duke, like the majority of Shakespeare's disguised comedic characters, affects the outcome of the play, which parallels Measure for Measure with other Shakespearean comedies.

In Measure for Measure, like in The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night, there is a clown-like character or characters who adds humor to the plot. The Merchant of Venice has Lancelot, As You Like It has Touchstone, Twelfth Night has Feste and his humorous lower-class friends, and Measure for Measure has Pompey, who is accompanied by other comic ruffians, the most prominent being Lucio. What Pompey and Lucio do in Measure for Measure is similar to all of the other mischievous characters mentioned: they make the audience laugh. Lucio does three humorous actions to liven up the plot: first, he slanders the Duke, unknowingly to the Duke himself; second, he serves as a cheerleader during Isabella's first encounter with Angelo; and finally, he makes rude yet amusing remarks during the...

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