Measure for Measure–Act V

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So, the Duke orders everyone’s death. Ha! Death to self, everyone’s punishment is marriage!

So, today’s reflection is mostly abstract, Lit. major ramblings, because I don’t have much else to give you. But their punishment is also their reward, which sounds familiar to me. when Adam and Eve are thrown out of paradise, they are punished. Man must toil for all things to produce fruit, and woman must be subservient to man. Now, as Yeats says, “It’s certain there is no fine thing/Since Adam’s fall but needs much laboring.” Why would a man toil and why would a woman be subservient to her husband? Because they love. Their punishments purify their love, they have to really love each other, not merely lust after one another, to be willing to suffer for them.

Now, the Duke’s punishments is that all guilty are to be married to the ones they transgressed against. He is merciful. And one thing that a sinner has a hard time accepting and understanding is mercy. He craves it, but there is always the temptation of falling into despair, because it is something undeserved. Angelo, with his rooted sense of justice, has a difficult time understanding and accepting the Duke’s mercy, because he operates on a principle of “giving one his due.” And Angelo says, “I am sorry that such sorrow I procure,/And so deep sticks it in my penitent heart/That I crave death more willingly than mercy;/’Tis my deserving, and I do entreat it” (V.i.471-474). If you ever are surrounded by children long enough, you will come to understand that humanity has a natural propensity to desire justice. We choose hell, because when faced with the light of truth, knowing our transgressions against it, we desire the portion that is given to us.

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Yet, look at the mercy that is bestowed upon everyone in the illumination of truth in this play. Isabella forgives Angelo his trespasses, and kneels for his forgiveness. The Duke shows mercy, and allows all transgressors to live, while they must also forfeit themselves in love to their newly betrothed wives.

I could have more to say, but since this is already coming to you a day late, I will save it. I also need to get ready for work.

Measure for Measure–Acts III & IV

My apologies for yesterday. I had a terrible migraine for half the day.

I have a few odd feelings toward the Duke. I think he signifies something very wonderful in earthly terms–he is the leader of his people, and in order to make things turn out right, he humbles himself as a servant to do the works for the commonweal–while on the other hand, I have a problem with his masquerade as a priest–the ones to be executed, he offers council, but isn’t it more proper for the sake of their souls that they be offered their last confession? Which is an office he can’t perform. This probably is minor, but I think this play deals heavily with souls.

That said, the Duke comes up with the plan that is hoped to spare Claudio’s life and Isabella’s soul, but I’m again at a loss to justify the means of this disguise. Not that it really works, it requires another disguise to save Claudio’s life, since Angelo is not keen on keeping his word with Isabella. I saw that coming, actually–for if he were to have last minute spared Claudio, than his reputation for being the man of justice would be “ruined.”

(I have to make this entry short today, so my last point will be brief.)

What the Duke’s deception does allow is the revelation that Angelo is guilty of the crime he condemns to death and Claudio’s life as something miraculous.

Hopefully I will have more time tomorrow, but as for now, I must get to work, and I have a million other things to finish today.

Measure for Measure–Act II

Anything I said defending Angelo in my last post, I take back right now. I am livid. I’ve never been so inflamed.

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Before I go raging about Angelo, I want to make a point about Elbow. I was reminded of Dogberry, in the way he can’t seem to understand the words that he uses, and I am beginning to see a reason for it. There are those in Shakespeare plays that are very good talkers, but that we never should trust–Richard III, Don John, Edmund, to name a few. “Beware of slick talkers,” my professor in Rome used to say. And I think this way of talking is revealing also in the third scene of this play, when Isabella begins by speaking “coldly.” I think it is her humility that keeps her from speaking properly in the beginning. I am going to try to focus on speaking more throughout the rest of my readings, regardless if I am right or wrong about this point.

One more point before my rage overtakes me. Escalus’ little rhyming couplet at the end of scene one. “Mercy is not itself, that oft looks so;/Pardon is still the nurse of second woe” (II.i.278-279). This is the beginning of a point I want to make about the differences between Isabella and Angelo, the point being that there is a distinction here between earthly understanding of mercy and a heavenly understanding of mercy. What I mean to say, is that Escalus’ statement here is an understanding of mercy that rests upon justice, while Isabella (and the Duke, when he speaks with Juliet) has an understanding of mercy that rests upon love.

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Isabella hits Antonio hard when she states,

                                               Go to your bosom,

Knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know

That’s like my brother’s fault. If it confess

A natural guiltiness, such as his,

Let it not sound a thought upon your tongue

Against my brother’s life.

She’s arguing from an understanding of mercy that a Pharisee can understand (“Let he among you without sin cast the first stone” sound familiar to anyone?). She speaks in earthly terms.

Is her virtue her downfall? Angelo claims her virtue is what drags him into the sin of wanting to love her (and not a proper love by any means). He seems to take her literally–if he sins as Claudio, he will show mercy to Claudio. Arghskjdafljdjknasdkfhadsfj.

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I’m actually not going to turn this into a big rage against Angelo. Instead, I won’t allow myself to dwell on his horribleness, but on Isabella’s virtue. She illustrates by her actions a concept that tends to be the subject of religious debate–can one commit a sin in order that good may be accomplished? The answer, if we follow Isabella, is no (and, if we read our catechism, that is the correct answer). This brings me back to the difference between the heavenly and earthly understanding of justice and mercy. Angelo’s “virtues” and notions are merely earthly, and the request of Isabella’s body in exchange for the life of her brother is a fair earthly trade. Mercy based on proportional justice. No good can come from the forfeit of ones soul, it isn’t a sacrifice to damn oneself to Hell so that one may be saved. It’s an act against Faith. Oh, and Chastity.

Until tomorrow.

Measure for Measure–Act I

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Nuns!

The play begins with a temporary transfer of authority to Antonio, who, from his humble refusal at first, seems like a good dude. The first scene deals with Antonio’s good character, and I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt. His harsh enforcement of the law stems from his adherence to justice. That’s not bad in and of itself. Now, the Duke reveals in scene three that he has failed to properly enforce the laws of his city, and to allow infractions against the law is not merely to allow evil, but to encourage it. “Sith ’twas my fault to give the people scope,/’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” (I.iii.35-39).

I find it interesting that the law which we see enforced–Juliet being with-child out of wedlock with Claudio–is the sin that earlier is joked about with Mistress Overdone. Claudio’s account of liberty reveals the nature of sin. “Our natures do pursue,/Like rats that ravin down their proper bane,/A thirsty evil; and when we drink we die” (I.ii.128-130). There’s a tension here, methinks, between the laws of the commonweal and the laws of God. But there’s a distinct difference; the laws of the commonweal are based upon justice, “Measure for Measure” to steal the plays name, while the laws of God rest upon the justice of God, based upon love which is revealed in mercy.

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With that said, I’m curious if this tension of laws might be revealed also in the opening of scene four–the ‘lack of strictness’ in the Order of Saint Clare. The Poor Clare’s are a Franciscan order, which poses itself against the decadence of the age–and if we look at what is going on in the city of the play, there is quite a bit of decadence. Isabella points out her understanding of the order is much more strict than the little nun reveals to her. An order against decadence is not strict, the duke of the city is not strict in using authority–these smell like they are of similar stuff, so to speak–perhaps these similarities reveal more than might appear.

Post. Script. Isabella means God’s promise or devoted to God. I’m assuming her name will reveal itself to mean both by the time this play is over.

Until tomorrow!

Much Ado About Nothing–Act V

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I’m never quite sure what to do with the opening of this act, particularly in the question of whether we take Leonato seriously as a herald of truth or if we are to look at him rather foolishly like Polonius giving advice in Hamlet. Is it true that counsel, philosophy, and truth do not provide us consolation in times of suffering? “For there was never yet philosopher/That could endure the toothache patiently” (V.i.35-36). I’m not so sure what to make of it. I could say there are two fools in this play–Dogberry and Leonato, one being superior to the other. Or I could scrap that thought altogether.

Now, the confession of Borachio. While he was merely caught bragging before in Act III, here he actually comes forth with a heart full of repentance. This stems from the phrase of the Friar, “Die to live,” for the only thing I can think of that has changed in the course of the Sexton interviewing Borachio and the present scene is the “death” of innocent Hero. The death of an innocent bringing forth a repentant heart? Smells familiar.

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Benedick was, “not born under a rhyming planet’ (V.ii.39-40), and thus is unable to flatter Beatrice with flowery words. Shakespeare deals with the figures of Leander (who swam a heck of a long way for a lady) and Troilus (don’t get me started, but essentially, he’s a man of all words) as paradigmatic poetic lovers. I would dare to say he prefers a Leander to a Troilus, and Benedick seems more on the Leander side of the argument. Beatrice in the previous act and this one calls Benedick to action, for, “Foul words is but foul wind, and foul wind is but foul breath, and foul breath is noisome” (V.ii.51-52). Relationship advice from Shakespeare–stop talking about it and do something for your lady. Boom.

This play ends perfectly–Don John is caught, everyone’s getting married, there is singing and dancing, Hero is alive and innocent as ever–and it isn’t an annoying, “Deus ex machina” perfection that cheapens a nice “Happily ever after.” It’s one of the elements that makes me love this play–people convert their hearts to love and truth in a believable manner (not that all conversions are the same, some real-life realizations are sudden and “unbelievable” in their nature) and even Don John isn’t punished until after the joyful activities. I wish I could say more, but I find I am running out of thoughts to express my fangirl-esque love for this play.

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And, truly, to love one no more than reason? It’s humble, it’s honest, it’s true…and it’s quite a compliment. 🙂

Thanks everyone for your patience during my move. Now that I have everything settles and a routine, I will be back to posting like the days of old.

Much Ado About Nothing–Act IV

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The first scene of this play has three parts: The Wedding/Shaming, the Friar’s counsel, and Benedick and Beatrice revealing their affections. Let’s begin!

I think the most important thing to note with Claudio and Don Pedro in this scene is that they make a petition that no one trust their eyes to Hero’s innocence. Yet, the ground on which they base their scorn is rooted in their sense of sight. Shakespeare often uses the image of poison when he sculpts the speeches of his Iago’s, and I think the image fits well here–they are poisoned by their sight to see the truth of the blushing and innocent Hero.

I’ve seen many renditions of this play, and I usually have one particular qualm with many of them–they cut out the Friar’s line by which we understand what his plan does. He states, “For strange sores strangely they strain the cure./Come, lady, die to live” (IV.i.251-252). Now, maybe some of you are not neurotic like me, but I stress myself out over the fact that the Friar cures a lie with lying. I’ve gotten better, mostly because of the aforementioned line, and the paradox of dying to live. Now, the scene began with Leonato not wishing the Friar to catechize the duties of being husband and wife prior to their actual wedding. What is a wedding but a death to self, two becoming one flesh? While I feel unable to reconcile the whole “lying” aspect of the Friar, I think back to the Catholic Church printing off fake baptismal records to Jews in WWII. It helps me sleep at night.

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Ah, and now for everyone’s favorite part. If it isn’t, it ought to be. And…I’m just going to quote my thesis again. Sorry folks!

Their moment alone goes well, until Beatrice calls Benedick to prove his love in action, by killing Claudio. Benedick’s initial response is no, because she is asking him to forsake his previous office under the service of the Prince Don Pedro and to forsake his friendship for Claudio. The action she calls him to is a renunciation of self. She is enraged by his response, because his profession of love for her is not to be demonstrated by himself and his own interests for the sake of his love for Beatrice and her request. Then he relents and obeys her call to action, using his hand as a testimony of his promise to challenge Claudio for the dignity of Hero’s honor. He states, “Enough, I am engaged: I will challenge him. I will kiss your hand, and so I leave you. By this hand, Claudio shall render me a dear account. As you hear of me, so think of me”(IV.i.329-332). In their first conversation, not only do they profess their feelings for one another, but Beatrice submits to her role as a woman, while Benedick submits to her call for him to act. In the time allotted by the Friar for the truth about Hero to be revealed, the fruition of Don Pedro’s intentions behind his deception for Benedick and Beatrice’s good comes to be—they communicate and humble themselves in “a mountain of affection the one with the other.””

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Finally, I leave you with this…

Oh that he were here to write me down an ass! But masters, remember that I am an ass: though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass. (IV.ii.74-77)

Much Ado About Nothing–Act III

My hiatus is over! I am officially settled in to my new town, new room, new life! And, without further ado…Let’s continue.

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Firstly, there is a common thread between Benedick and Beatrice’s reactions (and the deceiver’s). Firstly, the deceiver’s make a point in outlining Ben and Bea’s flaws–particularly how proud and scornful they are–because it is the only way they will hear such flaws and be open to transforming themselves to the truth. Their personal flaws are the first thing they reject in their monologues (also note that there is no other time in this play where we find someone alone reciting a monologue, and note that we don’t really see monologues happening in Shakespeare’s comedy). They first deny themselves before confessing their love for the other. Does this not ring true with how we love?

It is the scene directly after that sets up Don Pedro and Claudio. Now, Claudio reacts as his rash, young, self. However, depending on the control the actor has in this scene, there is an explanation for Claudio’s reaction aside from his rashness. He’s hurt. And so is Don Pedro, who, as a good prince, wants the good for his men. We don’t see the reactions of Don Pedro and Claudio to the “evidence” that Don John shows them (we do in most portrayals on stage of the play, but not directly in the text itself) unlike the deceiving of Benedick and Beatrice. I would say this is an illustration of the nature of truth and falsehood. The second scene takes place at night–and where else does falsehood lead one, except into darkness.

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Dogberry. The man who mixes phrases. Yet, he’s clearly able to see what is true, his timing is actually perfect, but because he has an inability to communicate, his goodness falls on deaf ears. Notice how much of this play relies on communication  overhearing, reporting, gossip and hearsay. The cruel deception of Don John doesn’t happen by hearing–it necessitates sight.

Oh, speaking of Dogberry, let me go on a side-note and say how excited I am to see Nathan Fillion (Captain Mal to us Firefly fans) play Dogberry in Joss Whedon’s film adaptation of this play. (And how excited I am that Joss Whedon, if he follows Shakespeare and doesn’t take liberties, can’t kill off characters that I love for once in his bloody career).

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I want to speak of Borachio’s confession in a later scene. I think I have made my basic points for this act. I’m going to follow the old schedule and post through the rest of the week. Then I’ll be back on track to continue the project every weekday.