1. ‘Angelo is an arrogant hypocrite’.
2. ‘Angelo is a vulnerable and confused man, deserving of our sympathy’.
What evidence is these in the play to support these opinions? How do you think that Shakespeare has presented Angelo in the play?
If you ask any critic of the play ‘Measure for Measure’ by William Shakespeare, to give you a simple description of the character of Angelo, they will tell you that he is the villain of the play. He is a man who rules strictly, without mercy, summarised by the Duke, “strict and most biting laws”. Yet his hypocrisy was his downfall in the end.
Originally classified in the first Folio as a comedy, Measure for Measure is one of the three problem plays, as there are many question raised by the writer. Shakespeare deliberately gives the audience three different characters opinions of Angelo before we can make formulate one ourselves. This is deliberately done to primarily give us a clouded view of the character, and therefore prolong the mystery and uncertainty. This in itself is foreshadowing the actions of the play, as our opinion of Angelo does change throughout the play.
The title of the play is a key theme throughout. Originally coming from the bible, “what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matthew 7:2-3). Which translated means, what you do to others, they will do to you. Which is what Angelo finds out in act V, scene I when the Duke condemns him, “Measure still for measure…then, Angelo, thy fault’s thus manifested”.
Angelo is the only character that seems to have more complexity. He appears simply cruel and inflexible at first, then is shown to be hypocritical and moreover allowing himself to be controlled by his emotions and desire rather than rationality, “For I am that going to temptation”.
Shakespeare has presented Angelo in an unkind light, to be cruel and harsh even in his time of desperation and confuse, he offers him little audience sympathy. The character of Angelo is subject to two main interpretations. He can be viewed as a thoroughly evil man, hypocritical in his stance on morality, whose feelings of “love” for Isabel are simply lust; which is far more fitting to his character. On the other hand he could be seen as a rigidly inflexible leader with a strong adherence to the law who succumbs to his emotions and temptation on one occasion.
Firstly I shall discuss the overbearing evidence to support the first view. Angelo’s ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude makes him pompous towards the society he controls, “tis one thing to be tempted…another thing to fall”. This statement has double effect as it is also ironic that Angelo does indeed fall, both in the Victorian sense, and in the fact that he has supposedly fallen in love with Isabel. However many would argue that this is impossible, as you can’t be in love with two people at once, and Angelo is already in love with himself, thus it is simply lust and an infatuation. “With saints dost bait thy hook”, here Angelo refers to himself as a saint, obviously having a very high opinion of himself; Shakespeare has made him appear egotistical and arrogant.
Not only do we see Angelo being brash and self-important, but the mood turns sour when he doesn’t get his way. In act two, scene four we see Angelo’s true colours. Misusing his powers, Angelo is demeaning to Isabel, “my false o’erweighs your true”. This “saintly” Angelo would lie to save himself and ruin someone else’s life and reputation. The seven deadly sins play a big part of Shakespearian society, and the character of Angelo personifies the sin of pride perfectly, “my unsoiled name, th’austereness of my life”. He knows that there is no black mark against his name and will abuse this to attempt to black-mail Isabel into sleeping with him.
Shakespeare uses other characters dialogue to solidify this negative view of Angelo as the Isabel says, “It is excellent to have a giant’s strength; but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant”. In this metaphor, Isabel compares Angelo’s power of the law to a giant’s use of his strength. Angelo proves Isabel’s point when he says, “admit no other way to save his life”, as there is of course, but he’s trying to manipulate her to get what he wants.
This is an extreme contrast to the very first impression we get of Angelo from the Duke, “nature of our people…city’s institutions…terms for common justice”; here the Duke is listing all of Angelo’s qualities, presenting him as a level-headed, wee educated man. This of course makes us think about the Duke’s comment of this being a test for Angelo to see if power changes him, “shall we see, if power changed purpose”. Although it is notable to mention at this point that Angelo claims not to be ready for the responsibility, “Let there be some more test of my metal”. Was this really how he felt or just modesty in front of the Duke, as this is the only person Angelo relents to, “Always obedient to your grace’s will”.
It could be argues that in desperation to please the Duke Angelo simply went over the top in transforming the sin filled city into a law abiding haven; as the Duke admitted himself that the law was “more mocked than feared”. However Angelo’s approach was to scare the people into submission, “we must not make a scarecrow of the law”. He does this by voting with his feet and sentencing someone to death for a crime that was considered mild and was committed every day. Thus shocking the townspeople and showing them the severity of the situation. However he claims to simply be doing what he feels is right, and protests the law is equal to all, including himself, “let mine own judgement pattern out my death”. Of course this is digging his own grave as he too breaks the law and faces punishment.
Therefore, it could be argued that the Duke leaves Angelo in charge because he genuinely thought he could bring law into the state. Angelo does try and resist the temptation of Isabel at first, seeking help in prayer as he realises that his feelings are conflicting with his duties, “I would pray and think”. This could be re-enforced by his final repentance, which is seen by some as his basic level of goodness.
Furthermore, Shakespeare makes Angelo describe his new feelings for Isabel as a “strong and swelling evil”, which makes us think that Angelo is still ‘good’ as he sees it as a bad thing. This is seen also when Angelo talks about his greatest love, studying; “good thing…grown sere and tedious”. Shakespeare is evoking sympathy from the audience at this point, changing our opinion of him. This sense of vulnerability on Angelo’s part allows us to see just how much Isabel has affected him, perhaps helping to excuse some of his behaviour, as one could believe he was driven mad by love to the point where he’d do anything to have her. (However others might say that this is simply his tyrannous manner being portrayed again, and because he has decided he wants something, he’ll do anything he wants to get it.)
Angelo seems very distraught at the fact that he might be ‘in love’, “oh fie fie fie”. Having never faced human emotions, “scarce confesses that his blood flows”, being able to cast his fiancï¿½ away over a monetary matter, Angelo now appears beside himself. Shakespeare shoes his confuse by making Angelo continuously question himself, “what’s this?”, “who sins most?”. It seems that Angelo believes it is a sin to have emotion, especially one as strong as love; again this is Shakespeare emphasising the situation to the audience as it has to be serious to make Angelo question himself. “Do I love her?” Perhaps it is Angelo that is vulnerable, as many critics believe that Isabel is deliberately toying with Angelo, “is this her fault or mine?”, and flirting with him to try and persuade him to release her brother, “I am come to know your pleasure”.
Isabel is shown to be a nasty character on many occasions, for instance when she is trying to convince her brother to die. For a short period of time, it seems that the characters of Angelo and Isabel had undergone a role reversal, as Angelo seemed vulnerable and troubled, “heaven hath my empty words” and Isabel has taken his heart, then backed away, toying with it. It is clear that Angelo hold affection for Isabel, even if he does not love her, because when they met for the second time, he addressed her as “fair maid”.
Perhaps a true reading of Angelo lies somewhere between these two views; that Angelo is a hypocritical arrogant man, or that he is a vulnerable and confused man. He is sincere in his adherence to the law, wanting to be punished in the same way as he condemned Claudio for his sin. Ruling with an iron fist, he neglected mercy. However his disregard for human emotion meant that it built up inside of him until it burst out with vengeance when too strong a temptation presented itself.
Once again Shakespeare has presented us with a three dimensional character, true to real life, with psychological issues and many different sides to him. However, as always, we are never allowed to make this conclusion until the very end of the play, providing interest throughout the, to keep the audience hooked.