Within the first scene of the play, Shakespeare makes many suggestions as to the character of the Duke, spoken through the language, tone and imagery he uses, as well as being developed through the reactions and comments of the other characters in the scene. Although the audience has only just begun their journey through the story, and cannot therefore be sure as to whether these suggestions will indeed prove correct, they are able to begin to build a base upon which the Duke’s character can be built.
From the first few lines of the scene, it is made clear to the audience that the Duke has the respect of his counsel: “My Lord.” It is also made clear in his speech that follows, that he in turn has a great respect for his attendant: “…your own science exceeds in that… my strength can give you.” He further extends this when he continues: “… you’re as pregnant in art and practice hath enriched any.” It is with this seemingly strong relationship, that one is lead to feel that the Duke must indeed be that of a good leader, having formed a trustful and honest relationship with those he must indeed depend upon to be reliable. Yet, when he comes to speak of the qualities that a leader must indeed poses, the audience come to sense that he feels negatively towards his ability to rule: “…the properties to unfold would seem in me to affect speech and discourse.” This immediately sheds suspicion upon his confidence as he suggests that it would only appear as if he enjoyed making long speeches and public statements. In then asking the question: “What figure of us think you he will bear?” he creates further confusion, suggesting that he is to offer his position to another man.
The Duke appears to care greatly for his state, but also shows to be troubled by the way in which his temporary will up hold his name. It has been with much deliberation and “special soul” that he has come to call for Angelo to take his position of government. These lines begin an increasingly evident portrayal of the Duke as a man more suited to intellectual discussion and of wisdom, than that of someone who leads from the front. With such elaborate and artfully crafted imagery as: “Lent him our terror, dressed him with our love”, the Duke further adds to his appearance as a scholarly figure and gives final qualification as to his intentions for this man. Again here, he shows his consideration for the views of others when he asks Escalus: “what think you of it?” Having been given Escalus’ full support: “If any in Vienna be of worth… it is Lord Angelo”, and assured therefore that he will offer his full service to being his secondary, the Duke sets forward to outline his intentions to Angelo .
As Angelo enters, the audience are again given the impression that the Duke, although unconfident, stills earns the respect of those around him: “Always obedient to your grace’s will.” Again also, they see that the Duke seems to have great respect for and confidence in those he chooses to have close to him as he speaks to Angelo. He talks of the talents and “virtues” that Angelo should reserve solely for his own life, but that would better put to use in a position of authority. He goes onto further qualify his point with the metaphor of how: “…we with torches do, not light them for themselves.” It is such intelligent and eloquent language and imagery as this that allows Shakespeare to portray the Duke as a man of such great wisdom, but begs the question later onwards as to why this experience has not been put to better use in the upholding of the state. It is also possible to liken the torch to the law of the land, as that which gives light to the darkness of human nature and casts out all shadows in its path. It is ironic however that as the audience venture in side the walls of a city ruled by Angelo later in the play, it will be the law that will give light to the darkness of his character.
The Duke then proceeds to hand over full run of the state to Lord Angelo: “be thou at full ourself”. It is made clear that the Duke feels is not well equipped to enforce the laws that he has, until this point, seen made a mockery of. It is further more strength in favour of his wisdom and breadth of vision that he is able to stand down and allow another, more suited to the matter in hand, to take up his position. He states that he does, “love the people”, yet does not bode well when greeted with “aves” and when staged “…to their eyes.” It is here that Shakespeare makes the distinction, between those born into leadership, and those born to lead. The Duke, being very much that of the latter, shows excellent relations with those close to him, and indeed demonstrates a wisdom one would expect of a figure of such status. Yet, he also proves to be lacking in the confidence, and the self strength that is also paramount when placed in such a centrifugal position. Thus, with the state in such an element of moral dilapidation, a strong arm is needed to aid the people back to correct path, indeed one able to carry the torch of the law with a firm and steady hand.
Within this opening scene, Shakespeare does much to both bring out a negative and positive side in the character. When writing, for example, of Iago in Othello at no point are the audience struck by a sudden change of heart towards his vindictive and malignant character. This is of course done to heighten the atmospheric tension that surrounds his character, and it works to great effect. Equally here, I feel that in describing both the Dukes faults and admirable qualities, Shakespeare demonstrates that, even with such a position of power, he is only human, and that he is able to suffer all the strains and tribulations that any of the audience watching would feel when placed in such a position. It is the ability to identify with his character, and indeed thus understand his motives for handing over the rule of the people he loves, that leaves the viewer little or no disrespect or admiration for his actions.