‘Measure for Measure’ by William Shakespeare has many important themes depicted throughout the play. These themes are presented through actions, decisions, character’s speech and personalities. Two of the key themes in the play are deception and disguise. This play is full of instances of trickery and deceit. Because of this we can see there is a severe lack of trust and honesty in ‘Measure for Measure’ between the characters. Theatricality is heavily emphasised during the play by all. ‘Measure for Measure’ is a problem play written by William Shakespeare in 1604.
It is a problem play because it does not fall into any of the usual groups of Shakespeare’s plays. It is not a historical play nor singularly a tragedy or comedy. It, in fact, falls in both of the later two groups. The play is about a Duke who pretends to leave the city of Vienna and leaves a young man called Angelo to run the city. Angelo acknowledges that the crime in the city is getting out of control, particularly sexual crimes, and decides to enforce the laws. The Duke however never actually leaves Vienna but instead disguises himself as a holy friar and watches as Angelo tries to rule the city.
This is where the first instance of deception occurs in the play. The play opens with the Duke explaining to Escalus he is about to go away for a while and plans to leave Angelo in his place. He asks Escalus, his loyal aide, what his personal opinion of Angelo is and what he thinks of this decision. The Duke implies that he wishes to know if Angelo behaves differently around different types of people. Here the Duke is questioning Angelo’s character. Is it possible that he is being deceitful by acting better around people like the Duke. The Duke leaving is, in fact, testing the facade that Angelo presents around him.
It is possible that Angelo does put on a front or act around certain people in order to impress or feel better about himself. This play could be going to test Angelo’s character and his ability to do this. All human characters have flaws and many people try to disguise them. It is human nature for people to naturally act to impress. Once the Duke announces to Angelo his departure, Angelo questions the Dukes choice and motives however, the Duke makes a quick exit and Angelo begins his duties. We soon learn the Duke has, actually, not left as he said he would but is still in Vienna.
The Duke visits Friar Thomas and explains his plan to stay in Vienna and watch the goings on, not as the Duke or an aide but as a normal inhabitant of his own city. He then asks the Friar to teach him the ways of “a true friar” and disguise him and give him “secret harbour”. From here on in the play, the Duke deceives the entire city of Vienna by playing another part. This acting, that the Duke decides to do, is quite surprising since he had said once that he didn’t enjoy speaking in public and ‘performing’ in front of the people of Vienna; “I love the people, But do not like to stage me to their eyes”.
However this character disguise he has created, which he can hide behind, brings out a lot of confidence in him and also another side to his personality, which is quite devious. By choosing to disguise himself as a friar and not a normal citizen of Vienna the Duke opens doors for himself into many lives of the people of Vienna. As a friar he still does retain some status over other people. Also as a friar he can enter many places without question as well as the churches, for example, prisons, which is how he is able to see Claudio while he is being held.
While disguised as the friar, he also has people who talk to him and reveal secrets to him in confidence. This is how he is able to talk closely with Isabella, Claudio’s sister and Marianna. People also trust him because as a friar he is seen as a messenger of God. There is a key scene in the play relating mostly to deception that will follow, where the Duke is explaining his plans. There is a lot of imagery in this scene in the language spoken by the Duke. At the beginning of his speech the Duke describes a world turned upside down because of the current carelessness in the enforcement of the laws of Vienna.
He uses a combination of animal and social imagery to express this disturbed state of the city of Vienna and his first image is of a mixed metaphor, which could also imply that he is not fully convinced about his decision to leave Angelo in charge. The law has become “like an o’ergrown lion in a cave’ which does not even bother to go and hunt. This simile properly conveys the picture of a once terrible and peacekeeping beast run down to indulgence and indifference.
The Duke then goes on to explain how a cane of “bound up threatening twigs of birch” can be a simple preventative measure to dissuade a child from misbehaviour, if it is never implemented, it becomes merely mocked and no longer fulfils its role. Just as the cane, the law in Vienna once stood tall above the population of Vienna but through lack of concern it was never used to its full power and now it is mocked because people know they can get away with anything. The people “pluck justice by the nose” implying that because they are seemingly free to do what they want they can laugh at the principles of law and order.
Because the law in Vienna had been ignored the people saw no need to hide their crimes from the law. They felt they no longer needed to deceive the law since it was never likely to come after them. Usually brothels and speakeasies, which have always been seen as illegal are hidden underground but still remain there. In Measure for Measure, Mistress Overdone walks around freely and it is common knowledge she runs a brothel and that it is very popular. The image of the “baby beats the nurse” makes another comparison with an unnatural situation as an indication of how far out of hand the situation in Vienna really is.
Instead of receiving discipline from the nurse the infant himself dispenses the punishment and seems that the Duke believes that this role reversal is unacceptable. Friar Thomas’s intervention in line 32 is very significant because the Friar wants to know why the Duke didn’t “unloose this tied up justice” himself, instead of expecting Angelo to do it. This image of justice being tied up is also very unnatural because it should be justice doing the imprisoning rather than being imprisoned itself.
The Dukes response is that he is scared to unleash “tyranny” on the people without warning. He has disguised his feelings about wanting to re-instate the law but now wishes it to happen, however he is too scared to now. The Duke also say that “twas my fault to give the people scope”. This quote is quite important because the Duke is acknowledging that this gradual descent into lawlessness and the recklessness of Vienna is his own. It appears that the Duke was attempting to give his people a degree of freedom and independence without realising what the long-term consequences could be.
It is possible that the Duke’s reason for pretending to leave Vienna is psychological and that leaving Angelo in a position of authority is his first step towards freeing himself from his public role and from the blame of the cities gradual degradation. He also had to disguise his reasons for leaving from everyone. The Duke also thinks in his mind that if now he decides to enforce the law heavily he will lose respect and be the subject of “slander” from the people because he has let it slide for so long. This is why he devolved the plan to place Angelo in charge.
The Duke knows Angelo is a firm believer of abstinence and does not agree with brothels and other outlawed sexual activities. The Duke predicts that Angelo given the power would try to enforce the laws of Vienna and he was right. The fact the Duke feels the need to have someone else do the job he was supposed to, brings up the question is the Duke actually fit to rule Vienna? We learn that he is scared of public speaking, has not enforced certain laws in Vienna and comes up with a plan to get someone else to do his job so that he does not loose his dignity, reputation or respect.
One other event in the play also involves deception. In Act 4 Scene 1 Isabella and Mariana, Angelo’s ex-fianci??, discuss a plan that the Duke has suggested. This plan would ensure that Angelo received what he had asked for, would keep Isabella’s virtue intact and not break the Law. While arguing for mercy for her brother in Act 2 Scene 4, Angelo asks Isabella if she would surrender her virginity for her brother’s life; “you must lay down the treasures of your body to this supposed or else let him suffer, what would you do? . The Duke formulates a plan to swap Isabella and Mariana, so Mariana sleeps with Angelo instead; “to bring you thus together, ’tis no sin”. The three of them then go through with their plan. Angelo however does not realise the trick and believes he slept with Isabella. Here three characters are deceiving the protagonist in order to not break the law themselves. It is strange though that Angelo is punishing Claudio for this crime however he is prepared to sleep with Isabella out of wedlock, hereby breaking his own laws.
The play ‘Measure for Measure’ was loosely based on another play written in 1578 called ‘History of Promos and Cassandra’ by George Whetstone. However during this play there was never a scene in which the characters switched places to deceive the protagonist. Shakespeare invented this incident and added it himself, as well as the character Mariana. Shakespeare could have done this for many reasons; he does, by doing this, effectually add heavily to the theme of deception in the play.
This could have been to make the play more interesting or to hide the original story ideas, but the play does become a lot more interesting with the extra character and scene. It could have been placed there because Shakespeare wanted to increase the level of trickery and deception in the play. These amendments also individualise the play from the originals. The Duke tries to deceive Angelo later in the play by sending the dead prisoner Ragozine’s head instead of Claudio’s. Angelo ordered Claudio’s execution early and demanded he be sent his head as proof of the execution.
Instead of executing Claudio, the Duke/friar helped the Provost and Pompey shave a prisoner called Ragozine and send it instead. It was a co-incidence that this prisoner had just died and looked strangely like Claudio, enough to fool Angelo. It is revealed at the end to Angelo that he was deceived because Claudio is in fact still alive. At the end of the play in Act 5 Scene 1 the whole story is revealed to the audience. This scene is the longest in the play and involves every character. During this scene the Duke arrives back at Vienna as himself and finds chaos.
It is believed by this point that Claudio is dead and Isabella pleas to the Duke for justice; “Justice oh royal Duke! ” The Duke pretends that he never actually was there and acts oblivious to what has gone on. Half way through the scene the Duke exits the stage and reappears dressed as Friar Lodowick, his alternative character. Escalus questions the newly arrived friar about his part in what has happened. The friar declares he has seen a lot of dishonesty during his ‘visit’ to Vienna; “in Vienna, where I have seen corruption boil and bubble”.
Escalus threatens to torture the Duke/friar and through him in prison, but this true identity is not revealed until Lucio pulls back his hood. During this key scene where all could have quickly been revealed the Duke instead decides to continue to deceive the people of Vienna by pretending to know nothing then even putting his disguise back on and re-entering. This is very strange and shows the Duke can be very deceitful. Though he earlier said he was not very fond of public speaking and displays he seems to have gone all out here in this final scene to reveal himself as a big finale.
This is the Duke playing on extreme theatricality. The Duke has lied a lot throughout out the play and has been a very manipulative character. He managed to construct the bed trick plan and ensure the play went the way he wanted. He did save Claudio’s life though, but if he had not pretended to leave in the first place, every consequence of that decision would not have happened. There is a lot of disguise in Vienna itself. The whole city has been breaking the law for as many as 15 years because the Duke has not enforced it as he should.
There are many illegitimate children in Vienna and the people try and hide these ‘crimes’. By adding the extra character, the extra bed-trick scenes and idea, Shakespeare has changed the structure in the play and there-by increasing the level of the theme of deception in ‘Measure for Measure’. In the original the man who was accused, represented by Claudio was actually the one hiding in disguise during the play. The scene where the Duke reveals his plans to the friar, about his disguise and the trickery involved, is a key scene and without it the structure of the play would have been totally different.
The play would also not have been as understandable to the audience. The scene creates dramatic irony in the play because the audience is told that the Duke is not leaving but staying disguised as the character Friar Lodowick. The Duke as the one of the main characters in this play continually speaks in verse, though he does switch to prose occasionally while dressed as the friar. This shows a slight relaxation in his tone. Friar Thomas speaks in prose as do most of the sub-plot characters. Angelo and Isabella, as well as the Duke, all speak in verse. This shows their status and importance to the play.
Everyone deceives other people in everyday life, people also deceive themselves. Everyone disguises themselves for protection and self-reassurance. This could be what the characters feel the need to do in Measure for Measure. There is a lot of deception in ‘Measure for Measure’ and this had been created in the characters personalities, backgrounds, actions and speech by Shakespeare. The play revolves around the idea of trickery and it is involved with every character in every situation in the play. The Duke is the main character at the centre of all this and his situation and decisions caused every occurrence in the play.