"And liberty plucks justice by the nose; The baby beats the nurse, and quite athwart Goes all decorum"

MEASURE FOR MEASURE ACT I

I felt that the first act of Measure for Measure introduced a very strange story with plenty of contradictory characters. Some of the characters seemed believable while others seemed more like caricatures.

I cannot decide how I feel about the Duke. He is clearly a cowardly man who is afraid of how the people of Vienna think of him. What’s interesting about his reasoning for giving Lord Angelo power is that he claims it wouldn’t be comfortable to enforce laws now that they’ve been in effect for so long without enforcement. He claims that he would be seen as joke or not taken seriously, losing authority. This doesn’t make sense to me. How does the Duke think that giving power to Lord Angelo to enforce the law will grant him more authority or earn him more respect? I would think that taking control and enforcing his own laws would warrant more respect ultimately that giving power over, which seems like he’s waving a white flag. The Duke tries to reason that if he were to enforce his laws at this point, the people of Vienna would think badly of him. The way I see the situation is that giving power over to Lord Angelo only makes the Duke seem like a coward unfit to govern. Ironically, the Duke is so concerned with what the people of Vienna think of him that he is completely blind to the reality of what they think of him.

Despite what I think is a bad move on the Duke’s part, I do not find him to be an unlikable character yet. I’m trying to see the positives in the Duke’s laws, as I believe he intended them to be helpful and not seen as restrictive. To ban premarital sex does seem extreme, but I can see the potentially good intentions behind this ban. If it were punishable to have premarital sexual relations, there would likely be less pregnancies out of wedlock, less infidelity, less sexual harassment, etc. Vienna would be in totality a less sinful place with “pure” citizens. This would benefit the reputation of the city, the Duke, and the citizens. It all seems like a win-win situation- if it were practical and likely, or in the Duke’s case, enforceable.

I suppose that the Duke chose Lord Angelo because he knew he would be a strict leader, but I wonder if he truly knew Angelo’s character before giving him his power. Angelo seems to be a caricature; although there have definitely been leaders in the past who have governed as unjustly as Angelo. Regardless, he seems like a very sleazy and unlikable, power-hungry and selfish man. It seems as though the Duke does not fully trust Angelo, as he disguises himself as a friar in order to observe Angelo at work. This makes me question why the Duke would chose Angelo in the first place, if he did not have full confidence in him taking on the job.

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3 thoughts on “"And liberty plucks justice by the nose; The baby beats the nurse, and quite athwart Goes all decorum"

  1. Rachel Ritacco

    While I think that you make a good point about human nature's tendency to rebel against stated rules, I also believe one could argue that this rule does not apply in the case of the people in the society of this play. To explain, it is clear at the top of "Measure" that the general public has fallen by the wayward side for the past fourteen years. Due to the Duke's lack of enforcement of the law, crime and the sex trade have been allowed to run rampant. In this case, sexual acts are being done everywhere, not in rebellion against the strictness of the law, but because they have been allowed the freedom to do so. Does this mean that humans are just naturally sexual creatures? Maybe, maybe not. Nevertheless, it does not appear that these brothels exist not just to revolt against authority.

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  2. Allison Wild

    Thank you for your comment, Rachel. I agree with your point about the sexuality of the citizens of Vienna. I definitely was not trying to say that their behavior was in rebellion. However, I do think that the Duke assumes that the citizens will put their thumbs to their noses when he attempts to enforce rule. I don't necessarily agree with this thought, but from what I make of the Duke's comment, (the title of my post), he is clearly paranoid of his peoples' disrespect for him.

    Reply
  3. Jeff Battersby

    First off, love the title…The duke is an interesting character and now that we have Acts II & III under our belts it seems that he has a whole lot more going on than it appeared at first. Now, at least to me, it seems like his real interest is in uncovering the true nature of Angelo's character. And Angelo, it seems, is far less than his exterior life would have you believe.I'm looking forward to the rest of the tale.

    Reply

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