The Duke’s Wicked Games

Throughout the play, the characters play many games upon one another but none of them are fun games – they’re all pretty wicked. The best example of this is the character of The Duke. The Duke is a bit of a mystery because he is a strong hidden force throughout the entire play, but he remains hidden from the public eye. The audience knows that the Friar is in reality the Duke, but the other characters do not realize this secret. The Duke seems to be playing types of games with the people of his society. A lot of the things he is doing are rather cruel. In the beginning of the play he seems pretty pathetic, putting Angelo in charge just so he wouldn’t have to send Claudio to his death. He can have someone else do it for him. He gets to have Angelo make his tough decision rather than himself. But this is only the beginning.
Throughout the play he meddles in peoples’ business, pretending to be a friar. None of them once realize the person they are speaking to is the Duke. One of the major conflicts in the play is that Angelo wants to sleep with Isabella, but Isabella can’t give her body to Angelo, even though her brother’s life is on the line. The Duke is the one that thinks of a certain plan to save both Claudio AND Isabella. This involves Mariana, the ex-lover of Angelo. He tells Isabella to accept Angelo’s offer, but in the night they’ll switch she and Mariana and Angelo will sleep with her instead and then will be bound to Mariana rather than Isabella.
For me, the Duke’s cruelest game is what he does to Isabella. In his final speech the Duke is talking to each of the characters about what has been going on and what will happen. But what he says to Isabella is incredibly cruel:
[…] Dear Isabel,
I have a motion much imports your good,
Whereto, if you’ll a willing ear incline,
What’s mine is yours, and what is yours is mine.
So bring us to our palace where we’ll show
What’s yet behind that’s meet you all should know. (5.1.527-532)
It sounds likes the Duke isn’t just proposing marriage to her, but it sounds more like he is forcing marriage onto her. Isabella is studying to be a nun; she is a woman that wants strict rules. She was willing to let her brother die so that she would not have to sin by having sex. Now here is the Duke, telling Isabella how they will be married. The Duke is not that good of a man through all the acts he performs in the play. One thing I find interesting is that we never hear nor see Isabella’s response. It makes me believe that she is unhappy. She does not seem to be getting a happy ending in this play like most of the other characters are getting. Claudio gets to marry the woman he loves. Even though Angelo is being forced to marry Mariana, she will be happy and Angelo is a sort-of villain so he is getting his comeuppance. But with Isabella, the Duke seems to be forcing marriage and an unhappy ending onto her.
The Duke is a man who plays wicked games upon all these characters. He is a sort of puppet master and everyone in town is his puppet. He isn’t the lazy man we once thought he was in the beginning. He is a cunning man who can control anyone he wants and knows how to get his way, even when in disguise.


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