Engl 583 final on 'Measure for Measure' and 'King Lear'
Angelo's soliloquies express themes of the tragicomic form, grace and nature, development of self-knowledge, justice and mercy, and creation and death as aspects of Angelo's character. Angelo and the Duke are similar in the following respects: they both initially claim immunity to love and later come to be affected by it; to achieve ends they desire, both manipulate others into situations those others would not willingly choose to be in; both have sought to maintain a particular reputation; they both spend much of the play seeming other than what they appear; both think themselves to be other than what they are in the beginning; and both claim to value a life removed. Nature is just a word, one I've thrown out of my vocabulary long ago from having found it used in too many different ways to be meaningful yet.
9 August 2004
In typed, double-spaced format, please write four to five paragraphs in response to each of the following prompts. ~12-15 paragraphs total.
1. Take any two of Angelo’s major soliloquies and show how they both reveal significant aspects of his character and demonstrate some of the major themes of Measure for Measure.
Angelo’s soliloquies (2.2.161-186; 2.4.1-30) express themes of the tragicomic form, grace and nature, development of self-knowledge, justice and mercy, and creation and death as aspects of Angelo’s character.
By the theme of the tragicomic form I mean that which “qualified extremes and promoted a balanced condition of mind […] It employed a ‘mixed’ style, ‘mixed’ action, and ‘mixed’ characters—‘passing from side to side, it works amongst contraries, sweetly tempering their composition’.” (Guarini’s Compendio della Poesia Tragicomica (1601) cited in Lever lxi-lxii). I take Measure for Measure’s tragicomic form as its major theme, or perhaps meta-theme, because it reinforces the value of the via media, of moderation over zealotry. Angelo swings from one extreme to the other before, by the play’s conclusion, prompted by the orchestrations of the duke, he adopts a middle way. In Angelo’s first two soliloquies we see him transition from believing himself immune to earthly love (2.3.185-186) to believing he is ruled by his blood (2.4.15).
This transition suggests a theme of development of self-knowledge. In the first soliloquy Angelo refers to himself as a saint (2.2.179) and speaks of physical love in a condemning tone (2.2.173). In the second soliloquy Angelo has adjusted his self-image (2.4.16) to be consistent with his experience, and he describes his experience of love without spending equal time condemning it. He realizes he took sinful pride in his severity (2.4.9-10), and now compares that quality with an idle plume in a cap—an aspect of appearance, not being. Development of self-knowledge does not show up clearly in other characters however.
The theme of grace and nature1 (Lever lxxii), or perhaps I should say virtue, does. Angelo initially epitomizes a strict restraint of both grace and nature, or virtuelessness. He says as much in his first soliloquy—he rots rather than blooms under virtuous influence (2.2.164-167). The crux of Angelo’s soliloquy is “Most dangerous / Is that temptation that doth goad us on / To sin in loving virtue” (2.2.180-182). This equivocation signifies Angelo’s transition from condemning to embracing his love. Unused to thinking of love (of a novice) as anything other than foul, Angelo acts accordingly. Later he laments forgetting his grace (4.4.31).
There are also shades of the theme of justice and mercy (Lever lxiii) in Angelo’s soliloquies. To this point Angelo has maintained a precisionist, inhuman (merciless) approach to law enforcement. To this point two characters have asked him to consider that he might behave as Claudio had in similar circumstances. In lines 2.2.174-176 he at last entertains that argument. Angelo becomes an example of a legalistic or spiritual concept encountering interference from the realities of human existence within a character. Lines 2.4.7-9, “The state, whereon I studied, […]” also signify movement to a middle way in his approach to law.
The theme creation and death (Lever lxxxiii) surfaces too. Angelo has condemned a man to die for a creative act, an act Angelo has interpreted to be destructive. Not only is Angelo feeling the stirrings that lead to procreation, his language uses the image of pregnancy, “[…] the strong and swelling evil / Of my conception” (2.4.6-7).
2. Discuss, using some relevant quotations from his speeches, how the Duke is similar to Angelo in Measure for Measure.
Angelo and the Duke are similar in the following respects: they both initially claim immunity to love and later come to be affected by it; to achieve ends they desire, both manipulate others into situations those others would not willingly choose to be in; both have sought to maintain a particular reputation; they both spend much of the play seeming other than what they appear; both think themselves to be other than what they are in the beginning; and both claim to value a life removed.
The Duke says: “Believe not that the dribbling dart of love / Can pierce a complete bosom” (1.3.2-3). Angelo said, “Ever till now, / When men were fond, I smiled and wondered how” (2.2.185-186). The Duke asks Isabella to marry him by the end—which isn’t necessarily proof of love, however.
The play begins with the Duke manipulating Angelo to “weed” the vice of the people (3.2.258), and to see “what our seemers be” (1.3.58). The Duke has reason to believe that Angelo will strictly enforce laws that the Duke had neglected to enforce (1.3.50-53). We have already seen how Angelo manipulates Isabella. The Duke’s manipulation, he believes, will bring order to his people without him personally having to be perceived a tyrant, “And yet my nature never in the fight / To do it slander” (1.3.42-43). Angelo, too, has taken pride in maintaining a particular reputation. The Duke’s great concern about being slandered suggests he has a less than complete bosom, showing a lack of self-knowledge—another feature shared by Angelo.
The Duke manipulates others in part by using a disguise. Angelo, too, comes to use a disguise (2.4.12-15; 2.4.153-156). In addition, the Duke has “ever loved the life removed” (1.3.8), which sounds similar to Angelo’s reputation for austerity.
The differences between the Duke and Angelo are far greater, however, depending on the reading the play is given (All the perspectives I mention below come from Lever’s ‘Introduction’). It is possible to interpret the Duke as being more a stage device than a full-fledged character. His primary role may be to represent the middle way that good rulers should adopt, and to orchestrate the trials and learning experiences that move the other characters from their extreme positions into more moderate ways of being. The Duke does this by implementing the historic ruse of going in disguise among his people to find out how things are really going, and to set them right if need be. While the play is set in Vienna, from an Anglican perspective the ruler’s masquerading about as a monk might not be sacrilegious but part of his role as head of the church. And one of the Duke’s main speeches (3.2.249-270) can be seen as a chorus where he is speaking in part as ‘everyman’—in which case “my vice” (3.2.258) means the vices of the people. In addition, the speeches where the Duke complains of slander (3.2.176-180; 4.1.59-64) may have originally been one speech, but lines were taking from one part to fill in at the later part. All this is to say that the Duke could be interpreted as a much less rich, complete, and carefully portrayed dramatic character than Angelo. That sounds lazy however.
3. Discuss King Lear’s treatment of theme of “nature” and “the natural.” How many different definitions of the word “nature” can you identify in the minds of different characters? Does the play itself endorse any particular one of them?
“Nature,” “natural,” or “unnatural” occur at least 24 times in King Lear. Semantically, these occurrences can be broken down into the following categories:
1.1.53: natural affection as deserving reward of bounty
1.1.167: the king’s nature and place cannot bear someone coming between his pronouncements and his power.—and there, after giving up his power, he uses it to banish Kent.
1.1.213: Lear says nature is almost ashamed to acknowledge her
1.1.239: a tardiness in nature – a natural slowness
1.2.1: Thou, Nature, art my goddess; to thy law / My services are bound. The note says: “Nature has various meanings in the play, most notably in its frequent reminders of the bonds of nature, the ties of natural affection between parent and child, what Lear calls ‘the offices of nature, bond of childhood’ 2.2.367; for extended discussion see Danby […]). In rejecting these ties, Edmund appeals to the law of the jungle in effect, and aligns himself with beasts (lusty stealth) as against custom, morality and order, as a way of justifying himself […]” (Foakes).
According to Danby, “The words ‘nature’, ‘natural’, ‘unnatural’ occur over forty times in King Lear […] The expected range of the Elizabethan meanings of the word is covered” (19).2 He continues, focusing on “two main meanings, strongly contrasted and mutually exclusive [that] run through the play” (19). We have Edmund’s view, shared by Goneril and Regan, and a “traditional and orthodox” view shared by the “Lear party.” Cordelia, however, Danby suggests “embodies the Nature which Edmund denies to exist, and which Lear […] cannot recognize” (125). This scenario is beginning to sound familiar. Edmund’s view is clear enough to me. I’m less certain about the Lear party’s and the one Danby suggests Cordelia represents.
Based on what I’ve been able to skim of Danby at this point, and textual examples such as Gloucester’s speech (1.2.103-117), and my general sense of the text, the Lear view of nature seems almost equivalent to saying, “things are the way they are because they’re supposed to be.” The way things have been is natural. There are certain well-established codes of behavior for people, and these must be followed. If things change, it is because they are affected by the planets or the gods. Cordelia behaves contrary to what Lear perceives as the appropriate code of behavior. Unfortunately, Lear seems to be the first to be doing something unnatural (dividing his kingdom while he’s still alive). That isn’t exactly right—for them, nature may be about learning one’s natural place and performing one’s natural role—in the sense of India’s caste system. That is, you were born into a certain form (human) in a certain social status, and there are certain ways you’re supposed to behave, and your job while alive is to perform your role as best as possible. The sun and moon eclipsing aren’t causes, but they are symptoms of an underlying disease of the natural order (Danby 38). The ways of being or custom were reflective of the ideal way that things should be—and while Danby isn’t using the word “platonic” (but Hooker and Bacon), that is what the Lear nature sounds like. The Edmund nature is clear enough, but how about the Cordelia nature?
Her act in the play’s opening suggests she’s not pro forma. Danby seems to be suggesting that Cordelia represents something like the virtue mentioned in response to the first question, regarding the theme of grace and nature. Her act in the play’s opening was in fact pro forma and Lear should have recognized that (Danby 131). Danby does say that the limiting expression of the traditional and orthodox view is Cordelia (20). But what he means by limiting expression is not immediately clear to me. I’m going to have to leave it here. Danby has a lot good to say about Cordelia. He uses the word “integration” often. All this is somewhat remarkable to me, but perhaps I should stop being surprised—Ken Wilber is respected as one who’s managed to synthesize a lot, and perhaps his integral view and Beck and Cowan’s “Spiral Dynamics” is manifesting itself here. So I have succeeded in not spending time on my own pondering exactly what particular characters appear to think about nature, and instead have some of an idea of what Danby thinks Shakespeare is representing.
Nature is just a word, one I’ve thrown out of my vocabulary long ago from having found it used in too many different ways to be meaningful yet. But Danby’s book, to the extent it provides insight into what an “integral theory” of literature might be like, but more importantly to the extent it emphasizes that “[Shakespeare’s] art expresses and illuminates the field of choice,” and that “it is by choice that [man] grows,” And that “bits of behavior” are “animations of an idea” (17-18), is looking like it will be helpful to me in exploring the relationship between art and the possibility of individual and societal development.
Lever, J. W.. Introduction. The Arden Shakespeare. Measure for Measure. J. W. Lever, ed. London: Methuen & Co., 1965. xi-xci.
The Pelican Shakespeare. Measure for Measure. Jonathan Crewe, ed. New York: Penguin Books, 2000.
The Arden Shakespeare. King Lear. R. A. Foakes, ed. London: Thompson Learning, 1997.
Danby, John F. Shakespeare’s Doctrine of Nature: A Study of ‘King Lear’. London: Faber and Faber, 1949.
"nature, n." Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press: Oxford. 1989. <http://0-dictionary.oed.com.opac.sfsu.edu/>
1J.W. Lever explains the theme:
Christianity taught that man as a spiritual being was endowed with the divine gift of grace, which he might store for his soul’s salvation, exercise in his dealings with his fellow-men, or decline from through sin, at his own free will. At the same time, he was also a part of the natural world, moved by the same urges and endowed with the same functions as other creatures; and in this sphere too he had the choice of conserving, exercising, or abusing his innate powers. Measure for Measure […] is plainly concerned with the broader humanist problem of co-ordinating the spiritual and natural forces of personality for the welfare of man upon earth. […]
Bridging by its dual connotations the spiritual and natural fields of action, and mediating between them, was virtue. This signified a beneficent use of natural function which merited the gift of grace as a concomitant; correspondingly, it implied a ‘going forth’ of grace which might comprehend the conscientious payment of nature’s debt. […] Throughout the main action, however, the properties of grace and nature are dissociated and juxtaposed. ‘Strict restraint’ and ‘immoderate use’, the distorted attitudes of convent and brothel, of precisian and libertine, are presented as jarring disparates inducing a process of psychic disruption. In the absence of virtue as a moderator, sexual function turns into the abuse of lechery […] At the spiritual level, excessive zeal is corrupted to pride […] Most alarming of all, there are the sudden slips from level to level, landslides of the soul which transform zealot into lecher and saint into sadist. (lxxii-lxxiii)
2 According to the OED, some of meanings of nature are:
1a. The essential qualities or properties of a thing; the inherent and inseparable combination of properties essentially pertaining to anything and giving it its fundamental character.
2. a. The inherent and innate disposition or character of a person (or animal). Also, (one's) better nature.
2b. The general inherent character or disposition of mankind. Also in phr. human nature.
3. a. With a and pl. An individual character, disposition, etc., considered as a kind of entity in itself; hence, a thing or person of a particular quality or character.
3f. nature and nurture, nature-nurture, heredity and environment as influences on, or the determinants of, personality
(see quot. 1874). Also attrib.
9e. Natural feeling or affection. Now dial.
IV. 11. a. The creative and regulative physical power which is conceived of as operating in the material world and as the immediate cause of all its phenomena. balance of nature.
14. a. the ora state of nature: (a) the moral state natural to man, as opposed to a state of grace; (b) the condition of man before the foundation of organized society; (c) an uncultivated or undomesticated condition; (d) physical nakedness.
(new edition june 2003 draft) 5. a. The inherent dominating power or impulse in a person by which character or action is determined, directed, or controlled.
Sometimes referred to as if having an independent existence or character, and in early use freq. with implication of moral principle.