Measure for Measure can be seen as a problem play because it brings up a problem and then challenges the audience to come up with an answer: not necessarily right or wrong. The play is centred on law and that law is actually based on personal interpretation. In a bid to see if Angelo is capable of handling the city of Vienna, the Duke hands over his power to him and instead of “leaving town” he disguises himself as a friar to secretly watch Angelo. Angelo in a bid to rid Vienna of all sexual immorality, sentences a man called Claudio to death for having sexual intercourse and impregnating his fianci??.
Isabella his sister tries to rescue him but the only way is to have sex with Angelo. The Duke hatches a plan to save Claudio and tricks Angelo into having sex with another woman who he thinks is Isabella but is actually his former fianci??, Mariana. To deceive Angelo into thinking Claudio has been beheaded, the Duke orders another similar head of a murderer to be presented instead. Therefore, Claudio is saved and the Duke in the end punishes the wrongdoers in the play, including Lucio who spoke badly of the Duke.
Throughout the whole play, ambiguity is frequently present and the ambiguous feelings about death are the main highlight and focus of this. Not only does it explore the different viewpoints of death but it also acts as a strong dramatic device to provide excitement and emphasis in the play. Setting was used as a dramatic device and evoked feelings of secrecy and instability within the audience. Language as a dramatic device provided a deeper insight into the feelings about death not just with the characters in the play but also with the audience.
Overall, the main dramatic device in the play was Claudio’s soliloquy. It provokes strong opinions and feelings within the audience and stirred me up to develop my own feelings and opinions. The setting is a strong dramatic device in Act III Scene 1, and is used to explore Claudio’s ambiguous feelings about death. In the setting of the prison, Claudio’s ambiguous feelings about death are heightened by the mysterious, sinister and secretive nature of the surroundings.
As it sets the tone of the scene (because Claudio’s soliloquy describes death on the whole as a dark and miserable place to go), the audience are shown the ambiguity about his feelings and his negativity towards it. He fears death so much because he is not sure of what happens and what it holds. The comparison between this and the prison setting allows the audience to go deeper into analysis of what death really means to Claudio. With so many secrets within the prison walls, it creates a mood of unsure-ness and also curiosity not only within the characters but also the audience.
Instability is typically found in prisons, and the audience also experience it within Claudio’s ambiguous feelings about death. I think this is an effective dramatic device as not only does it create a tangible atmosphere within the play and the audience, but it also allows the audience to personally experience Claudio’s feelings about death through the atmosphere and his words concerning it, thus drawing them further into the play. Claudio’s soliloquy is a strong dramatic device in Act III Scene 1 in many ways.
Claudio describes death as an “in certain thought” (Act III Scene 1,126). This heightens the ambiguity because as Claudio’s feelings towards death are not sure and certain, the audience have no choice but to involve themselves into the discussion of it, causing them to get more involved in the play by perhaps challenging his views or even developing a further one from Claudio’s own. It allows the audience to start a debate within themselves and the characters on what death actually involves and ask themselves “what does it really mean? I think this has been a great technique that Shakespeare has used as I was drawn into the play further at this stage: the uncertainty of the soliloquy forced me to try and develop some certainty of my own.
Also, the language that he uses in the soliloquy allows quite a large opportunity to interpret and speculate about what his words really mean. The quotation “to lie in cold obstruction, and to rot” (Act III Scene 1, 118) seems to be simply stating that at death, we lie in a coffin, that we rot in there and go nowhere else.
Although, the ambiguity in this quote actually drove me to question if it really did meant that. Claudio could be saying that in death we could go to an unknown, cold dark barren land where we slowly rot away. This quotation does lead you to engage more in his feelings and thoughts. There is a clear contrast between Claudio’s soliloquy and another soliloquy concerning death in another of Shakespeare’s plays. In the soliloquy of Hamlet, he believes that death is better than life and that the “ills… we have” (Act III Scene 1) we would not have to put up with when we could end our lives.
Contrasting to this, we can see the ambiguity that the subject of death holds as Claudio believes the opposite of this. Also Hamlet’s soliloquy is non-religious on the whole, especially as he is contemplating death, which would be committing self-murder, thus condemning him to Hell. The religious element is much more of an ambiguous one than in Measure for Measure. The ambiguity within this is significant because it rouses the audience into obtaining a higher level of understanding of the varied views of death and allows them to develop their own.
The language used in Measure for Measure is very ambiguous in the majority of the play. This causes the audience to become fully engaged and engrossed in the many problematic issues that arise throughout. An example of this is found in this quote: “O it’s excellent To have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous To use it like a giant” (II. 2. 108-110) One interpretation that I made of this was that Isabella meant that it is good that Angelo had the all that power but that he should not use all of it on one person; it would be of that of a “giant’s” strength and too heavy on one man.
But the ambiguity of this quote challenges the audience’s mind and another interpretation could be that it is an attack on his technique of handling people in his position. He is being an oppressor of all those who do un-intentional sins and he is bullying people: a “giant” is typically believed to be of a bullying nature. Another example is the ambiguous language used in Claudio’s soliloquy: “To be imprisoned in the viewless winds And blown with restless violence round about” (Scene III Act 124-125)
This could be interpreted as Claudio talking about “Hades”, the underworld, as some believe that when you die, you are forced to go there. Hades is known to be dark and this relates to the description of “viewless winds” (A. III. i. 125). But also, it could be Claudio talking about going to Hell when you die: these keywords also hold similarity to Hell’s properties. Both these interpretations could be right but in allowing the text to be ambiguous in its context, Shakespeare has encouraged me to think about what Claudio means and also in reality, what death could also really mean.
The interpretation of the law in Measure for Measure is very ambiguous and this is where the central focus of the play is. This is a strong dramatic device all throughout the play. In this ambiguity, the audience are not being taught by straight-forward morals but by complex, problematic situations that need an in-depth and varied analysis; this engrosses the audience into the play. The situation of Claudio having sexual intercourse with his fianci??e and impregnating her before marriage is a crime punishable by death.
Claudio is sentenced to death and all throughout, we are taken through many routes and problems stemmed from this. The audience’s understanding is increased because we are taken through the many opinions and feelings of other different characters, which allows us to access a many-sided argument other than a one-sided argument. Unfortunately, the ambiguity of the ending is un-satisfying for me. Pompey who has sex with women before marriage on a daily basis is let free by Angelo just because of the way the situation was interpreted.
Angelo commits the same crime as Claudio and Pompey yet punishes him only Claudio by death, which is clearly unjust. In the end he gets away with all his dishonesty and corruptness: the Duke only punishes him by marriage to his former fianci??e. The audience throughout the whole play are forced to personally decide whether it is just for Claudio to be killed and yet at the end, the whole criminal justice system has just been changed by the simple command of the Duke who lets him off free.
The ending is even more ambiguous as The Duke randomly announces that he is to marry Isabella and Claudio is freed. Yet Lucio is condemned to death just for negatively speaking of the Duke! I am very unsatisfied with this, as the full involvement of the audience throughout the play has been fuelled with the anticipation of a fair and satisfying conclusion. Unfortunately, Shakespeare denies us of this but as a dramatic device, it has left the audience wanting more and continuously arguing their own feelings and the characters’ too.
Concluding, the dramatic devices that Shakespeare has used in Act III Scene 1 have been used successfully to explore Claudio’s ambiguous feelings about death. The setting provided a dramatic and effective atmosphere that allowed the audience to use their minds creatively in terms of imagery and comparing them to the actual feelings of Claudio. The soliloquy was a good weapon of choice in strongly yet ambiguously projecting Claudio’s feelings about death.
Not only did it provoke my mind into interpreting death and what it really involves but it used language as a dramatic device contained within it as well. The language granted us the opportunity to see the clear ambiguity in the play and with that, interpret many different things that could have more than one meaning or conclusion (including the law). The sheer ambiguity of the play through all these devices and more has given the audience a deeper insight into issues we would have normally swept aside and ignored.
It has highlighted that not everything is black and white and that the law is ambiguous, it depends on personal interpretation because otherwise, Claudio would have been killed for a crime that was considered wrong and punishable by death- no matter the circumstance- by only one person’s interpretation. Shakespeare has highlighted that it is in fact necessary that debate is carried out and opinions do matter. Without Claudio’s feelings about death, we would have not been provoked to question a serious issue, one we must all face in life.