The character of the Duke is portrayed by Shakespeare as a very complex, hypocritical and contradictory character. To many critics, he is conveyed as a Machiavellian Prince, using others for his own political ends, and to some critics, a God-like figure, testing the pathology of power in Vienna. Despite these two polar opposites the character is nethertheless a character of ambivalence. Contradiction is one of the main themes of the play, as is appearance versus reality, law versus grace and justice versus mercy. The Duke never lets go of the puppet strings, pulling events and manipulating other characters in the play. Vincentio's motives for influencing the events are controversial; it has been argued that the Duke enjoys watching others fall, and also uses others to do his 'dirty work' for him. He has also been called a moral coward, and this essay will examine his different personas in order to find out how Shakespeare conveys the complexity of the Duke through his language choices.
Firstly, the character of the Duke can be divided into three different personas; the public duke, the politician; the Friar Lodowick, and the private Duke. The private Duke appears to the audience in Act one, scene one, when he seems tentative, in his convoluted language, abdicating his power to Angelo. This captious vocabulary pertaining to the legal discourse is used to assert the Duke's position of authority and office when he asks Escalus of Angelo 'what figure of us think you he will bear?' The use of the word 'bear' shows the audience that he recognises the responsibilities of being the ruler, and Angelo will have to endure these responsibilities for Vincentio. The use of the word 'figure' shows us that the Duke may also be disconcerted by the possibility that Angelo will discredit the judiciary. The noun 'figure' meaning a person's public image shows his concern.
As the Friar Lodowick, the Duke's language changes from legal discourse to religious discourse. In Act 2.3, the Friar tells the Provost 'bound by my charity and my blessed order/ I come to visit the afflicted spirits'. This line is rich with religious vocabulary. The abstract noun 'charity' is used to mean that the friar comes only to help others, not for his own gain. The audience can see that the friar is actually the Duke come to spy on Angelo, made obvious by the Duke's earlier statement 'if power changes purpose/ what our seemers be', which creates dramatic irony.
The Duke's clever switch in discourse becomes more obvious through Act 2.3 when he uses language such as '?daughter, but lest you do repent/ As that the sin hath brought you to this shame-/which sorrow is always toward ourselves not heaven?' Such religion-orientated words such as 'daughter', 'repent', 'sin', and 'heaven' are all associated with discourse pertaining to religious figures. However, it is not just in the figure of the friar that the Duke uses religious arguments. In Act 5.1, the Duke uses the Old Testament teaching 'An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth' when judging Angelo; 'An Angelo for a Claudio' and 'measure still for measure'. However, he is not so harsh when judging the provost, Escalus, Isabella and Mariana. The Duke says 'the doubleness of the benefit defends the deceit from reproof' in judging those who have sinned in order to save others (the provost), or to keep their principles intact (in Isabella's case- her chastity).
Another biblical teaching 'judge not, lest ye be judged' or 'let he that is without sin cast the first stone' is used when the Duke tells Isabella that 'he [Angelo] would have weighed thy brother by himself'. The theme of 'weighing' is brought up many times in the play, for example, when Lucio calls the Duke 'a very superficial, ignorant, unweighing fellow', and in the Duke's speech 'and measure still for measure'.
St Matthew 7: 1-2 says 'do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others.' These lines seem to be echoed in the...
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