Measure for Measure demonstrates that the natural urges and instincts of humanity cannot be contained or regulated by an imposed system of rules and laws. Discuss.
Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare is a 'tragicomical' play based in Vienna, a city riddled with decay and corruption under the rule of Duke Vincentio. While, to an extent, Shakespeare's Measure for Measure demonstrates that rules and regulations cannot always accommodate humanity's natural instincts and urges, there are some instances in which this statement is proved wrong. The very concept of law enforcement is first introduced By Angelo. Before Angelo takes over rule of Vienna, laws have been allowed to lapse and as a result, they are no longer respected or obeyed. The ideology of enforcing strict laws is introduced by Angelo in order to restrain the unprincipled sexuality and immorality that is highly rampant throughout the streets of Vienna. In addition, these laws supported abstemiousness and reinforced justice. However, in stark contrast to these expectations, Duke Vincentio's enforcement of law allowed for leniency rather than severe repercussions. The themes of sexuality, morality and gender stereotyping intertwine to highlight the idea that rules are both able and unable to contain and regulate certain aspects of human urges and natural instincts.
While Duke Vincentio provides the first instance of laws constricting the natural human urges and instincts, he also shows that there are some aspects of humanity that cannot be contained. Although very conscious of the rules and regulations in Vienna regarding the existence of brothels and adultery, the Duke chooses to turn a blind eye. This thought is introduced through the thriving nature of Mistress Overdone's brothel business. Residents of Vienna closely associate the Duke with a laxness toward laws. Because he had permitted for laws to exist whish were not seriously enforced, they were no longer respected or obeyed and were taken lightly. On the other hand, Angelo took his own ‘measures’ to enforce the ‘ban on brothels’. In spite of his imposition of these rules and regulations, Angelo himself is unable to restrain his natural urges and is seen to have broken the boundaries. The Duke specifically states that “we shall see if, power change purpose, what our seemers be”. This statement reveals that the Duke is planning on making Angelo the vice Duke in order to complete his work. In doing so, The Duke is a law breaker which breeds even more corruption. In contrast, Angelo’s use of power was different to the Duke’s, as Angelo believed that rules must always be followed in order for one to live a good life. By deputizing Angelo, the Duke creates a structure for him to be tested. Both Angelo and Vienna were being tested by the departure of the Duke.
Sexuality and temptation as well as greed is held in low regard, from Angelo’s perspective. Treated as a sexual object due to Angelo’s increasing lust, Isabella was blackmailed into having a sexual affair with him. Angelo holds the law in high regard and believes that it must be rigidly obeyed. He is seen as the exemplar for good behaviour. However, once he attained power, he abuses it in order to extort Isabella into having sex with him. He is described by Lucio as “a man whose blood is very snow broth” and “one who never feels”, meaning that he is perceived as being morally upright and not one to yield to immoral temptations. But, as can be seen by listening to Isabella, he finds himself moved for the first time with sexual desire and urges. He has initially lusted over her but, being the law-abiding person that he is, he forces himself to deny his feelings, which, in turn, causes him to be more vulnerable than before. Furthermore, both The Duke and Angelo cannot regulate their own natural urges, which depict them as ‘sexual predators’. The Dukes succumbing to temptation and sexuality is illustrated at the conclusion of the play where he states that he would like to marry Isabella. It is her reluctance to give up her virginity and chaste lifestyle that also make the audience feel uneasy when she is proposed to by the Duke at the end of the play. This further serves to reinforce the idea that even the most morally self-regulated person can be susceptible to natural human urges and instincts.
Finally, while laws exist to enforce justice, sometimes they are not respected due to more humane considerations; sometimes, the ends justify the means, i.e. Breaking the law for the right reasons. In Measure for Measure, some characters act out their natural instincts of compassion in situations which required the law to be applied, which is not entirely illegal. The characters displaying these traits are Isabella, Mariana and Escalus. Isabella demonstrates compassion and mercy when she chooses to plead for a lesser sentence for a crime her brother has committed. She is a resident of a convent and training to become a nun, giving her an appearance of virtue and purity. When Angelo offers to release Claudio on the proviso that she has sex with him, she is outraged and refuses. However, once Claudio begs her to satisfy Angelo, Isabella agrees and speaks plans the bed-trick with the Duke (disguised as the Friar). Even though she believes that “more than [her] brother is [her] chastity”, nevertheless she will put her “body up to shame” in order that Claudio may be spared. In addition, Mariana displays an unconditional act of forgiveness and love toward her former betrothed, Angelo. At one time, she was Angelo’s fiancée, but the engagement was broken when her dowry was destroyed at sea. Without any money to survive and without any husband, Mariana was forced to work under Mistress Overdone in the brothels. Despite how Angelo has treated her, Mariana is still very deeply in love with him and so, she agrees to take Isabella’s place in the sexual encounter with Angelo in hopes that he will have to marry her after the act has been committed. Once the Friar reveals himself to be the Duke and sentences Angelo to death, Mariana begs that the Duke not “mock [her] with a husband” and pleads with Isabella to “lend [her] knees” to persuade the Duke to bestow forgiveness upon Angelo. Lastly, Escalus reveals himself to be a major character displaying the virtues of loyalty and respect toward the Duke. He is a man who has a broader ethical vision than the Duke himself. He also argues that it is very unjust to punish Claudio in such a manner for a crime than anyone could have committed. Escalus understands that the laws must be enforced but must remain fair and just. His discreet display of loyalty is found in his confession to the disguised Duke in which he speaks well about the Duke by stating that “the duke is in us and we will hear [him] speak”. Thus, Isabella, Mariana and Escalus show the reader that there are ways in which aspects of human urges and instincts can’t be contained by laws and rules, because of the complexity of human nature
Ultimately, the play Measure for Measure portrays the city of Vienna as a place that is a hotbed for corruption and adultery which proves that rules and regulations cannot always accommodate humanity's natural instincts and urges, although there are a few examples of this statement being proved wrong. The play gives an understanding of how some laws aren’t always in alignment with humanity’s natural urges and instincts. Throughout the play, these concepts have been illustrated. Through the character and actions of the Duke, the ideas of sexuality and temptation are discussed in an attempt to convince the reader that laws aren’t always able to restrict certain urges and instincts. The overriding idea is that life is full of grey areas and that the implementation of justice cannot always be either black or white.