Measure for Measure

Shakespeare's Portrayal of the Duke

What dramatic interest has Shakespeare created through his portrayal of the Duke in Act 3?

In order to answer this question, it is necessary to study the character of the Duke and how he is developed in Act 3. The Duke acts principally as an observer, watching Isabella and Claudio argue before sweeping in to resolve the situation. He is also, however, involved with the characters despite his assumption of religious real authority echoing his real status. The Duke is clearly wounded by Lucio's painful analysis of his motives and dubious virtues in scene two, and also by Angelo's treacherous behaviour, despite not being unexpected.

Act 3 is punctuated with reminders of Angelo and his authority in Vienna. Both Pompey and Mistress Overdone are carried off at his behest, emphasising his presence although he does not physically appear onstage in the whole act. The concoction of a plan to expose his lechery is also placed centre stage, both by the Duke and the playwright, making this absentee character seem all the more important. This is contrasted strongly with the Duke's presence for the entirety of the act. The Duke acts as an observer for much of the time, and seems apart from the other characters, not least because he...

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