The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0430  Thursday, 2 March 2000.

From:           Paul Swanson <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 01 Mar 2000 09:11:46 -0500
Subject: 11.0419 Re: Double Time in MforM
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0419 Re: Double Time in MforM

David Richman writes about MM:

"The ending, with its open-ended silences, is deliberately and
deliciously problematic."

David, of course, is absolutely right; probably the clarity of MM's
ending can only be established through performance. A stellar 1998
Alabama Shakespeare production, for example, closed with the Duke
holding out his hand for Isabella to come with him and presumably marry.
She waits with reluctance, looks at Claudio and Juliet, and then takes
the Duke's hand.  Claudio rises to protest, but Isabella quickly
silences him by pointing at him as she walks out with the Duke.
Problematic indeed...

One of the passages that I give considerable weight to in assessing the
play comes in 1.1, as the Duke addresses Angelo:

                Thyself and thy belongings
                Are not thine own so proper as to waste
                Thyself upon thy virtues, they upon thee.
                Heaven doth with us as we with torches do,
                Not light for themselves; for if our virtues
                did not go forth of us, 'twere all alike
                As if we had them not (1.1.29-35).

In essence, then, the Duke seems to suggest that our personal strengths
(virtues) serve some social or larger purpose. Angelo's apparent moral
strength and certainty will serve the state well by ridding it of the
decadence that it is become infested with.

But quite clearly, Shakespeare seems to use the remainder of the play to
contradict, or at least cast doubt on, the Duke's arguments. It is when
Angelo no longer uses his virtues for the state, but instead uses the
states for himself, that problems arise. Of course, Isabella is of the
same thread. She attempts to use her own personal virtues to influence
state law and justice, and Angelo exposes her hypocrisy in the
brilliantly complex discussion 2.4 discussion.

Perhaps what all this adds up to is that personal morality needs must be
at odds with political morality. There is a difference between the
President and the presidency. Sometimes one must commit a personal moral
wrong for the sake of the general good; likewise, to maintain personal
moral purity can perhaps come at the expense of the general welfare of a

The more one writes about this play, the more one risks appearing

Paul Swanson

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