The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 29.0424 Thursday, 6 December 2018
Date: December 6, 2018 at 11:18:43 AM EST
Subject: MM Ending
Julia Griffin’s suspicion that “Shakespeare was just not that interested in the Duke in MM” arises, I think, because the Duke’s interior life is almost invisible. Though he undergoes a number of changes in the course of the play, his motives are either unexpressed or, in some cases, dodgy. Among the obvious questions that the play does not explicitly answer:
Why does the Duke suddenly change from an advocate for death to an advocate for life after overhearing Isabella and Claudio? What accounts for the fact that the Duke, who does not like to stage himself to the eyes of his subjects, becomes the showman of the theatrical last scene? How has the Duke come to forgive Lucio for the slanders that the Duke had earlier so much dreaded? Why does the Duke become susceptible (if in fact he does) to the “dribbling dart of love”? And, the most nagging question, why does the Duke tell Isabella that her brother is dead?
The answers to these and other similar questions determine whether the Duke is regarded as a model, if slightly inhuman, ruler (J. W. Lever) or a sadistic monster (some Feminist readings). But it is emphatically not the case that “he undergoes no inner development of character and achieves no added self-knowledge,” as Lever contends. The changes in his behavior can only be explained by a development of his character and some degree, at least, of added self-knowledge. A comprehensive understanding of the Duke (and consequently of the play) requires that we regard him as more than a mere plot device.