Measure For Measure Essay: The Bed Trick

1926 words - 8 pages

The Bed Trick in Measure for Measure

     Critics have referred to the concept of Mariana taking Isabella's place in Angelo's bed "the bed trick."  This plan of the Duke's, which is supposed to save Isabella, Claudio, and Mariana, appears to be almost corrupt and shameful, and is one of the reasons scholars consider Measure for Measure a problem play.  What exactly is going on here with all of these characters?  It seems almost uncharacteristic of the sweet, naïve, virginal Isabella to condone another performing such an act in her place.  Isabella is, in a sense, asking Mariana to perform the very act which she has not only been avoiding, but that she is disgusted by.  The fact that Isabella would accept the Duke's plan without question, which she does, has caused critics to question how saintly she actually is.  The Duke has also been criticized for conducting and carrying out his plan.  After all, he is the Duke, and he could have stopped Angelo and saved Mariana from having to sacrifice herself if he would have simply removed his disguise.  It seems to be odd that a character the audience is expected to revere would not try to solve this problem by a more respectable, and much more simple, solution.  Mariana has also been criticized for accepting her part in the action, because she is the character who commits the sin.  Hence, the deception presented by these three "good" characters in the play is almost as corrupt as Angelo's deception.  Why would Shakespeare do this?  It appears that perhaps Shakespeare wanted to make all of his characters appear human.  Angelo depicts a "holier-than-thou" persona and eventually falls because of it, Isabella is portrayed as a saintly virgin but here the audience sees she is also fallible, and the Duke, although a likeable character,  is shown to also have a dark side because instead of using his power to solve his situation, it seems like he would rather ride the issue out and test Angelo, even if it means the possible death of Claudio.


First of all, there are many problems presented in the scene (IV.i) in which the Duke and Isabella first approach Mariana with their proposition.  The Duke and Isabella walk in on Mariana while she is listening to a love song. When she sees that guests have arrived, she stops the song and says: "Here comes a man of comfort, whose advice/ Hath often still'd my brawling discontent" (IV.i.8-9).  This line appears odd because it sounds almost as if Mariana knows the Duke as an acquaintance, which should not be possible because the Duke is in disguise.  Furthermore, when the Duke asks Mariana to allow him to speak with Isabella in private, Mariana says: "I am always bound to you" (IV.i.25) which again sounds as if she is speaking to someone she is familiar with.  Again, this is odd.  Perhaps it serves to prove that the play was hastily written, or perhaps it serves to prove that Mariana recognizes the Duke, or that she is mistaking him for another person she...

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