Marriage As A Form Of Justice In Measure For Measure

1505 words - 6 pages

Marriage as a Form of Justice in Measure for Measure Measure for Measure has long been defined by critics as a "problem" comedy due to its nonconformity to the typical comedic formula and conventional standards of Shakespearian comedy. Not only is there an absence of romantic love, the usual bawdy jokes concerning sex take on a dark twist, conveying instead images of death and destruction. Even the four marriages in the end do not constitute a happy ending, for they are introduced as a means of justice, a way of rectifying wrongs and complying with societal expectations. Matrimony is shown as a solution to a variety of problems: preserving or restoring a woman's honorable reputation, fulfilling financial obligations, and providing for illegitimate children. It is, by and large, a state that the characters appear to be unwillingly, or at least reluctantly, forced into by the decrees of the Duke. Moreover, it is the men who are allegedly being punished and held accountable for their actions, while the women are not unhappy with the circumstances under which they are wed. Although these marriages do not bear any illusions of romantic love or promise of happiness, they share a commonality in the meting of justice for Claudio, Angelo, and Lucio, and their respective brides. They coalesce into a new kind of formula, and though it may not be conventional according to Shakespeare's standards, it does make sense. However, the marriage of the Duke and Isabella does not appear to satisfy any form of justice and is thus inconsistent with the others. Is this another problem in a problem comedy? Perhaps we should take a closer look at these relationships.Claudio and Julietta, who are clearly the couple whose relationship most closely resembles that of a romance, appear to have every reason to marry. Although there is no explicit mention of love between them, it is implied that there is some kind of strong emotional attachment between them; this is further evidenced by their betrothal. Though some thought that such a marriage agreement brought conjugal privileges to the participants, society as a whole was likely to frown upon what would be deemed "fornication," a sin punishable under the law. Their wedding has been delayed "only for propagation of a dower"(1.2.127), yet they have elected to engage in a "most mutual entertainment"(1.2.131), or sexual relations, regardless of the stigma they would receive, should this become known to the general public. Thus, money is the incentive for getting married; it may not be the sole reason, but without it, even their sexual relationship and the unborn child are not sufficient reasons to compel Claudio to wed the unfortunate Julietta. Indeed, she is unfortunate, for her pregnant condition is obvious, and cause for shame. Moreover, when Claudio is asked about his plight, he likens his desire for Juliet to a rat's craving for poison: "Like rats that raven down their proper bane/ A thirsty evil; and...

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