Analyse Shakespeare’s presentation of Angelo in Acts 1 ; 2 of Measure for Measure Essay

Published: 2021-09-11 13:25:12
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Category: William Shakespeare

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In Acts one and two of Measure for Measure Shakespeare presents Angelo in several different ways and in this essay I will be analysing the various ways in which Shakespeare does this.
In a play we have to remember that the characters are not real people, but we must think of them as such. We are influenced by their actions, their speech, what others say about a character (in this case what others say about Angelo,) and how others act around a character. Shakespeare uses all of these factors effectively in Measure for Measure. The first time we see Angelo he is summoned before the Duke, and told that he is going to be his deputy whilst he is away,
“For you must know, we have with special soul,
Elected him our absence to supply.”
This is a quote where the Duke tells Angelo he is going to take over the responsibility of the City. At first as a reader this gave me the impression that Angelo is well trusted and responsible. This sudden promotion surprises Angelo, he replies with,
“Let there be some more test of my metal,”
In this quote we can see that Angelo isn’t totally confident in his own ability, which is why he asks for some more of a test of his skill.
As the Dukes’ leave comes in to question, the audience starts to question why Angelo has been left in charge and not Escalus considering that Escalus is the much more experienced of the two and it would make more sense to leave the more experienced man in charge. This puts an element of uncertainty into the Audience’s mind, and we wonder if Angelo is being tested and how fit he is to rule.
This feeling that Angelo might not be suitable to rule is also shared by Claudio who has been sentenced to death for having sex before marriage and getting his girlfriend pregnant, Claudio says,
“Whether it be the fault and glimpse of newness,”
In this quote Claudio is saying that he thinks the speed of Angelo’s promotion has affected his rationality, that he is trying to stamp his authority down and this is the reason for his harsh punishment. As the Audience is influenced by how characters speak and react to each other, Claudio’s reaction about the severity of his punishment from Angelo will make it clear to the audience how strict Angelo is and is a good early reflection of his character.
We get a view on how ruthless Angelo is, not only from his sentence of Claudio, but how Angelo deals with characters who he feels are lower than himself. In this quote we see Angelo asking Escalus to hear out the explanations of comical characters of Pompey, Froth and Elbow.
“I’ll take my leave,
And leave you to the hearing of the cause,
Hoping you’ll find good cause to whip them all.”
In this quote it’s clear to see Angelo’s impatience with people who he thinks waste his time and are of a lower class than him. This does not better the Audiences perception of Angelo and how he deals with certain situations and people.
Angelo’s harsh punishment of Claudio and his treatment of brothels in the city earns him a bad reputation in the poorer areas, the change that takes place in the city and Angelo’s lack of insight and understanding of the poorer peoples’ situation in the city becomes exposed,
“Why, here’s a change in deed in the commonwealth
What shall become of me?”
The “what shall become of me,” part of that quote shows Angelo’s lack of understanding of how the poorer people live in the city, the social agenda, the way many earn a living, and the poverty he will plunge people into if he stops a main source of income that people rely on. This doesn’t make Angelo look like a very understanding character, but here we can sympathise with him a little.
Angelo’s problem is that he must be seen to be enforcing the law and, if he is seen to pick and choose between who gets punished and who doesn’t he will look like a weak and biased governor. So he mustn’t be seen “To make a scarecrow of the law,” and the consequences of obeying the law to every letter, is that you will look hard and cold. The feeling that Angelo is a cold and heartless person is summed up in this quote from Lucio,
“…Lord Angelo, a man whose blood
Is very snow broth, one who never feels.”
It’s clear to see here what Lucio thinks of Angelo. A strong description of Angelo used in this way will influence what the audience thinks of Angelo too, because at this point in the play Shakespeare doesn’t give us a lot of insight into Angelo’s background, inner thoughts or personality so having him described in such a harsh way leaves a blunt initial image in the audiences mind.
Shakespeare then gives the Audience a scene between Angelo and Escalus where they discuss Claudio’s punishment of death. This conversation says a lot about Angelo at the time, we see he is unforgiving and relatively unexpected in the emotional aspects of everyday life. When talking about Claudio’s situation he says,
“Tis one thing to be tempted, Escalus,
Another thing to fall.”
In this quote Angelo is basically saying it is easy to be tempted into a situation eg sex, but it’s totally different to knowingly partake in the act. These words make Angelo look quite heartless to the audience, it shows Angelo’s lack of emotion, which is exploited by Isabella in there first meeting where she tries to persuade Angelo to change his sentence which he has given to Angelo,
“If he had been as you and you as he,
You would have slipped like him, but he like you,
Would not have been so stern.”
In this quote Isabella is telling Angelo that if he were in Claudio’s position he would have done the same thing as Claudio, and if he had wouldn’t he have felt harshly treated by the law. It appears to me that Isabella here is voicing the audience’s thought of, wouldn’t you fall to the same temptation as Claudio. So here Shakespeare is asking the audiences’ question for them giving a more detailed look at the character of Angelo.
Up until the end of ActII SceneII we see very little of Angelo’s inner thoughts, but at the end of the scene where he meets Isabella Shakespeare gives the audience an inside view of the inner feelings of Angelo with a Soliloquy. This gives the opportunity to see Angelo’s lack of life experience being admitted. In the Soliloquy Angelo muses on his previous immunity to sexual desires. After seeing Angelo’s recent harshness shown to Claudio for being tempted into sex before marriage we see the same early desires being aroused in Angelo and sudden vulnerability of his situation.
“Oh cunning enemy that, to catch a saint,
with saints dost bait thy hook! most dangerous.”
Angelo here is realising that he is being tempted, he says that the devil is tempting the good using good people, but we see the newness of this situation and emotion to Angelo when he says,
“When men were fond, I smil’d and wondered how,”
Here Angelo is now admitting his physical attraction to Isabella and now he understands situations like Claudio’s, but to the audience Angelo is starting to look like a hypocrite. Not so long ago he expressed his certainty in the sentence he gave Claudio and here he is now experiencing the same cycle of events.
Shakespeare throws up various situations to Angelo, and the way he deals with them influences how the audience perceive his character. So far in the Play Shakespeare makes Angelo look like a hypocritical, cold and heartless.
It’s important not to forget to think of this as a play, and that the characters must be thought to have real feelings, so to get an accurate look into Angelo’s personality we must take into account Angelo’s situation, and how/what he says and does , and it’s effect on others. Shakespeare throws up unexpected situations for Angelo that bring out the two extremes of his personality and moral decision making, it is these decisions that influence an Audiences perception of a character.

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