Measure for Measure Contents
- Shakespeare, William
- 1564 - 1582: William Shakespeare's Stratford Beginnings
- 1582 - 1592: William Shakespeare's Marriage, Parenthood and Early Occupation
- 1592 - 1594: William Shakespeare's Life In London, part 1
- 1594 - 1611: William Shakespeare's Life In London, part 2
- 1594 - 1611: William Shakespeare's Life In London, part 3
- 1611 - 1616: William Shakespeare - Back to Stratford
- Social / political context
- Religious / philosophical context
- The Theatre
- Act I
- Act II
- Act III
- Act IV
- Act V
Abhorson is another character whose name has been chosen to suggest what the audience might think of him: it is a mixture of ‘abhor' (hate) and ‘whore-son' (literally, son of a prostitute - a term of abuse). The provost clearly has a low opinion of him, telling him (in Act IV sc ii) that he is no better than the bawd Pompey - ‘Go to, sir, you weigh equally: a feather will turn the scale.'
Abhorson, however, is proud of his function as an executioner, claiming (in Act IV sc ii) that his job is a ‘mystery' (an English derivation of the French word ‘metier'– that is, a skilful trade requiring specialist knowledge). But the fact that Pompey is able to claim that being a bawd is equally a mystery – because ‘painting is a mystery' and prostitutes ‘paint' (i.e., use make-up: Pompey is punning on the idea of painting as done by a real artist, and painting as applying make-up) – reveals the essentially depraved nature of Abhorson's work.
Abhorson expresses no moral response to his role; he regards it simply as a ‘trade'. For the audience, who see that the well-meaning and effectively innocent Claudio is to receive the same treatment as the debauched murderer Barnardine, this is patently unjust, and Abhorson's role is, therefore, as his name suggests, abhorrent.
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