Juxtaposition of scenes

Changes between scenes

The juxtaposition, or placing next to one another, of scenes, is often used by Shakespeare for particular effect. In Measure for Measure, comic scenes can present an ironic commentary on more serious ones. This is first noticeable very early in the play:

  • In Act I sc i we see the serious business of the court, and the Duke's commands to Angelo and Escalus
  • There is an immediate contrast with the bawdy humour and flippant conversation of Lucio and his friends in Act I sc ii
  • This is emphasised by the shift from blank verse to prose (see Shakespeare's Language)
  • The audience quickly realises that not all inhabitants of Vienna share the Duke's attitudes.

Changes within scenes

The same sort of effect is also achieved by the use of juxtaposition within scenes, as in Act II sc i:

  • We hear Angelo's pious remarks on the nature of justice, and his determination that a wrong-doer such as Claudio must die
  • This is immediately followed by the arrival of Elbow with Pompey and Froth:
    • Seeing how Pompey manipulates and tries to outwit the law, seeing also the incompetence of Elbow, the audience laughs at the law in operation in Vienna
    • They must also be appalled at the condemnation of Claudio under this system.

Mood changes

There are many instances of contrast throughout the play, whereby the mood is abruptly changed; for example:

  • When Pompey speaks in soliloquy at the start of Act IV sc iii, joking about the inmates of the gaol, and then calling for Barnardine to ‘awake till you are executed'
  • This flippancy is followed by the Duke's serious discussion with the Provost about Barnardine's spiritual unreadiness for death and Isabella's horror at Angelo's further deception
  • These matters are then juxtaposed with Lucio's arrival and his slanderous comments about the ‘old fantastical duke of dark corners'.
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