An unknown character

MarianaThe question of Mariana poses some problems for the audience:

  • There is no mention of her until Act III sc i, when the disguised Duke tells Isabella about Angelo's desertion of his former fiancée
  • Isabella says she has ‘heard of the lady', but has no knowledge of Angelo's treatment of her
  • None of the other characters seem to have heard of this either, since those who, like Claudio, Escalus and Lucio, give an estimate of Angelo's character, all comment on his strict virtue and almost unnaturally moral behaviour.

The part played by the Duke

However, once Mariana has been introduced, the audience learns:

  • The Duke disguised as a friar has ‘often' visited her and ‘still'd (her) brawling discontent' (Act IV sc i)
  • In Act V sc i we learn that it was five years since Angelo deserted her; has the Duke been visiting her all that time?
  • If the Duke has ‘often' visited Mariana before this, he must have known about Angelo's actions before he left Angelo in charge of Vienna
  • This means that the Duke's comment to Friar Thomas in Act I sc iii, ‘Hence shall we see / If power change purpose, what our seemers be' , is made by a man who knows only too well that Angelo is indeed a ‘seemer' and a hypocrite
  • This gives an entirely new motive to the Duke's testing of Angelo – it is not so much about putting him to the test as about exposing weaknesses which the Duke knows only too well
  • But then why would the Duke not make public earlier what he knows of poor Mariana's situation and expose Angelo's cruelty?

The effect on the audience

It is possible, of course, to discount the above problems, and to say that, in adapting and altering the plots of other writers – especially Cinthio and Whetstone – from whom Shakespeare drew for the story of Measure for Measure, Shakespeare allowed some discrepancies to creep in to the structure of his play.

Nevertheless, the audience is unlikely to be able to ignore their surprise at the arrival of Mariana so late in the play; unlike the discrepancies in the time-scale (see also Structure > Time-scale) this cannot be so easily dismissed, given that it firmly alters the audience's perception of the Duke and his motives (see Characterisation > The Duke). Even allowing for the greater importance of dramatic effect over realism, the introduction of Mariana in Act III with no previous hint of her existence and her role in Angelo's past, remains one of the intriguing problems about the structure of Measure for Measure.

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