At the end of Measure for Measure the Duke has apparently caused a good deal of chaos, including the near execution of a man whose only crime is having sex with his lover, all for no apparent reason. At the beginning of the play he hands over power to Angelo, even though Angelo says that he is not ready for it. The Duke then goes into disguise as the Friar and essentially plays games with people’s lives. It is thus not surprising that the people might want to overthrow him.
The first argument that would be used, and perhaps the most powerful, would be that the Duke is the Duke. The idea that a person had a divine right to power through the “divine right of Kings” was powerful at this time. The Duke might have done some bad things – I would seem a fool if I didn’t admit this – but he made everything right in the end, and anyway, God has chosen him as Duke through birth. For better or worse he is the Duke, and the people should think twice before replacing him.
First, if you get rid of leadership through birth, what system will replace it? Second, what likely candidates are there for being Duke instead of him? The most likely, at least as far as birth and position is, ironically, Angelo. The rebels should be asked the question of whether they would prefer the present Duke or Angelo as their leader. I think the answer is quite easy to predict. This is based upon the quite practical, better the devil you know than the devil you don’t argument. This should appeal to the practical kind of people who would probably be wanting to remove the Duke at the end of the play.
Another argument would be to suggest that the Duke was showing how a real leader should act through putting a man who would be tempted by power in charge. Thus a real leader, such as the Duke himself, knows that the laws are written by men and are thus fallible. He becomes the Duke of “dark corners” to show that at times a leader must bend with the wind rather than applying the law absolutely.
This argument suggests that the Duke knew that Angelo would turn out to be a bad leader, and let him carry on with it, even when people’s lives were at stake. This showed the people that the Duke had their best interests at heart through showing them just how bad a leader Angelo would be, or someone like him, if the Duke was removed or died without an heir.
Another argument is the fact that despite obviously quite enjoying the kind of chaos and risk which ensued when he gave up power, the Duke never showed any sign of indulging this when he was acting as Duke. He thus did not succumb to the temptation of absolute power as Angelo did. This will be argument for the fact that the Duke, probably coming from a whole line of similarly powerful people, as the blood and temperament to control the city, even though his imagination might lead elsewhere.
The people might also be persuaded by the fact that at the end of the play everything is actually excellently resolved. The right people are marrying the right people, others have been pardoned when they deserve it and even, as in the case of Barnadine, when they don’t. Even the Duke has rescued Isabella from what is regarded as a terrible life in the convent and will marry her. This ensures that the Duke will soon have an heir to take over form him, and the succession of Dukes will be preserved. This being the case, why not forget the past rather than trying to bring about retribution for the Duke’s misdeeds.
Trying to remove the Duke might also cause a miniature civil war. It is unlikely that he or his supporters will go quietly. Also, the Dukes of neighboring cities might come to the Duke’s rescue because they fear the precedent of removing a Duke when the people don’t like him could spread to their cities. Or they may come to the “rescue” of the city through invading it while there is a power vacuum. That way the people would lose their Duke and their city.
So I would appear to several different arguments in order to save the Duke from the planned rebellion. First, he is the Duke and has the divine right to be so because he has been chosen by God. Secondly, what he did was actually a favor to everyone because it removed someone (Angelo) from contention of ever becoming Duke who appeared to be good material but actually turned out to be a total disaster. Third, the Duke showed that he understands the dark side of human nature, and even has his fair share of it himself, but ahs been able up to this time to keep it in check.
He has been a just Duke up until this point – that is why Angelo’s strict and eventually hypocritical decisions seem so harsh. Fourth, the Duke has shown just how difficult it is to be a Duke, and the people should think twice about replacing him because of the uncertainty of what will follow. Fifth, the Duke restores peace and harmony at the end of the play, and he is even getting married himself so he can now have an heir in waiting. Sixth, if they try to remove him a war will almost certainly occur, and the whole city may be lost.
To conclude, perhaps the best argument, if Shakespeare’s plays exist in this imaginary world of “after the play ends” will be the title of one of his other dark comedies: “all’s well that ends well”. Of course the question left by this play is “well is it?”, and the citizens are perhaps right to ask whether a man who could everything the Duke has done should continue in power. Bu the alternatives are too uncertain, too bloody and too chaotic to imply that the Duke should be replaced.
In the final part of the argument I would make clear that all those who were presently planning to remove the Duke will receive a full and absolute pardon. They might continue with the rebellion just because they are afraid of what would happen if they don’t, and yet have revealed themselves as potential rebels. However, I would mark down the names of all those involved carefully and watch them on behalf of the Duke in the future. . . .
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