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A Guide to Measure for Measure | Act 4

Andrea Lewis | Wednesday August 03, 2011

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  1. A Guide to Measure for Measure | Act 1 + Scheme of Work
  2. A Guide to Measure for Measure | Act 2
  3. A Guide to Measure for Measure | Act 3
  4. A Guide to Measure for Measure | Act 4
  5. A Guide to Measure for Measure | Act 5

In a Shakespearian comedy, the audience would probably now expect the rest of the play to be the outworkings of the Duke’s plan followed by a happy ending usually involving at least one wedding (AO4). The events of Act 4 show this is not going to be the case in Measure for Measure.

The first part of the Duke’s idea goes to plan. Mariana agrees to co-operate and Isabella successfully pretends to Angelo that she will meet him (and sleep with him). However, time is running out for Claudio who is supposed to be executed by eight the following morning. At this point, we meet a new character, Barnadine, who is also due for execution for serious and proven crimes.

Role of Barnadine

Necessary for the plot because the Duke’s plan is going awry. Instead of a pardon for Claudio, the Provost has received orders to expedite Claudio’s death by four hours and his head is to be sent to Angelo as evidence. The Duke, therefore, comes up with plan B, to execute Barnadine and send his head as proof instead (another substitution).

Scene 3

When Barnadine is called up for execution, it is obvious that he is, as the Duke admits, ‘Unfit to live or die’ and ‘to transport in the mind he is were damnable’. Thus the Duke’s plan to save Claudio is failing miserably. However, Barnadine’s role is much more significant than his part in the second plan. His presence in the play demonstrates the extreme, animal side of mankind and also the difficulties of establishing a justice system which deals justly with all cases.

Plan C, which finally works, comes not from the Duke but through ‘an accident that heaven provides’ suggested by the Provost. Another prisoner has died of a fever and he can, therefore, provide the...


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