Home > drama, literature, Shakespeare > The Sexual Motives of Duke Vincentio in William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure (Part 2)

The Sexual Motives of Duke Vincentio in William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure (Part 2)

July 11th, 2010

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The Duke departs, and Angelo is left with absolute rule. It is not clear whether he realizes that the Duke’s advances are sexual in nature, but perhaps he does understand the situation. Escalus says to him, “A power I have, but of what strength and nature/ I am not yet instructed. ” Angelo replies: “’Tis so with me” (1. 1, 79-81). Angelo may be referring to his political power, but it can also be interpreted as uncertainty about his sexual nature and his desirable affect on the Duke. Finally, the Duke forces Angelo to marry a woman who does not appeal to him while the Duke himself proposes to a woman that he had not shown any romantic or sexual interest in. Brown believes this to be “a front of a socially sanctioned union” to provide the two men opportunity to engage in a relationship without immediately causing a controversy.

Carolyn Brown suggests that the Duke has homosexual tendencies and that his relationships with specific characters reveal his discreet desires. The author points to his relationship with Lucio for evidence to support her argument. During conversations with the disguised Duke, Lucio insists that he has a close, personal relationship with the ruler: “Friar, thou knowest not the Duke so well as I do” (4. 4, 151). The false friar demands that Lucio identify himself, and he is met with a confident response: “Sir, my name is Lucio, well known to the Duke” (3. 1, 396). He also expresses his loyalty to the Duke, telling the friar that he “know[s] him and [he] love[s] him” (3. 1, 387). The use of the word “know” here could be used to imply a sexual knowledge, as it is often used in that sense in other Shakespearean plays. While Lucio seems to believe that he speaks the truth, he has a tendency to lie throughout the play. Brown acknowledges this; “undoubtedly Lucio shows signs of being a braggart and taking creative license with the truth. But…Lucio’s numerous references to the Duke’s sexual proclivities and the confident manner in which he asserts them suggests that he has intimate knowledge of the Duke himself. ” The existence of a sexual relationship between the two would also explain Lucio’s continuous cries for attention at the end of the play, which seem to be without fear of punishment. Perhaps he does not expect to be held accountable because of this special relationship. Another possible interpretation that Brown’s argument presents is one that portrays Lucio as a disgruntled, jealous former lover of the Duke. This interpretation explains Lucio’s constant verbal attack on both the Duke himself and the Duke’s new love interest, Angelo. All of these attacks seem to focus on one thing specifically: Angelo’s sexuality. He calls him a “sexless thing” (3. 2, 108), “one who never feels/ the wanton stings and motions of the sense” (1. 4, 57-58), and says that “he is a motion ungenerative” (3. 1, 356), a phrase meaning sexually impotent. Finally, the Duke’s response also supports this interpretation. He expresses his anger at Lucio’s “back-wounding calumny” (3. 1, 417). Naturally, the Duke is rightfully angry at this slander, but perhaps he is also referring to this verbal harassment as a betrayal between two (once) intimate men.

The Duke’s sexual motivations influence his actions, his speech and his relationships with other characters in the play. Through close examination, Carolyn Brown highlights an interpretation of the Duke, Angelo, and Lucio that could otherwise easily be overlooked. The achieved level of success that the Duke’s attempt to place Angelo in a “compromising position and rescue him to gain his gratitude and affections” by showing favoritism towards him is unclear. Perhaps Angelo’s response to the Duke’s return answers the question: “You make my bonds still greater” (5. 1, 9).

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