Measure For Measure By William Shakespeare

An analysis of Escauls, the main character in William Shakespeare's Measure for Measure.

The character of Escalus in the Shakespeare comedy Measure for Measure is open-minded, open-hearted, and open-handed in his generosity. His disagreement with the Deputy's unsympathetic ratification of what is fundamentally an irrational and illogical law is evidence of his forgiving nature.

The story begins with Vienna in total chaos. The police have let the streets be overtaken by prostitutes, beggars and thieves, and the Duke is at the end of his rope. He feels he must do something to reestablish order, but he does not wish to be viewed as a ruler with a harsh hand. He concludes that Commissioner Angelo is the perfect person to do his "dirty work" for him, because he recognizes his deeply religious, strict, beliefs and assumes he would not allow the city to continue wallowing in its present state.

In contrast to Angelo, Escalus is virtually flawless in character, yet is sometimes condemned for his compassion towards "sinners". When Claudio is arrested and dragged through the streets of Vienna for breaking the unreasonable law against premarital sex, Escalus is appalled. But he does not react with outrage; instead he uses his powers of persuasion. Situations which might have "lesser men" up in arms are handled by Escalus in a primarily civil manner. For example, when Angelo is promoted instead of Escalus, he bears no ill will. This polished attitude is in direct contrast with the rough and jagged approach Lucio takes to disappointment. Escalus' tolerance and compassion towards sex offenders often mirrors the qualities of Vincentio and his tendency toward wise and just rule.

Escalus has nothing but good things to say about the Duke and finds his absence to be the primary cause of the civil unrest that surrounds him. Of course one can't help but question why Escalus is not put in charge in the Duke's absence when their belief systems are so similar. Is he too old or too wise to carry out the Duke's wishes? Also, if the Duke's primary objective is to reestablish justice in Vienna, why does he not depend on his trusted counselor Escalus for advice and assistance, instead of "usurping the beggary he was never born to"? The Duke doesn't just absolve Escalus of responsibility, he strips him of it.

It could be said that the Duke's own self-doubt caused him to overlook Escalus' leadership qualities, fearing that the policies he lived by might not be as concrete as he once assumed they were. Since Escalus is a strong proponent of the Duke's policies, he may fear that trusting in Escalus would mean trusting in himself, and that was not something he was entirely confident doing at the time. Where the Duke does ask Escalus' for advice regarding his decision to entrust Vienna to Angelo, the response given is ambiguous; "If any in Vienna be of worth, To undergo such ample grace and honour, It is Lord Angelo." While this may sound like a positive endorsement on the surface, the word "if" implies that he is not completely confident in the Duke's decision. This is not because he is envious or angry, but merely because he is perceptive.

Angelo's decision to enforce an archaic law which classifies fornication as a capital offense is just the kind of line Vincentio was afraid to cross, and just the type of action Escalus would never condone. After all, the first person charged with this crime is just a rebellious teenager (Claudio) who has the unfortunate experience of getting his high society teenage girlfriend pregnant. For this, he is sentenced to death. Escalus is clearly against this decision.

Measure for Measure is about man learning to be true to himself and his beliefs, even in the face of opposition. These are awfully strong messages for a supposed comedy, making this play one of the darkest comedies Shakespeare ever penned. In light of that, we can examine the character of Escalus as not only as a creation born to instigate comical conflict, but as way of sending a message to those who are too "hung up on" sexual morality.

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