While Duke Vincentio is not mentally troubled the way Angelo is, his character too provides inputs to the thesis. And clues for this comes from original sources perused by Shakespeare for constructing Measure for Measure. It is now fairly well documented how the author drew heavily from real life events of King James I, who was a contemporary of Shakespeare and ruled Britain at the time. Some scholars have interpreted the play as a tribute to King James’ virtues, whose admirable traits include “dedication to virtue and chastity, his reclusive-ness, his scholarly nature, and his discomfort with crowds” have been incorporated into Valentio’s character. (Hunt, 2006, p.245) While historians and critics such as Jonathan Dollimore and Leonard Tennenhouse see the play as a tribute not just for the king but also for his cherished doctrines of monarchy, one must remember that “much of the new historicism underscores the subversiveness of Renaissance literature”. (Hunt, 2006, p.245) Within this framework, “Shakespeare is covertly criticizing, even demystifying, James’s rule. While James touted his virtue, moderation, and piety, the reality of his life and rule was anything but praiseworthy, quite rightly earning him the tag ‘the wisest fool in Christendom’.” (Brown, 1996, p.51) As critic Carolyn E. Brown observes, His appointment of Anglelo as the interim Duke is a product of his foolishness,
“Because James, like Shakespeare’s Duke Vincentio, chose favourites not based on their knowledge of government nor on their character but on his fondness for them, and because he was noted for his foolish generosity, he inevitably attracted men, like Shakespeare’s Angelo, who lacked good character and governing skills, and, consequently, abused their positions of power.” (Brown, 1996, p.52)
Hence, it is fairly clear that Shakespeare’s rulers are shown to be mentally disturbed, although to varying degrees. This is certainly true of Lear and Angelo and to a lesser extent of Valentio. Shakespeare’s plays and characters such as the ones discussed hold significance even today, for they deal with universal problems and concerns. The rage of an aggrieved father as seen in Lear is easy to identify with. Similarly, the double standards and opportunistic behaviour displayed by Angelo has parallels in some of our modern rulers (not least in the form of George W. Bush and his policies). Hence the relevance and appeal of these characters will continue undiminished for future generations of readers as well.
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Brown, C. E. (1996). Duke Vincentio of ‘Measure for Measure’ and King James I of England: “The Poorest Princes in Christendom.”. CLIO, 26(1), 51+.
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Hunt, M. (2006). Being Precise in Measure for Measure. Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature, 58(4), 243+.
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Skura, M. (2008). Dragon Fathers and Unnatural Children: Warring Generations in King Lear and Its Sources. Comparative Drama, 42(2), 121+.
Tiffany, G. (2001). Kenneth Gross. Shakespeare’s Noise. Comparative Drama, 35(3), 479+.