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crossref-it.info - AS/A2 English Literature Study Guides - texts in context.

 

Imagery and symbolism » Disguise and seeming

Appearance and reality

Shakespeare was a man of the theatre (see also The Theatre; Author > 1592 - 1611 > Life in London) and consequently knew the importance of illusion. Many of his plays – for example, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It and Macbeth deal with the difference between what the eyes think they see and what the reality is.

The Duke's disguise

The Duke in disguise. Photo by Keith Pattison, belong to Almeida Theatre, aailable through Creative CommonsIn Measure for Measure the most obvious difference between appearance and reality concerns the disguise which the Duke adopts as he observes Angelo – whose own appearance of saintliness disguises his actual corruption.

The Duke dresses as a friar – that is, a member of a religious group, or order, many of whom travelled around preaching sermons and hearing confessions. Like monks, friars would wear a special long robe, or ‘habit' with a large hood which could be pulled forward to cover the face. This is what Lucio refers to in Act V when he comments ‘Cucullus non facit monachum', which means ‘a hood does not create a monk.'

Ironically, this is more true than Lucio realises at the time:

I prithee,
Supply me with the habit, and instruct me,
That I may formally in person bear
Like a true friar

he has no right to behave in this way (see also Characterisation > The Duke).

Pretence reveals pretence

‘Seeming' Angelo

Although the Duke is the only person who wears a physical disguise throughout most of the play, the prevalence of pretence, hypocrisy and ‘seeming' is a strong theme, especially when associated with Angelo:

‘Hence we shall seeIf power change purpose, what our seemers be.'
‘Seeming, seeming! I will proclaim thee, Angelo, look for't.'
‘an hypocrite, a virgin-violator',

she asks the Duke to

‘make the truth appear where it seems hid, And hide the false seems true.'

The deceiver deceived

Angelo is himself deceived by:

Acceptable deceit?

Although the Duke's stratagems are subterfuges, the disguised Duke tells Isabella (Act III sc i) that:

‘the doubleness of the benefit defends the deceit from reproof'.

This argument could well be used for the Duke's apparent withdrawal from Vienna and his return in disguise, since it enables him to ‘visit both prince and people' (Act I sc iii). The Duke also sees the substitution for Claudio's head as a good action - ‘an accident that heaven provides (Act IV sc ii). As the Duke tells Angelo in the last speech of the play, ‘Th'offence pardons itself."

Clothing

The Friar's habit is an overt image of disguise, and throughout the play Shakespeare uses images of clothing to suggest pretence.

More on clothing and pretence: Clothing to suggest pretence seems to be a favourite device of Shakespeare's, probably stemming from his role as an actor as well as playwright. Clothing imagery features prominently in plays such as Macbeth and King Lear, where a ruler's power is compared to a robe which is put on, not part of a king's physical self. In the first scene of Measure for Measure, the Duke uses the same idea when he says that he has ‘Lent (Angelo) our terror, drest him with our love.'
No ceremony that to great ones longs,
Not the king's crown, nor the deputed sword,
The marshal's truncheon, nor the judge's robe,
Become them with one half so good a grace
As mercy does

She goes on to say that ‘Man, proud man' is merely ‘dress'd in a little brief authority.'

O place, O form,
How often dost thou with thy case, thy habit,
Wrench awe from fools, and tie the wiser souls
To thy false seeming!
That we were all, as some would seem to be,
From our faults, as faults from seeming, free!

Painting

Face-painting, or make-up, is closely associated in Shakespearean imagery with pretence and disguise. In Measure for Measure it is also associated with prostitution:

‘Does Bridget paint still, Pompey?'

In contrast, in Act I sc iv Lucio comments on Isabella's ‘cheek-roses' – that is, her natural complexion

Never could the strumpet,
With all her double vigour, art and nature,
Once stir my temper; but this virtuous maid
Subdues me quite.
a false idea, a misconception or deluded understanding
In the New Testament the term is used of all Christians but gradually came to describe an especially holy person.
A man belonging to a Christian religious group who, instead of living within an enclosed religious house, travelled round teaching the Christian faith, and sustaining himself by begging for charity.
A religious order is a group of men or of women who have taken vows to live a religious life in a certain way, usually by living, worshipping and working together.
1. The part of a service of Christian worship where people say sorry to God for not living according to his will. 2. The practice of privately telling a priest of wrongdoing.
Member of male religious community.
Name for the clothes worn by people living in traditional religious orders, such as monks, nuns and friars. Colours are normally white, brown or black.
Relating to irony, in which a comment may mean the opposite of what is actually said.
A person whose role is to carry out religious functions.
1. Consisting of or relating to (the) spirit(s), rather than material or bodily form. 2. Relating to matters of the soul, faith, religion, or the supernatural. 3. A type of religious song whose roots are in the slave communities of North America.
a hypocrite is someone who pretends to be something they are not
In many religions, the place where God dwells, and to which believers aspire after their death. Sometimes known as Paradise.
A man belonging to a Christian religious group who, instead of living within an enclosed religious house, travelled round teaching the Christian faith, and sustaining himself by begging for charity.
Name for the clothes worn by people living in traditional religious orders, such as monks, nuns and friars. Colours are normally white, brown or black.
Figure of speech in which a person or object or happening is described in terms of some other person, object or action, either by saying X is Y (metaphor); or X is like Y (simile). In each case, X is the original, Y is the image.
Undeserved favour. The Bible uses this term to describe God's gifts to human beings.
a speech in drama where one character, alone on stage, speaks
Figure of speech in which a person or object or happening is described in terms of some other person, object or action, either by saying X is Y (metaphor); or X is like Y (simile). In each case, X is the original, Y is the image.