September 20, 1993
A Freudian Relationship
Shakespeare invokes many Freudian references in Measure For Measure. According to Rupin W. Desai's article "Freudian Undertones in the Isabella-Angelo Relationship of Measure For Measure," Isabella and Angelo constantly encounter Freudian slips in their conversations. "Shakespeare, with true Freudian insight, has made their mutual austerity conceal an emotion that is the converse of what is outwardly visible." In his paper, Desai wishes to put psychoanalytical attention on this relationship, especially on Isabella.
The first point that Desai raises is that of Isabella's chastity. She feels flattered by Angelo's attention to her, "that at the play's end her interceding on his behalf shows that women, 'however virtuous,' are willing to pardon any act which they think incited by their own charms." Desai goes even further to say that Isabella and Angelo come together anyway, their relationship reaching "its consummation in her finding her way--vicariously through Mariana--into Angelo's bed."
The Freudian undertones start much sooner in the play though. In their first encounter, Desai states that it is Isabella that tempts Angelo.
Isab. Gentle my lord, turn back.
Ang. I will bethink me. Come again tomorrow.
Isab. Hark how I'll bribe you. Good my lord, turn back.
Ang. How? Bribe me? (II,ii, 143-146)
"Isabella prolongs the interview by offering to 'bribe' him, a word that Angelo immediately, and understandably, interprets as being loaded with sexual possibilities."
One other passage from Isabella that Desai points out is even more densely loaded with Freudian descriptions.
He hath a garden circummured with brick,
Whose western side is with a vineyard backed;
And to that vineyard is a planched gate
That makes his opening with this bigger key;
This other doth command a little door
Which from the vineyard to the garden leads.
There have I made my promise
Upon the heavy middle of the night
To call upon him (IV,i, 26-34)
"The two enclosures, one leading into the other, the gate, and the little door, can be viewed as symbols of vagina, uterus, hymen, and as os uteri, respectively; while the two keys, one bigger, the other smaller, stand for phallus and sperm, respectively." Desai makes known that "such minute descriptive detail is unnecessary for Shakespeare's dramatic purpose." These details, in Desai's opinion, must be more for Shakespeare's Freudian significance rather than his dramatic one.
Another of Desai's emphases is how Isabella and Mariana basically become one character by the end of the play. Angelo wronged both women and, as they appeal to the Duke, kneel before the Duke in unison and barely speak in the last few hundred lines. It "brings home to us the close psychological identification of the two women who are, in some sense, really only one woman: Isabella."
In a complicated sentence, Desai tells us that Angelo and Isabella marry in a way: "Thus, whereas the Duke is Angelo's surrogate and Mariana Isabella's surrogate, the definite marriage of Angelo and Mariana and the probable marriage of the Duke and Isabella are, in fact, a marriage between Angelo and Isabella by double proxy."
This article, in my opinion, does not make the play more sensible. The underlying sexual tension between Angelo and Isabella is one of the play's main focuses. All Desai does is to present emphasis on the details, which isn't really necessary. By a careful examination, the reader picks this up anyway.
Desai also confuses the reader when he talks of Isabella and Mariana being really one woman. I do not see much of a basis for this. If Mariana is Isabella, then Isabella does fornicate with Angelo, thus losing anyway. They have to be two separate individuals to me or the play does not work. Isabella's chastity is an indisputable factor in the outcome of the play. To make her lose her chastity in this way does not fit the equation for me. The antagonist cannot win it or there is no conflict near the end and the ending itself would be completely different. By this equation there shouldn't be a Mariana at all. I just don't see how this "one woman" emphasis fits Shakespeare's purpose and Desai fails to present it in any discernible way.
All in all, the article presents unsupported facts for the author's main points. The Freudian aspect of this article, other than the sexual innuendos that are easily deciphered, has slipped my mind.